Sports Branding & Successful Content Creation – An interview with Michael Raisch
In this episode we dive into the differences you need to consider when working on the design of sports logos and brand identities, and some of the stories behind where the ideas were formed. Michael is also a very talented content creator, so we also discuss how he’s able to create engaging and relevant content which has attracted attention from big publications including The Guardian, HOW Design, CNN and People Magazine.
Links to Michaels work:
Ian Paget: Can you talk through your design process when working on a sports brand? And if there’s anything that was particularly different from a normal brand, it’d be good to put some emphasis on that, if that’s possible.
Michael Raisch: Well we’ve had some speaking engagements in the last few years, and there’s always this idea of, you can talk about other brands, like people having brand loyalty, but something that, in our wheelhouse, it really supersedes that, is, you just have the devotion of an entire fan base. You’re talking about heritage. You’re talking about people’s things of, “This is a father, like son,” like, “I passed this down to my kids,” and not just son, but families being fans, loyal supporters of these franchises. So you have so much that’s emotionally going into it, so it’s a very sacred space, certainly with some of the team identities and logos I’ve worked on.
Certainly the interesting ones I’ve been involved with, and a lot of what we do, again, that was just set up with Fanbrandz is, we’re always working through the leagues, and we always collaborate with their creative services in-house, their VP, the VP of creative there. And it’s always a collaboration. You’re always working on behalf of the league. You’re creating a logo that has the feeling of major league baseball or NHL. It has the grandeur and the scalability and the bigness of these outdoor hockey games or the Winter Classic up to the World Series, to the All-Star.
So what makes that special is what we said is, you just find that there is such a deep sense of heritage and loyalty, and again, on … I was just saying with the way we operate a lot, we operate a little quietly through the leagues. We’re not always at liberty to fully share all of that. I’ll quote Todd Raydem here, colleague of the studio. He says it’s like being a speechwriter for the president. I think that was always a great way to say that. So there’s some of these league identities we’ve done. We can’t fully publish those, but I’ve had a whole experience of doing those, and why I bring them up to talk about well what is makes sports branding different is you’ve got the heritage of a team from the late ’70s or heritage through the ’60s. And some of the ones we worked on have been, we call them brand evolutions, where you’re going to come, and you’re not going to go in and rip apart the soul of the logo or this …
People have such an appetite for nostalgic uniform designs from certain eras, so the best … I think some of the best work we’ve done is, we really leveraged that. We found the real, down to the granular parts of the DNA and pulling out those, the lettering, but modernising it and refreshing it. I think that, I found, and I think some of our work have gone over so well when we’ve worked on it in that capacity. And so that’s just respecting this fan base you have, and you have so much behind it, right?
I’ll spin this yet another way. There was one recently came up. And Ian, you probably had it up on your feed. And all this was, it’s two interesting stories I tell, I believe we’ve talked a lot about here at the studio. I call them cautionary tales. The world we live in now is … What was the one in the … It was one in the FC. I know you’re not a big football fan…
Ian Paget: I think … Are you thinking of the Leeds logo?
Michael Raisch: Leeds FC.
Ian Paget: Leeds, yeah. It’s funny. I was actually thinking to ask you a question about that, because that is one particular sports club that didn’t pay any heritage to its club, so it’d be interesting to hear your take on that.
Michael Raisch: Oh, my God in heaven. That was like watching … That’s why I say cautionary tale. Look at this world we, as you know it, you’re living it with Logo Geek feed, and look at the world we live in, this reactionary climate of stuff. And, oh, man, I think it was, what, last year I think. And man, people would like … oh, my God. People lost their minds over that and with such spite. Look, I can speak on it as a professional that has done logos like in that world and here’s what I think we did right where our logos were very well received. This isn’t about saying who’s better or what, but you do have to respect the past, acknowledge it.
Especially with the crest. Now the world these crests, with England and all these other European leagues, there’s a whole different heritage there. There’s even less fiddling. No one’s going in and saying, well you know we should just tweak the Man United crest just because we need the … it’s just very different in that way, and the culture’s different.
So what drives me crazy with those little microcosms is like, yeah, okay so people on Twitter lose their minds, fine. But where it gets legitimised, and I think the real inherent danger, is then you see like, I don’t know if it was like the Guardian or somebody like that, or I don’t know, the Telegraph. They’re saying, yeah they’re gonna write about it, it’s an internet story, I get it. But they’re going, here’s seven other designs that we think are better than the Leeds one.
And then it’s like designers just free-balling it, giving out free logos. Which I just find really irks me because I think the inherent danger of what they’re doing is, I always wonder is this just devaluing what we do for a living. ‘Cause if you’re just saying, “Well I’m just gonna throw it there for free and I’m just throwing out logos in the wind.” I mean I get it, people are free to do that and it’s a participatory thing, but it seems to me to undermine, again this isn’t me defending the Leeds thing, I get that it was a miss, but I just worry that it becomes this mockery of logo design that gets unveiled and then people say, “Oh my kid could have done that.” Do you know what I mean?
Ian Paget: Yeah. I mean to be honest it is one area that I’ve looked into a lot. And I think it’s a trend that’s not gonna go anywhere because I’ve thought it was something that was web-based only. But I’ve actually read books from the ’70s and it talked about these logo contests where people are contributing things for free. I think it’s normal in the industry, but it’s just being escalated and become fairly commonplace in the industry
And to be honest, as someone working as a graphic designer, I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. It’s understandable that it comes up like this because graphic design can be seen as art, and it’s like entering a kid’s art competition. So I don’t think it’s anything that we need to worry about, but it is very likely to keep coming up especially in instances like the Leeds crest where, I don’t want to say went wrong, because I haven’t done any research to see that it did. But the reaction was definitely not positive from anyone and based on what I would do, I felt like the actual end product kind of looked like a stock document. It didn’t look like the Leeds crest in any way and there was no respect to any of the heritage. So it’s interesting to hear from you that when you do work on a sports brand, that is a key part of that redesign phase and it’s something that you need to work on.
I have a question, just to expand on that, in terms of the process. What is it that you need to do in order to pay respect to that heritage? Are you pulling out everything that’s ever existed and recreating elements of that?
Michael Raisch: Oh yeah, just about.
