[quote style=”boxed”]This is good management advice for anyone really: always thank those who help you. Always commend people when they do a good job. Follow the golden rule and treat others how you would like to be treated. It’s pretty simple, yet so many people don’t bother with it.[/quote]
Beth Bell had a “light bulb moment” following a live chat on the inspirational TED website with documentarian Morgan Spurlock. After spending many years in the set dressing and decorating departments on feature films, including The Replacements, Runaway Bride, Twelve Monkeys, Washington Square, Pecker, Contact and For Richer or Poorer, and on TV Shows such as Game Change and VEEP, Beth was very familiar with the use of product placement to dress and prop feature films. But she wondered what it would be like to use that opportunity to help promote businesses with a green, social enterprising and/or local entrepreneurial agenda.
Beth was inspired by the prospect of being able to use this very powerful and engaging marketing platform to promote products in line with her own personal purchasing ethics and the ethics of a very large and growing group of savvy consumers, while at the same time making it easier for film makers, production designers, set decorators and prop people to find geographically correct, socially conscious, and green products for use in their films.
Drawing from her experience in business management as a freelance consultant and as managing director for GreenBox Films, along with her experience in the national and international experiential marketing realm as a manager for Becker Group (for clients like Westfield Group, Macerich, Emaar Properties, TLC, Radio Shack, Curtis Publishing and many others), Beth thought to combine the sum of her experience in film and television production, business management and experiential marketing to launch Green Product Placement with the help of her team.
What are you working on right now?
We’re gearing up to reach out to the summer films and network series that start back in pre-production in late July or August. We’re also prospecting leads that we met at all of the expos we attended in March, April and May.
Where did the idea for Green Product Placement come from?
It was about a year ago, on a Saturday morning, when I was sitting at the dining room table with my cup of coffee. Morgan Spurlock, who, at the time, was a Facebook friend (this was before we met with him in person last October), posted he’d be over at TED.com answering questions about his new product placement movie, Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, for the next hour. I thought, “Fun! I’m gonna go over there and ask him a question.”
Years before, I had worked as the assistant set decorator on Runaway Bride, and we had to dress the hair salon Curl Up and Dye. My boss at the time was sensitive to smells, and the location was small. She asked about us getting some more natural products to dress the salon (like Aveda, Kiss My Face, etc.). The product placement companies only had traditional products, laden with chemicals. Anyway, I asked Morgan what a production could do to align with “good brands” and asked if there was even a company he encountered that existed to promote and place only these types of brands.
There was some back and forth and he said, “I think you found your next career “ with a big smile. I then searched Google, Bing, Yahoo and the National Trademark Registry, and couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a “green” product placement company. I bought the domain name and started one! It really was like the skies parted, the giant light bulb went on, and the angels sang. Up until then, I had always been the kind of person to project manage and contribute to other people’s big ideas, but that was the first time that I really thought of something, that to my knowledge, did not exist.
The more I delved into it, the more I realized this was a lot more important and impactful than my initial focus of just finding great, natural, green and local products for production prop people and set decorators. All the multinationals use product placement because it is really powerful as a brand builder. We want to use its somewhat subliminal “evil” powers for good!
What does your typical day look like?
There is no real “typical” day. Some days I work from home. Some days I work at my partner’s house. Some days we’re off at an expo or other work trip. Some days we work from our NYC office, and other days we’re working production as set dressers, answering emails and returning calls from our smartphones.
In any case, work involves a combination of emails, phone calls, social network posts, internet research, live research, managing our intern from afar, and speaking with clients and productions.
How do you bring ideas to life?
First, I have discussions with colleagues to get feedback. Next I move into implementation/task breakdown, scheduling milestones and deadlines. Then I execute. Producing and project managing trained me really well for this!
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I like the trend of how small, artisan brands are encroaching on the shelf space usually reserved for the multinationals. I like how, for instance, you can find our client, Bakery On Main, at Wegman’s. I like being able to choose a “good” brand, even at chain stores. We hope that we’ll be able to help this process along even more in our own small way.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Ha, I’ve had a few of them! One that comes to mind is when I worked on the “road crew” for the movie Beloved. We had to “dirt the roads” on over a mile’s worth of road at a historical park. Basically, big dump trucks brought in excavated dirt and then we had to spread the dirt and sift the rocks out by hand with a rake so that the horses didn’t hurt their hooves. This was before a big trip to South East Asia that I went on for fun. I remember being in Bali and taking a picture of an old guy bent over, cutting rice by hand with a scythe. I asked to take his picture, and he stood up and gave me the warmest grin.
I thought back to “dirting” those roads, and although it was physically really hard, we were compensated with decent union wages. I remember thinking, “If that guy can be that happy out cutting his rice fields by hand for probably pennies a day, I should be able to find the joy in whatever work comes my way.” On my next job, I kept a picture of that guy by my desk to remind me.
Oh, I also learned to drive a small Bobcat on that that “dirting” job as well. When me or my other female colleague drove it, we called it the “boobcat” because, well, it was a pretty bouncy ride.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Tough question! Ultimately the path we took to arrive where we are, although windy, was the right path, because it led us to where we were meant to go. That said, I may have curbed some of the partying during my first and second year of college (and even a little bit into my 20s). But hey, anyone who grew up as a young adult in the 80s probably sings the same tune.
