Are you keeping your foot on the gas?
This week I talked with Angela Forster, the co-founder of Tiny Studio. Angela and her business partner, Nancy Rice, have a women-owned business that does lots of work in the nonprofit sector.
Since both of us are in the design world, our conversation naturally touched on design trends. We also talked about remote working challenges—and even our mutual love of opera!
The biggest takeaway from our conversation was remembering—even in hard times—how important it is to stay consistent and “keep your foot on the gas” with your marketing spend. It’s crucial to keep at it—even allowing your tactics to be more creative and experimental, if you can. (Experimentation can help you find new and interesting opportunities to be successful.)
This was a great conversation and I hope you enjoy it.
Reach out to a nonprofit and figure out how to share your expertise with them.
Listen to the podcast here:
Keeping Your Foot On The Gas Even Through The Hard Times With Angela Forster From Tiny Studio
My guest is Angela Forster. She is one of the Cofounders of Tiny Studio. She and her business partner, Nancy Rice, have this cool women-owned business that does a ton of work in the nonprofit and for-profit spaces. One of the things that we talked about, which is super important, is the idea of being consistent, keeping your foot on the gas and letting your creativity drive things.
Even when things aren’t going as well as you had hoped or as effectively as you might like, there’s always an opportunity to create. Some of the things that come out of that can be super important. We both are in the design world, so we had some great conversations about opera and design in general. You’re going to love this episode and I hope you enjoy it.
Angela, how are things?
It’s a good day. I have the house to myself. Everybody’s off and running. My studio, which has been mostly quiet in a normal year, has become very populated.
The challenge that a lot of us have been facing in the last couple of years is how to manage all that. My wife and I live in an 800 square foot house or little cabin up in the woods. We’ve tried to work through the challenges since I’ve brought the business home as well.
Nancy and I are both used to working out of the house. We built our business with the idea that we didn’t want to have to pay extra for brick and mortar. In that way, we could be more generous with nonprofits and passion projects but we’re not used to all this company while we work out of the house. We’ve had to do things like buying noise-canceling earphones because if you’re a parent, that parent neuron in the brain is always paying attention. If you’re a pet parent, you’re always paying attention to that. Having to create a little bubble down the hall and close the door is becoming a little bit more important.
Both of us were wrangling critters here right before our call. It’s always something.
The noise-canceling has been key and a good microphone has saved my bacon as well.
Technology can be our friend in that regard, for sure.
I came from technology, so I understand the importance. When COVID hit, I was used to having a lot of clients who were in other states. I was used to video conferencing. I wasn’t used to starting a relationship with a video conference. That one has been a little more challenging because you have to read people’s body language differently. All of a sudden, I realized that I had some skills of art directing people on a monitor that came from the studio, being in those marketing programs and telling people recommendations of what to wear, where to look and how to compose when you’re on camera.
As we lost a lot of business, Tiny Studio did a little bit of a hustle and started giving seminars on presentations. We started working a lot for our nonprofits to give them a better presence on the monitor. When competing with all these different people for people’s attention, they would stand out more in information graphics and get a solid slideshow, deck or PowerPoint, whatever you want to call. It became more of a trend. I noticed that we’re getting more requests for slide presentations and things that accompany that when you’re in-person, you may not need as a deliverable is becoming more important in this tele-mediated world.
Be mindful of your message and audience.
Slide presentations used to be a big deal. They went away for a while and come back with a vengeance. We have a couple of clients who are in the presentation space. One is Demoflow. They have a cool software package that allows you to do very seamless transitions between Zoom, screen sharing and sharing multiple things in sequence. They call it a buyer enablement tool, which is very challenging.
They didn’t market that well. They didn’t talk to their branding people.
It’s a term that hasn’t gotten a lot of traction. It’s a little challenging to say but it’s starting to get some traction. It is coming from this idea that you’re enabling the buyer and their journey versus the salesperson. At the end of the day, those two desires collide but reframing that conversation from a buyer’s perspective is what they’re hoping to help achieve so that it works more effectively and enables the buyer to understand what’s going on seamlessly. I didn’t intend to make this a pitch for Demoflow.
