Be Creative! Feat. Al Bergeron, Chief Creative Officer of Bergeron Creative Studios
Be Creative! Feat. Al Bergeron, Chief Creative Officer of Bergeron Creative Studios
Author: Ben Libby, Chief Creative Officer, Bear Notch Studio
Contributing: Al Bergeron, Chief Creative Officer, Bergeron Creative Studios
At some point in your life, you make the decision to start your own company. Some studios remain small with a very focused niche, while others massively scale and fulfill a wide reach of clients. I think it’s important for creatives to realize, this is no easy feat. Building the foundation within the first year or so will be your hardest struggle, even if you are bringing over previous clients. Have you ever heard the term “Blood, Sweat, and Tears?” Well my friends, this is the start-up agency life, where you truly start asking questions such as “Did I make the right decision?”, “I’m not making money, should I go back into the workforce?”, “What’s my existence on this planet?”, “Maybe I should just give up?” Don’t worry fellow creatives, for this is your chance to truly build character while facing some of the most challenging aspects of starting your own business, while bleeding from the amount of hours you’re going to put in, sweating from big decisions, and tears by rejection.
Al Bergeron, Chief Creative Officer, takes us on a path of becoming successful with some tips and tricks for those wanting to become their own boss and starting their own agency.
[Bear Notch Studio]: How did you first become influenced by art and design?
[Al Bergeron]: From a very young age I always loved creating and making all kinds of art projects. In high school I was introduced to Andy Warhol and his Pop Art movement and that got me interested in going to college for art. My portfolio to get into college was mainly Pop Art inspired sculpture and I intended on majoring in sculpture. While attending Massachusetts College of Art every freshman had to a class called Design Seminar, which was intensive 2D and 3D design with strict project guidelines and deadlines. I found these strict parameters made me more creative and I was hooked on design.
[BNS]: Do you remember any memorable design projects while attending Massachusetts College of Art & Design?
[AB]: The first project that comes to mind was a symbol I created for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in Corporate Identity class. It was a triangle with a paint swoosh through it. I ended using it as the brandmark for my first design studio, Triangle Design Group. The second project was a poster I did for the play Macbeth (this was before Photoshop existed) where I took a photo of a friend a standing in in the dark, wearing a black hoodie backwards with strong lighting on his forearms and hands. I had a giant gloss black and white, high contrast blueprint made, and I dripped red ink on the forearms and hands, making it look like Macbeth was drenched with blood.
[BNS]: After graduating college, what was your first design job?
[AB]: I worked for a design/build firm called PM Designs. The company did interior 3D corporate graphics for companies like Gillette, interior sign and wayfinding systems for organizations like Beth Israel Hospital and large custom trade show displays for corporations like American Express. What made the job fun was that we got to design projects, make models and actually help build and paint them in the firm’s workshops.
[BNS]: When you relocated to Grafton, Massachusetts, how did you claim your colonial white office space and studio? What’s the history behind that beautiful architectural space?
[AB]: My girlfriend and I had a rather large family so we lived on the second floor and the studio was on the first floor. We remodeled the studio so that modern design furnishings, were juxtaposed against the old charm of the building’s interior. We called it the Creative Mansion! Sadly, we recently relocated as the kids are grown now and we didn’t need the space. The house was originally built as a Colonial until a wealthy business owner in Grafton in the 1800’s converted into a Greek Revival as a wedding gift for his bride — that’s the story I was told. It was a Dentist’s office for some 30 years before we moved in.
[BNS]: In your opinion, do you think new trending “UI/UX” boot camps and programs are just rebranded positions of being an actual web designer (we’ve been mapping customer journeys since that trend exploded anyways)!
[AB]: Yes, I agree “UI/UX” are trendy terms for what I’ve been doing with website design for the past 20 years.
[BNS]: When developing brand identities, have you ever hit super creative blocks? And how did you overcome them?
[AB]: I’m actually in the process of writing my first e-book on brand identity called The Gateway to your Brand: Brand Identity. When I’m working on brand identities, I believe a collaborative approach yields the best results. So, I usually team up with a graphic designer and sometimes a writer. When working in this manner you can overcome “super creative blocks” because the creative process doesn’t rely on one person.
[BNS]: Should there be any mandatory design rules when it comes to branding and color schemes? If a client asked you for 20 colors and 3 different fonts, would you advise them otherwise?
