The Back Story
It had been been 8 months since I had the crazy idea to quit my cushy corporate marketing job, invest my life savings into a video camera, some microphones, a light kit and start a business. It was 2009, I was 26 years old and I was going to build Toronto’s best creative video production company and marketing agency from scratch with no funding, no knowledge of running a business and no clue how insanely difficult being an entrepreneur can be.
Things were not going the way I planned and very few of the businesses I talked to seemed to understand the benefits of video for SEO, or how a properly executed branded content campaign can literally put a business on the global map. I would tell them how amazing video marketing was until I was blue in the face and they still wouldn’t bite. What was I doing wrong?
The Cold Call
It was a warm spring day and had just finished reading an incredible book called How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie (Highly Recommended). I was making my regular Monday afternoon cold calls when I placed a call to a local brewery called The Cool Beer Brewing Company. I left a voicemail for the Director of Marketing delivering my standard elevator pitch introducing myself, what I do and how I can help their business grow with video.
However, this time I also mentioned that I live down the street from their brewery, loved their beer and if they gave me a chance to meet with them, I was confident that I could come up with an idea that would change their business. He called back.
After chatting for a few minutes I ask him if I can come and meet with him in person. He asks if I’m in the area that day and I tell him that I was, and I could be there in 10 minutes. He laughs and says make it 30. I hang up, grab my notebook, a pen and hit the road. I’m there in 8 minutes and spent the next 22 thinking about what I’m going to say. Then it strikes me. Ask Questions!
We shake hands and sit down at a table in a room overlooking the brewery. After probing him with questions about the business, what kind of marketing they’ve done in the past and if they have any goals. I listen attentively, ask follow up questions and write everything down in my little red moleskin. He tells me they are looking to promote a brand new product launching later that summer…4 packs of their award winning Cool Beer for 5 dollars. Before he finishes his sentence I scribble 4 words in my notebook: 4 Beers, 5 Bucks. Has a nice ring to it…
I ask lots more questions about their preferred audience, key messages and any other tid bit of their expectations I can get my hands on. I tell him that I will need 3 days, and that I would be back with the “big idea” and how to make it happen.
I’ll spare you the details, but the next 3 days included 3 large pizzas, a 24 of Cool Beer (Graciously given to me at the brewery) and a 5am bout of creative pacing around my very small apartment. Creative conceptualization and strategic planning are in my wheelhouse, and I prepare a pitch outlining a complete digital campaign including a microsite, branded social media channels and a 10 video, tongue in cheek video campaign with a ultra sexy spot to anchor the whole thing. Because I had asked them lots of questions, I knew exactly what their goals were and I was able to create concepts that would provide solutions
* Here is the video we launched the campaign with. Can you guess why it had some success on YouTube?
I sit down with the Director of Marketing and the owner of the brewery and start my pitch. I had graphs, charts and one bad ass powerpoint presentation. A creative since birth, educated in communications studies and a marketer by trade, I enthusiastically took them on a tour of their campaign, painting a picture of what the final videos would look like, how we would optimize them for the search terms and keywords we had laid out and how we would distribute them for for maximum reach to the most relevant audience.
I had every angle covered and was sailing along smoothly until all of a sudden I’m thrown a curveball by the owner. He stops me and says 5 words to which my reaction could make or break my pitch: “I love it. How much?”
Price had been the only thing I didn’t really plan out and instead of channeling my inner Account Manager and telling him I would get back to him with a full estimate, the impulsive creative in me blurts out a number. I wont say how much in respect for the client, but it was a number at the time I thought was a huge sum of money (but in hindsight discovered that after all the expenses and time requirements of such a massive campaign I basically spent an entire summer working 12 hour days for less than minimum wage). That’s another story for another day, but the moral to that one is: Make Great Friends With Free Beer.
Long story short, I gathered an amazing group of people and together we spent the entire summer building a digital marketing campaign that far exceeded the expectations of everyone involved. We had tripled the 3 month goal of 50,000 organic video views in the first 30 days and to date, the campaign has delivered more than 1.2 million views, 200,000 unique pageviews on a custom micro site and more than 500 entrants into an online competition. We also earned some top ranking for competitive keywords on YouTube ensuring the campaign continues to earn eyeballs for years to come.
Although I barely made a profit on the project, I delivered on everything I said I would and helped them solve a marketing problem that had plagued them for years: How do you drive people to your website. Because I had such a great case study explaining how we created a viral video campaign, I quickly earned credibility with businesses and marketers looking for a creative agency that knew how to deliver results. Because I asked questions, I was able to deliver the pitch that changed my life.
The Moral Of The Story
My business has continued to grow over the past four years and we have continued to make content (some for pretty big brands) that audiences will actually watch, and engage with. Although it’s taken an insane amount of hard work, a mountain of creative ideas (good and bad) and amazing people to help execute it all, I maintain that a single conversation changed the game. I now have a fulfilling career where people pay me to be creative, and a business that I think will continue to grow for a very long time.
I would urge any aspiring entrepreneurs to start conversations often, ask lots of questions, take lots of notes and create ideas (and plans for executing them) that provide solutions to their clients or customers problems. If you consistently deliver solutions to your clients, you will have a lifetime of success.
Christopher Stasiuk. Founder, The Signature Video Group