Today we’d like to introduce you to Matt Ordeshook.
Matt, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
It all started working at Circuit City in Pasadena. I sold computers mostly, A lawyer came into the store to buy a computer and I sold him three computers, two printers, network equipment and on the side sold him a website, brochures, business cards, and installation of a network. Up to this point most this stuff I did for friends and family members. Around the same time, I got a gig with an Antique store to do their website. Followed by a number of other small businesses from restaurants to boutiques.
This was my college education. Since I’ve never been in a classroom that teaches anything I do. The combination of projects I worked on is best described as ‘digitally finding myself’ and this would lead me to an art company that sold art to hotels and department stores. It was a digital guru paradise. Multiple wide format printers, best computers in the nation, cameras of all kinds, scanners that could do rugs, and artists always a buzz. I started as an office assistant with great computer skills and ended about three years later as operations manager for the digital department. I was spoiled. I wasn’t anyone important but the company was, we were selling millions in digital artwork across America. The owner noticed that I had an interest in digital art and design, obsessed really. So I was assigned all things digital, helped with the website, magazine advertising and ensuring the quality of the prints we sold. From very high-end giclee prints to actual artwork in hotel lobbies, boutique stores, and department store display. Worked with top photographers around the world and many local artists in Los Angeles.
At the time I still was discovering myself as a professional advertising creative and struggled to bridge the gaps between great design, user experience and delivering a message. Telling stories graphically using images and color takes time and intense studying, you have to mature into it. Campaigns were even more complicated. I struggled since there is so much to launching a digital campaign but did best. Crash courses were common and read everything I could about Flash and Adobe (YouTube videos didn’t exist). I also read whatever books I could about branding. If I wasn’t working on a project, I was working on a skill for the next project. The sites I was on daily no longer exist; replaced with video learning centers, YouTube, and social media forums. Still, I love books, one that still influences me is “The Brand Gap” by Marty Neumeier. With these skills and knowledge, I put together a campaign for an art company with emails, landing pages, and website.
These got the attention of a few people in the dot-com industry. One being Internet Brands, an internet conglomerate with hundreds of various websites serving travel, auto, and many other verticals. Worked with them for over two years in a freelance capacity then full-time. Worked on every vertical imaginable supplying a ton of banners and online customer acquisition collateral. I having my hand in everything included sales presentations, emails, and the websites. The importance of quality photos, good design, and the right CTA continued to sink in. So was telling stories using the insight gained from failure. Obsessed with digital media, after hours I picked up side work most notably LAtimes.com. Would even go into their downtown office between 7:00pm and 2:00 am. Did a host of projects including redesigning sections of their website, select images that ran the next day, and created interactive media that supplemented articles on featured stories. Amazing opportunity seeing a writer’s passion and a stream of reporters shuffling in at 1 am because something big just happened. Exciting times. When I reflect back on my career I’m astonished by how much I’ve created and all the people I’ve worked with doing it. Other side work I picked up include; a website for a prominent sound design company called Machine Head in Los Angeles, working with Doug Aryes on Manhattan Beach Hotel lobby fresco, creating the artwork for Kohl introduction to California, eCommerce website for the high-end furniture gallery, and launched two small hometown newspaper websites. With all this, from artsy sites to very sales driven sites, I was recruited by a well-known ad agency (TBWA/Chiat/Day) who aggressively hired me into their interactive department to work on Nissan and PlayStation. It was overwhelming, working among the elite in every discipline. Mind blown. I learned so much and would go on to be an interactive creative at some of the largest agencies in the world; to name a few… Deutsch, David&Goliath, and Ogilvy and Mather. Some for a year and some for three – a lifetime in the dot-com world. I’ve ridden horseback through the digital revolution.