I’m finding that people who are uncomfortable in a room where you’re interacting with people throw them into a red record button and a microphone. It’s like deer in the headlights. It has become more of a skillset similar to writing your resume and cover letter and presenting digitally seamlessly. It has been important for a long time but it’s becoming imperative as people are putting down different boundaries of wanting to come into an office and public space or not and then simultaneous presentations among different people.
I came from the world of visual communications. You can kill an amazing lecture with repetitious, over worded and too many detailed slides. There’s a great book called Presentation Zen. I recommend that a lot to my clients, especially the nonprofits, to read ahead of time, not to get myself out of the middle but to remind them that a big effective part of communication is knowing when you fill in with a visual and when the verbal takes over.
I don’t mean to get off on a tangent here but a pet peeve of mine has always been PowerPoint presentations that either people go crazy with all the facts or they sit there and read them. Your slides support your presentation. They are not your presentation. I’ve been in meetings where the presenter is reading the slide to me. I’m like, “I can read. Why don’t you kick this over to me and I’ll go back to my desk or wherever it is? I would rather read through your presentation as opposed to having you read it to me.”
It’s funny because we have a client who wants a quote deck. She’s like, “I would be needing a deck.” We’re like, “Why do you think you need a deck?” She does yoga therapy with people experiencing PTSD and addiction. We were discussing it and it was important to explain to her that a deck is not a leave behind.
A deck should be your cheat sheets and bullet points that keep you on a topic as you’re talking fluidly. You make another one that is your “digital lead” behind that has all of your notes embedded in it. When somebody was curious as teaching in elementary and middle school, they’re all using slideshows for their report projects. It drives me nuts because to speak to your effect, they’re being inculcated to putting their entire text on these slides. I’m like, “Good luck when somebody tries to train that out of you.”
It’s a challenge, for sure. Good presentation skills are something that many business situations, whether that’s a nonprofit or for-profit business, having that opportunity to craft that story and present it well is a real plus.
That’s where it’s important to work with somebody who comes from a creative background because they know that gestalt of text and image, how much of a story is told by an image, how we culturally understand an image and how much of the story is steered by a caption, title or a simple paragraph. That’s a different skillset if you’re trying to speak briefly.
When you got somebody’s attention and you said, “You’ve got ten minutes. What are you going to show me?” You have to let a lot of that stuff speak for you. Whether you show the qualitative and express the quantitative or reverse that, you have to be more tactical in how you present to people because they’re not idiots. Give them a little bit of a story to finish themselves and put the dots together.
Storytelling is such a huge component of marketing in general. It bridges that gap between communications and marketing. It’s important to be able to quickly and succinctly hook people in. Think of Hollywood blockbuster-type movies. A lot of them start in the middle of something crazy going on and you’re immediately hooked. There is not a ton of setup.
They throw you in there into something very important. There are ups and downs, not being afraid to share both sides of that equation. If you think about a good movie, there are parts of the movie that are scary, sad or anxiety-inducing. Other parts are celebratory, happy and fun. Creating that up and downflow is a part of that storytelling process.
I’m working on a poster for a film. It’s an interesting design brief because it’s supposed to look like a film poster for a film that has been produced but the film has only had one segment to show to investors. The audience is not the general public but potential investors. It’s a film about war. It’s supposed to be a dark comedy. They wanted to have the bloody knife, dead body and everything on the poster so that there was no mystery.
The words published are perish or the word deadly. I’m like, “You need three elements to finish the sentence.” You don’t have to spell it out so much. That strip away, at least one of those variables because people will finish in their brain and want to have that moment intellectually. They want to engage with some of those moments that they have to complete. It’s a bold, italics, underline and extra-large to draw point.
When everything is important, nothing is important. It’s the idea of bringing everything above the fold. We need to focus on one thing because that’s about how much attention span people have.
That’s what I like to discuss with the clients. What is the very first thing you need to engage? As a designer, we look at the next thing and then the third thing. If the title, subtitle and pictures are as big as the logo, there’s no priority of reading and discovery that occurs.
You don’t give people the opportunity to breathe. It’s all right out in front, shouting at you. That doesn’t allow them to absorb any of it and figure out which part they need to pay attention to.
