7.18.2010

Just an image to celebrate passing my 300th blog post!!!!!!!

Renae sitting for yet another portrait.  My favorite kind of lighting, extant.

As I'm sure you've figured out, if you've read the blog for any amount of time, that I change my mind from time to time, switch gear with what seems to be reckless abandon,  have used the phrase, "reckless abandon" more than once in these writings, and generally get bored doing one thing over and over again.  So I was amazed when I looked at the blog stats yesterday and noticed that I had surpassed the 300 mark on entries.  Amazing to me.  We have an average of 1800 people a day (or original clicks) reading the stuff I've written and 396 people count themselves as "followers" of the VisualScienceLab.

I thought I'd take this opportunity to explain the "Visual Science Lab".  It started, as all great ideas seem to, at a Happy Hour in some forgotten watering hole.  If I remember correctly, my drink of choice at the time was the venerable "Cuba Libre" and I'm sure I had several at the end of some productive week back in the late nineties when clients had an excess of courage and an excess of cash.

I'd watched the virus-like intrusion of entirely unnecessary "consultants" into every fabric of the advertising and marketing industry.  From cost consultants on the agency side to content and metrics consultants on the client side.  The whole mysterious charade of "branding".   Even down to the clothing consultants who counseled CEO's and CEO wannabe's about what to wear and how to wear it.  We were at the ground zero of consultants here in Austin.  Even the city would blithely spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on such pressing consultation needs as, "what color to paint the trash cans?" (five different "solutions" were offered and then the city was passed on to a "color consultant".  "Where should the busses go?" (On the streets!  There's another 1/2 million dollar consulting fee.....)

During the course of an unusually spirited happy hour discussion I proposed that I open a consulting company called, the Visual Science Lab.  I created a framework:  (tongue in cheek) that would describe as "scientifically based" our proprietary process and  tell our clients (big corporations, all) exactly what the visual content of their advertising should be.  The colors, the sizes and shapes, the type styles.....anything visual.  And we'd get our two cents in before the ad agencies even got involved.  It was all a lark.  

My elevator speech went something like this:  "Bob.  Every corporate marcom director since the dawn of time has heard the hoary old joke that one half of all their advertising spend is wasted.  And you know the punchline.  It's "if only we knew which half."  Am I right?  Well, we looked at the problem seriously, scientifically and analytically and decided to do something about it.  We've hooked up with the data mining sector at MIT,  and some really smart folks at Stanford, and we entered millions of consumer assessments and visceral measured reactions to colors, shapes and various measurable attributes of advertising: measured scientifically:  and devised a matrix that allows us to predict with a plus or minus four percent accuracy, just what a particular demographic wants to see, and will react to, in advertising."

"And Bob.  We can offer these custom assessments to your corporation for only a meager retainer of 1% of your total media buy a year.  If we're "on the money" you'll save 49% of your media spend, annually.  Dear God, you'll be a hero!"

And the sad thing is that I threw out that elevator speech for fun in front of some friends who actually were on the client's side and they wanted to know how soon we could get started.  There were, of course, no programmers mining this information.  No matrix.  No metrics.  Oh sure, we could have signed a contract and faked it for a while but our corporate ethics officer (Belinda) would have shut the whole thing down the minute she got wind of it.  It was a total fraud.  A silly story.  Like one or two modern religions created by old ad hacks.  But it did have its own legs.  

I've always liked the name and when I decided to blog it seemed perfect.  We are talking about a visual science.  And an art.  And wherever there's an intersection.............

If you work for a large company I'm sure you have plenty of tales you could tell of consultants.  My next cushy gig?  I think I'd like to be an expert witness.

In celebration of hitting (and surpassing) the 300 blog mark would it be too much to ask you to bring in a friend or two so we can keep growing?  It would certain keep me moving in the right direction......

The joy of a great partnership.

I thought I'd introduce you to our CFO, Chief Creative Officer and the ethical and moral compass of the the Visual Science Lab,  my partner,  Belinda.  She's the one I blame when I'm talking to clients who don't want to pay the invoice in the agreed upon time frame.  She's the one who keeps my from buying a Leica S2 and instead reminds me that I should pay the phone bill first.  She's the one who keeps telling me I'm using my logo too big, in the wrong way and in the wrong colors.  And she threatens that she's going to have to produce a style guide for me to follow.

Belinda and I have worked well together over the years.  Our first foray into working as a team came when we were both starting out our careers, were dirt poor and both cooked in the kitchen of a popular Austin "home cooking" restaurant on weekends and during late nights to make ends meet.  We both worked as cooks and have the dubious honor of working together on a record breaking "Mother's Day" weekend.  It was so busy we ran totally out of food.  Imagine, two sweaty cooks flipping 8 omelets at a time, grilling fajitas AND making salads, all at once.

Our first, professional tag team debut came when I joined a small ad agency as the creative director and promoted Belinda from production design to art director.  In her first year she proceeded to win a handful of gold Addy's and the respect of everyone in the firm.  We did that together for nearly eight years.  Then I started the photo business and she moved to a bigger agency...... and she became one of my biggest clients.  She's been a freelance graphic designer for the last   14 years and we still work together on random projects.

Many photographers write and talk about their exploits as though they were lone nomads ranging through the wild and doing feats of daring and amazing creativity unaided by any save the hand of God and provenance but the reality is that most photographers I've met would not have survived a year without a good and steady partner.   The partner just doesn't get the same press.

I'd have hung it up and gotten a government job years ago if not for Belinda.  She's smarter than me,  save-ier than me, totally optimistic and so organized.  Can't imagine working without her.  Wouldn't be fun.  Wouldn't be effective.  Wouldn't have the joy.  No muse is bad muse......