Twenty years ago today…

The Green Ink brand was born on October 9, 1992.

At 8am 20 years ago, I put on my slippers and padded into my new home office, the front room of a one bedroom second floor apartment in East Norwalk, CT.  My Father had leant me a couple hundred dollars for a black and white printer.   I’d been told by family members that, if became destitute, I could stay with them.

I was psyched to have my own business cards, proud to have my name on my own company.  I’d developed the ‘quill’ logo with a local Norwalk designer and the cards, letterhead and envelopes were ready on Day 1.  I made the conscious decision to use my personal email address, HipsterG, as part of my new business identity.  Having my own business meant freedom to call myself who I wanted, to now wear cowboy boots, to grow a pony tail and a mustache. I was no longer having to represent somebody else – I was representing only myself and my business.

I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I was confident that, despite my lack of formal business education, I’d learned enough about running a media company in those previous six years to not have to work for somebody else anymore.

What I’d realized was that my vision of what an enterprise should be would never coincide with those of my employer.  As much as I appreciated the opportunity they’d given me, I didn’t want to become a junior equity partner in their firm – for a number of reasons, but most of which it wouldn’t have been mine.

My Father used to love to challenge me to think about starting my own business.  “Well, you know, a person usually doesn’t make a LOT of money working for somebody else,” and, “I’ve read that, chances are, if you haven’t started your own business by the age of thirty, you probably won’t.”

I’d turned 29 and I’d been feeling more and more like a trapped bourgeois pig.  I had an ample expense account and a yuppie lifestyle that I’d come to really value, but I knew I’d never be truly fulfilled if I continued the easy path of employment; of not having the responsibilities and therefore freedoms of being 100% accountable for my income.

I’d turned in my company car (a gold Porsche) the week before, bumming a ride to the Hartford train station from a set builder buddy. From that point through the next two years, I was able to use public transportation to cost-effectively travel, discovering that using the train system from East Norwalk was about one third the cost of maintaining a car.

Getting to an appointment that week with my new client at IBM Research in Yorktown Heights was neither quick nor easy, however.  A local train from East Norwalk to Stamford, then a local to Mamaroneck, then a bus over to White Plains train station, then a train up to Mount Kisco, then a cab over to the meeting.  A half hour meeting and a return trip.  A full day of travel.

I soon learned to relish the freedom that taking public transportation afforded me to work and think creatively.  I wrote a lot of songs during these train rides.  I remember the ad at the time ringing true: ‘Your train time is your own time’.

This was the pre-laptop era, but I was able to use notepads to write up drafts of briefs, proposals, and other writings for clients and prospects, actually writing with a pen before typing up my notes when I’d get home.

I’d hit the ground running with two big projects for my former employer already on my plate.  I’d sold them just before giving my resignation, being sure to add in two large buckets for Writer and Producer. These interactive multimedia modules had been the last of my campaign of helping to introduce a new wave of applications to business problems using IBM’s own multimedia development platform.  That platform was abandoned a year or two later as ‘interactive’ development became ‘internet’ development.

I do consider myself to be a pioneer in interactive multimedia application development.  Work I’d supported had been on display at the IBM Think Gallery at 590 Madison Avenue.  I was a panelist at a few conferences.  I remember being up in front of one crowd at the Javitz center telling people all about the ‘information superhighway’ I’d been reading about. Making media interactive was key, and now the delivery mechanism had been developed.  When video could now be played over the internet – and be made interactive – I knew I was in the right profession.

My former boss was grateful that I was leaving on civil terms, not threatening his client relationships, but, in fact, doing what I could to enhance them.  I went after client prospects who had told me that they wouldn’t hire a ‘production company’, but did hire ‘freelancers’ directly.  I’d been hiring freelancers for my company for years and was always a bit jealous of their freedom – and ability to charge what I considered large day rates.

A new, emerging business model allowed internal corporate video production teams to grow and expand according to the requirements – and budgets – of their internal constituents, without having to pay the redundant fees that can accompany layers of unneeded management at a ‘production company’.

I joined a whole crop of day-raters that surrounded internal operations at IBM TV (Stamford, CT), SNET Media Center (New Haven, CT), and Rite Aid TV (Camp Hill, PA), among others.  I found it easy to provide not only my own day rate services, but ultimately, more full service for each of these teams (for example, location videography, editing, graphics and animation), augmenting in-house services with not just writing-producing-directing skills, but whatever else might be required outside.

In each case, I did my best to help the managers of these departments think more like entrepreneurs, as “IBU’s” or Independent Business Units (vs. the money pits they were often perceived to be by the clients they were supposed to be serving).

Even before starting my own business, I’d heeded the advice of mentors who told me I should consider my job to be ‘my business’, to ‘own’ it.  And one very wise man introduced me to the idea of being ‘pro-active’; not just an order taker, but a recommender.  Though this path is one requiring a bit more tact (not wanting to appear overly solicitous or presumptuous), it’s one that has been fruitful for me and helped to differentiate my services from those of other ‘Producers’.

