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Taylor Record
October 25, 2017

On marketing with no budget, inclusivity, and unicorns: An Interview with Craft Initiative Agency

Meet the team behind Craft Initiative Agency, a branding and facilitator agency that wants to rebrand and redefine inclusivity of the products, festivals, projects, and events they represent. We sat down with G, Alex, and Rica to discuss what’s wrong with traditional marketing and how they’re taking action to change it, Charlie’s Angels style.

Craft Initiative Agency (CIA) is a small-but-fierce team that came out of the underground scene, specializing in connecting the off-market communities to brands. They are a low logo and no branding agency with the motto “we grow brands through community hands”. By leveraging their connections with larger brands and festivals, they strive to create access for brands and events that would not otherwise have the opportunity. The queer and queer-friendly team has worked with brands like Diageo (Whiskey Union, Ketel One, Tanqueray), BrewDog, Krombacher, Ubeeqo, and NextBike at events, festivals, and parties of all sizes from 50 to 5,000+ people. 

Craft Initiative Agency (CIA) takes an authentic approach to partnership creation, fostering product experiences through micro-community direct marketing. Tell us a bit about how brands benefit from this approach to marketing and why it works.

G: "A section of our business presentation involves the concept that unicorns are exceptional. What that means is that if you saw one walking down the street, it would be a special moment. You would likely be compelled to follow it wherever it’s going. One hopes it will lead you to a magical place full of magical things. These unicorns are the tastemakers in our world and industry. They lead us to where the cool, new things are. When you take into consideration that the majority of the influencers and tastemakers are women or from the queer community, you can understand why working with us can be an asset. This is our wheelhouse — it is where we live. Our neighborhood is where the unicorns are, and we have the keys to the kiez! That is what we offer our clients… real access to authentic people."

You’ve said you specialize in “marketing products with almost no marketing budget”. What have you learned about partnership marketing that you’d give as advice to brands just starting out and working on lean budgets?

Alex: "As axiomatic as is sounds: work to your strengths. For us, partnering with like-minded individuals on both sides of our business has been really helpful. We don’t force anybody to toe a party line, but when we are engaged by brands or events, we do our research. If there is a common ground other than profit, it makes those relationships far more manageable. We noticed that people are willing to find compromises that might otherwise be dismissed if there wasn’t that bond, and it has only helped to strengthen our partnerships."

G: "More specifically, if you are brand without money but have product, then that product is your currency. You have to find as many ways to support events or parties to make sure you are at zero. Zero means you are not at a loss. You may not earn a profit, but at the end of the day, you didn't lose money. The event provided you the space and exposure for your product. You factor in the cost of advertising and marketing. 

Many small brands complain that they can’t afford a marketing budget, when in reality, they can’t afford not to! Budget for it! Look at where and how much product you can give away and sell. Often times, festivals will accept a 50/50 deal where they will purchase half if you provide half for free. Sometimes they need staff to to work the concessions or bars to deliver the products like beer, beverages, or cookies. Then you yourself, as the CEO, gets off your ass and get out there and hand out the products yourself. Or bring your team and do it together. You save the event money, help them make money, and make their event successful. The community sees you are willing to get your hands dirty and be part of them. It has to be genuine. The events appreciate the participation of the smaller brand working as hard as them — not to mention alongside them —  and what happens is that an authentic partnership begins to grow. That's the best marketing that money didn’t have to buy. Your sweat, participation and camaraderie pays the bill. Keep in mind larger brands can spend much more on marketing but one should always keep it around 10% of your operation budget. Be fluid and not rigid. If you factor marketing costs in your budget, a 50/50 deal between sales and free product, and your time on site, so if you don’t lose money then you came out ahead."

Craft Initiative Agency is largely unbranded and runs without a conventional website or social presence. Can you tell us why?

Alex: "We want our brands and events to be the stars of the show. The acronym of our name is not coincidental. We do prefer to facilitate things in the shadows. It allows us to be a bit more cautious with who we decide to work with. People can walk away from event x saying that they had a really great time enjoying product y. If we can create that sort of result, it is our belief that word of mouth will lead to more business our way without taking any of the limelight from our clients. It sometimes even incites a bit of curiosity for people in the relevant industries rather than immediately thinking us as a more traditional outfit."

G: "If you hear our brand by name, then we haven’t done our job branding you."

