Local business gets ‘Weird’ boost
TruScribe’s client base had gotten larger and more star-studded, in corporate terms, quickly since the whiteboard animation company’s inception in 2011, so some employees were wondering where the company could go next.
Then a call from parody artist “Weird Al” Yankovic gave them their answer.
“I remember (chief innovation officer) Eric (Oakland) running out of his office like ‘Weird Al Yankovic’s manager just called me,’” TruScribe artist Brian Wisniewski recalled. “Everyone in the office was like ‘what?’ Freaking out.”
Employees were shocked that the “Mission Statement” video they worked on for Yankovic became part of a chart-topping set of new releases.
“My anticipation of it, I thought it’d be kind of like a shooting star,” said Oakland. “I thought it’d be like ‘oh, that’s cool.’ Not a meteorite heading for the hometown.”
Being part of such success (the video has over 1 million views on YouTube) was a culmination of years of growth for the Fitchburg business, which created its first whiteboard animation video in early 2011. Oakland had been running a branding company that turned into what is today TruScribe, though he didn’t necessarily plan for that to happen.
“I had a peer who introduced me to a client of his … (who) had seen the RSA Animate videos and ‘Drive’ in particular and said ‘I would love to have one of these,’” Oakland said. “He said ‘I’ve got a client that’s looking for one of these, is this something you could do?’
“I was like ‘heck yeah.’ You say yes first and figure it out later.”
When the company produced its first video, it was in a small garage between Belleville, Verona and Fitchburg, and the “Whiteboard video” concept was nowhere near as big as it is today, Oakland said.
Oakland, who had made art and drawing part of his life since childhood, drew that first video after a friend referred him to a woman who was looking to do a video for Human Factors International, a computer user experience design firm.
“It was the most successful thing that organization had done … from a marketing perspective,” he said. “They signed up for more.”
And thanks to him putting the logo for his branding company at the end of that video, the logo became associated with whiteboard videos. While it wasn’t the plan, Oakland knew it was time a “new identity needed to come into play.”
That led to TruScribe, which thanks to some word-of-mouth, a growing industry and few competitors at the time, began to reel in some big clients, though it was still a smaller operation for the first year or two.
“There was a time in 2012 or 2011 when we were putting out five videos a month, eight videos a month, and it was like ‘I can’t keep eight videos in my editing box, I need help,’” Oakland said.
“The first month I started, I think we put out the most we’d ever put out, I think it was like 16 or 17 videos, and I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so busy,’” added managing producer Bessie Cherry.
Now, they put out an average of 50 videos per month, Cherry said, and “it’s all good.”
Oakland and CEO Jim Herkert recognized the growth meant they needed more than the garage they started out in, so they moved to the Seminole Centre Court business complex in late 2011.
“My wife and I live in near West side, the CEO lives out in Belleville area … and this is almost exactly in the middle,” Oakland said of choosing the location.
Nearly three years later, they’ve expanded into other suites in the building as they hire more employees and innovate in their own methods.
The key to the business’ success, Oakland said, is the “Scribology” it adheres to.
“When you’re dealing with a subject art form or skill set, you need some way of determining … is this decision the right decision or the wrong decision? Which way should I go with this?” he explained.
“And part of that efficiency … why don’t we eliminate some decisions so we just know what direction we’re going?”
Examples of the guidelines include a standard of black and one other color in their videos (“we want that one color to stand out”), and finding ways to surprise a viewer (“the brain is more open to learning opportunities when you surprise it”), Oakland said.
Using that consistent approach helps to keep their customers coming back, and those customers then spread the word to others. Still, innovating in their own creative process helps them stay ahead of the curve, as well.
“I think a lot of competitors are still drawing on the wall, which is inefficient,” Oakland said, as the company is building a new studio with multiple boards at better angles for the artists. “Cavemen draw on walls, whiteboard professionals do not.”
But it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a client like “Weird Al” come along, make you his “Al Pals” and get your company major recognition, even if he’s making a bit of a joke about everything you do.
“When a parody artist says ‘I would love to make fun of this over here, and you guys would be perfect for helping me do that,’ you’ve gotta realize you’re part of the joke,” Oakland said. “You’ve gotta be able to laugh at yourself.”
While that might have created some contentious feelings among their clients, Oakland said their clients understood what Al was mocking, and TruScribe got a positive feedback from many of them.
“They all know what they’re working with,” he said. “There’s a little bit of internal groaning when you have to use ‘synergy’ again. But it’s a language that everybody knows.
“It’s like any other group or club. It’s when it’s hollow. That’s really what Al’s video is talking about is this hollow façade of these buzzwords.