Ian Paget: So how would you go about, say, modernising? Say if Leeds sports club did come to you, what would you actually do in order to redesign that logo?
Michael Raisch: I think, something that we’ve done consistently here at the studio is really go and do our homework. Boy do we do it. And, yeah, we will cover every iteration of every jersey and every colour schematic, striping. You’re laying out the evidentiary basis of the … to create a brief. And the other thing you do with that, which is really effective, is you’re also guiding up to the team owners, the front office people, you’re all gonna get them to agree on a certain point of view. And that is informing your visual creative briefs.
So you’re kind of doing yours and saying, “Well we’re all gonna arrive on the same page.” And again I mentioned this thing where we’ve done a lot of brand evolutions. And I think those have been, some are really successful ones ’cause they celebrate those really rich parts of different teams’ heritage and nostalgia. But we made a case for that leading up the whole way and saying, “Here’s why this is gonna be the right solution visually ’cause it has these touch points.” Some of them are such a severed break from, that I think it’s very hard to sell over, like the Leeds thing. That was such a … like you said the stock image of it, there was these thick lines and there was a very current way little things are illustrated in vectors now. That was such a break from the essence or the feeling of what I would have expected on a crest coming out of England or that look and feel, right.
You know the other thing I was just gonna add with the, when I kept saying cautionary tale about, just to loop back on the Leeds thing for a second. To me too is, again, debating, me just telling you my fears of just watching the internet, I don’t say a lot. Sometimes I comment, I try not to, but it does make my stomach turn to watch it turn into this kind of thing. But my real point with that is to say that we’re in an era where the angry mob of the internet can take down a logo. That was really what I meant as a cautionary tale.
This also played out the same way in the United States I think a year prior where the … what was it? So the San Diego Chargers moved from Southern California up into the LA area and became the LA Chargers. And I think that was seen at the time as a very poor roll out of a brand. And it was something like they just put it up on their Twitter account as the profile image. And it was an LA and then lower to the centre of the L, the cross part going over, was a lightning bolt, that then finished the A, okay, the cross bar of the A. So like a ligature, sure, fine. And people freaked out, they said, “Oh it’s like the Dodgers LA.” And again, so the angry mob completely took out that logo, character assassination. That logo is done.
So in other words what I’m saying is you can see especially with sports and the intensity of the fan base that to tell you that, yeah, I assure you you’re working in a different scenario, where now the voices of internet can kill a logo. And I go, “Well, now we’re designing in this era.” It’s duly noted.
Ian Paget: Well yeah, especially when it is a like a tribe driven logo, something for a sports company in particular. It’s gonna get grilling from anyone because one of the arguments I always make is, if someone came into your house, took your sofa, took it out and changed it, you’re gonna be annoyed, even if it’s a nice sofa. Just because it’s like, what are you doing? You’re changing …
Michael Raisch: There’s nothing wrong with it.
Ian Paget: You’re changing things. And because like sports in particular, you wear that logo, it’s on everything you wear. It’s part of your identity. And as a designer, what you’re basically doing in, is coming in and changing something that they didn’t ask you to change, and that’s why I believe that people get so ticked off with any change. I mean obviously a year down the line that calms down, but I think in particular with sports logos, any change, even if it’s for the better, you’re gonna get an uproar just because of the nature of the work. And like I said, because people do wear that, you changing it is just gonna tick them off because they didn’t want it to change. That’s part of who they are.
Michael Raisch: Oh my God, absolutely.
Ian Paget: You’re basically changing something that’s very close to them so it’s understandable.
Michael Raisch: Oh absolutely. Let alone that, they have it tattooed on their arm.
Ian Paget: Oh yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Michael Raisch: Let alone that. You’re absolutely right. And that makes it unique. That’s a very unique experience in the work we do, absolutely.
Ian Paget: Now to step back to the process. I understand what you do, you need to do a whole load of research, you need to understand the heritage, you pay respect to that, which the Leeds example that you mentioned didn’t do to some degree. But that aside, can you talk through how would you actually present one of your logos to a sports club or something like that? How many options are you presenting? Can you talk through what you would do in that situation?
Michael Raisch: We’ve had a range of these. Well designers always love presenting in threes and fives right?
Ian Paget: Yeah. So would you do that with a sports crest? Would you put together a number of different options?
Michael Raisch: Yes. We’ll do a range. We’ve had stuff we’ve been asked on a very specific team identity rebrand, where we were asked to look at four different mood boards. The request came down, you have to look at these mood boards first. We want four very specific cultural directions and then there was designs that acknowledged all of them.
One was pulling an old retro design and making that current, like another brand evolution. That was one. Not gonna go through the others. This is an identity that hasn’t come out yet. And that was interesting.
There’s so much with the team ownership that has a lot of authorship of what their needs are. You always still have it when a team is sold or of course a relocation. There’s a handful of things, what makes a team change their identity.
There was another one. So years back. This one’s been made public. There was a book written about it called The Extra 2%. It was when the Tampa Bay Rays were the Devil Rays at the time. This is in Florida, the Gulf side. They were bought in from Goldman Sachs executives, younger guys, and they were some of the younger president and people working in major league baseball. And they took their Goldman Sachs numbers stuff, this was not like a money ball thing, but they tried to just take their knowledge of their experience at Goldman Sachs and apply it to the Rays. And we got lined up with the rebrand but that was a very specific situation where they were the Devil Rays and they wanted to take Devil out. And divorce the past. This is a team that, talking about heritages, they only got started in 1998, and we were already working by them by late 2006, 2007. So wasn’t a lot of brand equity in terms of let’s preserve all this wonderful heritage. They also had a horrible record.
So again, every team it’s such a unique set of circumstances that come about to direct the brand. The thing I got very focused on, I was very young in my career, I’m sure I had this sort of young, let me prove my worth thing. I really didn’t know the whole process of rebranding a sports team. I had learned that and at some point as I went through the process I really stopped and said, you just like earned my keep so much right now. I said, I should really watch Bill’s moves and it has a lot of do with kind of selling it. We always talk about selling in the logo. And the thing I call it now is, I’m always talking about “landing the plane. We’re gonna bring this thing in for a landing, through the league, through them.
