It’s easy to mistake Glazen Creative Group’s offices for a hip Warehouse District bar.
Bright orange girders jut from the walls. Unpolished truck tire-sized corrugated steel columns provide a stark contrast to the walls, painted lime green, orange and magenta.
There is a 70-pound blue canvas Everlast heavy bag suspended from the ceiling. Epiphone electric guitars hang on the walls. And track lighting is carefully positioned throughout to illuminate the black leather armchairs and sofas.
But you won’t find a bar among the eclectic offerings, which, by the way, aren’t located in the Warehouse District. Glazen’s offices are situated next door to Jacobs Field.
Like a tavern, however, Glazen’s offices are designed to induce relaxation. Relaxation promotes creativity. And Glazen Creative Group, founded in 1972 by Alan Glazen, is creativity in motion — film, video, CD-ROM and Web pages. Moving images are its business.
Glazen is more of an independent film studio than a marketing firm in the way it approaches projects. Its producers and editors create award-winning documentaries, marketing and corporate training videos, and commercials. Its clients include some of the largest companies in the world and several of the region’s neediest nonprofits. Both breeds of organizations get the Glazen treatment: Polished, professional, and slick — in the best sense of the word.
It took 30 years to reach this point.
When Glazen started out, he ran a traditional advertising agency that produced print ads, brochures, annual reports and the like. Over time, however, the advertising industry — like banking, accounting and law — saw small- and medium-sized firms consolidated into larger competitors. By the late 1980s, Glazen was leaving client pitch meetings to discover executives from major firms like BSMG and Wyse Landau waiting in the lobby.
At the same time, the mystique of marketing began to disappear. More companies followed the lead of major corporations like Nike and started moving marketing and advertising initiatives in-house. Manufacturing was outsourced. Small ad agencies suffered.
“The clients had their own internal account services. They knew their own research, they knew their own marketing needs and their own sales goals,” says Glazen. “They didn’t need an outsider to come in and do that. But what they didn’t have inside, and what you can never have inside, is the artistic capabilities.”
Artists or “creatives,” as some firms call them, are a fickle bunch, says Glazen, dressed much like a downtown artist in all black with stylish angular-framed glasses. Artists like change. They like trying new things. And they can’t work for the same company for too long.
Glazen knew he needed to change. He recognized that his new firm would require a team of artists. But he wondered what kind of art the big agencies didn’t already dominate. He found the answer in nearly every American living room: Video.
Before starting his firm, Glazen was a media relations officer at Case Western Reserve University. Part of his job was to promote faculty to Cleveland-area television stations.
During his visits to the studios, Glazen, barely in his 20s, was fascinated as he watched technicians put together television shows. He was much more impressed with the power of the moving image than with still photographs and text.
The feeling lingered as he grew his firm, and rose to the surface when he reinvented it years later.
“Alan loved the idea that he could create this hybrid between a production facility and an ad agency, but stripped of all the politics of an agency so it was only about the work,” says Ron Goldfarb, partner and president of Glazen Creative Group. “He also realized that print was never his strength. Billboards, brochures, still photography; it didn’t really interest him.”
After working several years in Toronto directing commercials, Glazen in the early ’90s launched his new communication strategy and video production company in Cleveland armed with one camera, a few lights and one digital editing suite. The local market didn’t know what to make of him.
“When we heard about what he was doing, we laughed,” says Tony Weber, Glazen partner and COO. “Now we work for him.”
Few laughed when they heard the companies that comprised Glazen’s client list: KeyCorp, National City Corp., OfficeMax, Progressive Insurance, Sherwin-Williams and Parker Hannifin, among others. Many were already Glazen clients and remained so under the firm’s new business direction.
John Hoynock, director of human resources for industrial manufacturer Parker Hannifin, was at first wary of working with Glazen. He thought the corporate and creative cultures wouldn’t mix. Not only did his apprehension vanish after his first meeting with Glazen, he was surprised by how entertaining the project, a new employee motivational video, turned out.
