Twenty #TBTs for Twenty Years!


20 Years of VSUW Campaign Videos and the Nature of Corporate Creativity

By Randy Murray

Valley of the Sun United Way 2015 Campaign Video Collage

Anxious to Fail

Twenty-five years ago, I left Desert Production Center, which was the largest production company in the southwest at the time, to form Randy Murray Productions with my wife, Theresa. Essentially, I became a virtual production company: a writer, producer and director running a production company from our home office. I had a passion for the wildly creative – and still do. Being willing to take risks with wild ideas and new creative treatments meant we had to be thick-skinned; we had to be prepared to have concepts just not work well. We had to embrace our failures to achieve creative originality. And yes, we failed and failed and failed, but we also created some very creative videos, and that set us apart from most other small production companies.

There were also two other things that made RMP unique in 1991.

Market Opportunity

In 1991, there was a very high financial barrier to getting into the production business. While BetaCam SP was sweeping the electronic-news-gathering (ENG) and low budget production worlds, one-inch and film still dominated the commercial markets. It was not unusual for a post house to spend a million dollars to build an online suite.

But the technological revolution in the production business was just beginning. AVID had just been released and Digital BetaCam came out in ’93. Post houses with much more affordable suites were popping up and looking for clients.

For RMP, a more competitive environment and our lower overhead meant we had the opportunity to offer high quality productions at a more affordable price point. We had found a sweet spot in the market.

More Importantly

The other thing that made us unique in 1991 is still a key focus for us. Theresa and I decided our company would be unique by being socially responsible. More than just using recycled paper, we believed in the power of story and we were committed to using that power to do good for our community and the world. In 1991, this was not a sweet spot in the market. Sure, the concept had been around since the 1940s, but the idea was not commonly appreciated in 1991.

Jennifer

In the last twenty-five years, though, the idea has caught on in a big way. There are now socially responsible mutual funds, socially responsible associations, even national awards for socially responsible video production companies. This decision to take a wider responsibility for our work didn’t turn out to be the corporate burden we were prepared for. Within a few short years, our commitment to the community became an important part of our brand and it set us apart from a growing list of competitors. Five years after starting our company, Nicole Magnuson, who was then the Director of Marketing at VSUW, knocked on our door and we started our twenty year journey with United Way.

Look Back See Forward

This is the last blog entry celebrating twenty United Way campaigns, and as it would happen, the 2015 United Way campaign video was titled Looking Back. Designed to distinguish United Way from other nonprofits – to cast it more as a movement that you join rather than a charity to which you give – this video reached back to old videos and gave us updates on the people United Way has helped. We even found Anthony from the very first campaign video RMP did for United Way in 1996.

Anthony

The 2015 video is a perfect twentieth campaign video for RMP to have made for United Way, but I don’t think this video is as powerful as it should have been.

Celebrate Risk

The idea of being a movement is a fantastic positioning opportunity. A movement, however, is a risky endeavor by definition. Unfortunately, corporate structures of mid-sized to large corporations are designed to prevent them from taking risks, from embracing the benefits of failures, from acting like movements. A good-sized company simply cannot take risks if they are not prepared to embrace the inevitable failures that will result. By contrast, being creative means you try things that you have not seen, things that have not been tried. The fact is, a number of these efforts fail. As a creative person, I do not fear these failures. I actually look for opportunity in them, for aspects that may work next time, for things that may inspire if tweaked. I value these failures. I have a sign in my office that reads: ‘Fail ‘Til You Succeed.’

Many companies are willing to embrace risk. In fact, it is a common corporate core value. The fact is, though, that there are structural safety measures in place that are designed to prevent risk. It is not a lack of desire or strategic understanding that prevents organizations like United Way from being wildly creative, it is the requirements of a structure of this size. The larger, the more successful an organization gets, the more challenging it becomes to be bold, to make crazy decisions, to take wild risks. That is why creative processes are often outsourced to companies that specialize in taking risks, like ad agencies and storytellers such as RMP.

Physics of Size

By nature, failure avoidance increases at each level of involvement. For this reason, most companies have many levels of approval. While this is an important way to prevent mistakes and avoid failures, it is not great for the creative process. Worse than a committee, layers of subjective input and approval are inherently prohibitive to creativity. The edgy, risky message that everyone in the marketing department wants is made safer and safer by the natural forces of corporate business.

Winnings of Failure

United Way is not alone with this struggle. Oddly, RMP has had another client for twenty years that has grown even faster, the University of Phoenix. In 1996, University of Phoenix hired RMP to produce a documentary on their founder, John Sperling.

I worked closely with my client, Laurie Easley, and Dr. Sperling to tell his story. Decision making was quick and decisive. That was the beginning of a fun, creative relationship that produced some wild and wildly effective content. Just a couple examples: We told the history of the company with an interpretive drum video.

Drums1Drums3Drums4

We addressed the conflict between the on-the-ground sales force and the online sales force with a parody of West Side Story and had the actual salespeople who were in dispute dance and sing in a Jets vs. Sharks skit.

westside3Westside5Westside7

These were incredibly risky, and yet effective, creative decisions that would have been very difficult to make with layered approvals.

Failures of Winning

The success of University of Phoenix resulted in a growing company with layers of creative teams in multiple cities. At their peak, the approval process often would involve five people in the edit suite, and three or four creative managers up the food chain. Decisions that used to be made on the spot could now take weeks. This does not mean that we are not still making creative videos for the University of Phoenix. We are – here’s an example. It’s just that the management at University of Phoenix has had to make a deeper, more consorted commitment to risk.

While this heavily layered process can help prevent making mistakes and failures, it can also cause them. As an example, we once did a $200,000 marketing video for a client that got shelved when someone up the approval chain decided humor was not in the brand guide. I would find this decision ironically humorous if it weren’t so tragic. In my opinion, if you do not acknowledge the possibility of failure, you should not be taking the risk. It is just the nature of the corporate world and the physics of size.

Moving Forward

RMP is not planning to grow to the size of these organizations, however we are looking at growth in our future; we value what we have learned about the limitation growth brings. Compound the challenges of growth with the fact that the film industry and the local market are changing, we at RMP are being very careful in how we grow. We are working more with national clients and we are expanding our services. We are now representing independent directors. If you haven’t, please check out the work of Josh Kasselman and Andrew Benson. While you are looking at directors, please feel free to check out my reel as well.

Look for more growth news about RMP soon. We will be taking lots of risks and look forward to a lot of wonderful and beautiful creative failures. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on future blog posts!

Thank You

I think it is perfect to close out the last blog celebrating our 20 years of working with United Way by looking forward. Working with them has been a gift, a gift of knowledge and deep understanding about our local caring community. It has been a gift of friendships and connections. These are gifts that we will cherish forever as we look forward to the next twenty years of helping United Way in any way we can to make our community healthier, stronger and more prosperous.

We want to say thank you to all the wonderful people who helped us create these twenty campaigns. Thank YOU for reading this blog. And thank you to all the wonderful people at United Way that we have had the opportunity to work with. It continues to be a truly marvelous ride.

 


Randy is an award-winning director and producer with a passion for helping others through the power of storytelling. He’s also a political junkie, loves college football, and enjoys performing random magic tricks for children he meets in the street.