A lot of the way our work is also presented, it’s presented from the league through to the ownership. We’re not always involved with that process. With the Rays it was different. Bill was. And you could see him guide this. You’re narrowing them down a corridor. They wanted to take what was this Devil Ray thing, and it was kind of an animal looking brand thing that was popular in the ’90s. And they wanted to get rid of all that to the largest degree and make it upscale. He had visions of the Yankees. He had visions of Sandy Koufax pitching when he was a kid in the ’60s. So this owner really felt strongly about why it should look this way and make this a dignified brand.
So that was an interesting ask. That was different. And we did. And I think the font ended up being like Kunstler. And we customised. We always rework the team identities to build a really nice font, custom own-able font. And then the interesting thing was it was not only take the devil out, we think the rays should be connotated with the rays of the sun, of Florida, sunshine. The team is gonna be a competitive major league team but it’s gonna be about the sun. And I remember thinking, “Oh okay. Well. Okay. How are you gonna visualise that?” Don’t stare into the sun, it will burn your eyes. Is that the logo?
So it’s kind of a neat story. We’ve shown this in some of our presentations. Again I was a younger designer trying to prove something I guess. I was taking a very different approach with coming out of one of these meetings. And I thought we kept thinking about letter forms and then sunlight raking over them. And maybe is it like a bevel. Is it a hard edge that shows shadows? Is it the effect of light? And another thing we always talk about with these identities is there’s a whole range of anything from more of a minor league look to what makes something look like a professional major league team, and it’s always a lot less.
You’re always finding that you’re designing all these ideas. We’re gonna do sunlight. We’re gonna do … but then in the end you’re pulling it back and you’re simplifying it. And you’re really making it clean. You look at a lot of the major league jerseys. They’re very simple. Look at the Astros, it’s very simple. Blue Jays, simple. The Yankees are timeless, right? Some of these really, like the Cardinals, that’s just classic baseball. This stuff is really simple. That’s the trick I think. You just hone it in, you keep shaving it down. You go into the essence of it.
So here’s the thing. The Rays was kind of neat is that I just had this wild idea. I said what if, I’ll go up the fourth floor, the roof of my brownstone building in Jersey City at the time, and I took a … I said, “Well what if we got an R?” Like a mailbox, like a raised letter that you put on the front of your house, like a brass letter form. And it’s gotta have edges ’cause I’m gonna hold it up to the sun and I’m gonna take all these photos of light, like raking glimpse through it and a streak of light that way, and then I shoot it and I hold it up right over the sun. And then a little beam of light hit the corner of the R and it flared out. And somewhere in there we created the glint, which we then kind of famously called it. And that was like my, I felt, the value add that I had discovered with the design process of the Rays.
And that icon has become a huge part of their identity till this day. And it was just created over a … just kind of coming out of the project saying well let me do a photo real exercise with the physicality of the world and the sun. And it created what was a central point of their identity. So there it is, that’s a whole ‘nother way we arrived at The Rays.
Ian Paget: Yeah, that just goes to show that ideas can come from anywhere and sometimes you need to step away from a project in order to actually come up with some ideas. I know a lot of people expect just to be able to sit down in front of a blank piece of paper and come up with these solutions, but you just gave a great example of how you came up with the best solution by literally going outside and experimenting with light and a camera. So that’s a really interesting story.
Michael Raisch: Yeah. It was fun. But you know it needs to be said that, believe you me, there were plenty sheets of … you know something we say a lot, is we say, “Well let’s get all those ideas out of our system.” We’ll say, we go, “Oh hey I got a dumb idea. What if the logo was like this?” And we go, “Yeah, that’s stupid.” But we were doing ours with bows, not like rainbows, but streaks of light shoot … There was clouds at one point in the logo. We’re clearly not going to do this. But you do, as I would say, as part of due process, yeah well absolutely. You definitely want to get all, we’re like, “Yeah let’s just get the bad ideas out of our system right now.”
Ian Paget: No I think it’s good to do that ’cause I’ve always found from experience that when you start to imagine ideas in your head, they feel like they’re fully formed, but when you actually start really… they feel like they’re fully formed, but when you actually start really trying to focus on the details, you realise that they’re not there, so I find it’s worth sketching out the idea or playing with that concept, because that rubbish idea often turns out to actually be pretty good, or there’s something to it that gives you another idea that you wouldn’t have thought of if you didn’t see it on paper, so I think that’s a very good story to explain where the idea came from.
Michael Raisch: Yeah, or there’s the threads of the idea. You start going, “Hmm, okay, there’s something about it.” Because there’s so many other things, shifting over to the event identities for hockey and baseball. The logo has to do so much performance in terms of the concept, when you’re doing a host city-specific mark, so in other words, that’s like an All-Star game gets awarded to the next city.
So, from the host city, we have anything from any kind of All-Star that is a known location, coming up, that will be hosted, to outdoor hockey games that’s always set ahead in the year in advance.
So this one coming up is Notre Dame, and we were just working with the NHL on that identity. Of course, you’re embracing the Irish, of course you’re doing that, but what, really, you need to engineer into these marks, and what I think makes the other stuff successful is, we used to talk about peeling out elements, and then what’s different about going from the team identity, is you’re building something with such an endurance, and such simplicity.
I talked about honing it in and how simple that head wear mark is up on that cap. And they’re simple. You really look at them. There’s really not a lot about that. They’re bold and they’re simple in their way, and they read so visually across the field and, like you said, they picked up on the fashion. I mean, how many Major League Baseball hats are just seen as a fashion thing now. Like the White Sox hat and the Yankees hat.
The interesting other side of it is when you have the host city, and then you want to tell the story of the host city, hosting this All-Star or hosting the outdoor hockey game, you’re trying to pay such homage to the location, sense of place. It’s almost about building more things back on the logo. And why you need that is, then we’re expanding up the whole thing into a whole branded event style guide, a whole system of logos that are working for the digital people and working for the broadcast guys and do the sponsorship and then do the Bridgestone under it.
But then when I come and make the horizontal other version of the logo and then all the background, when they deck out the stadium there’s the whole narrative of, sense of place, and all those graphics that I teed up in that primary logo that, when the whole system comes together, it’s this immersive experience I was talking about earlier about saying there’s so much about this sporting event, I think, now.