One thing you mentioned in our initial conversation is that conventional marketing "markets through or on but not to” queer people and women. Craft Initiative Agency is, at its core, inclusive of these marginaliZed groups. Can you explain exactly how you’re “marketing for instead of to” these underserved markets?

Rica: "Having worked in sales and marketing, as well as being consumers ourselves in the queer community, we were always aware that marketing wasn’t directed towards us."

G: "Brands give the queer community money for our parties or events but turn away from our community and don’t engage in our social or political issues. They just want to use the coolness factor of our community to get people to buy their products. That is marketing throughMarketing on is very simple. Think of the naked Budweiser girl carry beer with her hair covering her breasts. That using women to entice men to drink beer. That makes me the maddest. I have seen the business plans in the craft beer scene. And there is a woman holding a beer out. ‘She is the girlfriend or the wife that we want to give men permission to drink our beer. ’ I heard this in a meeting... from a millennial. What is this, 1950?"

Rica: (laughing)

G: "We don’t support marketing through the queer community or marketing on women. Engage us and work with us. In the end, women and the queer community really are the market that decides what is on trend — women and tweens. So that's why you should work with us."

What advice would you give to brands who are trying to be more queer or female friendly?

Rica: "If a brand came to us saying that they’re trying, that seems fake to me. You can’t simply pay lip service to any cause. Of course, when you have a Campbell soup ad with a non-binary couple preparing a meal for their son, it's progress (as long as it is not a cynical attempt at profiting from the Zeitgeist) or when BrewDog created the world’s first protest beer, aiming to support LGBT communities by undermining Putin and Russia’s law banning homosexual propaganda and essentially homosexuality. We applaud these actions."

G: "I am not suggesting this is the case for every brand, but keep the moss off that rolling stone and invest in the plethora of causes for the myriad of communities who have been marginalized for so long and whose Euro means less than somebody else. If you don’t have the budget for it, then make sure that your brand is not using this friendship in a subversive manner. Don’t tolerate but embrace, and if the backlash you receive means that your shareholders demand you scale back your relationship with these communities, then your true colors will run true, and you will be put on our no-fly list."

You have attributed some of your early success to being in a space like betahaus. What kinds of opportunities has being in a coworking space afforded you along the way?

G: "The social element allows us to interact with people outside of our fields, both in terms of creating opportunities for collaboration but also cracking a joke at the water cooler with someone you don’t sit across from every day. The programs that betahaus puts on have at the very least provided food for thought and at best created actual partnerships with other members. We started out working from our respective WGs and were running at about 10% efficiency due to gossip and distraction. Given that co-working is what it says on the tin, loud phone calls and gossip have reduced our wasted time but also provided a place to get up and go in the morning (late morning for Alex). With an operation as hectic and hysterical as ours, having the facilities and support that the members (especially the premiums ones) receive, helps to keep us as focussed as we admittedly ever will be."

Final (but equally important) question. You guys kept striking Charlie’s Angels poses during our photoshoot. What are your specific areas of expertise that make you such an unstoppable team?

Alex: "Well we have two incredible young women working with us. Making sure that we stay on mission, so they would be the Charlies to our Angels."

G: "That is Linda Kolodziej who came to us from betahaus and Valetine Destrait who had worked with Rica at Artconnect. They split the role of Office Manager. So they really make our mission possible even more probable."

Alex: "Rica is an extremely colorful Brazilian with an extensive history in marketing and is currently sharpening his skills studying for a Master’s Degree in Design for Social Impact. G has a history in television and the arts but is really the Sensei when it comes to the art of sales; his genuine enthusiasm and dedication being some of our most valuable assets. I have a more nebulous past, growing up in Canada but receiving Master’s Degrees in Political Science and Philosophy in Ireland. I also practiced Law as a Solicitor in England and Wales (think Suits not wigs and gowns), but realised quickly that it’s not a path I want to continue on. Besides Craft Initiative Agency I moonlight as a bartender at a club, which gives me a great balance between office and hands on work.

Rica: Together we share spoken and unspoken ideals and values. Being a trifecta helps the democratic process in making decisions and finding solutions to  any possible problem solving we experience along the way. To make it extremely corny, but true, our backgrounds compliment each other perfectly. Plus at least two out of three of us are fabulous. Maybe three."

Want to join CIA and other entrepreneurs at betahaus? See how here!