Chris is Founder & Creative at ecokiddo, where he builds brand stories kids and families love. He is also part of a team that provides executive-level, behind-the-scenes talent for area agencies through You’re Welcome.
Please tell me you wanted to be an accountant as a child until a dramatic twist of events led you to this.
You mean how does a single guy with no kids find himself working for 15 years in kids and family advertising and design? Chalk it up to arrested development? Actually, what originally drew me to the niche and keeps me passionately engaged is that my audience is the most honest and unbiased demographic you can create for.
The opportunity to connect with and foster a real interaction with a child on behalf of our clients is rewarding to me. You use the same strategic thinking to make toys and games that you would in any marketing or advertising endeavor. It’s about understanding all aspects of the process, your consumer and the client’s brand so you can make informed decisions. But, to be completely honest, I’m still a nerdy kid at heart. I love comics, toys, sci-fi movies and cartoons, and ecokiddo gives me the outlet for inspired play.
Throughout your career as Executive Creative Director you’ve insisted on designing a fair amount of client work in addition to the sometimes all-consuming meetings and managerial work. What’s that balance look like now that you’re doing your own thing?
Early in my career, I was lucky enough to discover that my true passions are design, fabrication and collaboration. Don’t get me wrong, good creative leadership is extremely important to any organization. But for me, the value of being a hands-on designer, strategist and team member far exceed the gratification of being the boss. The moments when a team pulls together to exceed expectations are addictive. I’ve never wanted to sit by and be presented with work; I’ve always wanted to take part in making it. I love building teams, tapping into their skill sets and witnessing their contributions. When I started my studios, I was able to pursue talent I’d always admired but may not have been able to work with before. That said, finding the right talent or vendor can be both exciting and stressful when you’re the one cutting the checks. The administrative side of running your own studio is a necessary evil as most people like to be paid for their services.
Thankfully, new business has always been a main focus of my career. I enjoy working with and listening to the client’s needs and vision for their brand. That experience has been invaluable in building my two studios: ecokiddo™, a kid-smart brand marketing agency, and You’re Welcome, a collective that offers strategic and new business solutions to agencies and clients that lack those capabilities. You’re Welcome balances our workload by allowing us to work with different types of clients and talent.
You’re 4 years in with ecokiddo and You’re Welcome. How are they functioning as you originally intended and how has it changed course?
With any venture you need to be flexible and put your ego on the shelf. We’ve had ups and downs like most start-ups but staying true to our original business models has always righted the ship. Whenever we went off course, it was because we were chasing someone else’s dream. I’m a firm believer in staying true to your ethics and values. When you find clients, co-workers and production partners that share your goals, success will come.
Starting our second studio You’re Welcome™ allowed us to walk into a variety of markets that wouldn’t be a natural fit for ecokiddo. The You’re Welcome concept is basically that of a ghost writer… high level talent that comes in to help an internal team solve a problem or win new business. In most cases, You’re Welcome does not promote the work on our end, keeping the credit and ownership where it belongs—with the client. The diverse nature of these opportunities mean we get to work with clients and talent that normally wouldn’t be involved with ecokiddo. Originally, the plan was to use the same talent for both studios but that proved to be impossible on a workload standpoint. Kids activity books one day then endovascular product branding the next followed with a healthy dose of Senior Living can be a bit much
for a singular team to juggle. Some people love the variety others like to stay focused.
In terms of ecokiddo, in addition to brand strategy and design we need to understand the manufacturing and logistics of producing a 3D product. In many cases we’re working 365 days out before a product will end up in a kid’s hands. There’s a tremendous amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to make that happen and it’s a large part of my day.
What drives and inspires your work?
I’m inspired by doers, not talkers. By people who can do the things I can’t. Whether it’s a musician, mechanic, chef, architect or other creative, true dedication to ones craft inspires me.
I think a common thread with all the Native Makers is that they are passionate about the act of creation, the value of finding and creating a tangible solution to a problem. For example, the walls of our studio feature only a small amount of our work—the majority is the work of others. I think that our love for all things “cool” keeps us grounded and honest—good creative isn’t to be envied, it’s to be shared.
However, good design work or clever copy is meaningless unless it achieves the desired results. Finding the right solution for our client is what gets us into the studio every morning. Seeing how consumers interact with the work and the results that follow are what drive our studios. Seeing my team (or anyone, for that matter) make a difference through their work is inspiring. So tip your bartenders!
What is your latest epiphany?
I think its about providing honest, intuitive solutions while making the experience as simple as possible for the client. More importantly what measurable results will be achieved. As makers, we sometimes forget what might be best for the client. The work may not win awards or be on our peers’ studio walls but it may be exactly what our client needs.
For ecokiddo, this could mean fostering a simple family moment where everyone can unplug and connect with each other…all on behalf of our client. Helping grow healthy, happy and empowered kids is the true validation of our work.