So I think if you go to a Winter Classic that’s something that could be a once thing in your life. I mean, there’s people that probably get to a lot of them but to me I think going … I’ve gone to a handful of World Series in my life, and I’m only lucky because I’m close to that, but I wouldn’t expect to be doing this if it wasn’t for my job. I’m not like, “Oh, I’m just going to go to another World Series,” like that’s normal.
So that’s really what we try to make them, really special. We were talking about idea generation, and I’ll weave in this story. I really enjoyed this. I think some of the stronger things I’ve played around over the years is maybe infusing a personal experience or something that I associate with a city or a place.
We had an interesting experience recently where we, over a few years, we’ve now had two major events hosted at the same stadium in Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital. And we created two unique points of view that celebrated Washington, D.C., but they were completely different for Major League baseball and the NHL for their respective brands, but we needed to come up with two points of view that looked completely unique. Not only for our clients but for ourselves, too, creatively.
And the one that I really enjoyed, is what’s called the Winter Classic I’ve been talking about, is we always do it as a throwback. It’s a vintage property, because the genesis of the Winter Classic is they bring that rink outside, and it’s this throwback to playing pond hockey. And these players, reference to them being young and coming up in their hockey careers. And the cool thing with that is you get to do vintagey stuff or use desaturated colour palettes or weave tan colour. You can do fun stuff, do crossed hockey sticks, kind of vintagey looking. It was fun. It’s always a fun property to work on.
So it was hosted in Washington, D.C. And I’m thinking throwback, and there was a trap to go into. We talk about you throw around the obviously stuff, yeah, the obviously thing is, do you go to the Jefferson Memorial? Do you do the Capital building? Nah, you’re probably not going to put the White House in. Maybe you’re going to try the Washington Monument. Okay, let’s get that out of your system. Because we find that a monument alone isn’t enough to tell the whole story. So what was really fun about that, for me, is I am a bit of a presidential historian geek. I especially have an affinity for the Kennedys. Of course a lot of Irish Catholic Americans have that.
Just a side point. I love sharing this. When my mother was 12, John F. Kennedy was running, in ’60. My grandmother pulled the kids out of school and got them into the paraded route when he was campaigning through Philadelphia, got her in there, and my mom shook JFK’s hand, and I just love that story in the family. I love telling it. I think I’ve made a much bigger thing of it in my mind over the years. Then my mother was like, “Well, I was just a little girl, I was there.” But it has to be said, people, I do admire the Kennedys.
So I have that distilled in me. I looked at the Winter Classic thing and we had different ideas about the architecture and maybe the US mint ideas of money and all these branches of government and I said, “Well, what if it’s about …” We came to the logo’s tear sheet and, “what if we got the history of the office of the presidency and think of all the campaigns, right?” And all the presidents that came out, FDR, and I like Ike, and you have these iconic campaign buttons. And then John F. Kennedy and it’s this classic look, it’s the red top, it’s now all seen as just American political branding, right? Stars and stripes.
So what we did is we did a homework assignment and I was really starting to feel something about it, so when I say about the greater vision of the logo, this offered us two things. It created a unique holding shape and look and feel for the Winter Classic logo, which was a campaign button, obviously, yes. Fun. Because you can create this space inside the mark. So everything has a sense of place. It references known things in the world. We did our homework researching the campaign button design motif and ended up going back as far as Calvin Coolidge or presidents as far back then, where they started developing … FDR seemed to really take ownership of the button motif. The classic stars and stripes.
So it was a dabbling in all of that. But what was fun for me is I always think of that really iconic JFK poster design which I love, it’s that the red colour blocking down to the blue and it’s that smiling photo of Kennedy. And apparently they pined over that. There was a whole debate about, would we use a photo of John F. Kennedy smiling or not. And they felt like, you’re going to be this useful candidate, you’ve got to be the guy smiling.
And so they picked it. And it’s a very iconic design to this day. I think it says leadership for the 1960s, right?
So I was like, here’s what’s really neat about this idea, too, because then we took photos of Ovechkin, and we put it through a vintage 1960s halftone and said, we’re going to do this logo. But then you can make campaign posters for the players. And then you can do it like they’re all running for office or something, and then you can make little buttons at the game with the players’ faces on them, like there’s this guy running.
And so then once we said, here’s the whole vision story of this event, the NHL was like, “This is great,” and it was approved very, very quickly.
So it was fun. And that’s a very long-winded way to explain the event logos really can tell a story and really weave a narrative from the host city, and you can really have fun with it. I like that because it wasn’t such an obvious thing at first.
Ian Paget: One thing that I’ve always loved about what you do is you put together incredibly high-quality content, and it’s something that I wanted to go into, and just for listeners so they’re aware, it’s something like when the Tokyo 2020 logo came out it was accused of copying another company.
Michael Raisch: Oh, the Dutch theater-
Ian Paget: Yeah, so there’s all these issues and what you did as a fun project is you actually want to your daughter’s school and worked with the children and you got the children to redesign the logo, and you put this whole really nice piece of content together with lots of good images and that ended up getting in fairly big sites, such as It’s Nice That and Design Boom.
And so, as a designer, what we always want to do is we always want to get good PR when we create content, and I feel that every time you do content you get a shed load of PR, so I’d love to hear you talk about some of your stories with this. I guess the question that I’ve always had is, how do you choose what you’re going to be focusing on, and how are you fitting that around your workload?
Michael Raisch: Oh, yeah, that’s a great question. I think you look for these things where you really see that there’s a whole conversation about something. I think the things I’ve done well, they are relevant in the time that they happen, and they connect with a conversation that’s probably already happening. Once I started noticing that, I could almost, like you said, I would amount pick things to time it, to make sure it had optimum impact.
Another one – I won’t go too much in there because it’s not so much a design thing – but a great example of that was, I guess you get a sense of my work ethic, I was also a relentless kid, I was doing creative stuff as a child, as a lot of designers and creators are, but I was so inspired and moved by the scale of Jurassic Park, as a kid. And talk about – just as a side note by the way – a lot of people say, “Oh, Jurassic Park, the dinosaur are great.” Yeah, yeah, that was amazing. But when I think back on it, you know what was really cool? All those trucks were branded. They were branded in the movie.
Ian Paget: You know, last year, for my birthday, for my 34th birthday, I bought one of those green trucks, one of the toys, which are incredibly rare now. I spent a hundred quid on that.
