Brian Robins and Rebecca Lurie are the dynamic business partners who own and operate Kush Rugs in Portland, Oregon. Self-described as a “labor of love,” Kush is the manifestation of the founders’ pursuit of that basic, yet elusive goal: Do what you love! The gallery offers a fresh perspective on a centuries-old art, representing modern, traditional, tribal and custom work from all over the world. This is Robins’ own account of part of that perspective.
Kush Rugs is known for fashion-forward, edgy adverts. We are often asked which ad agency designs our campaigns, and people are shocked to learn that most of our promotional work is produced in house. Team Kush brainstorms a theme, plans out the art direction, and, of course, selects the perfect rug to tie the visual mosaic together. The end result is not just an ad, but a story that speaks to clients who are looking for rug ideas from our point of view. People may also be surprised to hear how little we spend to put together magazine-quality ads. Our mantra is, “Spend a nickel, make it look like a dollar!” You too can achieve this. Here’s a glimpse inside our process.
My partner Rebecca and I start by pitching each other ideas. During our process, we consider the following questions: What is the story we are trying to tell? Who are the clients we are trying to attract? Is the audience architects and designers, retail customers, or both? Is the intended publication conservative and traditional, or young and hip? For example, an ad for Architectural Digest should have a radically different vibe than one for Dwell. Or is it a trade magazine, in which case we should highlight our commercial capabilities? In what season will the ad run? Is there a particular rug we are trying to showcase and should the colors tie into the season? Are we reinforcing our current brand, or trying to attract new clientele?
“If it looks cheap, the business doesn’t really save anything, and it may in fact damage your brand.“
The initial pitch meetings are often the stickiest part of the process. As a business with two equal owners, it can take a while to come to a consensus on a leitmotif. It’s like a band jamming to find the right direction for a song. We know we’ve arrived at a winning strategy when both partners are in agreement.
How to save a few bucks.
We have invested in our team’s skill sets to maximize savings over the long term. Our graphic designer, Max, has a natural aptitude for photography, which we developed further by paying for a class at the local art college. He also handles digital workflow, color correction, and photoshop edits. Sean, our designer liaison, used to work for a luxury clothing company and knows how to pull color together. He assists with art direction. Our advice is to nurture and trust the talent that you have on staff.
It goes without saying that a decent SLR camera is a must in order to create the file-size necessary for print. [Editor's note from RUG INSIDER: This is imperative!] The good news is that the cost of a high-quality camera is modest versus the cost of hiring a photographer for every single shoot. We shoot with a Cannon EOS Rebel T2i. The camera has lasted through seven years of heavy use, with the only mishap being a shattered lens, which was easily replaced.
The candid image shown above left reveals the set design as Team Kush shoots the firm’s “Boho” photography series. The final photograph is shown top right, while the finished advert is shown bottom right. When shooting photographs specifically for advertising, consider all possible uses. Plan for placement of text and logos, cropping, and the like before and during the process.
Location, location, location.
In order to save cold hard cash, we often shoot at our gallery as opposed to renting space offsite. Our gallery has a mix of overhead and natural light, which shifts dramatically throughout the day. In order to maintain color control, we purchased a modest lighting package. A simple lighting set-up helps maintain color consistency and really levels up the overall look of the finished photos.
Save on production costs by collaborating on the finish work. Or in other words: beg, borrow and barter. Professional photoshoots have a budget for clothing, furniture, props, etcetera. We maximize our nickels by approaching local business with a win-win proposition. Let us borrow your beautiful handcrafted furniture and we will share the finished images and give credit whenever possible. Obviously, in print we can’t give props on the page, however with digital media we can share credit in every post. Sharing also has a multiplying effect. Small businesses love to tag, “like,” and repost images that feature their work. Often the same businesses will approach Kush to borrow a rug for their photo shoots, which we are always delighted to do as long as we can cross-promote their work in turn.
Guerrilla marketing at its best!
To model, or not, that is the question. When it was just Rebecca and I selling on the floor at Kush, we liked to put ourselves in the ads in order to establish recognition and connection with our clients. As our team has grown, we have stepped back and put our staff in print, as well as hiring local models. A hidden advantage of hiring local models is that they often have relationships with clothing stores and can borrow clothes to put together a red carpet worthy wardrobe. It’s another opportunity to cross-promote a cool clothing company and, if they repost our ad, it becomes an opportunity to get in front of their fans.
Setting the mood.
A photo shoot is a form of creative expression. To draw out the muse, we play music, provide drinks and refreshments, and sometimes tell jokes to keep spirits light. Fortunately for us, everyone at Kush loves photo day and we have a blast. Also, because we often shoot in our front window, the strobes and models have a tendency to draw a crowd and bring in prospective clients off the street. This is another soft benefit of shooting at our space on the cheap.
Design and shoot.
Plan multiple setups for each idea. Even though we plan meticulously, sometimes the idea, pose, or prop just isn’t working. We always plan on several variations of the main idea and always budget a bit of time for improvisation. And then shoot, shoot, shoot. We often shoot a couple hundred photos to get one amazing image. Sometimes it’s an expression, or a slight adjustment in the angle that makes the winning photograph stand out.
Know your limitations.
We know what we don’t know. The look is always hurt if we cut corners in areas where we lack expertise. Print is expensive and we never want to pay for an ad that doesn’t reflect our absolute best work. If it looks cheap, the business doesn’t really save anything, and it may in fact damage your brand. If you need help with a particular skill such as photoshop, hire a recent grad or an art student to save costs.
Beat the clock.
Lastly, we finish our work well in advance of publishing deadlines. This was a lesson that we had to learn along the way. Publishers work far in advance of the actual rack date and we never want to sacrifice quality on account of rushing. If we are submitting to multiple publications the file type, bleed, and size usually needs to be slightly adjusted for each magazine. Don’t cheat yourself by running out of time.
Now that we’ve recouped the upfront costs of equipment and training, we are able to shoot our ads for a couple hundred dollars instead of thousands. One added bonus of going D.I.Y. is, that if we don’t like the finished work, we can quickly pull together another shoot, without worrying about the extra costs and logistics of rebooking an outside photographer. Kush is a lean, mean, photographing machine. We love to flex our collective creative muscles and put together an eye-catching ad. We do it economically and make it look luxe. And you can too!
Images courtesy of Kush Rugs.