To play the devil’s advocate, if you’re going to be that loud and bombastic, make it a message to the right audience and be mindful of your message, who’s your audience and what you are trying to achieve. All of those calls to action are different. If you’re trying to get people to wake up to inequality or something and maybe I do want everything crashing out of the page or off the film at once to say, “This can’t happen anymore.” Maybe I’m trying to get people to come to the same conclusion I’m coming, so I’m going to take them down the garden path to a certain entrance. I’ll be a little bit more mindful, thoughtful and a little more subtle in my design approach.
Tell us a little bit more about what you are up to there at Tiny Studio.
We are tiny. We used to be a collective but for lots of reasons, we lost the person who was more of a production person, the person that was more of a PR person. As it turns out, Nancy and I were able to become a little bit more precise in what we offered. We’ve become a lot more powerful as a result. Nancy comes from more of a print background, marketing brochures, book design, letterhead and things that wouldn’t typically go to print. She has redefined herself and used COVID as a way to reeducate to do more digital on-demand printing.
Nobody is giving up brochures anymore but you still design a PDF set and accompany a project or a product. She works more in that realm. I can cross over with that because I came from a background of working in PBS, where the art department did everything. I tend to position myself more in the world of production, art direction for television film, video, website design and set design because I came from the world of print as well.
I can understand how that gets translated into these other spaces and vice versa. If you want a catfight, you throw out a project that is a logo before it goes into either of those spaces. We fight over it tooth and nail. Every designer’s favorite job is a logo. It’s the most challenging, difficult and brilliant problem to solve that a designer has.
It is certainly the first thing most people notice when they engage with any organization or business. It’s that brand mark.
Designers solve problems and help tell stories.
It’s essential. You get the energy, culture, environment, mood and lifestyle. All of it is captured in the most minor amount of forms. That’s not easy. That is every designer’s best, wonderful and happy place. It’s hard to explain to people why those solutions take so long. Sometimes, you get lucky so don’t think that the Nike mark being done in two seconds is replicable. It’s usually 40, 80 or 90 hours to get something down to that mark with the color, placement, positive-negative space and the topography that feels like it belongs within the culture of that business or nonprofit.
Nike’s story gets dragged out all the time. At the end of the day, there was a lot of fortune that went into the timing of that. They were hitting the market with a product that was very well accepted, where one could make the argument that perhaps the logo didn’t have a lot to do with the success of that product.
We don’t even have to explain what Nike means. It has become so synonymous. Years ago, I saw data that the Nike logo was the most popular tattoo on the planet. If you want to talk about somebody in the importance of investing in a logo, you think about that indelible of a global brand.
How do you at Tiny Studio work with nonprofits? What’s your way of engaging in that space?
Nancy and I engage with nonprofits in two different ways. We have a policy of giving back to very specifics. On our books would be women’s shelter, children’s shelter, literacy programs and ways that organizations support public schools and smaller nonprofits. In those projects, we will donate time. We will say, “We will give you twelve hours towards this read-a-thon that you want to create a whole look and feel for because the money is going to go to this literacy program.”
Sometimes, we’ll work very specifically but we tend to put an hourly rate so that it’s understood by both parties the buy-in, time and commitment. We find that it gives the nonprofit a measuring stick. If they say, “Can you start it all over again?” You could say, “We’ve got two more hours. Is that how you want to use those last two hours?” It allowed us to be able to put some boundaries on the relationship but also provide the nonprofit an understanding of how much time goes into certain things. The other way we engage with nonprofits is we have a nonprofit rate.
That would be more of a larger scale nonprofit that typically comes sometimes with grant money. They have a marketing aspect of that grant and will reduce our rates to help them accommodate their goals but those goals will require more time, commitment, research, investment and lots of things. We have learned to interact with nonprofits by providing them some cues or ways to be more strategic with their money. Some of those things would be, “Before we meet, we will talk about this project. Can you come to that meeting with all the background data we will need, like competitors and nonprofits who do that and other examples?”
The more a nonprofit brings us all that back end research, the easier it is for us to accommodate their budget. When we get a project, we can’t be the experts in those fields. We may have an idea about some of those audiences and goals but they know their audience better. They have the data access that tells us, “We’re trying to target this group.” If they can show us visuals or tools other nonprofit uses, we take that and say, “You have saved about ten hours because you have given us what we would have taken the time to research.”
