How I studied advertising, stumbled into startups, and discovered a love for presentation design
Condensed Version: GhostRanch was formed in 2015 upon a realization that a little creative energy can go a long way in the world of corporate presentations.
If you had told my twenty-something self that I'd end up designing corporate PowerPoint slides for a living, I might have laughed in your face. Or maybe cried if I thought you were serious. Around 2008, I was wrapping up an Advertising Design MFA from SCAD, and with my sights set on becoming an art director at a big fancy ad agency in New York or LA, I was thinking about Super Bowl spots, not sales decks.
That didn't happen
At least, not right away. Just as I was applying for advertising gigs, I met a very special lady from the Hoosier state, and changed plans abruptly. I finagled an internship in downtown Indianapolis at a B2B Software-as-a-Service content marketing startup called Compendium Blogware, and when I took the job, I didn't know what any of that meant. I grabbed on for dear life, designing everything from the company website, corporate blog, customer blogs, trade show booths, print ads, digital ads, email newsletters, webinar presentations, sales decks, slides for the CEO, social graphics, blog ctas, event shwag... you get the picture. This unexpected startup experience taught me how to be scrappy, learn on the fly, and take great pride in working fast.
I still had that itch to work at a big advertising agency though, and I eventually scratched it with a design role at Barefoot Proximity in Cincinnati. At Barefoot I was able to fine-tune my production chops, creating ads for some big consumer brands like Swiffer, Febreze and Dawn. More importantly, I found mentorship from a group of master storytellers who taught me how to think more strategically about messaging and creative problem-solving.
"Oh, you're Mikey... You're our PowerPoint guy!"
It turns out I have an entrepreneurial bug, and I eventually shoved off on my own as a freelance designer. My friends at Compendium had recently been acquired, and I lucked into some contract work with a prolific group of product marketers at the newly formed Oracle Marketing Cloud.
Working with this group of B2B marketers was highly rewarding. There was tons to do, and we did it. After some time, we had established an efficient workflow turning out sales decks and one-off slides at an exceptional pace. We found our stride, hit a rhythm, and before I knew it, nearly two years (and probably thousands of slides) had flown by.
One day I was out visiting the team in San Francisco, and I was introduced to a new face, who perked up at the sound of my name: "Oh, you're Mikey. You're our PowerPoint guy!"
My first reaction was a wince, thinking to myself, "I'm nobody's 'PowerPoint guy'—I'm a designer."
Yet, the more I thought about this reputation I'd apparently developed, the more it started to grow on me. To my surprise, I had really enjoyed working in PowerPoint—once I'd figured out and overcome some of its quirks. Plus, having an expertise is kinda cool—until this point in my career, I had been more of a generalist designer. This group of marketers considered me their "the guy behind the slides," and maybe other marketers could too.
I had already started to realize what an incredible storytelling medium presentations truly are. They're kind of the underdog in the design world—not exactly glamorous work, and I kinda like that too. Best of all, I had started to see some parallels between making great ads and making great slides. What if I could bring my love for the "the big idea" into this severely overlooked medium?
The corporate presentation world is poised for its own Creative Revolution
Anyone who's looked into the history of advertising probably learned about the "Creative Revolution." Long story short, advertising used to suck. Then, during the late 1950s, a small band of advertisers flipped some conventions around; instead of talking down to us like dumb dumbs, art directors and copywriters challenged us. When big cars were all the rage, Doyle Bernbach and Volkswagen invited us to "Think Small." Instead of yelling, they whispered. There was more pull, less push. Brilliantly unexpected pairings between art and copy leading to more "ah ha!" moments.
Today we're used to creativity in advertising. You know what we're also used to? Super lame slides.
Do you think Doyle Bernbach ever Googled "free print ad template"? Obviously no, because computers didn't exist back then, but even if they had, the brothers and sisters of the Creative Revolution knew that every brand's communication problem was unique and required a very specific solution. Templates can't tell your story. How about Google images and "hand-me-down" slides? Not so much.
Unique communication problems require custom solutions, and that goes for slides too.
Forget templates, let's focus on the substance within
In 2015, GhostRanch was founded to help focus on the substance within each deck. We assume our clients already have corporate templates to work with, and that is perfectly fine with us. Our sole purpose is to focus on the story within. Every slide is a blank canvas and serves an important role in the telling of your story. Each slide is an opportunity to sell your concept, change minds, break through the noise, articulate your point.
Slide design can all too often become an after-thought, and with the bar set so low, we see a massive opportuntiy for our clients to stand far, far apart from their competition by investing in more polished presentations.
So, what's with the name?
Well, in one sense, we are the guys-n-gals behind the guys-n-gals giving those big important presentations. Just as a ghostwriter crafts words for a titled author, you might think of us as a big-and-ready stable of ghost-designers, illustrators, art directors and creative directors who work unselfishly for your brand’s success, one slide at a time.
In another sense, we're tipping a big black wide-brimmed hat to one of America's great independent thinkers. Georgia O'Keeffe was not one to zig. In fact, while the rest of the art scene was stuffed up in New York City, Ms. O'Keeffe zagged herself west—all the way to northern New Mexico. She spent a number of years working and living at a place called The Ghost Ranch, where she explored the land daily, slept under the stars nightly, and was utterly prolific in her work.
Plus, it just sounds cool.