Take notes — agency leaders have found success through solidifying their firm’s manifesto, outlook on the industry, and business advice in the form of old-fashioned hardback books. #analog
They call her the crowdsourceress. Vann Alexandra Daly is a New York-based crowd funding consultant who was responsible for marketing the record-making $6 million Kickstarter campaign for Neil Young’s Pono Player, a music player for audiophiles interested in lossless, CD-quality digital music which became the fourth most funded Kickstarter of all time. More recently, Daly has been consulting on the Kickstarter campaign to reprint Massimi Vignelli’s design Bible for the NYC subway, a campaign which has raised almost $750,000 (against a $100,000 goal) so far.
The success of these campaigns is not surprising, Daly says. People on crowdfunding sites are pledging money to Kickstarter campaigns like never before. In 2012, just over 2 million backers pledged a little over $320 million to Kickstarter projects. In 2013, 3 million people contributed $480 million total to various campaigns. (Even so, 60% of all Kickstarters never get funded, and the money pledged is returned to backers.) We asked Daly to give us her best tips and tricks for designers wanting to fund a Kickstarter campaign. Here’s what she told us.
BEING A DESIGNER ALREADY GIVES YOU A LEG UP
In the earliest days of crowdsourcing, any cool-sounding idea that got enough people talking had a good chance of getting funded. But in 2014, funders are more discriminating, not to mention sophisticated. That gives designers an edge over other people trying to get their projects funded. “It’s incredibly important for a Kickstarter project to have a designer’s eye on it,” Daly says. “A project needs to look good to get any traction whatsoever.”
YOUR DESIGN MAY BE GOOD, BUT THAT DOESN’T MATTER IF NO ONE KNOWS WHERE TO FIND IT.
In the case of the Standards Manual, Daly says that was doubly true. Not only was the original Standards Manual created by legendary designer Massimo Vignelli, but the project to republish it was created and overseen by Pentagram designers Hamish Smyth and Jesse Reed.
PUT YOUR DUCKS IN A ROW
Launching a Kickstarter is like making a movie: everything depends on pre-production. “I’d say pre-production is the most important part of launching a successful crowdsourcing campaign,” Daly says. “If your project doesn’t explode as soon as it goes live, it’s probably going to just limp to the finish, or die trying.” That means building up buzz before your project is even live.
In the case of the Standards Manual, Daly says that the team worked to generate buzz for the project by creating a Twitter account in which a page from the manual was tweeted every single day. Based upon that Twitter account, a number of publications (including Fast Company) wrote about the Standards Manual; within three weeks, with no promotion, it had over 800 followers. By the time the Standards Manual Kickstarter was ready to go live, Daly and her team had not only proved there was interest in the project, but had lined up the reporters who covered the Twitter account to cover the Kickstarter when it went live.
PRE-PRODUCTION IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF LAUNCHING A SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGN
“If you want to succeed, you have to prepare your materials, prepare your marketing, prepare your press, have it all lined up on the first day,” she says. Your design may be good, but that doesn’t matter if no one knows where to find it.
BE A FIREFIGHTER
So your campaign got funded. Great! But now get ready for the real work to start, because the successful crowdsourcing creator needs to be a full-time fireman. It’s very easy for people who have pledged money to your campaign to become unhappy, and for things to spiral out of control. For example, when Radiate Athletics was unable to deliver orders for its color-changing shirts to backers on time due to the unexpected immensity of the Kickstarter’s success, people revolted.
IF YOU TAKE SOMEONE’S MONEY AND DON’T FOLLOW THROUGH, THINGS CAN GET UGLY QUICKLY.
“You need to keep in mind that the people who donate to a Kickstarter campaign aren’t actually investors,” Daly says. “They don’t own a part of your product. They just believe in your idea, and if you take their money and don’t follow through, things can get ugly quickly.” Ignore a question a pledger asks in the comments, and it can quickly snowball into a Twitter-fueled PR crisis, especially if you’re dealing with an influential backer who doesn’t think he or she is being paid attention to.
The trick is to constantly gauge community feedback, and do your best to respond to it earnestly and in a timely manner. “Sometimes you’ll be forced to disappoint your backers, but they need to know you’re at least listening to them,” Daly says.
MAKE IT UNIVERSAL
A successful Kickstarter has a number of elements that appeal to many different groups. A Kickstarter for a typographically sophisticated Bible, for example, was popular even outside of typography, design, and even religious circles. Everyone from the Huffington Post to the Verge posted about it, and why? Because the Bible is universal: even if you hate it, you’re still at least interested in it. And the Standards Manual appeared to a perfect storm of different interest groups: it was a mysterious lost design bible about the ’70s New York Subway system rediscovered at the bottom of a gym locker in the basement of one of the most famous design firms on Earth, authored by a legend who had recently died. Even if you don’t care about subway design, that’s enough to pique almost anyone’s interest.
WE GOT PRETTY MUCH EVERYONE WHO CARED TO DONATE TO THAT CAMPAIGN.