Michael Raisch: No way?
Ian Paget: But I’ve got such a fond memory of it that I’m like, “I need to go back and buy that Jurassic Park car,” and I was so excited when it turned out. It’s in mint condition in the box and everything.
Michael Raisch: Oh my gosh.
Ian Paget: Sorry I interrupted your story. Carry on.
Michael Raisch: No, I love that. And that’s the excitement people have about the franchise. And I think it was such an experiential movie where you felt like, as a kid, you went, “Whoa this is clearly real, I could go there, right? We’re going there”. And so my kid-thinking, speaking of these cars, these vehicles and all this stuff, between my friend and I, we had gotten enough Christmases under our belt and birthdays, and in his case bar mitzvahs or whatever, and it turns out we had enough of the trucks, we put everything together, so we decided to set out and re-film our Jurassic Park. And do it as script-accurate as possible.
And this was all before it came out on video tape. This was all, we had seen it enough times in the theaters and did it enough from memory and then started writing scripts and faxing them back to each other in 1994 and ’93. We tried to do some in the summer of ’93 and then we looked at it, we said, “Aw, this is crap, we can do better.”
So, the point about this story was timing. I won’t go more into that. That kind of… Oh, my god. That went all over the damned world. I uniquely teed up that video. I had dug it up in 2013 and thought, oh, it’s been 20 years since Jurassic Park came out. That’s interesting, but I don’t know that people measure the world in that way. Like, how many years it’s been again? It’s not that interesting. But then it was very clear how this Jurassic World was going to come out. And I went, “No, I’m going to sit on this, and then I will tee this thing up the month leading up to Jurassic World coming out.”
And, oh my god, did that time out perfectly. I got an interview. To say the last thing about it, I knew someone through NJ.com so they sent out somebody with our basic New Jersey northern paper, the Star Ledger, and they did a whole interview. We did a whole interview photo shoot issue. I got the guy that I still know, David from years ago, we’re now grown-ass men talking about VHS tapes and shooting our movie.
So that sounds like a small interview here, regionally, but then within a week People magazine picked up the entire piece. And then ran the story. So I woke up one morning on my analytics, and you go through, and when I have a story out I’m watching this way too much, more than I should. But I want to know when it’s happening. And what’s funny with these things, you’re generally not told.
And I go to the right studio site and it goes, top referral, and it’s like all this traffic. It says, people.com, and I’m like, people? Like, a person? Like people? Like we’re people? People? And I go and I’m like, “Oh, my god. I’m on the front page of People magazine, Jesus f Christ, oh my god.” And the views shoot up through the … The video got like 40,000 views in a matter of under an hour.
Ian Paget: No way.
Michael Raisch: So that was like, oh my god. So I tell the Jurassic Park story to say, keep it relevant on timing. Keep your part of the conversation. So why is that relevant? Because it turned out while the NJ people, NJ.com, they want traffic, they want to be part of something. So they see value in the crazy thing I did as a kid, and they want to line up and have a relevant thing, and they go, because I was born in New Jersey, and they could throw it as a New Jersey story, that these kids did this. And it was great for them. So why I say that is, you can put this out too.
You see, I don’t think I do crazy … I don’t have a big audience. I don’t go around saying, oh, it went viral. I don’t have the capacity to do that. I’m not an influencer. I have a small audience, I think, in all measurements of social media.
But what I’ve somehow done is you do something relevant and you do it and part of the conversation is, because I think you pointed out when we talked earlier, these groups they’re out trying to look for how they can be part of the conversation. And they want content. So the NJ people were like, this is great, now we have a Jurassic thing, people are so excited about this right now. And it just kept going from there. I kicked it out to the Awesomer, and generally these things are discovered.
It’s funny, I was writing a series of notes to myself to share with you. I knew you wanted me to expand on this. And a lot of times where I’ve pitched it to people or open submissions, I get total silence, for a lot of things. As recently as the one I just did for the World Cup. And what’s funny, too, is you mentioned the Tokyo 2020 thing. And I think these things are so specific to the site and the people making the decisions of the editors of what they want to put up and they know where.
I wouldn’t say I’ve made relationships with people I’ve probably gotten to know, I don’t think they remember me, because they think I’m a flash in the pan and they go on to the next thing, but a lot of time as I’ve said, “Oh, here’s this other project I did that seems like it’s going well enough where it’s worth sharing.” And I just get complete silence. And they’re just like, “No, pass.” They don’t even say no.
So it’s funny it’s in some ways nothing’s repeatable is what I’m saying about that. Where one thing exploded in this way and was relevant to this group, but this thing over here is a footballing thing and that’s going to connect with these people and none of those people from those design sites are interested in that thing.
And there you go. Maybe that’s a very obvious thing, but it was interesting over time where I think the interesting things to me that were happening is again, you were saying to kind of take you through some of this process, is I talk a lot about doing a trial balloon and testing out an idea. And I think some of the earliest things you and I talked about was this Tokyo 2020 thing with the preschoolers. And I think I flipped it over to you, and I think I’m one to do that, my personality. I’ll say, “Oh I got this idea, what do you think of this? And what do you think? I’ll ask people, I’ll ask my wife, maybe to a fault. Maybe too many voices. I should go with my instincts, but I think I flipped it to you the night before…
Ian Paget: Yes, you did.
Michael Raisch: And I said, “Oh, hey Ian.” I think we had interacted maybe before, I think this was in 2015, and I think I showed you me cutting squares and triangles out, I said, “Hey, Ian, tomorrow I’m going to have a bunch of preschools making the logo for me.” You came right back and said, “Oh, my god, this is great. You’ve got to tell me, keep me informed.” I went, “Oh, good, okay, so this is a good idea. All right. I should keep doing this.”
Ian Paget: I think what you do with your content and why I think it always does well is because, I need to say this, every time you do some kind of content, you don’t just throw a bloke together, you go full on out and you put together, you spend weeks on it and you put this content together.
So what I’ve noticed from you, you do incredibly high quality content that you invest a lot of time in, you keep it very relevant, but then you don’t do that that often, but when you do it, you get all this exposure and I think it is, like you said, it’s very relevant. That whole Jurassic Park thing, Jurassic World, people can relate with that. I hear that story and I’m, “Aww,” you know, and I’m from the same generation as you. I get drawn into that story, so I understand why that did get picked up. And the same with the Tokyo 2020 thing. The same with your recent, all of the stuff for the World Cup, how you’ve been painting your maps and doing time-lapse paintings and all this sort of stuff and I know that got in the Sun, as well.
