An Interview with Bill Beachy: Go Media President

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After countless hours of looking at type, learning how type and image work together, filling up sketchbooks, learning how to code HTML and CSS and even sleeping in the art building, two soon to be “little fish” in the big sea that is graphic design wanted to get to know one of Cleveland’s heavy hitters (Go Media President William A. Beachy).

Where did you receive your education?

I attended The Ohio State University in Columbus Ohio. My degree is in Industrial Design which included studies in product design, interior design and my focus, visual communication. Ohio State’s design school is highly competitive only accepting approximately 60 students per year.

When you got out of school what did you see yourself doing? How does that match up with what you are doing now?

When I first graduated I immediately attempted to break into the comic book industry as a writer and illustrator. When I couldn’t get someone to hire me I decided to self-publish and open my own studio. That failed miserably. Eventually I found that I could get enough jobs illustrating to fill that need and spend the rest of my time doing layout and running my company. In truth, I’m not far from where I expected to be. I’ve always wanted to run my own company, I’ve always wanted to draw and I’ve always wanted a cool warehouse studio. Right now I have all of those. It didn’t come as easily as I had imagined, but I’m here – so I’m thankful for that.

Who influenced your career choice? Any reason you chose design?

Todd McFarlane. He is a comic book artist. He was the most influential artist in my generation (in my humble opinion.) After I took one quarter of fine arts I realized that I needed more technical skills that I wasn’t going to get as a fine art major. I read Todd’s biography and it said he studied design. I checked out what Ohio State had to offer, and its industrial design department was ranked 2nd in the nation. All I had to do was take a portfolio exam and beat out 300+ other students that were applying for the 60 spots. I got in!

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What made you want to merge businesses with Next Level Multimedia? Did you think it would make you more successful together than separate?

When you run a business there is a LOT of work beyond just design services: billing, accounting, legal stuff, payroll, advertising, selling, on and on and on. One person only has so many hours in a day. I had watched my friends at JakPrints build their business much faster than I was. I’m sure a large part of it was that they had a few partners to divide up the load. There is truly efficiency in division of labor. I could focus on the book keeping and Chris could study programming code.

The reason that I picked both of my partners; (first Chris Wilson then Jeff Finley) was because they were both doers not talkers. When I was running around town passing out flyers – there was Chris doing the same thing. When I was at the printer picking up stuff, so was Chris. He was out actively building his business. Both him and Jeff were quick to take action and build their business. So, that’s why I knew they would make good partners.

Not only did I think it would make us more successful if we worked together, it DID! I couldn’t imagine running this company without their daily support. I think we have a magical partnership. There is serious mojo here at Go Media. We love what we do and the sky is the limit.

Your website refers to Go Media as a Progressive Design Studio, what does this mean to you?

It means that we’re on the “cutting edge” to use a cliché term. Actually they have another term – the “bleeding” edge. That means we’re sometimes so ahead of the curve that people don’t get it. Not designers mind you – I think fellow designers get us easily. But when you’re on the bleeding edge of design or technology sometimes there is a price to pay. It means you make a sacrifice for your love of the art. You say: “everyone might not get this, our clients may tell us to dumb it down, but we’re going to invest the time and energy to do it the very best and deal with the consequences even if that means we lose money.”

What makes Go Media different/better than other design studios in the area?

Hmm, I wouldn’t necessarily say better. Each firm has its own strengths. Our strength is artistry and creative thinking. We got started working in the entertainment industry so, that kind of set up a really high standard for the art coming out of our firm. It also lead us to hire characters that I would say are “out of the box.” One of our most senior designers (Oliver Barrett) is a bass guitarist for the rock band Above This Fire. These guys are seriously hard-core musicians. Several other employees have also put together a punk band. Last fall they held a concert in our building. And that all fits right into what makes Go Media special. We’re highly creative and expressive individuals that are ridiculously passionate about the things we do.

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Music seems to be the connecting point for many people in your firm. Is doing work for the music industry something that you strive to produce? Or does the music industry find you?

It’s funny how I answer one question and it leads immediately to the next. We all love music – who doesn’t. And there is a rich history of innovative art and design being associated with music. Whether it’s the packaging, apparel, music videos or gig posters, music has been one of the very best vehicles for driving innovative art. Initially we made massive efforts to break into the music industry. Once we had done that and became known as a reliable go-to creative firm, then they started seeking us out. It’s been great.

What do you think about knowing how to design for the web? Most people seem to think it’s a must for people coming out of school. Do you agree?