I enjoyed this run even the grueling hours and unpredictable workflow as a freelancer. All nighters are the norm and the passion everyone has for these projects, you’re never alone. Worked on everything from Cisco systems, Wells Fargo, Tabasco, Cazadores, Resorts, Direct TV, Nissan, Nature Made, Infiniti, California Cheese, KIA, Vegas casinos, and AmeriTrade. I worked on all kinds of accounts in various degrees – from photography, animation, programming, creative pitches, post production, and brand guide design. Every experience was different and my role varied from agency to agency. Some agencies I traveled often while others I worked constantly in the agency, production to creative. Sometimes I ran with the project from pitch to production into optimization other times simply trying to fix or put out a fire. After my run in the agency world, I wanted to try something new. Digital age matured enough where many companies had built strong in-house digital teams and relied heavily on digital gurus like me. I did freelance for beauty and fashion companies mostly. Some very notable freelance projects in the beauty industry included launching Proactiv and Meaningful Beauty for Guthy-Renker into multiple international markets. A true challenge and one that exposed me to working in a startup mentality. While Guthy-Renker isn’t a small company its international team was. Our goal was enormous like a startup and dreamed of making it globally. We did. Another dot com I worked with was Edmunds.com. There I helped redesign the luxury auto section and created presentations for Ford, BMW, and launched campaigns for KIA and Toyota. Unique experience since I felt at times I worked for all the auto car agencies in one place, amazing. Because of this experience, I started to seek out startups and small companies. At startups, individual efforts can be felt and a host of opportunity to work on unique projects is common. Developing ideas rapidly can give startups a unique advantage when competing against other companies with large agency budgets.
In the past few years I’ve been involved in many types of projects including; model competitions, trade show creative development, hair and makeup shoots, fashion shows and supporting multiple blogs with endless demands for more content. From my early work with an antique store and on, I’ve always worked with photography, but it was the startups that really fed my crave to do more of it. Content has always been king to me, that is truer today than ever. Social media is a content beast, and I’ve done all kinds of photo projects from swimwear companies beauty product shoots and active-wear brands. It’s led me to work on projects around the world. From San Fransisco, Detroit, to Fiji. I love it all, the challenges are endless.
Has it been a smooth road?
One of my first clients (15 years ago) was an antique store in South Pasadena, Thomas R. Field Antiques. I’ve always learned the most by talking to the owners of small businesses. The owner told me three things that I feel really stuck and he is absolutely correct. 1. Nothing worth doing is easy. 2. Nothing ever takes 15 minutes. 3. Always keep it simple. My career has definitely seen struggles and those three points certainly helped.
One doesn’t end up in the agencies I’ve worked at without failure and defeat. In marketing, failure is expected. In performance marketing failure is part of the process hence the phrase ‘optimization of campaign assets’. Not all ideas that are executed were great ideas in the first place and great ideas can be poorly executed. You have to test. Some of my most successful ideas took minutes to think of and less than a day to do. You don’t win every pitch, please every client, and sometimes failure can contribute to layoffs and the ever-rotating cycle of talent. The wrong image being used, a CTA that doesn’t work, or a color that people begin to mistrust. Well over a couple dozen times in my career, I’ve watched someone pack their desk, camera, laptop and head towards the door. It’s heart breaking since I too have been there. That can happen when a multi-million dollar campaign doesn’t work. Time is always a struggle. On location time is everything. Sun doesn’t stop moving and the sweet spot of the image you are paid to capture can be lost within minutes. Shoot again, always tomorrow? Deadlines and budget might not dictate the ability to have five a team along and models at the right place again. Then what? So keeping situations and expectations simple is something many creatives struggle with. Giving myself time to focus on what is important as a photographer or designer is critical and mastering this has huge rewards. Some projects require a lot of planning and staging while others can take a day or less. Creatively speaking deciding how much time to budget for a project can be the hardest decision I make.
One struggle I experience and see often in other creatives is to value creative time wisely. It’s not just a photo. I do more than the words and a picture. Even though that is all someone may see. To some people, that is how they like to value talent. Valuing your time wisely isn’t just having a great workflow, it is also knowing how to charge for a project. Opportunities are endless, to a highly talented creative finding the right fit can be more of a challenge than finding a cool project to work on. I don’t want to waste my time on projects that will not inspire me to do my best and deliver the right solution for my client. I try to mix it up and never neglect a creative opportunity if it presents itself. I’ve taken projects that probably shouldn’t have, but at the same time, I’ve learned the most doing them. This is the struggle many creatives face; the content is so great how can you not want to work on it.