Michael Raisch: It got in the Sun and it got in the Guardian.
Ian Paget: Yeah, yeah. Because you’re properly investing time and doing something really good. People don’t do that, and it just means that you’re getting all this good PR and I’ve spoken about it in a previous episode, from an SEO perspective you’re getting back links from the Guardian, from The Sun, from the People website.
This is all such good quality back-links, so when people need to find a graphic designer around sports branding, or whatever, that’s why you’re coming up. Because you’re seen as someone with authority online in people’s eyes because I think you are properly preparing decent content and investing time and getting all of these links from all these other places with authority. That’s why they’re doing well and why they’re going viral, and for me that is one of your strengths. It’s one of the reason why I wanted to talk about it, because other people need to look at what you’re doing and do the same but in their own way. You find a relevant story, put some content together and put it out.
I guess the other part of this question was, I think I know how you’re making time for it, because you are working for an agency, but I just wanted to ask, how are you making time for this? Because you’re obviously creating time-specific content, but how are you preparing for that? Because something like the World Cup, all the content that you created, that would have took weeks, so how were you able to create something that was so demanding on time?
Michael Raisch: As with all things, it all comes with trade offs, you know. Yeah, as exciting as that way, you were talking about The Guardian. That was like, yeah, that was thrilling, in both getting the early indications that it could …
Yeah. That was thrilling and both getting the early indications that it could happen was more like, “Oh my gosh, and then if it does, are they gonna do …” Because you’re in the fold of an editor’s scheduling, which I’ve sort of been learning about the serious people. And you’re really getting really … You’re really on their behalf. People say it’s an honour, but, yeah, to be featured, it’s incredible. So I can’t be like … What am I trying to say here? Yeah. As exciting as it was, it was surprisingly stressful of will it happen, won’t it happen, and how many grey hairs I got out of that.
Yeah. It’s always like I just have a concern over how this all looks where I’m always one to say … I’ve also done some little video things with my kid and made stuff with her, which is really fun and people go, “Oh, you’re father of the year.” And I’m like, “No, no, no, no. Don’t go around saying that,” because every time I do that, that’s my wife going, “Well, you spent all this time building the thing and how much time did you spend with Eve and doing the thing versus making the thing?” Which is a really relevant thing to say. Obviously, I have a child, and it’s a real toss-up thing of at the point, you’re right, because I do do these things and then I disappear.
We talked about coming off a project where we’re in the summer now and I’ve had some time off in July to come off the World Cup thing, which was nice, and kind of get grounded again. And it’s almost at the point where they’re very exciting to do. I really pick and choose them. I can’t let it become a conflict with the studio or Phillip’s stuff. It is exciting, and I always share that I was … So I’m drawing a bunch of portraits right now because I never know when these things will pick up.
And I would just say at the point I’m at in my life where I may be doing less of them because I’m really trying to creatively look at the balance of … And I know it’s always talked about, work-life balance with designers, because designers and creatives inherently like making things. That’s a good thing, right? It’s enriching. All these things influence my work in different ways. The mediums always I’m working in has nothing to do with a logo thing like a Fransbranz thing. Because I do it here. I don’t need to go and create more of … That’s what I do for a living. Usually, these things … I think the more interesting things I’m doing, they’re all over different media. I did a GIF painting thing one year with the Euros. It was all just watercolour. The Football Atlas thing was cool because it was charcoal, and I thought it defined a lot of who I am as a person.
You said about creating the quality of the work. I think the things I’ve done the best are stuff I … You always have to do stuff you care about, right? I mean, so clearly, I was very excited about Jurassic Park as a kid, so that’s gonna come from … The advice I’d say is it comes from your heart, right? In doing the most passionate stuff. I mean, this probably sounds just so obvious, but I think the best kind of stuff I’ve done, it’s a unique passion and it’s a real spot of something I truly care about.
And it’s funny, I joke with it all goes into always. I’ve kicked around some stuff about John F. Kennedy, or there was a lot of stuff in the United States when it was the 50th anniversary of the assassination, and I did a piece with my mother, and I actually had her tell the story of when she met Kennedy. And I thought it … I really love it. You almost start to look and you go, “Well, that’s a project for myself and literally no one else.” And it barely got looked at. Just people didn’t care. And I think that’s a disconnect of the generation that does care is either passed on or is just not relevant in the use of the internet in the capacity that I’m putting these things out.
It was well-received within my family, and it was neat to document that, and I enjoyed doing the photo research, because I figured out the photos of the right car he was in at the moment my mother met him, and I got footage of him … I just love all the real noodley details of things like that. I love that stuff. I love the research. And I think maybe that’s a good point to bring up with the Kennedy thing, even though it’s not a successful version of it, but I think I try to look at projects that have a lot of meat to them. I think that have duration of content. You need to be able to go in-depth, I think, on a piece or a topic. And really go in deep on it. And I think that’s worked well, because that gives you a lot of material to work with, doesn’t it, right?
So for the World Cup, you literally had, what, 32 competing nations in it? That’s a lot to work with. Can’t do 32 portraits. Didn’t commit to that. I felt like at the point it is now is I said to myself, “Well, I don’t want this to be a chore.” And I don’t want this to get out of hand. I don’t want to do that.” And I also talk about kind of coming off it just trying to rebalance time with my own family versus, oh, I’m drawing more international football or some charcoal, which … So that’s a trade off in my time, and those are done at nights and done on weekends and I’ll say to my wife, “Can I have a couple hours on Sunday? Is this okay?” And, “You should get off and do something later.” With one kid, we do a lot of switching off in parenting, I guess. That’s the thing about having one kid, maybe. I don’t know.
So you just have to be mindful of the people around you, I think. So my point is, yeah, I’ve put my heart in it, but I’ve only been doing in think once a year now. I’m trying to just really … Because you do put a lot into it, but that’s what everybody knows and who knows me goes, “Well, that’s why they do so well, because you put so much into it.”