Ha ha… well, do you want to find a job and make money? If you answered yes, then I highly suggest you dive into web design. The facts are that the demand for web design is massive, and you can charge more money for web design over print design. The number of students coming out of school with GOOD web skills is not what it should be. No offense, but print designers are a dime a dozen. I get 5 resumes a week from designers looking for work that don’t know web. I’m not saying you HAVE to have web skills. But I would guess that web skills will quadruple your chances of landing a job, probably more. And the job you do get will pay more.

When I left school I had almost no web designing skills. But the demand was there immediately. So, I learned Go Live (a precursor to Dreamweaver) and started building websites. Since then I’ve hired lots of web designers and I don’t do that work anymore. But when you’re getting started you don’t have the luxury to write your own perfect job summary. You have to take the jobs that are available. Right now the web is where the demand is.

What would be your dream company/brand/person to design for?

Marvel Comics of course! If I could do a massive marketing campaign for the entire comic book industry, that would be amazing.

Who/What influences you now? Where you do you find inspiration?

I still like comic books. I am also influenced by my staff. They each have their own styles and skill sets. I am also heavily influenced by great business minds. Since that is now a huge part of my day, I read lots of business magazines and biographies.

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What is your process to deal with unruly clients?

We work VERY hard to “kill them with kindness.” We bend over backwards trying to keep our clients happy, maybe too much. Occasionally when we have a complete and total jerk (or crazy person) we will refund their money and respectfully decline to take on any future projects.

It’s very important to always be professional, courteous and kind. It’s a small world. The older you get the more you realize that the things you do get around. When you kick ass for a client, they tell their friends. And when you make a mistake, they tell their friends that too.

The trick is to not give them any reason to be unruly in the first place. You need to communicate clearly from day one. You have to establish a good relationship and set reasonable expectations. “Under promise and over deliver” is a phrase we use around here a lot. If you say it will take 10 days to complete this project and you complete it in 7 – you have a happy customer. But if you tell them it will take 5 days, and it takes 7 – you have an angry client. In both cases you did the job in 7 days. But the expectation of the latter was higher. So, it’s important to manage those expectations!

Explain the Go Media hiring process?

I ask potential employees to send me a cover letter, resume and 5 jpeg samples of their best work. If they follow my directions I keep their documents on file. When it comes time to hire, I start reviewing everyone’s files. But I also recruit potential employees. The truth is that Go Media doesn’t hire a lot of people. We have almost 0 turnover. Our employees are happy. We haven’t hired a single new designer in over a year and a half. So, by the time I need to hire someone – there is probably someone in the community that I’ve already identified as the next Go Media employee. They need to have mad skills and the right attitude.

Once we’ve identified several candidates we will have interviews and maybe go out for a drink. Sometimes getting out of the office is a good opportunity to get to know the REAL person.

When we do hire it’s on a 3 month probation period. Sometimes designers will have these AMAZING portfolios but when it comes time for them to perform they’re nowhere near that talented. I wonder where all the art in their portfolios comes from.

In the hiring process, do you look to further develop that personality in potential employees?

Personality is very important. This is a check-your-ego-at-the-door firm. Work ethic, loyalty and humility are hugely important to me. I love my employees and will “go to bat” for them. I expect the same in return. When the chips are down we will all have to work to right the ship. And when the times are good, I share the profits with my staff.

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What’s the most important thing you look for in a potential employee’s portfolio?

You have to be good and well rounded. I want to see a variety of skills, because you’re going to need it all. For instance, I will get a lot of nice portfolios from illustrators. Their drawings may be amazing, but if I ask them to layout a print article – they will be clueless about how to organize the text. That’s a problem. Here is a base set of projects you should have in your portfolio: Illustration, corporate Identity (logo), brochure (with lots of text layout), web page and some specialty skill like 3d modeling or animation.

What’s the best advice you could give soon to be Graphic Design graduates, preparing to enter the work field? What do you wish you had known at the time?

Other than my previous lists of skills that I think people need, I would emphasize humility. The real world is not necessarily what your teachers taught you. I have a lot of designers come in here with some false impressions of what their lives as designers are going to be. The real world is not a stereotype.

One way to quickly get an idea of what the real world is like, while simultaneously increasing your value to potential employers is to start freelancing. Do it while you’re still in school. Walk door-to-door from business to business and volunteer your design services for free. The experience of working with a real live customer will help you learn faster than any book or any class.

Any other comments, words of wisdom or advice?

Keep an eye on Go Media, our GoMediaZine and the Arsenal. We’re working VERY hard at enriching the design community. We have tons of tutorials, products and services that will help designers coming out. So, just stay in touch with us and we’ll keep kicking ass for you.

This questionnaire was prepared by two soon-to-be-graduates of Kent State University with bachelor degrees in Visual Communication Design, Lauren Goldberg and Adam Smith.

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