We take that one step further and we have an intake form that collects the initial basic information that we need to get a project started. That form gets sent out as soon as we’re going on the project. We ask that it be filled out 48 hours prior to the intake or the kickoff meeting. In that way, we have a chance to read through it, start to do some of that research and look at some of the competitor space or things of that nature, also see where they might be missing some things. We needed to track it down during our kickoff call.
That is such a good suggestion. We have met with clients, interviewed them and given them a design brief to fill out. They almost always groan and moan because it’s a long line of a business report or plan. I love the thought that you’re asking them in advance to present that so that you can check out all those and see the differences. In your intake form, do you ask them who their aspirants are, their equals and who they don’t approve of?
It depends on the project. If we’re doing a strategy first exploration, then those would come at a later date if we were having that roll into a big website or design project. We asked different questions for different types of projects but if we can get to who your competitors are, we do a lot of client interviews to try and help get to differentiation and core statements about our clients. We might ask for those upfronts mostly to make sure that we’re starting to get those collected so that we can hit the ground running after the kickoff meeting.
When I was a younger self, I was so worried about asking questions because I had this knee-jerk fear that it would show a lack of my education or experience. How wrong I was. Years ago, I realized the strength was that I was an expert in some areas but I couldn’t be an expert in everything. By assuming that I needed to be, I excluded some pretty important people in that question inquiry. For example, I was helping a PBS station in Utah design a set design for a public affairs program.
Even though I’m in Denver, we thought that the best way to build a team was if I physically flew out there for a couple of days and met everybody in the studio. I saw some of the ways they filmed. I learned how they unfolded and did things. I could see how quick a turnover or small or large the studio was, not by seeing things on the floor plan but smelling and touching it. I ran into a sound engineer and said, “I’m working on a new set. Can I ask you a question?” He said, “Sure.” I said, “Let me ask you this. They’re building the set from scratch. If you had any input, what would be some of the things you would want me to pay attention to when solving your set?”
He said, “I have never had somebody in the world of visual ask me about sound.” I said, “You got to mic the thing. I know well enough to know that audio is imperative.” He said, “That’s wonderful.” Somebody designed and he went off on this whole story because no one bothered to ask him. It’s like the lighting guy. I said, “These are the colors I want to see when they’re lit.” He said, “If that’s the case, you need to go darker and more saturated.” I was like, “That’s good to know.” I didn’t have to come with 100% of that knowledge. Instead, I could invite those people to help and buy into the solution.
When you empower those people to be part of that decision-making and feel like they have some ownership in the end product, they tend to do a better job.
That’s the difference between when people ask if I’m a decorator or a designer. I’m like, “I’m a designer. We solve problems and help tell stories. We don’t tell people to put more pillows on something.” The question is, “What are you trying to do? Who are you trying to do it with? How are you trying to get there?” We will work with copywriters and photographers and help you achieve that in these other forms.
There’s a great book called Who Not How. Many inquisitive people and entrepreneurial types tend to leap to, “How am I going to get this done?” If we can remove the howl from a huge chunk of the things that we come across daily and figure out who we know that could get that done, a lot more can get accomplished. It allows us to stay focused on those things that we are the who in regard to.
That might be a perfect way to interact with nonprofits because they’re always thinking about, “We can’t do that. We have to do it in-house.” That makes sense if you have skills and talent in-house but a lot of times when it comes to very specific deliverables, it’s the who. You don’t have it in-house. Unless you’re talking people, who tend to have more than 50 employees, then they might have an in-house marketing department, communications department or design team. It’s very rare that an actual nonprofit unless it’s a design-based nonprofit and designers without borders or something.
Nonprofits have a unique opportunity to leverage altruism out there and get somebody on board, either at a reduced rate or even pro bono. I’m not suggesting that the nonprofits should go out and try not to pay everybody. There are opportunities out there to get some people engaged. It can either do it more quickly because they’re more seasoned. That saves time, money, investment and all of those things or they can leverage those opportunities.
One of the things we talked about on the last episode was how to look at your corporate partners as a nonprofit and see if there’s an opportunity to leverage other assets. Everyone tends to think of corporate partners as people who bring money to the table. That’s the start of that relationship but they can also bring talent to the table or a giant mailing list and things like that.
