Episode 284 — Stand Out!
Episode 284 — Stand Out!
There is an example in marketing: If you have a migraine and you head to a pharmacy, you’ll see one medicine that says, “Cures All Aches and Pains” and another that says, “Cures All Migraines”. They both do the same thing and they’re made by the same company. But their marketers know that the medicine that’s the most specific — is the one that will stand out.
Meanwhile, a lot of artists have this gut reaction that specializing is bad and that it’s better to generalize as much as you can. The truth is that you can specialize in multiple things but what you’re really trying to do is to stand out. By specializing, you aren’t eliminating opportunity — you’re eliminating competition.
Sometimes to be exceptional, you need to get specific. And there are different ways to stand out in your industry or how people remember you. It’s about getting your client confident that you’ll get the job done on time. Your messaging can change with every single client. When it comes to having a conversation, you can find out what their specific problem is — and plant that seed that you’re the person to solve that problem.
In this Podcast, Allan talks about the importance of specializing, how to have different niches, how to adjust those niches for different clients — and how to become memorable as the go-to person for a specific job.
[05:52] A Generalist or a Specialist?
[08:51] Being Memorable = Getting that Job
[11:30] Having Multiple Niches
[15:36] Planting the Seed
EPISODE 284 — STAND OUT!
Hello, everyone! This is Allan McKay.
Welcome to Episode 284! I want to talk about the principles of branding and why it’s so critical to stand out. Most of us take it for granted. This is an important Episode: It’s your chance to understand how to resonate with studios and clients.
There are some great Episodes coming up. Next week, I’m talking to Beeple about his daily art. There are a lot of great mindsets we get into.
Let’s dive in!
FIRST THINGS FIRST:
[01:20] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was that you didn’t get the job? Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!
[18:48] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!
[04:10] One of the things I find interesting is that a lot of people have this gut reaction that specializing is bad and [that it’s better] to generalize as much as you can. I always use that metaphor when I get business cards that say, “3D Artist” which is already broad enough. And then it’ll say, “3D Artist / Web Designer / Wedding Photographer”. The messaging there is all wrong. How are you going to stand out if you’re saying that you’ll do any job. “Do you need me to fetch your coffee? I’ll do it!” Just by saying “3D Artist” alone means that this is your discipline. But if I were hiring lighting artists, someone who was a “3D Artist” or “CG Artist” sent me their reel, the reel that would stand out is the one that said, “Lighting Artist”. They are the ones that will resonate.
[05:21] There is an example in marketing: If you have a migraine, you head to a pharmacy and see one medicine that says, “Cures All Aches and Pains” and another one that says, “Cures All Migraines”. They both do the same thing and they’re by the same company. But their marketers know that the one medicine that is the most specific — is the one that will stand out.
A GENERALIST OR A SPECIALIST?
[05:52] I put out a video a year ago which was titled, “Should You Be a Specialist or a Generalist?” The real answer to that is both! You should start out as a Generalist and then you should niche down, as you get more experienced. But even in the beginning, you should find a way to stand out. Later, you can start managing or supervising, or even directing on set. You will branch out again: you will be managing people, managing projects, learning to pick the right lens, working onset. I had a few people freak out about that video. They thought that by specializing, you’re eliminating all these other opportunities.
[06:57] The truth is that you can specialize in multiple things but you’re really trying to do is to stand out. By specializing, you aren’t eliminating opportunity — you’re eliminating competition. If you’re an illustrator and everyone else is an illustrator, it’s hard to stand out as the one to hire. That’s especially true if the person looking over your work is someone in the HR, or a producer or a manager. They can’t see in your work what makes you special. But niching, you start to qualify yourself as the best person for the job. And then you go into the smaller pool of people to compete with. If you’re offering the same services as everyone else, you end up competing on price and that becomes a race to the bottom dollar. Who is the cheaper candidate?
[07:50] Let’s say you’re a hard surface modeler and your speciality is realistic cars. No one is going to look at and say, “Sorry, we’re just looking for modelers”. If you’re good, you’re good! If you position yourself around realistic cars — and your portfolio shows that — when there is a job to make cars, you’re the one that’ll get the job. If you build large scale destruction effects but they need some windows breaking, if your work is good, they’ll know that you can do all of it. But when it comes to a choice between you and another person for something like Godzilla, you’re going to stand out from all the others and become the go-to person.