Although there are other hurdles and experiences I’ve had that would constitute as occupational struggles. I’ve broken bones, chipped teeth, slid down mountains, held an angry monkey, all the while holding thousands of dollars of gear. Hung off boats, sat in board rooms and presented my work to the harshest of critics. On my first day at one large ad agency, I was given a t-shirt that read “Good enough is never enough”. Another agency handed me a book on my way to my desk that read “sell or else”. High expectations are real, especially when dealing with budgets that could feed a small country. So professionally there will always be challenges and struggles.
Another struggle is balancing work with play. Even harder, passion with life. Detaching from an exciting project is hard. Checking out…I’ve learned to check out quickly on vacations and not make every moment about pictures. I leave all things digital behind on days. Hard at times but worth it. You can ask my son, he appreciates the fact I don’t always bring my camera. As a child actor and model my son always welcomes time with camera-less dad. Of course, we have our moments. He will drop a shoot here and there and ask for some time behind the camera, will look at a photo and ask me to take it again. I’m lucky to have a son that is very creative and we explore this world through so many mediums. You have to live a happy life as a photographer and designer; it does reflect on the quality of work.
Who, or what, deserves a lot of credit for where you are today?
Yes, every turn in my career there has been someone that contributed to where I am today. Some made a huge impact some left a positive impression while others inspire me to be better at what I do. Early in my career, someone that gave advice that was relevant then and still is today is Thomas R. Field an antique store owner in Pasadena. I met Tom at College for Appraisers he was a professor of mine in furniture history and appraising. He would later become one of my first clients. I touched on his advice in the previous question but it’s more than advice; it’s also his courage to be a small business owner. In many cases playing a “pivotal role in my career” has to do more about inspiring me creatively than giving direction or advice.
When I first reflected on this question I was quick to think of a boss, a client, Sr level creative or hiring manager. In reality, a lot of the times I was impressed or influenced it was by a co-designer or even someone not in the creative department. While working at Internet Brands I worked with two great individuals Paul Tayyan and Garrett Rosenthal. One a designer and another marketing director. Both influence how I approach projects creatively. Paul and I continue to lend advice on design projects. Garrett launched a successful clothing line in Colorado. When you start appreciating people as a source of inspiration, projects have much more meaning.
Diverse talent is abundant and working where I have you get exposed to a lot of it. Two great examples; Hyemin Lee a Sr. Creative at Edmunds.com and Christina Villaflor a Producer in the agency world. Both are very talented and certainly make working long hours worth it. Los Angeles seems to be great at turning out multi-talented individuals with various titles. The talent is as diverse as the people and that is what makes Los Angeles so inspiring to work in. It’s because of the people I’ve met that contributes to my eagerness to learn and grow. One person, I’ve had the pleasure to work with at two different agencies is Francisco De La Torre-Rocha. He is as active and creative as it gets. The owner of the agency Everything LA, I’ve enjoyed watching him make amazing content at a well-developed agency. Nothing better than watching a creative thrive. I’ve worked with a host of very talented people including; actresses, makeup artist, hair stylists, art directors, copywriters, web designers, programmers, producers, and fashion designers. Very motivating to watch how hard and dedicated all these people are.
Sometimes you don’t have to work with someone more than a couple times to be inspired by their determination. Some people that come to mind include; Michelle Loera a makeup artist who has dedicated herself to becoming an exceptional makeup artist. Leora Kashani at Body Love Athletic who is building a brand in a very competitive landscape. Michelle Smith, a Colorado-based model who is doing fabulous things in the fashion world. Anneka Tabonet who models for the joy of the artistic and creative perspective of the craft. Angela Haggard an actress, just had a blast as a zombie at Comic Con. It’s exciting times in California and the amount of talented people one meets is mind blowing.
