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Start Your Business Entrepreneurs

When Opportunity Knocked, Three Entrepreneurs Answered


It's not often that fate intervenes to present a young startup with the opportunity to market itself to a worldwide audience. But, that's exactly what happened to the founders of Status Creative, the new brand marketing and advertising firm behind the unbelievably successful Grand Rapids LipDub video that's become a YouTube sensation. (A lip dub video is created using lip-synching and song dubbing.)

Back in January, when they were still three independent entrepreneurs running their own companies, the trio of twentysomethings — Scott Erickson, Rob Bliss and Jeff Barrett — were among the many Grand Rapids, Mich., residents dismayed when their city appeared in a Newsweek.com article called, "America's Dying Cities." The article claimed that unemployment rates, above-average foreclosures and the collapse of the auto industry had driven the final nail into the coffin of the Midwestern city.

The three men— whose varied backgrounds included video, event planning and social media — teamed up to begin work on what would eventually become the viral video known as the Grand Rapids LipDub.

Gone viral

The video, which has been viewed on YouTube more than 3 million times and has received media coverage from around the world, was designed to promote the city of Grand Rapids, Mich., by having local actors, musicians and Grand Rapids residents lip-synch to Don McLean's iconic song, "American Pie." What makes the video especially effective is the fact that it was shot in one single take with no editing.

The ability to organize such a complex shoot — which involved more than 5,000 people — combined with the team's PR and social media skills, meant the video was already positioned for success when it was released in May.

"To create a successful video, we had to identify a hook and frame it as such," said 26-year-old Barrett, whose background is in social media, marketing and advertising. "You can't do it by yourself. You have to have network of influencers to help you."

In this case, influencers included the actors and performers chosen to participate in the filming.

"The talent was picked because they are citizens of the area and because they had the ability to promote and get a crowd to come out and have a public role in the filming," said 22-year-old Bliss, who specializes in event planning, social media and developing sponsorship relationships.

Once the plan was in place, 22-year-old Erickson, who already ran a video production firm, took the lead on planning the logistics of the filming. To create the video in one shot, the camera was mounted on a vehicle with the song playing from speakers so performers could sing along to the music, making it possible for their mouths to match the music.

The result is an engaging, entertaining and well-executed promotional video that has made many rethink the notion that Grand Rapids is on its deathbed.

An agency is born

The success of the video has led Bliss, Erickson and Barrett to join together to launch their new agency, which will offer marketing and brand development for businesses of any size.

"We are open to anyone," Erickson said. "We offer different packages on items and a la carte things for small and large companies."

They are hoping the success of the Grand Rapids video will show potential clients that with the right planning and placement, even a simple video can garner a company — even a small company — a lot of attention.

"Our company isn't going to reinvent the wheel with how to consult on a brand ," Erickson said.  "We're taking a well-established industry and the very core elements of our society and how people see things and how they make them feel and we're communicating that with new media that is creative and event- and video-driven. We will engage people in the way they want to be engaged."

Jeanette Mulvey

Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @jeanettebnd.