BEING MEMORABLE = GETTING THAT JOB
[08:51] And it’s also important to become memorable. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve reviewed reels of someone to hire, I remember that “one destruction guy”. It’s important to be memorable. When people review your work — who may not be the ones who know this stuff — if you say you’re a 3D artist, you’ll just land in that pile. But if you’re more specific, your work will land in a smaller pool and that’s the pool you’ll be competing with. You ultimately want to be in a position when people hear your name, they know your thing: “Oh, Allan? He’s that Fume FX fire guy!” That singles you out as the go-to person and when they need fire effects, they’ll go looking for you.
[10:00] I have friends who are 3D people who’ve never told me they do hard surface modeling. When it finally comes up in a conversation, I think, “If you’d told me you were doing hard surface modeling, I would’ve hired you years ago!” I’m not thinking about who knows 3D. But if my friends planted that seed, I would’ve called them. Some people are effective at doing that, and others aren’t. I have friends who are excited about photogrammetry. I know they can do the job, but when they’re that excited about it — it makes me think of them. That’s how we categorize people in our minds. Without that, you don’t become memorable and you don’t have a hook. You don’t have something special to be remembered for.
HAVING MULTIPLE NICHES
[11:30] Like I said, you can have multiple niches, in different circles. For the longest time, you would remember me as the “Particles Flow Guy” or the “Fume FX Guy”. For example, ILM or Rhythm & Hues seek me out as the “Fire Guy”. But if you aren’t in FX, you may know me as “the guy who helps artists live and love their careers”. Outside the industry, I speak at a lot of marketing events. In marketing, I’m known as “that film guy who talks a lot about product launches”. If you’re on my Facebook, you may know me as “the guy who drinks a lot of beer”. I’m into doing lots of stuff but I resonate with different people for different things. But the main thing is that in each of these audience groups, I want my name to be the first they think of. I’ve done my job defining myself, so my name bubbles to the surface.
[12:50] But other times, it is about elimination. It’s about picking the area in which you’re the King of the Castle. Pixar hires two new Animators per year and yet they review thousands of reels. Everyone wants to be a character animator, but if you define yourself as “a character animator”, you’re competing with a really big pool of people. I’ve talked about this before: Two of my friends [David Clayton and Andrew Silke] made a short film Cane-Toad back in 2002. It won every award at every festival. We all worked on a Disney film. Their careers went in different directions: Dave ended up doing the hero character of a talking snake, while Andrew worked on friendlier characters in the movie. Dave went on to be one of the key Supervisors at Weta and that led him to work on Lord of the Rings where he animated Golum. Andrew, after doing more Disney stuff, became the Animation Lead for Happy Feet. But if they ended up doing everything, their style and messaging would all be mixed. Dave moved from being a character animator to a realistic creature animator, while Andrew concentrated on Pixar-like animated feature style character animation. By owning a specific area, it allowed them to hone their craft and get to the top of their careers.
PLANTING THE SEED
[15:36] Sometimes, to be exceptional, you need to get specific. And there are different ways to stand out in your industry or how people remember you. Sometimes, it’s about getting your client confident that you’ll get the job done on time. That’s the seed that you plant:
- That you tend to work fast.
- Or you’re in the same time zone.
- Or you have more experience than other candidates.
[16:26] I just want to spark your interest in this. Do you want to cure all aches and pains? Or do you want to cure that one pain that your client has. And here is the secret: [16:42] Your messaging can change with every single client. When it comes to having a conversation, you can find out what their specific problem is — and plant that seed that you’re the person to solve that problem.
[17:00] I will talk about this subject more in upcoming Podcasts. If I were to have a superpower, it would be at being really good at talking to clients; so that it becomes obvious that I’m the one person for them. At this point, I am not looking for jobs. But if I were to start out now, I would have no problem landing clients. I am really good at talking to them! I don’t bullshit them and I know what to say, how to listen and interpret that and how to use that to get their confidence. With this Podcast, you can get that list of superpowers. But I hope for now, I’ve planted that seed about the importance of standing out.
I hope you enjoyed this Episode and got a lot from it. Please share this Podcast with others.
Next week, I’m sitting down with Beeple to talk about his practice of digital daily art.
Until next week —
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