Monday, October 1, 2012

Scott Hull Associates, Inc.

Is there room for a nice guy in the artist representative business? At least one has found a niche: Scott Hull, proclaimed "Visual Ambassador" of Scott Hull Associates, has been nice to clients for 30 years now, treating each one with the respect and integrity ordinarily reserved for mission statements.  
So, how did you get started in this business?
As a designer-turned-creative-entrepreneur, I’m well aware of the demands of creativity in the corporate world. Early on, I learned the ins and outs of the business, and realized I enjoyed assembling the right team to pull off a project as much as the hands-on designing part. This realization led to a new creative alliance serving other artists, art directors and designers, and over three decades later Scott Hull Associates has served over 9,000 customers.  Providing visual branding in partnership with global advertising agencies, design firms, and Fortune 500 companies. Ranging from start-ups to well-known brands like the Harry Potter book series, Target, Starbucks, Panera, United Airlines and locally the Great American Ball Park.
Scott Hull Associates... how many associates?
We have 20 artists, and an equally talented group in management.
And what's different about your group? 
We were put on this earth to help build artists' confidence and creativity. We didn’t invent art, we didn’t invent service, but we did pioneer this approach to artistic solutions – it's totally service-oriented. More than making pictures. We've been doing it this way for about 30 years. 
What does a 30-year-old artist representative agency know that a 5-year-old agency might not?
You get a better sense of the cycle of things. There's a feel for what's a fad and what will really endure, but I don't try to predict the future of the profession anymore. If you're right, everybody hates you, and if you're wrong, well... they remember that. 

We do see time and time again that emotional involvement has to be there at every step in the process. Caring doesn't just make art more fun to create – it gets results, because the human element really intrigues and engages people. That's one of those enduring truths.
Are you an artist yourself?
I am an artist who can bring original thinking to a problem, someone who can cause change, that’s why successful entrepreneurs are artists.  You might recoil in fear when you find out I’m both a businessperson and an artist.  
What’s your role in this process?
I liken my role to that of a casting specialist who works with the movie director (art director) to match just the right talent for each project’s unique needs. The result is work that, not only has earned the Scott Hull Associates’ illustrators acclaim but most importantly, consistently surpasses the client’s marketing goals.
What is one trend you do like?
Well, motion. It's just very exciting to be able to recreate – or convincingly simulate, anyway – real life's real dynamic nature. Video, ipads, mobile, gaming, the web... images move these days, and it's really fun to see. Video is the new audio.
What other changes have you seen over the past few years? 
We're noticing the movement back to organic, hands-on design, which of course is nice for us. Agencies and design groups seem to be searching for a way to connect with their consumers, not just get their attention for a fleeting moment, and illustration is a natural fit.

Along with that has come a proliferation of illustration styles. There's so much out there now that designers can be very specific about what they're after, and make sure they find the perfect art for their application. That also works out well for us, having so many really diverse illustrators to choose from. 
Where do you see challenges for artists now?
I guess it's in doing the best piece for the assignment while at the same time cultivating your own personal style. That's hard. It's not just worrying about whether your work will be perceived as art, but if it will be perceived as *your* art... and still get the message across.

I a digital-everything world, will there always be room for hand-drawn illustration?
I think the digital revolution *makes* room for organic illustration.  When it started, everything kind of looked the same, and people started noticing their thirst for something unique, something real. A beautiful illustration stops people in their tracks now as much as it ever did. More, actually.

What brought you to representing artists?
My background and education were in design, and I actually started out in my career as a designer. The years I spent doing that showed me that I like assembling great teams even more than I like doing the design itself. That experience also gave me insight into the designer mindset, which has been tremendously helpful, as you'd imagine. 

What is your strategy for dealing with difficult artists?
What do you mean, "difficult"?

Oh, lazy, arrogant, rude to clients...
Easy. We don't take them on in the first place. Our firm's reputation is in the hands of every one of our artists, on every one of their assignments. A fumbled job by them is a poor reflection on us, and it includes clients against coming to our group in the future. SHA focuses our efforts on illustrators with talents for art *and* people; otherwise you're always apologizing for somebody else's behavior.

What's one client you'd love to see on your caller ID – who could really be using some great illustration right now, but isn't?
Donald Trump or a call for my own reality TV show.

Do you have any amphibian-based metaphors regarding the current state of the design community?
Yes. Picture a frog being dropped in a kettle of water. If the water is boiling, he'll jump out immediately, but if it's just warm, he might settle in, thinking it's a frog jacuzzi. When the temperature rises - gradually, gradually - the poor frog stays put, not detecting the change in his environment, until eventually he's stewed.

I see.
The design community really needs to be more aware of current changes in our environment. Too many of us keep operating as though it's five years ago – or fifteen – when we need to be responding to changes in the ways people gather information. I feel like design is following, when it should be leading the way.

Some clients have guidelines about graphic standards and how to maximize their effect. What advice do you give them for measuring the effect of an illustration?
Well, it's tricky, and illustration probably is harder to measure than standard design techniques. You know when you have a good one, (and you know when sales go up) but that intangibility – that certain quality of a piece of art that comes from a human being – does frustrate number-crunchers sometimes. You can't duplicate the success of a great illustration because you can't duplicate the illustration. It's just not a science, even though some people would like it to be.
So... you're an agent.

Why aren't you, um, slicker?
Well, it's not who I am, and it's not really our business model either. 
We're founded on honesty and stability – making the process simpler, more straightforward. We think it's great that there's so much good art in the world, and even better that there are so many folks who want to make use of it, and best of all when we can help put that together. Nowhere in that business plan is there a clause about talking fast and confusing people. 

So that's it, huh? You match artists with clients?
– And make sure the project runs smoothly, and confirm that everybody agrees on goals and compensation, and assist both parties in realizing any hidden potential for their creations, from optimizing publicity to licensing opportunities, and handle interviews and such, yes.

Wow. So you keep pretty busy, do you?
I try to maintain.

Say I'm a designer. I've got Illustrator; I've got Photoshop. Why shouldn't I just create an image myself, instead of hiring an illustrator?
I know. It's a tempting option, and it's hard to let go of the creative process and let someone else (an illustrator, a photographer, a director) offer his or her input. Plus doing it yourself is quicker and cheaper. But in the long run, I believe illustration is actually more effective – and cost-effective. There's an immediacy and an authenticity to the work of a talented illustrator, and it just shines right through. Designers' willingness to share in the process always seems to pay off. 

I love seeing it come together...  

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