A key to this proactive selling approach is not only being able to suggest to our clients what kind of video they might make, what that creative approach might be, but also being able to know our client’s business well enough to make qualified suggestions on what and how media might best be applied to achieve their goals.  When done well, the client will make your idea their own.  Does it matter who really thought of it if it’s moving forward?

The clients I served were facing a new paradigm and a new challenge: no longer were in-house teams able to remain ‘order takers’; with budget tighteners like Lou Gerstner at the helm, these ‘corporate TV’ centers would have to behave like entrepreneurs – providing value-added agency-type support and treating internal requestors as ‘clients’.

I was fortunate to find an amazing client at IBM TV who welcomed my suggestions.  He knew that the writing was on the wall.  To fail to prove ones ‘value’ to the internal auditors on an ongoing basis (not just at yearly budget reviews) could and would invite closure.  Despite our success in creating a ‘revenue recovery’ center with the studio resources that had been contracted already (about $150K revenue per quarter), IBM TV was shut down in 1994 after the Wall Street Journal ran a story on the ‘cuts that still needed to be made’ by Gerstner.

IBM actually paid more to extricate itself from the contract than it would have cost to let the contract run it’s last two years out.  Perception is everything, and IBM wasn’t supposed to be in ‘the TV business’.   When they were, however, they were saving about fifty percent on production that would have otherwise been outsourced and there was a centralized, consistent approach to their video development.

Thankfully, Green Ink’s model allowed for scaling.  When IBM TV closed in late 1994, I was blessed with a huge winfall being transferred from IBM TV’s ‘internal’ account directly into Green Ink’s.  With IBM TV suddenly out of business, my client was delighted to not have to return the dollars to the requestors, and to be able to fulfill their promised video requirements.  So was I!

The freelancer had become a full fledged production company.

An Old Saybrook house that had formerly been a dentist’s office was now an affordable, more spacious home office environment, one that allowed me to bring in support as needed.

The one drawback of Old Saybrook was that it didn’t have a viable commuter train.  I was forced to give up the freedom of taking public transportation and I bought a used truck.  My life as a ‘road warrior’ continues today, though I’m able to take Amtrak to the city fairly quickly from New London.

I could go through a list of all the people who have been important to Green Ink over the years as resources and employees, but the problem with any list is that someone inevitably gets left off and feels slighted.  Let me say, however, that because of the creative collaboration with those early supporters, those I’ve worked with through the years, and those I consider now to be the core of a growing team, I’ve been able to help deliver quality programs to a long list of clients, 99 percent of whom I’ve truly enjoyed supporting.

I admit that I get a sense of real satisfaction to, sure, have a business that’s now grown to almost 20 people, but most importantly received the trust of a growing number of smart people to help them deliver their messages – to audiences whom I’ve enjoyed helping to educate.

Today, I’m lucky to have a full business partner with whom I proudly share the ever-evolving Green Ink brand; an associate partner who’s commitment to high-end creative development  has been instrumental to our growth; as well as several clients that I now consider as more ‘partners’ as well; people who seem to have as much joy in seeing Green Ink grow as we do.

Of course, none of this could have been possible without the love and support of my life partner who has given council, support and some real sweat to build the equity we now enjoy.

Thank you to all for the trust and continued confidence!

Here’s a list of the addresses Green Ink has had over the years:

An East Norwalk apartment, an Old Saybrook house, an Old Saybrook office, a North Stonington house, a Voluntown house, a Voluntown office, back to the Voluntown house, then 2 Union Plaza in New London and now, The Crocker house in New London.  Nine offices in 20 years; only as much office space as necessary to support the business our clients were looking for.  Our goal all along has been to keep our overhead to a minimum in order to pass on the savings to our clients.

Last week, our latest intern, a third year brainiac from Conn College, issued a press release which was picked up by our local paper.  She is now a PR person.  The Day – Green Ink celebrates 20th anniversary 

The same client who gave me that break at IBM TV 20 years ago commented on the article.  After IBM TV, he became our ‘angel’ for several years in subsequent positions, introducing Green Ink to many of the IBM teams we continue to serve today.  He and his wife moved to the town next door when he retired a few years ago. Maintaining that connection is one of the proudest achievements of my career.  The irony is that I used to deliver the newspaper he once edited in New Britain, CT.

In the next 20 years, I’m hoping to support my team in continuing to build the Green Ink brand through a more solidified network of national and global affiliates.  In business, there are no guarantees, but, if the past 20 years are any indicator, I’m seeing only great things ahead for all of us!

Orlando? Not so bad.

I have a confession to make.  Over the years, I developed an antipathy to Disney.  When a friend would tell me they were going to Disney – most often with the wife and kids – I’d fein excitement for them, but we both knew I was insincere.  Disney – as middle of the road as one could imagine.  One giant Cracker Barrel.  A huge, overly-hyped mall.  Vegas without the slots.

Well, I’m happy to report that Disney – at least so far – is bringing me surprises.  Yes, the resort we’re staying in has screaming kids at times, but also some charming scenes like the woman at the Boardwalk this evening who said to her two daughters (with all three dressed in matching Micky t-shirts), “Ya wanna go see the enterTAINer?!”

