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Slow Season? What Slow Season?

January 2002

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That's the least of its accomplishments. In two short years, Front has grown from a one-man pursuit to a full-scale creative house, with a full-time staff of 12 occupying a four-storey building in downtown Toronto. It boasts big-name clients: HBO, MTV, Newsworld International, Rogers Cable, and Rogers Television.

How has Front managed to both survive and grow in a tough industry during tough times? Jeff Rustia, Front's president and head of creative, sums it up in two words: creative thinking. And he's not just talking about design.

Think big
Front is in the business of dreaming up and executing those images that shape a television network or station's brand. Think of those short clips that run during commercial breaks, the ones that remind you what station you're watching. Front also creates "show opens" - the opening sequence of a TV show.

From the start, Rustia adopted a sky's-the-limit approach to his business. When he heard that Nickelodeon, an international entertainment conglomerate, was launching an MTV station in the Philippines, Rustia got himself an appointment with the man in charge of Nickelodeon's global networks venture. He flew to New York to make his pitch.

"I had a very low-tech presentation - no laptops, no slides, nothing," recalls Rustia. "Basically it was just me talking and acting out what I envisioned for their on-air look and they loved it."

Nickelodeon signed on and became Front's first client - not bad for a one-man, albeit very enthusiastic, company. And from that initial, gutsy move, Front went on to acquire other bluechip clients like HBO, USA Networks, and Astral Media, which owns The Movie Network and Moviepix.

Having an impressive client list has helped Front get the jobs when times are slow and competition - often from big-name design houses - is especially fierce. "In fact, it's because of our bluechip clients that we first got noticed in the Canadian scene," says Rustia.

Think global
In its first year, Front did a lot of work in New York. That market slowed down after the events of September 11. But Front, which had already built its reputation internationally, continued full speed ahead.

"The broadcast industry, particularly in the U.S., has been going through some pretty major slow cycles and some of the big broadcast design gurus have folded," says Rustia. "But what we did when we saw that the U.S. market was starting to slow down was we shifted our focus to Europe and Asia, and now Canada. We've been recession-proof in many ways because of our global strategy."

Keep a high profile
Rustia knows you can't buy good publicity - Front doesn't advertise - so he takes as much as he can get. In the two years since it opened its doors for business, Front has won at least a half-dozen awards from Promax, the broadcast design industry's Oscar equivalent. These awards have made Rustia an in-demand speaker at industry conferences. Rustia accepts as many speaking engagements as his schedule will allow.

"I speak at a lot of international conferences," he says. "I just got back from Singapore and I'll be going to Japan and Spain as well for speaking conferences. They're just an incredible way of promoting our company."

Above all, be the best
Everyone likes to say they offer their clients personalized service. Rustia truly believes he does. He's well aware that what clients are really buying into is him and his ideas. So he remains involved in every step of every project, from pitching a concept to deciding the type of font that will be used in the final product.

But Rustia also knows that, as Front grows, he'll have to share the reins with the rest of his team. That's why he has surrounded himself with people who think like him. "The kind of people I hired are kind of like ímini-me's," Rustia jokes. "They need to be able to share my vision for a project, as well as for the company."

Most of all, says Rustia, they need to be the best at what they do. Because in a slow and competitive market, that's the best edge a company can have.