Starting a Design Communications Business
Interview with David Langton, Principal of Langton Cherubino Group
David Langton had known his business partner since they were children playing together while their mom played cards. But it was only when they moved to the same city and worked at the same design firm did they realize that they were meant to be business partners. In this interview David explains how it happened.
Interview with David Langton, Principal of Langton Cherubino Group.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Langton Cherubino Group is a design communication firm that creates visual messaging that expresses your company's mission while supporting your services and products. We have large national accounts like a wellness communications initiative for the 60,000 employees at Pfizer, to smaller accounts like the logo and packaging for a dog shampoo that was featured on the TODAY show.
When did you start the business?
15 years ago...in 1995.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
Prior to forming this company with Norman Cherubino I was working as a solo freelance designer; before that I worked at Home Life Insurance Company as the manager of graphic design. Before that I worked in smaller design studios.
Did you have a partner when you started your business? How did you select a partner?
I grew up in the same home town as my business partner, Norman Cherubino. That was about 40 years ago. But we didn't really have anything to do with each other growing up. Our fathers played golf together and our mothers played bridge. Norman's mother would always tell him to go and play with me, but we never really were interested in playing together. Norman says it's because I'm a lot older than him. I'm 2 years older! (smile) We attended the same high school and went to the same college: Rhode Island School of Design. Then I didn't see him until 2 years later when I was living in Hoboken, NJ and he showed up at my apartment one night. I was working at a design studio; he needed work, and we needed someone to answer the phones and do a few design mechanicals. For the next 10 years or so, where ever I worked in New York, I would call Norman and he would freelance there. We got to know each as adults and found that we worked very well together. I think the fact that we worked together on so many different jobs led to a strong working relationship that has served our company well. And the bottom line is that we trust each other.
Have you hired additional staff? What is your greatest human resources challenge?
We have gone through many growth spurts where we have expanded our staff. It's very exciting and yet always a challenge. Keeping people motivated and maintaining strong internal communications is really the key. Since we started working together so closely--and can still finish each other's sentences--it can be difficult for us communicate with the staff, and for our staff to break into our long-standing relationship. We have developed a few systematic approaches that help:
- We have established a systemized method for working and have standard business practices for all the projects we produce.
- We share our work on a server, with a system of job folders, we have naming conventions for files, a tracking system, and back-up and filing system. Ideally, any job can be transferred to someone else.
- We have a weekly staff meeting where we give an overview of all work-in-progress and share new websites, interesting trends and personal projects.
- We have a brainstorming process that we use to develop creative concepts, share ideas, build upon each others thoughts and truly create a teamwork approach for branding and creative design solutions.
With the current economy in a slump, what cost saving tips would you have for a new entrepreneur?
Here are my recession tips for building up your business:
- Blog where your clients are. Find websites and blogs that offer content and resources that your clients need to keep informed. Where do they get their critical information? We've written articles for World-at-Work's Workspan Magazine and Training Magazine to reach clients and prospects in the employee communication sectors. If you don't know where your clients get their business information ask them. That's another way to reach out and build a relationship with your audience.
- Wish you were here. Plan an inexpensive campaign with postcards that have targeted messages to reach your clients and prospects. First class postcards can be delivered in an unusual, larger size, such as 11.5 x 6, and attract more attention yet cost a lot less than mailing a brochure or catalog. The mailing cost is the same for a standard envelope so you get more mileage out of your postage budget. You may provide website links for more info. Your main objective is to create awareness of your campaign. People are more likely to see a postcard even if they throw it away. Email messages are faster and less expensive yet they are also just as easily dismissed as spam and never seen.
- Leave an impression. Use the "signature" function on your email and on your smart phones. Always include your name and contact information and you can include a message or marketing line. Everything is a billboard for your company and frequently people do not use the built-in tools in the email browsers and smart phones to deliver basic contact info. One of our clients changed the standard message "Sent from my iPhone" to "Inspiration from my iPhone." You'd be surprised how a subtle change like that can become noticeable.
- Rock/Paper/Scissors marketing. To get the most bang out of your marketing buck you should deliver your messaging in 3 modes:
- Rock (something physical: a sign, banner, display)
- Paper (something printed: a flyer, brochure, report)
- Scissors (something cutting-edge: animation, HTML email, interactive game or iPhone app)
- Use Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook to actually say something. Social networking announcements can be all about navel-staring, but they don't have to be. You may use these electronic "billboards" to announce something interesting and unique. Use the challenge of communicating within 160 characters to develop succinct messages that promote your services in a unique way.
Social marketing is consistently being written about in the small business space. Has it worked generating business for you?
We used social networking to market our firm. We created a new game/application: www.MasterpieceYourself.com to promote our services as a creative branding and interactive design firm. We used social networking services Twitter and Link-in and emailing to bloggers and websites to build up interest in our work. MasterpieceYourself.com allows users to insert their own photo into the face of a masterpiece painting portrait like the Mona Lisa. We put together this game as a self promotion to emphasize our interactive capabilities. For our beta launch, we emailed an announcement to 1,000 people on our client/prospect email list and we received about 125 hits. Then we promoted the website to bloggers, publications and media outlets....and we started getting hundreds of hits per day.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Go digital, make sure the web and interactive communications are key to your service offerings. Get an accountant and take the time to see how much it really costs to run your business and make a profit.
Thanks for sharing your expertise with us today.
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