All of the jobs I’ve had–the film work, the marketing work, the business consulting and managing of a small production company–set me up for starting and running this new company.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
This is good management advice for anyone really: always thank those who help you. Always commend people when they do a good job. Follow the golden rule and treat others how you would like to be treated. It’s pretty simple, yet so many people don’t bother with it.
What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest problem is how to manage the amount of time we needed to start and run a business with actually having enough personal income to get by with while the business grows. All the money we’re making initially is going back into the business for business-related expenses. By next year we hope to be sustainable and 100% full time on GPP.
But for now, fortunately, my partner and I have friends who hire on productions who like our work. They are willing to work with us so that we can sometimes share one position. Then we spend half our time working on GPP and the other half working production. This has actually helped our business because we can say, “We’re the product placement company that will literally place your product.” (None of the other companies can say that! We do place in lots of shows we aren’t actually working on–and yes, this was meant a bit tongue and cheek.)
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
For work travel, save money and get all the conveniences of home by booking on Airbnb. I hate staying in hotels the whole time with no way to make dinner or breakfast, and no place to store leftovers. Staying in a rental apartment, so long as it has wifi and all the modern conveniences, is so much nicer and so much cheaper than staying in hotels.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
Well, there are so many problems to address. I wish I had all the answers. If I could, I’d grant everyone access to decent healthcare and education. I’d make sure that the bazillionaires get taxed at the same rate as the middle class. I’d make sure our food was natural and not engineered. I’d find a way to help the exploited and disadvantaged. I’d make alternative energy a priority and wean the world off fossil fuels. I’d find a cure for cancer. I’d find a way to keep garbage out of our oceans and soils. But I’m only one person with an arts degree.
I’m glad I’ve found a way to make a small contribution by featuring products that promote sustainable living in mainstream media. Our hope is that these types of products will be made “normal” through this type of exposure. The UN Panel on the Environment says that in order for sustainable consumption to make the leap from marginal to normal, it will need to involve celebrity and mainstream media promotion. We’ll be doing our small part to that end.
Tell us a secret.
Well, if I tell you, then it’s not a secret, right?
I sometimes daydream of winning a lot of cash, even though I don’t gamble or play the lotto.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Google docs is great and acts as a “remote company drive.” Skype has made virtual office and remote working possible. There’s not much difference between Skyping with someone and dropping into their cubicle. LinkedIn and LinkedIn groups are fantastic for networking!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Any of the tales about someone overcoming unbeatable odds. Think Maiden Voyage or Tracks (Robyn Davison crossed Australia by herself with four camels and a dog). Any of those types of tales will remind you that anything is possible if you are determined enough.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
That’s tough to say, because I think you should follow people who offer you news that is pertinent to you and your own business. Some safe bets would be any of the various “Huffington Posters” (for example, we follow Huffpost Green), Co.Exist, Treehugger and Good. They are all pertinent to us, and two of them wrote stories about us, so of course we love them!
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I think somebody at work made me laugh the other day, but I can’t remember why. And of course, every time I watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, I am guaranteed to laugh out loud!
Who is your hero?
I probably don’t have one hero in particular, but there are some people who have done some amazing things that I really admire. Our friend Eva Radke started Film Biz Recycling with just an idea. She was an art department coordinator on commercial shoots–a below-the-line production worker bee, just like us. On one commercial for a toothpaste, she imported a bunch of mint plants up to New York from Florida, and then the art director decided to use the fake ones instead. She couldn’t bear to throw them out, and started her wonderful non-profit that diverts media waste to worthy charities. They run a prop shop/thrift store and host events. It was two years before Eva could pay herself, but now she has 11 employees who all have health insurance and benefits. Eva works tirelessly to promote sustainability in the film and TV business.
Okay, so speaking of sustainability in the production business, what else can you tell me about efforts to make that business more sustainable?
The film and TV business is an incredibly wasteful business, but there are people out there like Eva and Shannon Bart at Universal Studios (she’s their sustainability production manager), and companies like Eco-set Consulting, Reel Green Media, The EMA (Environmental Media Association) and Rock and Wrap it Up that are working to divert waste in the production business (by donating leftover food from catering to homeless shelters), to get crews off of bottled water, to use more sustainable materials and reuse perfectly good materials. Studios like Broadway Stages in NY and Second Line Stages in Louisiana are using solar power and other energy-saving measures.
It’s a long road ahead, and it’s great some people are beginning to lead the charge. And the people who are, are like a family; they’re very friendly and supportive of other people trying to do the same thing. Check out the Sustainable Screens group on LinkedIn. Also, check out Producer’s Guild of America’s Green Guide for a list of recommended green production businesses.
What do you do at home that’s green?
We recycle, compost and use reusable bags. I drive a small, fuel-efficient car, my husband takes care of our garden. I mostly buy thrift store clothes, try to buy local when I can, and use personal grooming and home cleaning products that are all natural.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.