093: Building a package design agency with Richard Shear

I have an awesome interview for you today with Richard Shear from Invōk Brands.

Richard’s company is pretty incredible. They are a package design agency that has been around for many, many years in different names and iterations. Invōk Brands has an impressive resume of clients, starting off with Johnson & Johnson.

I sat down with Richard at the HOW Design Live Conference and we discussed his story of kicking off his agency with Johnson & Johnson and how he’s been able to maintain his business through challenging times like the recession.

If you’re in the early stages of your creative agency, you are going to get a ton of value out of this episode.

From Partner to Entrepreneur

Richard considers himself very lucky. With Architect parents, Richard grew up in a studio environment and always knew he wanted to be involved in arts. After a short stint at an art gallery, Richard turned to graphic design.

With the opportunity to present to clients right out of college, Richard learned how clients think and what it’s like working face-to-face with clientele. Richard had the opportunity to work on the corporate side of design with Pepsi before moving back to consulting.

After getting a taste of equity at a growing firm, Richard became increasingly interested in entrepreneurship. He knew that having a boss wasn’t for him. When his current firm decided they were so cash-strapped they had to go without paying salary, Richard quit, took his three founding clients, and started his agency.

Richard spent the summer working from home until he saved the cash to get an office. He worked completely alone teaching himself how to do everything. Years later, Richard’s wife joined his firm and has been part of the firm ever since. Having a partner he trusts on a business and creative level has been a huge benefit. While the downside of having one major source of income is great, Richard and his wife continue to enjoy their work together.

Gaining Momentum with a New Agency

With three incredible clients right out the gate, Richard’s agency was prepared to go upward and onward. He gained new clientele by sending samples of physical products to potential clients, sharing printed brochures, and creating books tailored to individual clients.

Richard noted, “You don’t find clients anymore, they find you. You’re much better spending your time on your online presence.” Most of the agency’s work comes from long, stable relationships Richard has within the industry. Being a part of the industry and giving back is a critical aspect of surviving through the ups and downs of business.

Besides creating an agency, Richard is a founding faculty member of the School of Visual Arts in the Masters in Branding program. Completely unaware of the benefits of a teaching gig, Richard came to find that this position would be a benefit to his business.

Richard’s attitude toward account executives has evolved over the years. For decades, Richard and his wife ran the agency themselves without any help from account executives. With Invōk, they switched the process to give account executives certain responsibilities and found them to be very valuable to the business.

Managing Business Throughout Economic Crisis

After 9/11, business stopped unless you had legacy clients or retainers. It was a very scary period of time for the country and for business. During the 2008 recession, Richard’s agency was lucky to have a large client on retainer for a significant amount of their income. It was enough money that they could maintain a reasonable lifestyle and studio with that income. These retainer relationships are very valuable.

Keeping Clients Around

Richard has an incredible record of working with major brands for years. Beyond doing good work, he attributes this success to knowing a client’s business on a deep level. Implementing strategy in the design process has been a big part of what they do.

For decades, Richard and his wife were the people on the line, so they took their work very seriously. Other companies have shareholders as their first priority. Richard and his wife are always thinking about their clients.

With package design, most of Richard’s clients are CPG companies, so procurement has become a big part of the packaging process. Richard recommends caution when it comes to working with procurement teams.

Richard also recommends not taking on spec products. If you are asked to pitch beside nine other firms, ignore it. You might want to pitch, but the investment won’t be worth it. By turning these opportunities down, we’ll start to clean up the process.

I absolutely loved talking with Richard. He has a ton of experience and some great suggestions for creatives to be successful. If you would like to reach out to Richard for any reason, you can find him at richard@invokbrands.com. I’ll see you next week, and I hop you keep working without pants.

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