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These articles by Phyllis Maguire and Barbara Fox were published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 24, 1998, all rights reserved.
Meet the Image Makers
Biologists, engineers, and software developers aren't the only people coming up with innovative ideas in the greater Princeton business community. Communications, advertising, and marketing people are turning on some light bulbs, as well, often in response to the bright ideas of the technology people.
Based on returns from a faxed survey sent out to U.S. 1-area marketing, advertising, and graphic arts professionals, Phyllis Maguire and Barbara Fox filed the following round-up on the fast-changing nature of the presentation business.
`When I started, all you needed to be a good designer was a pad and a set of markers," says Alan Brooks, president of Alan Brooks Design Inc. of 20 Nassau Street (http://www.alanbrooks.com). "I used to pity photographers because they needed thousands of dollars worth of equipment to do their job -- and here I am, sitting with $50,000 worth of equipment." But, the 42-year old Brooks points out, even though technology has revolutionized the performance of graphic design, the process still starts with creative thinking. Technology can provide only increasingly sophisticated tools to support the concept.
But more and more, graphic design includes Internet applications, a visual medium with its own guidelines. "When you're designing for the Web, you have to consider the time constraints and attention span of your audience," says Brooks, a 1977 graduate of Manhattan's School of Visual Arts who worked for CBS-TV creating on-air graphics and for Showtime Entertainment before launching his own firm, then known as Brooks Champion, in 1982.
"It is very different from designing a brochure which can be read at someone's leisure. Web designs are like television commercials: people are visiting a site for a specific purpose, and the challenge is to hold their interest for those few seconds."
Brooks's largest Internet client is the New York-based NetGrocer Inc., an online grocery supermarket, for whom Brooks supplies Internet graphics and banners. When the firm first began designing for NetGrocer, a banner would take them a week to complete; now they do 10 a day, as Web graphics get more varied, complex, and interesting.
"There are pull-down banners with submenus, animated banners, ones that we add sound to or interactive games," he says. "But being from the old school, I still enjoy the tactile sensation of holding a newly-designed brochure."
Brooks's personal favorite among his design campaigns was one completed for the Arts and Entertainment Network several years ago, promoting a six-part series on "Dogs" to different station affiliates. Brooks designed a cardboard kit in the shape of a dog carrier, complete with stickers and dog tags -- and frisbees with instructions on teaching a dog to fetch, as well as all the promotional printed material.
"We'll never be a paperless society," he says. "Electronic and print media are complementary, but personally, the first thing I do when I get E-mail is to print it out. I need to hold it in my hands."
Most of the design work being done by River Graphics in Lambertville (http://www.rivergraphics.net) is in printed material. But, says founder Stephen Wolock, the company offers complete Web presence with website design and hosting. "We really see a future in electronic distribution and it is remarkably exciting now to be a graphics designer," Wolock says. "What used to be almost impossible is now routine, and it is much easier to incorporate photography and other kinds of visual imagery into printed material, as well as into multimedia." One current website design project is for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, while other recent ones include sites for Children's Software Revue in Flemington and the Princeton-based International School Services.
Wolock always combined a fascination with technology with his love of graphic arts. Now 45, he received a bachelor of arts from University of Colorado and then a master's in arts education from Rutgers in the early 1980s. He was teaching art at Hillsborough Middle School when what he calls "the Postscript Revolution" took place, referring to a language developed by Adobe in the mid-1980s. Technological design innovations fused with the entrepreneurial spirit, and Wolock and his wife, Barbara, began River Graphics in their home.
Their first big client was the Gallup Organization, for whom the Wolocks still produce a monthly magazine. "Being at the corner of Main and Bridge streets in Lambertville, we are seen by many potential clients who come in for the galleries and restaurants. Most of our clients are within a 30-mile radius." One of their largest ones is Paulaur Corp., a food products company based in Cranbury, yet business connections are now taking River Graphics farther afield: through a former Gallup connection, the firm is working with several news media organizations located in Washington, D.C.
There are challenges to designing for both print and electronic media, and, Wolock points out, "both have their strong points and limitations. On the Web, all the visuals and content have to fit on the screen and be very concise, while printed material can be much more subtle. The color palette on the Web is limited, with browsers offering only 216 colors, while in print there are thousands. Everyone makes their Web pieces look like their print ones, but our approach is one of software design."