“I didn’t want the same stale corporate video, where you watch the people’s eyes move across a TelePrompTer,” he says. “It was refreshing, fast-moving, informative, and it really captured our story.”
Producers at Glazen pride themselves on their nontraditional, documentary-style of corporate videos. That approach has won them numerous awards, including one in March, when Glazen picked up a Telly Award for a documentary series for the public broadcasting network WNET in New York called “The Ethnic American Spirit.” It featured ethnic groups living in New York City, including Koreans, Dominicans, Filipinos and Chinese.
The Telly Awards recognize outstanding television commercials, video productions and films.
“It’s the same type of research a writer would do if he was going to write a script; we just bring the camera along and do that interview live,” Goldfarb says of Glazen’s production style. “I think our real talent is interviewing all these people and piecing together a story that’s compelling.”
Glazen borrows its approach from some of the most popular nonfiction shows on TV today. Flip through cable TV channels and you’ll find “Behind The Music” on VH1, “Biography” on A&E, and even “True Hollywood Stories,” on the E! Channel. These shows have a devoted following and receive national acclaim — E! and VH1 were nominated for Emmys for their shows. Each of the programs employs the same live interview documentary style Glazen uses in its work.
Obviously, the videos Glazen produces for its business clients are not usually aimed at the same audience as these TV shows, but the comparison is appropriate.
“Any time you’re expecting your audience to view something on television, whether it’s a television commercial or a short film about your company, you’re competing with (their expectations of) television,” Goldfarb says. “It’s the same screen. We feel we have an obligation to that audience to make programming look as good as it possibly can, and not like something from 1981.”
Suzanne Sutter, president of the personalized gift store chain Things Remembered, worked with Glazen to produce a 20-minute customer education video sent to more than 5,000 of her store managers and employees. Like Hoynock, she was impressed with the polished but informal feel of the production.
“It was really a fabulous piece,” she says. “It was all nonscripted. That’s one of things I like about them, because they’re very good at directing and making them look very interesting and interactive. I have great trust in them, and if they say it’s not right, they’ll tell us. They don’t just rubber stamp what we want to do.”
For a National City videoconference, Glazen was faced with the task of combining live Internet video feeds from 23 sites in six states into a short video. Mimi Shenk, National City vice president of recognition and community relations, says Glazen’s producers were even able to correct sound and technical errors that happened during the conference for the final product.
“They are a terrific partner,” Shenk says. “When you go to them, you’re usually talking about something conceptual, and they make it a reality. They find the right mix of people, places and emotion and message.”
One aspect of Glazen’s business that has remained the same from the early days to today is his work for nonprofit groups. Half of Glazen’s clients are nonprofit and charitable organizations that need the polish of a Glazen production but don’t have the funds of a KeyBank or Progressive Insurance.
Projects for child welfare groups like Annie E. Casey Foundation, Applewood Centers Inc. and Providence House; drug and alcohol centers like Recovery Resources; and shelters like the Center for Prevention of Domestic Violence and dozens more receive services at a reduced cost or for free depending on the need of the group.
“Most of the nonprofits we run into need our kind of services — a lot,” Goldfarb says. “We all enjoy working on these kinds of programs. If we could make a living only doing nonprofit work, we would do that. It gives people a chance here to do something that’s really making a difference in people’s lives.”
Due to a long-term contract with public television station WNET, Alan Glazen commutes to New York regularly to work in the firm’s smaller SoHo offices, near Ground Zero. The area was quarantined for days after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“We couldn’t get to our offices,” he says.
From his cell phone, Glazen says reinventing himself and his firm should not be unique to him or his industry. Any company leader must be ready to change direction before the market demands it. By that point, it is too late.
“People keep saying I have reinvented myself a number of times in my career,” Glazen says. “It used to be a criticism. Now I see it as a compliment.
“Will we reinvent ourselves again? Hell, yeah. But it won’t be a complete reinvention; it will be a continued evolution.” How to reach: Glazen Creative Group, (216) 241-7200 or www.glazen.com