“Yeah,” they screamed in unison, breaking into a trot!  I almost cried.

It was 39 years ago when my family first came to the new Disney World with my grandfather who shuffled his feet.  We enjoyed the ‘rides’ that were more like events: the Haunted House, Space Mountain (no ordinary roller coaster), Swiss Family Robinson and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas…  imagineering.  What a concept.  I remember being amazed then at the stories of how they’d lowered the trees in with helicopters, created all of THIS from swamp land.

Our Director of Photography asked me today, “I heard today Walt Disney had something like 50 square miles and he had a plan for it.  Can you imagine having a plan for 50 square miles?”

I had to confess I couldn’t.   Walt Disney created a legacy that would be very tough to match, but it’s fun to think about how one might try. What would one do with fifty square miles?

Everything in our complex is larger than anything in Texas.  The massive swans, dolphins and clam shells… the fountains, the fireworks at night, the water taxis that can take you through surrounding water areas to destinations unknown…. a realistic looking ‘beach’.  And I haven’t even seen the pool yet.

The service in this place has been fantastic.  No one lets you want for anything.   Service people work as teams.  Everyone is customer-focused. They put enthusiastic inflection into their voices to make one feel extra special.  Each has been well trained.  Disney is to service what France is to food.

It’s (as I remember) spotless.

And, here at the conference, I’ve had a chance to interview some amazing business minds, helping them to share their unique perspectives on how they’re applying advanced technologies.

A man from Norwegian Cruise Lines is helping his company tear down silos to create new outcomes, because his social media -enabled customers demand nothing less.  He even made me want to take a cruise.  OK.  One step at a time.  Disney was tough enough.  But if I were to take a long cruise, I’d want to do it the Norwegian Cruise way.  Free form cruises.  ‘Cruise like a Norwegian!’  I like the concept.

I heard a cool client with an articulate author talk about venturing into social media as a C-level exec.  If you check back here in a couple weeks, I’ll have the link to that video posted.  Let’s just say that was an amazing conversation.  I learned that, as bloggers, we should talk to our friends and we’ll make more friends.

One petro giant is using automation to help optimize its supply chain to deliver more cost efficient ways of delivering liquid fuels.  The fastest growing PC maker is using the same software to free its procurement people up to yes, quantify the bids, but to think more creatively on what is bid out and how.

Our hybrid imported-domestic crew merged and gelled, with an audio guy named Tom showing me that you can say no to the cookies and lose 50 pounds in four months.  I talked to a prospective client about a conference in DC in October.  And, oh, I might be going to Malaysia and/or Shanghai later this month…  yeah, it’s tough being me.

A ‘bar and grill’ dinner with talented colleagues and a chance meeting with a dear former client…  A day in the life…  And all in Orlando.  Who’d have thought?

Bottom of the 9th creative

Is there a point where a strategic marketing campaign can become a belabored game of unproductive messaging?  Worthy campaigns are often won with consistent hit after hit, but nothing says success like a grand slam home run.  Well, it’s the bottom of the 9th.  And we need one.

Isn’t some of the best work created when we take our eye off the ball for a moment?  What if we were to stop looking at the pitcher for a minute, step away from the batter box, and look behind us and see the thousands of fans waiting for us to receive the next pitch, the next client request for a ‘creative’, our chance to deliver the next product launch in a truly noteworthy way?

Well, it seems to me they’re a bit tired of watching and waiting for something exciting to come along.   In fact, quite a few of them seem to have left the game after the 7th inning stretch to hang out socially (as in social media) in the parking lot.   How will we get their attention back?  How will we entertain them – and give them that one key message that will resonate?  Cause that’s all we’ve got.  One more strike and we’re out.

Our brand will forever be associated with this ball.   And, trust me, metrics will tell us, possibly even before our hit ball passes the pitcher (if we’re lucky) whether we’re on base, or, perhaps, as everyone hopes, we’ve delivered another home run.

You think we’re going to hit it out of the park without proper conditioning?  Without a good coach?  We need to turn our eyes back to that next pitch, keep our eye on the ball and bring everything we’ve got to delivering something that’ll have them cheering again.  We have a chance to make them fans for life.  Let’s not blow it.

Addendum:

Though I thought my initial draft sounded pretty good, I felt it was a bit convoluted and knew I was mixing metaphors.  Every writer needs an editor, and I have the benefit of a Business Partner who will be brutally honest with me.  Well, not ‘brutally’ so much, but….  he wrote:

I think it’s good but the message is a bit lost by the subplot (people socializing in the parking lot) and the incongruous methaphors. For example – you start with ‘messaging’ in a negative context (‘never ending) yet you go on to promote it? Metaphor – ‘take your eye of the ball’ followed later by ‘without focus’ you can’t succeed. Also, is it the ball or the hit that’s the brand? And is ‘luck’ or skill really what you want to hang your hat on? The ending is also blatantly salesy, not what you want from a blog. The content should sell the service. I like the story though!

And so the window has been opened a bit on how, by working together, we can better meet our creative challenges.  Thanks for the input, bud!