We are working with the city of Englewood. I’m not sure how you would position a city but we’re working with them on a couple of public events. Us being Tiny Studio, once we brought the city on board, we had their ability to get permits, provide a venue and do all things they got excited about. We can go to some of the local businesses and say, “We’re doing this steam roller printmaking event with a touch a truck event with the city to celebrate being a community.” The next thing you know is these corporate entities in Inglewood are ponying up $500 here and there. It’s providing this great public experience.
A person-to-person relationship gives you an immense opportunity to leverage success.
I find that when you work with nonprofits, if you ask, “Can you help us?” It doesn’t tell the story. You could say, “It has been a rotten year. We’re creating a celebratory event that is going to bring families to the community because people polled and said they wanted more outdoor events for families. We have created a touch a truck event. Most people don’t think about the salvage yard being a public entity. Why don’t you bring your trucks on over?” The next thing you know is we have this great relationship and the city is partnering with people they didn’t even know. We’re excited about partnering.
It was supposed to be this simple steam roller printmaking event after school led out on a Friday afternoon at a light rail station. The city has gotten so excited that they’re going to have the backhoe, front hoe, city sweeper and every big machine out there. It’s not a steam roller anymore. It’s going to be doing some printmaking with the community. We’re excited. That was going to be amazing. We didn’t have any work coming in for a long time, so we started to create these events that once money was available, we could pay ourselves back. We created two events and this is one of the events that we’re able to enact and pay ourselves in arrears.
Being consistent is an opportunity for most businesses and organizations out there. We saw in March and April 2020 a real retraction in people’s activities. There was so much uncertainty. It’s certainly understandable that people would be slamming on the brakes and trying to navigate what is a real big unknown. Throughout the rest of the pandemic, it feels like those organizations who keep their foot on the gas and stay consistent with the outreach at the very least.
Maybe you have to cancel some events and things of that nature, which is completely understandable but at least staying consistent without reaching and keeping in touch with your donors and letting people know that you’re still here, you care about them and there are still things going on in producing good content and valuable information that can help people in any way. If it’s mission-aligned, that’s great. If it’s mission adjacent, that’s okay too. Make sure that you’re continuing to try new things and put stuff out there. That consistency paid off for a lot of people in 2020.
We live in Englewood, Colorado. When the time came for considering where we should align when we try to figure out new business, we looked at the Englewood Chamber versus Denver Chamber. Englewood is 300,000 something people and we realized we would have more opportunity to leverage our success, which was a person-to-person relationship versus the $99 logo or the pre-made template online. What we had to offer was probably better experienced in real-time. We became involved with the Englewood Chamber of Commerce, long story short.
When COVID hit, they felt sorry for themselves for about three weeks. They had to cancel their annual event. They began to ask questions of all of us businesses and they started to produce content to help all of the businesses. They became the go-to if you wanted to know what restaurants were open and what gift cards to buy to help businesses stay in business when they were shuttered. There are nonprofits, a small office of 2 people and a board of directors of 4 who became a leader to the point where the city of Englewood was starting to copy some of their blueprints.
They finally had to say, “You steal our ideas, so we’ll partner together.” They became even more important for some of us smaller businesses because we don’t have a brick and mortar. We did not qualify for any PPP. When the chamber and the city came back, interviewed and say, “How are you doing?” We’re like, “We didn’t qualify. We’re two women-owned business, but we don’t have a brick and mortar design space. We did that so we wouldn’t have to prioritize family over.” The city partners with the chamber and there’s a $2,000 grant for home-based businesses.
They were pretty amazing that they were able to do that. Once they partnered with the city, they had access to the city’s marketing department, which came with people who could do social media, Instagram, create videos, do the banners and layout the banner ads for Facebook. Leveraging a couple of comments back, sometimes that barter is worth so much more than a $200 check if you can get $5,000 worth of marketing help.
I’m sure the city of Englewood has a much larger audience than any individual business has on social media.
The city has done a spectacular job of hiring people with a variety of jobs skillsets. The minute you say, “I want to do this touch-a-truck event.” I show some pictures in my deck in my slideshow. The next thing you know is all the people in the marketing department get so giddy because they know there’s a story. They can see how photogenic it is.
