Steve Hall: A Biographical Sketch
My parents met in art school and I got the gene. I'm not sure which gene is responsible for creativity, but I know it's the one nine out of ten copywriters recommend. In my house, conversation revolved around advertising. As one of the top art directors in Dallas, my dad handled Frito Lay, Borden's Milk, Mrs Baird's Bread, Cabana Banana, Haggar Slacks, and the Number One Beer in Texas (which before Coors took over, was) Pearl. My sister and I appeared in ads guzzling milk and holding full-looking but empty bags of potato chips.
The Frito Twist
In 1961, when I was 3, my dad brought home a 45 rpm record with a catchy tune: The Frito Twist. On the reverse side, a man and woman alternately explained how to do the Frito Twist. Even at 3, I thought it was funny. Funny adults actually believed they could get away with naming not only a song but a dance after a corn chip. It seemed like an omission that doing the Frito Twist didn't involve eating any Fritos. Though I actually liked the song, I couldn’t see how it would ever help the brand. Apparently it never did. Possibly the only two people who ever danced the Frito Twist were my sister and I.
On the set
I was 8 when I learned how TV ads were made. I got a starring role. Some kid whose name I didn’t know knelt beside me and together we were to play with an Etch-A-Sketch in a mocked up living room at the Jamieson Film Company on Bryan Street. The lights glared down while impatient directions were called in from darkness beyond the lights. “Action!” “Okay, look happier!” “Get even more excited!” “Okay, we need you to look even happier.” “Wiggle around more. Come on boys.” And so through the Looking Glass we went into a Wonderland of glee as the camera rolled… from mild amusement to madly, insanely happy… to deliriously happy. From this I got my first pay check. And a free Etch-A-Sketch. I saved my earnings in a box for 3 years dreaming of all the different ways I might spend it only to find out (when I finally decided to cash in) that checks are void after 90 days. I still have the check.
I started my first business when I was 8, running a consignment store in our garage. It was just after Christmas and every kid I knew had toys they didn't want. With this marketing insight, I designed my business model. Promotion was by word of mouth. No one could sell toys unless they brought in someone else. Kids brought toys from blocks around. It was a great success. My mom went along with it too even though she was dismayed to learn I’d sold some expensive toys on the cheap. I handled all the transactions from a cash box on a TV tray. A sign above read, “CASH HERE” which I assumed was the logical spelling of the word, "cashier."
First TV ad
Lion Country Safari
Maybe my most memorable advertising experience came a year later with a television ad for Lion Country Safari. It was a drive-through animal park in Arlington, Texas billed as one of America’s first cageless zoos. My mission was to ride in the back seat of a shiny red sedan with my sister, while our actor “parents” sat in front. My dad and a shoot team were outside filming. We drove by lions, rhinos, and finally, baboons. The crew figured out how to get the shy animals to attend. Crates of sliced apples thrown onto the car. 20 or 30 baboons responded. Strong fingers promptly tore from our rented Oldsmobile the windshield wipers, chrome trim and radio antenna. Jacked up on fruit, they defecated all over the car then launched into a frenzy of sexytime that would have put Borat to shame. Whacking the car with the antenna and wipers, smearing poop and apples on the windows... it was not working. Our actor parents froze like statues in the front seat. Bewildered, we tried our best to pretend we weren't in a den of iniquity. But we were. It was truly unrestrained: on the hood, on the trunk and beside the car. Time slowed to a crawl. The windows were smeared and running… Nobody spoke. Abruptly, the crew turned away and began to pack up. Back in the parking lot, grips turned a fire hose on the car. Somehow, a regular hose just wasn't enough. But nothing could wash away the shock. The final ad didn’t have any baboons in it.
When I was 11 I got some books and at 12 became a magician doing birthday parties for young pups at twenty five bucks a pop. It was nerve-wracking. Kids are one of the toughest audiences in magic because they don't always follow misdirections as easily as adults. Stage magic depends on misdirection. The eye follows movement. And as anyone knows, some kids will blurt out whatever comes into their heads. I practiced enough that my secrets were never discovered. Interestingly, I learned things in the world of magic that I've used throughout my life in advertising, merchandising and marketing.