Some Kickstarters, Daly admits, are going to be more niche than others. Neil Young’s Pono Music Player, for example, was a high-end MP3 player for audiophiles who really cared about lossless, CD-quality digital music. That’s a pretty small niche of potential buyers, but at the end of the Pono campaign, more than 18,000 people had contributed $6 million to making the Pono Player a reality. “We got pretty much every single person who cared about audiophile-quality digital music to donate to that campaign,” Daly says. And even though the Pono Player itself wasn’t a universal product, Daly managed to get other groups of customers interested by offering limited edition versions of the Pono Player that were signed by bands like Z.Z. Top and Kings of Leon. Even a niche product can have broad appeal, if it’s marketed right.
In addition to being a documentary filmmaker, Vann Alexandra Daly runs a crowdfunding production company called Vann Alexandra. You can follow her on Twitter here.
Afterglow #LOVE - 5 years of a romance in cold stats
Remember where you rightfully live.
Identify the thing you love most and build your home right there, on top of that best worthiest, thing that you love most and don’t budge.
It will protect you from “random hurricanes of outcome”…
Facebook is the Internet’s phone book. Twitter is its wire service. In Tumblr, 26-year-old Karp has built the Web’s canvas. Now can he shape it into a money machine?
HR’s Note: True. Double True. @heywhipple: Preach on.
Thanks to @traciemae for this read. Ah—pproved./b>
I think it’s a shame that so many people, when they become creative directors, forget what it was like being a creative. Most of them seem to forget what it was they themselves most needed, back when they were a workin’ creative. They forget what it was like. They forget what they were like.
Me? When I was a young copywriter, I was (among other things) insecure, arrogant, clueless, impatient, and always cynical. Always cynical. And cynics are hard to lead because they don’t believe a thing most managers have to say. And the thing managers do that cynics find most grating?
“Hey, it’s not so bad we have to re-pitch this client! I just know you can come up with something better!”
Cynics hate cheerleading. Cynics don’t want account people to beat around the bush saying, “It’s okay, your ads are with Jesus now.” Just say “Dude, your campaign died because the client didn’t get it. And yeah, it sucks.” I’d counsel managers to share the creatives’ pain, to share their frustration. They don’t need you to come in and plop some whipped cream on the shit sandwich. In fact, when one of my teams was told they had to do something that was stupid or just kinda sucked, I said, “Hey, when you have to eat a turd, don’t nibble.”
Cynics hate cheerleading. They also hate pretty much everything about corporate structure: memos, meetings, time sheets, expense reports, all that H.R. stuff. It bores them or irritates them. The smart creative manager will do everything he or she can can to streamline the corporate red-tape and act as a buffer against agency bureaucracy.
Cynics also hate meetings. They’re a huge time-suck. Cynics think, “Why did we even have that meeting? You coulda just leaned into my office and said it.” My suggestion: fewer meetings, more conversations.
Here’s another interesting thing about creatives. You’d be surprised how much torture we can take if you just tell us why we’re being tortured. Creatives like transparency. They wanna know what they’re part of. They wanna know why they’re being asked to do something, even if it’s a dumb reason; and in this business, it usually is a dumb reason. Smart creative managers don’t try to “protect” creatives from the bad news; and in this business, it usually is bad news.
It’s bad news, so just say it. If you try to tiptoe around it, you’ll end up sounding like that guy in Office Space who was always goin’, “Uh, yeeeeaaahh, if you could just go ahead and come in this weekend.”
Another thing I wish I’d heard less of when I was a young creative?
It usually comes during a creative meeting. Someone in the back of room puts down their donut and says, “Well, if I could just be the devil’s advocate here for a sec….”
Dude, shut up.
Ideas are fragile. The bubble can pop so easily. Instead of being the devil’s advocate, why not be the angel’s advocate? Don’t just blurt out what you hate about something. Not liking stuff is easy. Anyone can do it. It’s harder to find out what’s good about the idea. The trick is finding that little coal and then blowin’ on it till it’s flame.
I forget where I read this quotation from writing coach Jay O’Callahan, but it went like this: “It is strange that, in our culture, we are trained to look for weaknesses. When I work with people, they are often surprised when I point out the wonderful crucial details – the parts that are alive.” He went on to suggest, “If our eyes are always looking for weakness, we begin to lose our intuition to notice beauty.”
I found this very same advice from a venture capitalist, David Sze of Greylock Partners: “Anyone can tell you why something’s going to fail. The real trick is to find out why something will succeed.”
Before I wear out my welcome here, I’ll just close with one last piece of advice, this one from my old boss, the late Mike Hughes of The Martin Agency.
Mike said that rejection is such a daily part of this business, and so it’s important to remember creatives need to score a victory every once in a while. It doesn’t have to be a huge win; just a little victory at the right time can keep creatives very motivated. He said:
“[A creative director should help find] relief for the people with thankless jobs – the copywriter on the account that has a new direction every week, the account person who deals with the especially difficult client, the project manager on the project that can’t be managed, the planner who’s partnered with a not-very-good creative team.
“Sometimes that relief means the top people at the agency need to get involved with a problem client or account. Sometimes it means moving people into different positions – even if it makes everyone involved feel a little uncomfortable. Sometimes it means creating or investing in projects that have a high likelihood of meaningful success, even if that success isn’t a financial one.”
Oh, how I miss Mike.
[Full disclosure: I didn’t plan for the essay to stop this abruptly, but the fall quarter is ending and I gotta run.]
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