They know how colorful the poster could be and how celebratory it can be before it even has a name. When we were pitching that project, we went first to the marketing people. With their buy-in, I could then go to the city and say, “Your marketing department said that they could support all accesses.” We went to the city, the chamber and local businesses and grew from there.
The city originally said, “Why don’t you do it in the driveway of a new restaurant?” I said, “A steamroller needs as much place. We’re going to need 4x8s and 3 of those. We can do three prints. We’ll do a trip-ish. We’ll give it as a gift back to the city. It will be a zeitgeist of people coming out. I’m acting as project art director and production designer on this.” He’s like, “We’ve got access to the parking lot for the light rail. If we do it on Friday, we can at least provide the driver and we’ll cover the insurance.”
I’m like, “Are you kidding me? I got the printmakers, artists and the people I know that will get excited about this. I already know that data.” I got a note saying, “Forget Friday. It has gotten too big. The police and the fire department want in. We’re going to have to do it and close down this whole street.” I’m like, “What?”
I’m excited to hear how that turns out. It sounds amazing.
I got another project when COVID hit. Like you said, “How do you make yourself still valuable?” Tiny Studio didn’t have any projects and nobody had money. There’s a huge trend for things like TikTok, Twitch, Instagram and Twitter. We were all getting so tired of staring at monitors, especially with those of us watching our kids who were spending eight hours a day on a computer. They’re not even getting paid for that type of stress. We started thinking about tiny galleries, much like this one woman out in Portland, Oregon, who has gotten a lot of press on.
Instead of a little free library, we’re like, “What if artists in the school communities could have a gallery where they could show their work, so parents don’t have to go online and look at Instagram?” I’m so old school because those real tactile things are hip. In that project, we got the museum of outdoor art involved talk. They’re sponsoring and helping sponsor, along with a couple of other people, the construction of a three gallery environment that will be attached to every elementary school in Englewood.
Each school gets to curate its exhibitions and invite its community of parents and guardians to a pub exhibit. The STEM teachers are all excited because they can use their 3D printers and have the kid who gets the best designs have a place to publish and present. That’s another crazy project that we created during COVID so that we would have an opportunity to make a logo. We were making projects for ourselves so we could learn some new skills and refresh some skills. It’s like a musician that still needs to practice. If there was no work, we were making work for ourselves.
We did some similar things where we looked at the landscape. It’s like, “I would rather be busy doing something than doing nothing. If I don’t have client work, I can create a podcast or write a book.” I did both of those things in 2020.
That also stemmed from wanting to be creative and take an opportunity to learn a new skill or expand on a given skill.
The show came out of having conversations with a lot of people. Some of them were not ready to take the next step and start a project or didn’t have the resources to do that but I’m still having those conversations. It’s like, “Why don’t we put those out there and make them available so that other people can learn from them?” It also allows me to hone that craft and continue to provide some benefit for others that are struggling.
Nancy had a couple of projects come through a door, which was on-demand printing for book publishing and they disappeared when COVID hit. She took that retreat time to focus on that and brush up on learning more complicated French verbs. She delved deeper into illustrator, which is a real nut and bolts technical skill. My weakest link was topography as a painterly solution. I could use it in a certain lot of ways very successfully.
I spent six months doing hand topography and hand lettering, taking that to be able to create something with more value to a client. Even if I wasn’t going to hand letter, I would know better about when hand lettering was appropriate for a solution. Nancy became more strategic about being able to tell clients like, “That’s too small of a run. These are the numbers. This is what it costs. Maybe on-demand is cost-effective at this point.” We made projects for ourselves, delved a little deeper within our skillsets, sat through some tutorials and attended a few podcasts or webinars on things.
Make projects for yourself so you can learn new skills and refresh old ones.
It has been interesting. Consistency is the key. If you’re a musician, which is certainly an industry that got hit pretty hard in 2020, you still need to practice, get out there and play music. It was fun to see a lot of those people coming up with creative ways to continue to reach an audience. I had spoken with someone. This is a major recording artist but there were not going to be any concerts. This artist put on a concert on a gaming program like World of Warcraft. I can’t remember exactly what it was but it was something so out of the ordinary and it worked.