At 13, for a school project, I set out to tackle important environmental issues through film production. It was a before and after exposé… weeds growing unkempt, litter against the fence, dirty dishes, trash overflowing… Then, the same spaces properly cared for. I wrote the script and directed. My best friend was cameraman. Parents and teachers all came for open house. When the lights dimmed and the crowd hushed we presented our film complete with recorded music and narration. The silver screen revealed a hard-hitting message of environmental activism. To my mom (who was also seeing our film for the first time) it revealed something more: her home in the worst possible light. This experience taught me how different people can react in different ways: for example, some with amusement, some with catatonic shock. It also taught me never to use your mom's house in an exposé. Use the neighbor’s house. And don’t invite them to the premiere.
After brief stints as a cleaner at my Dad's commercial photography studio, I became president of Student Productions, a Junior Achievement company. Our first product, the Harvey Wall Hanger, was just breaking even. So I introduced a new product that did better: the Canned Candle. Toward the end of the year, we got a booth at the Northpark mall. To decorate the booth, my Dad suggested I call up the presidents of Coke-a-Cola, Dr. Pepper, Coors and more, explain my position as a fellow president and ask for promotional materials. I thought he was crazy: Why would the president of Coke-a-Cola even take a call from a 14 year old? He explained that's exactly why they would take the call. Finally, I overcame my fear and made some calls. The result: they loaded us up with vacuum-formed signs and even a big Coke-a-Cola clock... Another reason to love Coke.
At 17 I started working for The Gap. When their display artist quit I asked if I could do the displays. In those days, decorators used wire to make clothing float in mid air as if by... (you guessed it) magic. I got the job. When the suits came around from corporate, they were so impressed they offered me a job as Southwest Regional Display Manager. My income went up 1,000%. Then I found out the real money was not in retail but in the wholesale end of the fashion industry. And Dallas was one of the largest centers for wholesale apparel in the United States. A friend's dad was a sales rep and invited me to do his showroom at the Dallas Apparel Mart. That launched my freelance business and within a year I was one of three top display artists in Dallas. Customers, who attended markets throughout the world, told me often that I was the best they'd ever seen. It was nice to become the world's best at something!
First marketing campaign
In 1987 I moved to Los Angeles where I took a position as product manager for a marketing group launching new products and writing dozens of marketing campaigns. Three years later, familiar with my creative talents, the same organization made me an art director and became an air brush artist. A year later, I became a copywriter. In writing I found the core of my creative strength. I wanted to know everything about copywriting (not to be confused with copyrights). A colleague did some research to find the best copywriter in the United States. She found two names, both of whom trained copywriters. Bruce Bindinger was from Chicago. The other, Michael Whitlow, worked in LA. Mike ran a special course in LA called The Bookshop. His incredible Concept Training was open only to a handful of writers and art directors. I got in and studied under Mike for the next 2 1/2 years.
Mike sometimes assigned more difficult campaigns to push us. My first test was a campaign for the Richard Nixon Museum and Birthplace. How do you promote someone that half the world thinks is a crook? I begged Mike to give me a different campaign since I was morally against Nixon. My grandmother had been a political activist who despised "Tricky Dick." We watched the Watergate trials together, and the name never came up when she didn't say, "That Nixon is as crooked as a dog's hind leg!" Mike refused to let me substitute. So I traveled to the Richard Nixon Museum and Birthplace and I learned much more about Nixon than I thought existed. I found out that besides being a crook, he had some monumental achievements which changed the course of history. He opened up China. He ended (finally) the Vietnam War. On his watch Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the Moon. Without playing down any wrong doing, I decided that this side was worth anyone learning more about. The museum was interesting and really worth the trip. So I came up with a campaign that used his scandals with headlines like, "Sometimes your whole life can flash by in 18 1/2 minutes" and "It was an era when so many groups self destructed: The Doors, The Beatles, The Cabinet." Text explained that for all Nixon's flaws, he accomplished some amazing things. At the bottom, next to a campaign poster of him and Eisenhower was my tag line, "You don't know Dick!" It struck just the right "in-your-face" tone and reminded people that for better or for worse, Nixon played a role in history and it was worth their time to learn more. Mike called it the greatest tag line ever written and I was learning how to navigate even the most severe of PR situations.