Ian Paget: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, exactly that. And I think it’s interesting, what you said. You made it very clear with your response then that they take a lot of time and you have to basically spend all of your time on it in order to do it.
Michael Raisch: To pull it off.
Ian Paget: Evenings, weekends, and so on, to actually pull it off. So people listening that do want to do stuff like this, you just have to put in the work. That’s how you’ve been successful and how when you do release content, you’re getting high exposure. I know when you do actually finish the content, I know that you are doing more work to help reach more readers, because you tend to ping me a message, “Ian, would you mind sharing this out on social?” So I’ll share that out. So you must be doing a lot of that, as well.
Michael Raisch: Yeah. Here and there. Like I said, it’s funny, just some don’t respond. Again, the best ones that have ever happened come to me. I wanted to point this out. I thought this was an interesting observation. I wrote a series of notes since we talked, and, yeah, a lot of the ones that … I don’t want people to think that, oh, I have this network of reporters and I just go to this one guy and tell him, “Hey, I’m doing a thing,” and then it just takes off. It’s literally never like that. It’s generally people I don’t know and I’ve never even heard … I didn’t even know what it’s that nice was until my work was on it. I just didn’t know what it was. And that’s been the case with a lot of that.
Ian Paget: So you didn’t contact them?
Michael Raisch: No. No.
Ian Paget: No? Oh, wow. Okay.
Michael Raisch: No. So the beauty of it is that if you get the ball rolling enough, and I don’t really have the answers as to why … I mean, what I would say is I think I started to say this and we’re just jumping around a lot. Talked about this idea of trial balloons, and I also kind of came up with this phrase, I call it early indicators. And I think, I don’t know if you ever get this way, you get sucked into the social media aspect of watching the likes. And I think you do … Look, I don’t know how you feel about this, but you probably do see that it’s somewhat of a barometer. You’re trying to figure out is what I’m doing here interesting, is it hitting a mark? And then sometimes it’s like, nope, okay, nope, that wasn’t good.
Ian Paget: Yeah. I’ve seen that. Sometimes I put content out and I’ve had 500 to 1,000 likes, and then sometimes I put something out and I get 4. So it is good. Can you talk about that a little bit? You talk about this trial balloon and testing your content. What is it that you’re doing?
Michael Raisch: Exactly that, because you just go, “Oh, that’s interesting. That worked? Okay. That did really well. Okay. Why did the …” For example, there’s another thing I was doing in March setting me up into the World Cup project is, of course, our … And I’m not gonna get political about this, I promise you, on your show. Of course, the United States is in a bit of turmoil and there was a certain president of ours that just kept firing everyone like it was some kind of game, and it was just weird. It’s a very weird period in the United States. I accredit it to … And I’m not saying in the level of disaster or anything like that, but the mood after the 9/11 attacks, I did a lot of art.
Ian Paget: Yeah. Yeah.
Michael Raisch: I was in art school when that happened. So literally all my projects were about responding to that. I recently went through them and I went, “Oh my god, my teachers must have been like, ‘Oh, Michael did another drawing of the wreckage of the …'” But they were all … I wasn’t drawing the … I was kind of drawing the skyline over and over again like a crazy person, but they were like … Like I was ripping off the front page of the New York Times and then drawing George W. Bush on it, just as a … It was just a young person reacting to uncertainty, right? Because the periods after 9/11 was all about uncertainty. We didn’t know where it was going, and it was just … It was a whole thing that I feel like looking back, that was a crazy time to live through.
This is an equally weird time. So I found myself going back to art to deal with it, and I started drawing … I said, “Oh, Trump fired this guy today. Oh, this guy resigned. Okay. Doing that guy’s portrait.” And I just kept doing portraits and doing portraits, and I went, “Oh my god, it’s too many portraits.” And he just kept … Then Hope Hicks went, and then this person went, and this person went. And then they just started piling up in the upstairs studio, and Lori, she does her yoga up there sometimes, and then at one point, Lori’s like, “I can’t go up there to do yoga with all their eyes looking at me.” All the fired people.
And what I was just joking with that is that project didn’t really go anywhere. People liked it, other people that know me, and they’re like, “Oh, that’s cool. It’s funny you’re doing that.” And I would have to do the drawings immediately. Trump would fire them the day and I’d draw it that night. And didn’t go anywhere. Really nothing. Nothing happened with that. So you kind of shift your gears, and then I knew the World Cup was coming, and I just used the same technique of those portraits, because they were supposed to be hasty drawings. However, there was useful things pulled from it, because what I did notice is every time I put the video up of me doing the drawing, it was more interesting than the drawing. And I went, “Oh, that’s interesting.”
Ian Paget: Yeah. I saw those. I really enjoyed those sketches.
Michael Raisch: Oh, thanks. Because then I asked laypeople … When I say laypeople, I just mean not artists, because I go, “Well, that’s just so normal to me. No big deal. I drew the portrait. A lot of people could do that.” But what was interesting … So, again, I talk about … So here’s an early … You look for indicators. You realise, oh, that’s interesting. That’s almost more interesting than the final thing. Huh. Okay. So maybe the series wasn’t useful, but that was a very insightful takeaway. So when I moved into the World Cup project, I made sure I recorded some of the drawings. I didn’t have time for all of them.
But then I had the system of putting up each process piece, so moving up to … This is the Memorial Day weekend. Got my hands on an iPad Pro and then they deliver this little time lapse thing. So the fun thing with the World Cup, again, I always talk about personalising it. I don’t have any entry point of the world. I’m not a world traveler. I don’t work with FIFA. I don’t know them. So to me, the entry point was I enjoyed that the project was half analog drawn by hand charcoal, and then I took everything digital and took the maps digital. But the maps were analog.
So the atlas was from the early ’70s, which really felt like leftovers of my childhood. A lot of the old maps and early ’80s is kind of late ’70s leftovers, isn’t it? So moving into the ’80s, this was kind of nostalgic things to see a map of the USSR. Like, “Oh, yeah, I remember that. Yeah. And then it changed and the maps changed. Oh, yeah, that was cool.” So I thought that was kind of a neat thing, personally, just … I don’t think people … Yeah. It’s not like the levels of it. But it came from my … It felt like me because I thought it defined a lot where … See, we’re in this last generation where we did things analog. I drew portraits in high school, pre … Internet coming into its infancy as a curiosity, right, but not like we’re like, “Oh, this is clearly the future.” We weren’t there, right? So what’s fun I liked about the series is it was half analog and half digital, and I thought that really well-expressed my early ’80s generation where I’m on this cusp Gen X thing, right?