There were five million people who showed up to this concert early on during the onset of the pandemic. That was a much wider audience than they would have been able to get in front of in a single event in any other way. It’s leveraging the ability to scale and come out of the confines of a local situation. It is by being creative and continuing to come up with new ideas. Not all of them are going to be home runs but if you get enough base hits, you can get to where you’re trying to go.
I love when you talk about being creative within your discipline. I interact a lot with the University of Denver still. I used to be faculty in the School of Art and Art History doing design, media theory and practice. I had a student who was graduating. She was feeling so sorry for herself, “What am I going to do? This has hit and I’m just graduating.”
I’m like, “You’re graduating with a degree in creativity. Get a double major in theater and film. This is life. This is our World War II. We’ve got it much better. You can still produce and create content. You can still develop your portfolio and be creative. I was seeing things like the simultaneous broadcast of concerts live from the Milan for Easter in the Milan Cathedral.” About two months later, she sent me a nice note saying, “Thank you for kicking me in the rear. I was able to put together these things. I am working in Iceland in an animation department.” I was like, “Take me with you.”
Years ago, the Met Opera recognized that they had an opportunity to reach a much broader audience. They started recording and broadcasting live shows in theaters. Additional things occurred that prevented that from continuing to happen during the pandemic. They did switch that to a Met channel where you could go in and watch recorded performances. My wife and I went to a bunch of those and that’s the revenue that the Met they’re performing anyway. It’s probably not that much more expensive for them to go ahead, shoot it and get it out there in a wider distribution channel.
I’m going to go non-sequitur and say as a person from the world of TV and film or at least as an art director, those poor Sopranos and Altos are having to learn how to act because, before, when the audience and the frame were fixed and the distances were such, it didn’t matter if you were attractive or not or if you looked sad or joyful. You had to sing with those inflections. Now, the camera is up to your nose and you’re in HD. I’m wondering how that’s going to change the character of what it means to be an opera performer.
I’ve seen live opera in person as well as broadcast. It has changed a lot in general. If you’re close to the stage, you’re not wanting to watch someone sing. You want to watch them do other things at the same time. It has evolved. It would be interesting to go back and look at opera from many years ago and see if it has changed a lot.
Technology is constantly changing the way we create visuals and stories. What aspects that we have used to accommodate that may have those benefits will stay and those that were not so beneficial will disappear or be put in place of? For example, telemedicine. Is it a good idea? No. You can’t control your lighting and the video. How are medical professionals supposed to assess certain degrees? I see it as triage when you call the nurse line and he or she says, “You should go in.” I could see that but having a physician diagnosed via that, I don’t know that it will work.
Me working on teams across time zones with a video and the ability to quickly share my monitor prevents me from having to fly over to Singapore. All these ways ecologically make more sense. The footprint and the quality of life make more sense. I will be curious in the world of marketing what goes forward from this point on. Like after World War II, ballet and symphonies came back. All the things that were destroyed obliterated came back like live performances and everything. I’m keeping an eye on that.
It’s going to be an interesting few years as we juggle this live virtual synergy. One of the challenges that we’ll see throughout the next couple of years is how to hold a live event that has in-person in-distance components. I was on a call and they were talking about an in-person event coming up. They asked the group on the call how people were feeling about that. Some of them were all gung-ho, ready to go and wanted to get back in the room with a bunch of other people.
Other parts of the audience were a lot less certain about whether or not that was something they wanted to do. Not only did they not want to travel but they also didn’t want to be in proximity to others at that time. The challenge is how to navigate both of those audiences and not exclude one or the other. How do you put on a live event that is also compelling remotely?
A lot of nonprofits are struggling with that because they have this desire to do in-person events again, which has been their bread and butter for years. They want to get back to that because it’s what they know but they have to navigate that like, “How do I put on a live event that’s fun, live and also enables people to participate remotely?”
I’m thinking about a couple of examples. One thing that comes to mind is when the city of Englewood asks all the parents, “Would you go in person or not?” 50% said yes and 50% said no. They lobbied the teachers. 50% said yes and 50% said no. They couldn’t figure out a way to make home learners interact with classroom learners and the teacher be able to facilitate both, so they split. They had the online class and the in-person class.