Mike taught me how to develop a creative strategy and more. Moreover, I trained under his tutelage until I could nail a creative strategy 100% of the time. Over the years I wrote tens of thousands of words of advertising copy for hundreds of products and dozens of corporations, generating a reputation as able to handle the worst marketing conditions. Time and again I took a failed product, repositioned it and made it successful. My reputation grew and ironically a student campaign I had done for another organization with adverse PR, Scientology, made it into the hands of their management. As it turned out, Church leaders had been looking to put a new face on Scientology. Some years earlier, they had even sought out but ultimately rejected creative advice from Al Ries and Jack Trout, co-authors of the seminal book, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind."Know Yourself, Know Life"
That was the slogan I created for Scientology in 1997. For them I created a multi-echelon advertising program involving 28 TV spots, dozens of print ads and brochures, wrote new dust jackets were created for Hubbard's introductory-level books. When the campaign launched in 1998 two of Hubbard's books became national bestsellers, quite a feat considering the books were more than 40 years old.
In the late '90s, having done so well as a copywriter, I was curious to learn scriptwriting. I studied cinematography and editing, and started writing PR and marketing films and videos. A pair of marketing videos I wrote generated several million dollars in revenues. All in all, I wrote 125 films and videos that were produced. I wrote a lot more than were not produced. I wrote scripts for 6 years in all. But like all of my adult life, I worked 80 to 110 hours a week. So 6 years was more like 15 years of experience.
In 2001 I learned Dreamweaver and started writing websites for international corporations. Obviously, this was the future of marketing, and so I learned SEO (Search Engine Optimization). The subject was in its infancy and I got in on the ground floor. My first website was 70 pages long -- for a national bestselling book and won several awards for creativity.
I was president of a manufacturing company when I was 14... in 2004 I took control of a real, though fledgling, manufacturing company with annual gross sales in six figure range. I embarked upon a series of projects driving major infrastructure improvements in marketing communications, corporate image, strategic organizational change, human resources and process re-engineering. Efforts grew business revenues by 315% in 12 months, increased company size by 600% and gained national prominence for its product line. I also made key sales calls and client acquisition. Efforts contributed to winning lucrative repeat orders from Target, Wal-Mart and more, including two of the firms largest single sales in company history. I reduced costs and established new production lines from molding process to final packaging, monitoring and adjusting procedures for quality and economy, saving tens of thousands annually... In 2005, I started managing factory production in China and import supply chain (sourcing, ocean and air freight, interface with Customs and brokers). I actually went to China in March 2007, working with five factories to debug and coordinate production. In short, this period was when I learned the marketing business.
Third Element Technologies
Through a friend, I met an inventor with an amazing technology. The technology had many applications, among them a remarkable fire nozzle. To sell and market this technology, we gathered a team together and incorporated, forming Third Element Technologies. Though our products are still in development and prototyping, you can visit our website at www.thirdelementtech.com for more info.Steve Hall Creative
In 2007 I started Steve Hall Creative which you are reading about on this website. I found that most people today need websites. The world has changed and while websites used to be optional, today in many cases, it is what makes you legit in the eyes of the world. I learned how to build Content Management Systems (CMS).
Break Thru Designs
In a previous manufacturing position, the company owner told me repeatedly that I was "going to make a lot of money" in the business. To make him right, I started a promotional company called Break Thru Designs, LLC. Visit www.breakhrudesigns.com for more info.
After 15 years as a paralegal, my wife wanted to do something new. We discussed various ideas and this was a good one. Low overhead, low risk. I did all the marketing for the company, built the website and performed SEO. Sgt Poopers Pet Waste Removal company gets lots of business in the Dallas area.