Electronic communications is a major stock in trade for Tramp Steamer Media (http://www.trampsteamer.com). The image of a steamship taking on cargo at any port is an appropriate one for the Trenton-based firm and its 38-year old principal, Mark Feffer. A writer and multimedia producer, Feffer is collecting a growing, impressive list of clients -- Dow Jones Interactive Publishing, XLibris Corporation, SE Technologies, Malmark Bellcraftsmen, and the Trenton Downtown Association -- but he claims the provocative company name has as much to do with nostalgia as identity. "I grew up in Swampscott, on the coast north of Boston," he says. "Now that I'm 60 miles inland, I need a nautical identity."
Feffer stayed in Boston through college, graduating in 1982 from Boston University with a bachelor's in broadcasting and film. After working as a videotape editor for a Boston production company named Multivision, with clients like Digital, ABC News, and CNN, Feffer got a master's in journalism at Northwestern and was recruited to the headquarters of Dow Jones in Princeton. Starting there as a writer for online services, Feffer worked his way up to product manager of Dow's private investor products group. There he helped develop information applications packages and in 1994 served as producer for "Plan Ahead for Your Financial Future," the Wall Street Journal's first interactive CD-ROM. Three weeks after the CD's introduction, Feffer and a friend, Ronnie Fielding, launched United Multimedia, a company that survived until last September.
"We produced FutureScan, an interactive career guide for teenagers," Feffer says. "We initially considered a CD format, but by 1995 with the Web becoming so big, we shifted to a site supported by sponsors and advertising." Feffer and his partner split the business, with Feffer keeping the editorial content and production side while Fielding joined Princeton Partners. While Feffer gets feelers from other companies to come onboard, he politely declines, happily remaining a solo steamer.
"Not many of us have years of multimedia writing experience," he says, "and people like me are more in demand. Right now, multimedia is focused on programming and graphics, but my starting point is content. As multimedia becomes more mainstream -- which it is -- content is becoming more important."
Feffer characterizes his projects as "information rich," offering as an example the "Bookplate" print and electronic newsletter he created for XLibris, the Trenton-based digital publisher.
He has just opened a second Tramp Steamer office in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, giving himself a presence near Boston's Route 128 -- and East Coast coverage between Boston and Philadelphia. "As far as technology, there is more going on in Boston and San Francisco than New York."
While Feffer spends a good portion of his professional time writing press releases and newsletters for print media, he offers these electronic communications insights. "The biggest danger in multimedia today is that designers are working with video magazines in mind," he says. "Too often, the user is their second priority, and that needs to change." By way of example, he offers his own FutureScan website, criticized when it was first created for including too much content for the MTV generation. "The presumption was that teenagers don't read, yet FutureScan gets 200,000 hits a month. It's delivering the information its audience needs."
For those potential customers for whom Feffer's $100 an hour fee proves too steep, he's glad to refer them to less expensive writers or producers. But more and more clients realize the need for Internet and multimedia investments -- and their potential returns. "Companies seeking a retail presence know a site is comparable to a producing a catalog or opening a new store," he says. "Companies that won't spend a lot for a website wouldn't blink over numbers for a four-color brochure, even though the creative content is the same and the impact of the Internet and multimedia can be much greater -- if it's done right."
Interactivity is the specialty of Skye Multimedia Productions Inc. of Skillman (http://www.skyemm.com). Seth Oberman -- who founded the company in 1995 with his wife and business partner, Elizabeth Strausbaugh -- estimates that 35 percent of their business is devoted to Internet and intranet design and production. The remainder consists of computer-based training programs, marketing and sales presentations, trade shows and kiosks -- all multimedia. Skye's clients include Lucent Technologies, Bellcore, ITT Industries, Giorgio Armani, and J. P. Morgan.
Oberman graduated from Lehigh University in 1985 with a degree in marketing; Strausbaugh received a illustration degree that same year from Philadelphia University of the Arts.
Oberman finds the possibilities offered by multimedia -- visuals, audio, and animation -- particularly effective with high tech products. The example he cites is Skye's sales presentation for ITT Industries' "Dragonfly" network security product. "One of the problems pitching that kind of product is that you can't watch data being encrypted," he says. "With animation, it is much easier to communicate complex or technological concepts to help customers visualize how the product can be used."
"Digital information lends itself to multiple re-use," he points out. "A great front end of a marketing presentation can be used in a trade show or at an annual sales meeting." For Lucent Skye did a multilingual CD-ROM, a corporate awareness piece to be sent all over the world. "We leveraged off the graphics and content to make accompanying websites."
