Longtime Flagstaff Business owner Julie Sullivan is a graphic designer and marketer, who has nearly three decades working with other businesses and nonprofits. In this FBN Web Exclusive, the owner of Luckygirl Productions, says businesses need to understand branding on a deeper level, a process involving analysis of a the company’s structure and mission. While her industry has changed quite a bit since she started in 1984, many of the values are the same: creativity and continually sharpening your focus.
How did you begin your career in design?
I started copying drawings of fashion models from the newspaper or from the Speigle’s catalog, when I was child. Most everything was illustrated then, rather than photographed for reproduction (dating myself for sure here). Then in high school I had 2 incredibly supportive art teachers, Mr. Anderson and Mr. “Mudge.” One of our assignments was to create an album cover. (I did mine for the famous art rock band “Yes”). That was when I realized there was actually a career in art called “commercial art.” From there I went to an art school, studied design and fine art, then landed my first apprenticeship with a prestigious boutique firm, Van Dine, MacNamara, & Mangis, in Pittsburgh, PA. An apprenticeship was the most effective ways to launch one’s career then and probably still is. It was exhilarating for me.
What is it you like about working with nonprofits and which challenges does that work bring?
I like doing work that supports a social or cultural cause. I have worked for hundreds of different clients—but I get more satisfaction doing work that has longevity and meaning in its purpose. A few year’s back I collaborated on a poster for all the non-profits in Flag with the title “Non Profits Sustain us all” of a tree whose trunk and branches were made up of all of the names of the organizations. I believe that, therefore I truly love the work.
Non profits face different challenges than regular businesses for numerous reasons. Funding resources are being depleted and everyone has their hand out for the same apples, from the same bucket. The bucket is not getting filled up as quickly or as often. Non profits have to be more creative in how they get these resources and “sell” themselves. Being stretched thin because of lack of resources also develops a “scarcity model” which effects moral. I’m not sure that non profits even think they are selling something at times, but they are just like anyone other business and need to have business savvy to survive. The cause alone will not keep the lights on and the doors open. That’s why having solid branding is critical and should not be overlooked. From a designer’s standpoint, one must be highly creative and able to work with extremely tight budgets and schedules. This can try one’s patience, but is ultimately rewarding work.
As client or designer, creativity comes in many forms and is vast and limitless in my mind, becoming the most powerful “game-changer” and tool for any business, especially non profits. To be successful in any business you must be nimble, willing to re-invent and quickly change directions to stay vital.
Your skill set is one that is constantly changing, especially in the past 20 years since you opened shop. What do you do to stay current?
Boy oh boy. I actually started my biz in Berkeley, CA in 1984 and we still did mechanicals–all by hand. In 1986 I bought the very first Mac which looked like a child’s toy and ran one program. I learned “by the seat of my pants” because the industry has moved so fast and hasn’t really stopped yet. Being “technically-challenged” to a degree—I view the computer as a necessary evil which can enhance creativity but never replace it. So, I have always believed in working with folks that are better than me in certain areas. Basic solid design principals have not changed.
Many people believe economic recovery is underway, but many Arizona businesses are still feeling the pinch. As far as branding, what would you suggest to business owners and nonprofits at this stage of the recovery?
I fully endorse having a professionally designed and consistent look which quickly communicates the mission or reflects the product or idea you are selling, but if internally you or your employees are miserable because of a bad process, or your product is not really up to par, branding won’t help you. “Branding” is all the buzz, and it is not just getting a new logo and using it effectively for marketing. Most businesses don’t really understand or know how to fully embrace branding. A logo might be helpful, but branding goes much deeper.
When taking on a full branding process—an organization non-profit or commercial—has to be willing to really dig deep to the core of understanding of what they are selling, how they are selling it, and how they want the business to be perceived in the market. Then you have to be willing to address any “pink elephants” in the boardroom. The branding process reveals all this, and can be exhilarating or painful. It forces a business to really understand its model of operation and embrace whether that really works or not. In this way branding can be a lot like design therapy or medicine. And you have to take the medicine.
At this stage of economic recovery, a proactive approach to business is a must. Sharpen your focus, sharpen your pencil and see where you can tighten your belt without being penny wise and pound foolish. Invest in your business now with strength and conviction. I strongly recommend re-visiting your business plan, or mission statement to make sure it is still valid and guiding you. If it needs to be revised, do it. If you don’t have one, write one. A “position statement” is also extremely helpful. Look at how what you have to offer is distinctive and unique. Read inspirational business books and remain positive. Get creative.
What has your experience been as a woman-owned business? Have you seen many changes in this arena in the past two decades?
Although, I do think women may conduct business a little bit differently than men (I never schmoozed anyone on the golf course), essentially I have never been wiling to buy into thinking I was limited by being a woman in the design field. I knew I was good, and viewed men as my equals. I know there were times where men were chosen for certain contracts over me probably because I was a woman, but I never let it stop me, or did I waste time begrudging.
I have been exceptionally successful and worked with men and women at the highest levels of business. It is true the design business has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, and statistically there are now way more women in graphic design than men, which is cool.
119 East Terrace, Suite F
Flagstaff, AZ 86001