[AB]: I’m of the opinion that there are mandatory rules when it comes to brand identity. The most important rule is that every component of brand identity should support the client’s brand positioning statement. As far as colors and fonts go it really depends on the specific brand identity, Generally I would recommend no more than 2 colors and fonts, but there would typically be one dominant color and font for brand identity. Today, since most brand identities are created for the digital space first and print second — the trend is multicolor brandmarks, which I think weakens brand identity.
[BNS]: When you started Bergeron Creative Studios, has there ever been a time early on when things were really rough both company and revenue wise? Can you offer those who are wanting or have started new creative studios how to overcome those fears and risks?
[AB]: When you first start you need to expect it might take a year or so to land your first anchor client. So, I have two suggestions: have a year’s salary in the bank or work part-time for another agency (there are plenty of remote opportunities today) so you have a small base salary as you build your agency. Once your agency is up and running make sure to have a rainy-day fund of at least 3 months overhead including your salary.
[BNS]: All creative studios start somewhere, for those with zero overhead and next to no capital, what’s an effective way for them to advertise or market their services?
[AB]: You need a great website and blog, that will act as your main conversion tools. Social media using video posts is the best way to build brand recognition today. Post your portfolio on your LinkedIn profile and sites like Behance. You can also search on LinkedIn for people looking for help with creative projects or trying to fill creative positions and reach out to them. Post your portfolio on your LinkedIn profile and sites like Behance. When designing websites see if the client will allow you to put a credit line at the bottom of their footer with a link to your website. Your focus should be driving traffic to your website.
[BNS]: As creative studios grow, how do they and/or their design members become recognized, whether graphic design or websites awards? Can you recommend any websites or organizations that a creative studio should submit for consideration?
[AB]: Graphic Design USA has several creative competitions throughout the year and admission fees are very reasonable.
[BNS]: Do you think social media is an important tool to advertise creatives and their creative studios? What about when it comes to traditional print publications and advertising within?
[AB]: As I mentioned social media is one the best ways to promote your studio. Sometimes local business magazines have an issue focused on advertising agencies (nice pun, Al!). You definitely want to be listed there. I wouldn’t do anything with print. Invest that money into improving your website.
[BNS]: Should someone who is interested in graphic design, web design, or fine art hold a degree in their medium? Would you hire someone without? And, do you think traditional college campuses with $65k tuition are a dying breed due to online college and short course developments?
[AB]: I think college whether traditional or online is important because it gives you a solid foundation in the fundamentals. You’ll need to read lots of books, attend webinars and take courses throughout your career to stay current. Having said that I hire creative talent based on their portfolio/work, not which college they attended.
[BNS]: Behind the scenes, when not working on branding, websites, and other design projects, what’s your favorite medium to work with? Do you advise creatives to push for a medium while they have down time, or even to fine-tune as a hobby?
[AB]: That’s a funny question because my kids are always after me to get a hobby. In my spare time I work on an Alexa Flash Briefing called The Brand Whisperer Briefing. What I can say is that I just love what I do. It really doesn’t seem like work to me — it’s fun. I do think a creative hobby is a good idea, and I often think about taking an art class just for fun.
[BNS]: When it comes to creative titles such as chief creative officer, chief brand officer, creative director, and art director, do you think they belong in smaller scale studios? (I’ve been on the fence for this forever!)
[AB]: Titles are important to prospects/clients and should be based on experience and responsibilities within the agency.
[BNS]: Lastly, new students who are practicing graphic design, what’s your biggest golden rule for them? And feel free to add any tips, tricks, or general insight to progressing forward in their career.
[AB]: Get a job at an art supply store. Your employee discount will pay off as art supplies are expensive. Internships are invaluable and don’t expect to get paid. The experience is worth more than the paycheck.
Al Bergeron, President & Creative Director for Bergeron Creative Studios, is a nationally recognized award-winning branding firm, integrates online, print and social media into a unified force that engages prospects—making you the prospective client’s only choice. We are innovative entrepreneurs who are passionate about ideas. For over three decades, fresh ideas grounded in smart strategic thinking have allowed us to invent and reignite brands to achieve measurable marketing results. If you’re in need of a professional solution for any sort of project, you may contact them, follow their Facebook, tweet with them on their Twitter, and read their blog called The Branding Daily.