Jeff Barnhart, the 43-year-old president and CEO of Creative Marketing Alliance Inc. on Clarksville Road (http://www.cmasolutions.com), has a background in business rather than in art or graphic design. He credits his corporate know-how for the fact that, while he founded CMA with one staff person in 1987, the full-service advertising and marketing agency now has 37 employees and revenues topping $10 million a year (http://www.cmasolutions.com).
"Before starting CMA, I was the marketing director for Philips Lighting, a Fortune 100 firm," Barnhart says. "I became very comfortable with marketing strategies and planning for business growth." His own corporate training is augmented by that of two key employees: Burt Lambert, who brought his financial and human resources skills from General Motors to CMA, and Rob Jones, formerly of Johnson & Johnson, now CMA's vice president and general manager.
"It's not that bigger is better," says Barnhart, "but big business experience has many educational benefits. They were painful lessons to acquire, but they helped this company grow."
The niche he successfully sought was in business-to-business advertising. "Other agencies offered consumer mass marketing which uses different tactics. Marketing to consumers includes buying a lot of TV time, making it very difficult to track direct response. Business-to-business is much more specific targeting, and it is possible to follow your investment and its return. I use the analogy of hunting: consumer advertising is like using a shotgun, while business-to-business is going out with a rifle and scope." CMA has since expanded to include consumer marketing: "The opportunities were too great to turn away."
Barnhart grew up in the Titusville-Washington Crossing area and earned a degree in journalism from Rider University. That training, he feels, was crucial to his business success. "I learned how to write" -- a skill he claims places him "in the old school. I often find young graduates can cut and paste and save, but are less successful in formulating and presenting ideas." Out of college, his first job was with Nassau Broadcasting, becoming the first salesman sent to southern New Jersey to sell airtime for WPST. He moved to New York, working for financial printer R. R. Donnelly, getting a thorough introduction to corporate life and proof that "I'm not a New Yorker." He switched to Philips's Hightstown headquarters and stayed nine years; when its relocated to Somerset, Barnhart launched CMA.
While he tips his professional hat to the achievements of Madison Avenue, he's found his own backyard very fertile business ground. "Growing up in Titusville, I remember when 95 stopped at Route 1," he says. "Now it is one of the hottest areas in the country for any type of business, and a real boon that we positioned ourselves here."
CMA's clients include 3M, A-1 Limousine, Advance Transformer Co., Millenifest 2000, and NBS Card Services; their pro bono clients include the American Diabetes Association, Rutgers Family Business Forum, Boheme Opera -- and CAMA, the state-wide Communications Marketing and Advertising Association. The firm recently completed a global campaign for 3M and for a satellite services company. "Campaigns used to target just the United States, but more companies now promote themselves globally," Barnhart says. "That presents different challenges, taking into account various languages and cultures."
Another challenge is mapping out marketing for high tech companies. "With highly technical products, there is continuous enhancement and evaluation," says Barnhart. "It is much more difficult to plan what basic strategy to implement when the market changes so rapidly and the product is undergoing constant upgrades." There's another high tech hurdle: "Engineers are eager to promote a product's features, but the public doesn't buy features -- they buy benefits. Our job as marketers is to turn a product's features into a benefit for consumers."
It has been a tumultuous year for Braun Research Inc. (firstname.lastname@example.org), a telephone market research firm at 271 Wall Street. First principal Paul A. Braun bought out his partner, with whom he had founded the firm as Leitner-Braun in 1995. Then the company expanded its phone center to 53 stations and now employs seven fulltime and 150 part-time workers. And "business just flows in," says Braun, a graduate of Brooklyn College who has worked in market research for 20 years. Braun's clients include national news agencies, newspapers and magazines, and television networks -- with major clients being other research firms, like Princeton Survey Research, American Opinion Research, and Mathematica Policy Research.
"This is such a rich area to work in," says Braun, who began as a telephone pollster himself. "Local clients enjoy coming in and seeing their data being collected." While it is the client companies that do database analyses, Braun Research provides the data processing. "They turn to us for number crunching."
Just about everyone needs a poll -- and, it seems to Braun, everyone is conducting one. The need for data is exploding, as companies try to refine a niche and target an audience. But the competition is getting fierce. "Independent researchers can do so much now out of their homes," Braun says. "You used to need a corporate set-up for market research, but it has become much easier to develop sampling" -- phone numbers needed for projects -- "and to chart graphs."
And what about that bane of the industry, those harried consumers who just hang up? "I tell people that marketing research is their opportunity to be heard and to make a difference. We certainly want to hear what it is people have to say."
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