And so we talk about trial balloons, and so I did one with Harry Kane, and I threw him over the England map, and I was just like, “This is cool.” And I just wrote this comment like, “Oh, I’ve always found maps interesting.” And then the thing just gets viewed like crazy, and I’m like, “Oh, what’s going on here?” And then we’re passing a day and it’s getting 10,000 organic impressions and views. And I’m like, “Well, this is something.” What was interesting, it exceeded the drawing.
The views of me figuring out the drawing with Harry Kane and then painting the red jersey over England and then doing the St. George’s cross, I’m like, “Oh, that’s cool. You could pivot this project and do it was a series,” and I’m kind of … So I showed me trying to figure it out, and it was imperfect, and that was like, well, then clearly this is something. And then it racked up 12,000 views. And I was just floored because I just don’t get numbers like that. Not on a one-off thing, right? And so then you keep going, and then I was kind of thinking about this idea is that you look for early indicators.
So my fear was I’m gonna do more of these, and the next four of these portraits are gonna get 200 views and then be dead. This’ll be over. This isn’t gonna happen again for me. And oh my god, no. It just kept going. And once I shifted into there’s a player … Egypt was getting a lot of attention when they had gotten in the World Cup. It had been years before they qualified. And that’s exciting to me. I think it’s neat to see these nations just get so excited, especially when we can kind of participate through Twitter. I remember seeing them qualify last year in ’17 at some point, and you just saw people in Egypt losing their minds, and that’s exciting. That’s an exciting thing. We talk about sports as a cultural experience. That’s exciting to me. I think that’s really neat. I think that’s the magic of the World Cup to me. You’re seeing a common experience across the world, and how many times does that really happen? The Olympics, maybe, and I don’t know. But this World Cup just strikes me as very special.
So I do Mo Salah and it’s like, oh my god, that one completely took off so much to the point where then I started getting it retweeted back at me in Arabic. Then I watched people take the drawing and put it on their headers. Some young guys in their 20s in Cairo putting it up. I’m like, “Oh, this is great. This is really good. Okay, good. I’m gonna keep doing this.” And then I shifted to Nigeria. I did the guy in Nigeria and that worked out really well. So I just kept going. And I felt like those were really good early indicators you’re onto something. It’s nice to see the encouragement. I’m not saying I base all my decisions based off the randomness of strangers on the internet, but it’s nice to get, as you said with your posts, it’s nice to get some indication that you are connecting with an audience.
Ian Paget: You’re basically gaging how popular potential content might be and because you’ve got those early indicators that that is gonna be good and is relevant and so on. That’s when you’re then branching out and creating a lot more. So I think that’s a really interesting thing to consider, and I just love that story and I hope that people listening will get some inspiration.
Michael Raisch: Or as my wife tells it, she goes, “How’s your popularity contest going?”
Ian Paget: This is actually the way it is, isn’t it, online, so, yeah. We’ve been talking for quite some time now, so I kind of want to just wrap things up and ask you one final question. If you could offer listeners just one piece of advice to help them with their – I can’t speak – design career, what would that advice be?
Michael Raisch: I’ve gotten this question before with things, and what’s a little daunting to answer it is I feel like when I look at the world and the way people come up, and design is definitely different where I definitely feel like I was on the end of another period of how people got known and I hate that phrase that’s always said, “Well, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” And, ugh, yeah, but how much are you in control of your own destiny, and that way we could, “Oh, let me just go out and meet tons of people and I’ll figure out my career that way.”
I mean, you obviously get known for doing consistently good things. That’s clearly always been the case here at the agency. Repeatable consistent work. There’s always so much about the conversation of it’s not only so much the work, it’s like, “Do we even want to work with these people?” I think we’ve succeeded really well at the studio for we always want to leverage and bring the most value that our people within the leagues look really great up to their people, and I’m talking the people up to the commissioner of these leagues, and those are moments when it comes back down and they said, “Oh, this went really well. we’ve had this great…” And then I go. That’s a moment when you do feel proud of your own career. I’m glad that we created that … It was a logo solution. It was the right thing that hit the right mark, and it went over so well. And we weren’t even there in the room. So it’s like, well, great, good.
So I think I struggle to answer, because I don’t know if anything’s re-creatable of … Again, I never seeked out sports branding. It’s the people that I got to know. But it’s like any kind of niche of design. I figured out over these years the right formula and aspects of creating a certain style. It’s really just a style of design, right, we’re talking about. And as I’ve explained, it’s fairly simple. It’s very effective. It’s mass-produced, it’s marketable, it’s a whole demographic in people that buy and consume a sports thing, and I think we hit that demo real nice. I’m sure if you look at the sales numbers of all this, I’m sure it’s very good.
Ian Paget: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I find it interesting, what you say, because you didn’t choose to specialise in sports branding, but the fact that you eventually did get this job working for a sports brand, you being able to really hone what you’re learning, hone what you’re studying and being in that position, you’ve taken advantage of it, and have pretty much become a real expert on sports branding. So I think, like you said with that advice, even though you was hesitant on it, you did say create consistently good work and that’s the same with both the work that you do for your clients and your own work. And I think that alone is fantastic advice.
Cool. Anyway, yeah, so I just want to say thank you so much for your time. It’s been really great chatting with you, and I’m looking forward to rolling this episode out.
Michael Raisch: Oh. It’s gonna be fun. I think we hit a lot of good range of things, yes. I feel like the only thing I didn’t share enough is perhaps a Jeff Goldblum impression, as I promised one of my friends. I had this joke with my friends where we were gonna … You would go in and present a logo, but you would only present it as Jeff Goldblum, and you’d just go, “Ah, well, of course, the corner of the, ah, the stitch work of the baseball’s going around a bottom batch. We can, you know, take up the all star and we could do the game, but … And then, well, ah, well the …”
And if we started the interview earlier in the morning for my time, you would have got … Which I’m too hyped up now to do, but you would have got my really groggy Harrison Ford, “The logo has to look this way, Dad. Don’t call me Junior.”
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