As they navigate, I’ll be very curious to see their events. Can you make a hybrid event or is it more complicated because you have to have two presenters, one who’s constantly fielding the questions of the live people? Don’t tell me you’ve got people calling in and sending in texts. They have a whole department monitoring and telling when to interrupt the speaker. It was impossible in education, given the tools of the time, for a teacher in a physical environment to connect with students on the monitor.
I’m watching the Chamber of Englewood do the same thing. 50% in the world are comfortable and vaccinated and the other 50% were like, “I’m not comfortable.” Some people were like, “I’m out of practice. I have not seen big groups of people. I don’t know how to interact with that.” They haven’t been able to figure it out. I’ll be curious. When you do that, you let me know.
I’ll keep you posted.
That’s a $1 million idea. My next million-dollar idea was going to be drive-thru art galleries.
One of the guys on our team had performances. He does close-up magic like card tricks, coin tricks and all that stuff. His forte is close-up interaction. He and his troop put on a drive-thru event where people drove up. They stayed in the car and had different things set up all along this route. You got to watch somebody juggle for a while. You drive up and watch James do some magic from a safe distance, close enough that you could see it. You drive down this block and see a whole bunch of different things. They did a neat job of putting together this whole show and experience around that.
The city of Englewood did an outdoor shadow puppet. I must be a frustrated art director because I turned my carport into all things that we’re one way in one way out, but it never occurred to me to do magic tricks. That would have been brilliant. We’ve done art openings where people were allowed in one way out the other. We’ve done sales to raise money for a local nonprofit shelter but a magic trick is awesome. You have different stations.
All of our experiences are going to become the Piggly Wiggly of whatever. We’ll go in one door, march our way through and go out the other door. I’ve seen people get creative. It has been very inspiring to watch people figure out and come up with ways to work within the safety protocol but still be able to do something fun.
That’s where being creative outside of the box thinker is like the rubber hitting the road. 2020 has taught a lot about resilience, creativity, the importance of question asking, being willing to go with a plan A and then being comfortable with a plan B as more information comes out or something changes. Being a creative thinker has been one of the three things that got me through this the most. Having a dog and a family was the other two.
Being creative, continuing to fuel that juice and staying consistent are three big components.
Engage yourself because we need personal connections now more than ever.
I’m not sure I answered any great questions for you, Stuart but I appreciate this conversation. I appreciate your brain. I love brainiacs. That’s the one thing in my body that’s not falling apart at this point.
It was super fun to talk with you. How can people find out more about you and what you guys are doing at Tiny Studio?
We are on Instagram and Facebook. Our web address is TinyStudioLLC.com. We’re trying to figure out the whole social thing like Facebook because my mom uses it. Instagram is probably where we’re more productive in terms of what’s going on under the hood at Tiny Studio. There is always something going on because we’re both creative people that if there’s no project, we make them for ourselves.
I love having these conversations and I also love action. If you could have our readers take any action after reading this, what would you have them do?
I would have them reach out to a nonprofit of their choice, something near and dear to their heart and figure out what do they have to offer. Tap that nonprofit and say, “I am a great X. I would love to donate twenty hours of my time for you. How would you like me to do it? I can do this or this.” The action would be engaging yourself because we need those personal connections more than ever.
I also try to remind people that people think differently than if you were raised in the ‘70s or ‘80s like I was. You say, “Is it best to connect with you with LinkedIn, phone call or a video conference?” Nonprofits have taken such a big hit that if you don’t have the finances to help them out, give them your skillsets.
Nonprofits could turn that around the other direction, reach out to their audience and see if there are people within their groups that have certain skills that they need some help with.
We tell a client that all the time, if they’re a nonprofit, “We can do this for you but this would be something that if you have an intern, we could coach an intern to do. That would be better for your budget and your time and an intern’s time. They need that experience.” We’re always trying to remind clients to take advantage of who is already in their world that has these offers.
I had a great time talking with you. I’m excited to hear what’s in store for Tiny Studio as we move forward. Thanks so much for being on the show, Angela.
It’s my absolute pleasure. I appreciate you inviting me. Thank you.