Every year at Christmas, when I struggle to put the tree topper in place and sigh with gleeful satisfaction after I succeed, I think of my lifelong quest to reach for — and out to — stars. Stars, we’ve all been told, are out of our grasp, as elusive as the brass ring on a carousel ride. Well, I’ve never tried to grab a brass ring so I don’t know if the common wisdom about them is true. But I do know how to catch a star.
And how to tell a story about one…
I had a Madison Avenue mindset and a Walmart-shopper wallet when I first sought a designer for a company logo.
I’d come from a top advertising agency in New York, where even the worst designers were stellar and where we didn’t hold a breakfast meeting without charging a client $1000 per bagel and $500 per schemer. And what we charged for actual work? Incredible.
But the clients had the money and we had the talent to make these excesses reasonable or at least acceptable. I had no idea what financial and creative challenges small business owners faced until I became one.
When I first became an entrepreneur, I opted to go without a logo rather than settle for something less than what I wanted. It was a smart decision because my business then was focused on offering hush-hush services such as ghostwriting and black-ops public relations. The less visibility I had the better, as far as my clients were concerned.
A few years ago, when the idea of KOTAW Content Marketing was still in gestation, I knew it was time to start thinking about a logo. I was used to the best, and I wanted nothing less.
I took out an ad and got back five dozen responses. Most underwhelmed me, some depressed me. Only one applicant commanded my attention: a star named Toni Bullo.
I looked at his mini-portfolio and was stunned by the quality of his work, the clean lines of a brochure he’d done for Apple, the mouth-watering designs he’d created for Lindt chocolatier. Toni was the creative graphic artist I had to have, the one I most certainly couldn’t afford.
But I asked Toni about his rates anyway. I wasn’t going to let him get away without at least telling him how much I admired his work. So how much was he going to charge me?
“Whatever you want to pay me.”
I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t. As it turned out, Toni had come from a major advertising agency in Milan and had recently opened his own studio. His situation was similar to mine and he wanted to align his talents with those of a writer, someone with contacts in the U.S. Maybe this little job would lead to something bigger, he suggested.
Every chance I had, I recommended Toni to clients who needed a logo, website design, illustrations, brochures, graphic works and other visual branding needs — and we always had great fun collaborating. I sometimes felt as though Toni had taken up residence in my head because he always transformed my visions, roughly described and poorly sketched, into exactly what I was looking for.
The projects were not big and there were many gaps between them. But I was happy to help Toni in any way I could because I knew there was an upcoming challenge I could trust to no one but him: the KOTAW logo.
I had imagined the KOTAW logo for a long time, and it was very personal to me. I wanted it to convey a sense of magic, illumination and triumph, to include symbols important to my daughters, to pay homage to my dogs and — not incidentally — brand KOTAW as a best-in-class digital marketing agency.
I couldn’t sketch what I wanted so I asked my younger daughter to paint it. I sent it along with passionate, frequently updated notes: “Incandescent rays!” “More wishing willows!” “Light, light, light!”
With patience, humor and utmost professionalism, Toni pushed on. He said he drew inspiration from the artist Wassily Kandinksy, whom Toni described as the “father of a kind of abstract expressionism who revolutionized the vision of things, involving your brain like a final creator. The final image is the image that your brain is able to engender.”
Like a Diamond
Eight days later, the “final image,” the logo conceived in my brain and nurtured in Toni’s, was born. And so, too, was a partnership with Toni, who said he wanted to be part of whatever KOTAW was destined to become.
With Toni’s spirit and talent — and the collective creative genius of everyone on the KOTAW team — I have every confidence that KOTAW will live up to its logo.
There are two reasons for sharing the story of the KOTAW logo:
The first is a practical lesson in visual branding. Keep these things in mind when creating a logo for your brand:
A designer can’t read your thoughts. Detailed feedback about a logo designer’s first samples speeds the success of later efforts. It’s OK not to like a designer’s first attempts, but let him know why and provide some direction for improvement.
A logo is an investment in your company’s future. You don’t have to spend a fortune on your logo, but don’t necessarily go for the cheapest option either. Consider both your immediate needs — attracting customers but keeping start-up costs low — and your long-term goal to have a logo that lasts for the lifetime of your company.
Choose a logo that is meaningful to you. If your logo is a source of personal pride, it will carry that message every time you hand out a business card, direct someone to your website or ship a package. Your enthusiasm — or indifference — will rub off on your clients.
How I Wonder?
The second reason isn’t practical at all, but far more important: Reach for the stars.
Every big company started out small. Every great company started out poor. But the biggest and best shone because of their stars.
You will never find the best talent, the best people unless you reach out to them. Don’t wait for stars to fall from the sky. Become a beacon to attract the brightest stars. Because they’ll make you shine.
Thank you, Toni, for making KOTAW glisten — during the holiday season, and always.
It’s better to give than to receive, but I do want something from you: your comments! Please share your thoughts below. Wishing you and your loved ones a fabulous holiday season!