Of course talking about my career and who “played a pivotal role” wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t include my parents. In so many different ways they’ve supported me through this amazing journey. My parents have always encouraged me to be creative, from encouraging me to write on the walls to backing me for a lifetime in the face of so many obstacles in the pursuit of calling “being a creative” a career; I’m so very fortunate.
What kind of work do you look forward to most?
Yes, I’d love to find a few brands looking to disrupt media channels with a diverse range of creative content. Having worked in various industries I’ve become a huge fan of on the fly content creation. streamlining content people want to see is a demanding task but the resources available to a creative on the move are huge. Now is a great time for businesses to leverage content creation and capture an audience participation. Having your tribe create content is remarkable. Most brands tend to fail in the way their content is created. The bulk of companies hire agencies or employ a team of designers that sit behind computers for hours at a time. Expecting creatives to create content from their desks and the brand has meaning is next to impossible. Very taxing and most resources that are pulled from (piles of stock art) are meaningless. People want to see the real thing. Themes relevant to the viewer. Shouldn’t isolate creative from the consumers so teams of content creators have to be in the field developing and executing ideas. Content on the Internet has to be authentic, it should be created as real as possible. Sometimes the challenge isn’t knowing how to disrupt a channel but finding clients open-minded enough to actually do it.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Defining expectations and goals on paper so everyone involved is a huge lesson to be learned. Miss-communication can kill everything so it’s best to outline what you can. Taking notes while you communicate with others and when you independently brainstorm will help as you work on more complex projects. Also when you scout and while you work on projects. There is a reason why Ansel Adams said “Notebook. No photographer should be without one.” Depending on how complex a project gets usually dictates what collaboration tools that are necessary. With a lot of moving parts, I would recommend something like Trello. There are always new tools out there but I follow the same process I learned years ago. I learned it from a great producer, Corey Bobker at a social media company and no matter how big the project we were tasked we followed a basic define, design, develop, and deploy process. Still use the process today.
As a designer or photographer, I’m solving a problem so defining the problem is the first step. During the define stage, I take my time to think of what the real issues are and then brainstorm creative ways to solve them. It’s not always so systematic but the stages and process have helped keep things on track. Of course, never neglect time to freely write, draw or shoot. I usually build some time in the process to step away from the most concrete tasks being developed and allow time to enjoy ideas outside the box. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes I’m laughing at myself.
There is a lot to taking great photos consistently. I’ve seen images improve dramatically these ways; having multiple people helping, extra lighting, scout a location, practice, track trends, define the purpose of a shoot, and allow time to curate the right shot. An organized shoot or big design project should include having mood, vision and storyboards. This can really enhance the final product.
Having an experienced team is a great help in all areas from keeping equipment safe to calling out something poking out. Even one or to more people will help. You never know when someone will have a fun idea or notice something out of place. Also, having a list of quality team players from fashion designers to make-up artists is key. Los Angeles is ever moving and you never know when you’ll need to find someone quick.
Practice. If I’m not shooting or designing for a client I’m playing in the field. Models, make-up artists, and performers are always around to test equipment or a new lens. If you tap into the industry websites you’ll find people looking to practice with. Great way to network. At least once a week I’m working with someone in the industry and enjoy having these photo sessions. Exploring new lighting techniques or finding new locations are the other reasons to have working network meetups.
Location makes a huge impact so spending time walking around the area you intend to shoot will improve the shots. How many other people will be located there? What are the best times? Do you need permission? Look for lines, colors, where shadows will exists, and areas you can capture in and at what moment. Winging it can yield some great shots but I can pull more looks if a map is outlined in advanced. If you can test shoot; this is a fantastic step to include.
Have fun and be passionate. Be willing to goof around and jump around. Lighten the mood as much as possible. Being positive allows for much more collaboration to happen. I enjoy what I do so the passion part is easy. It’s easy to get wrapped up in one mode during a shoot where things can become intense, it’s on the photographer to be active and keep the mood changing. Trying not to focus to much time on settings of the camera. This should be dictated quickly and getting sharp images should be checked often but not to disrupt the flow of the talent you are shooting. There is always something to remember but off the top of my head these stand out as some key items to keep in mind.
- Website: http://www.ordeshook.com
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