Todd Palmer, strategic marketing expert and Creative Director at Virtual Farm Creative, Inc. (VFC), Phoenixville, PA recently sat down with OutWord Today to discuss his business background, love of philanthropy, and support for the LGBTQ+ community. Palmer and his company have supported Chester County’s LGBT non-profit organization, LGBT Equality Alliance since its infancy and have been a strong ally and business partner of the growing organization.
Where does your background in marketing originate?
From a very early age I had an affinity with communications but creative promotions were always a passion.
I started in journalism as a beat reporter in the suburbs and worked my way up to editor at a regional weekly, eventually becoming the founding Managing Editor of the business and lifestyle publication, The Route 202 Review. The start-up publication was designed to create a sense of community within all of the corporate centers along the Route 202 business corridor from King of Prussia to Malvern.
I worked in editorial for several years before migrating to the advertising side where my first position was as a commercial artist at Streeter & Divitis Advertising in West Chester, PA That firm promoted telemarketing products with celebrity spokespeople like Richard Simmons, Christie Brinkley, Chuck Norris, Suzanne Summers and others while servicing regional consumer accounts. I was young and wanted to experience all aspects of commercial communications so I transitioned next to business-to-business specialists, Miller Business Communications in Exton, PA where, after several years, I advanced to Associate Creative Director.
Did you go to school for design?
I was an English major and Art minor but most of my advertising chops, including any design skills, come from nearly thirty years on the front lines– passionately promoting small businesses and organizations. My role as creative director is to advance effective ideas towards client objectives and inspire the team while managing and contributing to projects that might include design, marketing strategy, copywriting, event promotion, social networking, video production or one of hundreds of other vehicles that can help our partners reach their goals.
When did you start Virtual Farm Creative and why?
I was working for a pure B-to-B agency but retained a passion for supporting small, local consumer enterprises. As side work I had established a roster of music promoters and talent managers marketing and in 1999 decided to start Virtual Farm Creative with the notion that small companies deserved the same level of creative as the large accounts I had represented previous.
Why “Virtual Farm”?
Naming is a VFC specialty. We have named and developed identities for literally hundreds of brands products and services from beers to backpacks. We employ a proprietary naming system that’s equally scientific and creative because, we believe, an effective name is cornerstone to a compelling identity and clever monikers with double and triple meanings instantly elevate a brand.
When we started VFC, we lived on a small farm with two barns on six acres. I started the company by completely renovating one of the barns into a high-tech studio. We are farming businesses, helping companies grow, and do most of our work virtually. We also began our business right around the boom of virtual marketing so the name worked on multiple levels, not to mention it’s unique, memorable and devoid of the ego associated with a founder’s surname.
By 2003, Virtual Farm Creative had grown to nine employees including directors, designers, artists, writers and programmers and we moved our studios into a historic farmhouse on Route 23 in Phoenixville where we are now. Interestingly VFC’s building is one of the oldest houses in East Pikeland and was originally a general store, then a Bed & Breakfast.
Currently we have five creatives on our team and, like a farm, everyone wears every hat and contributes to the success of every account.
What is your favorite part of the job?
I love working with clients to conceptualize and problem solve through collaboration. As a team, we develop strategic plans that create client brands with personality and campaigns with flavor. I never get tired of helping a small company or organization become more competitive and professional.
Everyone at VFC works hard to offer our clients quick turn around. I look at this business like a tennis match. A big part of the game is quality, creativity and originality but it’s also about speed. VFC gets an amazing amount of work done in a day. Sometimes I can’t even believe it.
What’s the most unique project you’ve worked on?
That’s difficult to say… we have worked on some unique accounts on some very unusal projects. We even have a client called unique– Unique Pretzels in Reading, PA. We’ve executed political campaigns, designed internationally released CDs– I was even a voting member of the Grammys. In 2011, we lead the campaign to fund and install the statue of Harry Kalas in Citizens Bank Park and we were the among the founders of the first local TED talks in the Philadelphia region.
The correct answer is, we try to make every account unique in our creative approach so that the brand, product or service is remembered and respected by their target audience.
VFC has worked with massive charter school start-ups in Philadelphia, private schools and public school districts. We have deep experience with bank marketing and the nuanced compliance financial services requires. We have big commercial property managers as clients, architects, custom builders, restaurants and a brewery. We have business services clients, large suppliers and manufacturers in the industrial metals industry and sports equipment distributors. Every client is unique; it’s our job to make them that way.
When is your slow season?
Like any business where clients are mostly owner-operators, we are generally less busy in the summer when people vacation but have had the pleasure of taking on a few new corporate clients this season.
What makes Virtual Farm Creative different?
It may surprise people to know that we do not have any account executives and never have. Our clients deal directly with creative and usually with an owner. New business comes primarily from referrals.
In addition to being a team of talented content developers, we are a strategic marketing firm and advertising agency. We are results-focused, meaning that we identify objectives, solve problems, and create solutions
At VFC, we believe that small, local businesses are what really drives the economy and that they should have the same opportunities of excellent, consistent branding, creative, marketing and advertising as the fortunate few. Small agencies like VFC can apply the same level of creative and service that Fortune 500 companies receive, just on a more realistic scale.
We also believe that the work that we do for our clients is important and there are very few limitations to what we can achieve. VFC’s agency philosophy is defined by three objectives: Supply unmatched creative, provide unparalleled service and accomplish client objectives. Our best work is still ahead of us.
What type of philanthropy do you and your company get involved with?
Even before we incorporated, we were adamant about contributing as solid corporate citizens and giving back to the community when possible. From environmental advocacy groups and human services to community events and athletic leagues and teams, VFC has partnered with scores of non-profits in our nearly 18 years in business because we all want our community to be a vibrant healthy place to live and raise families.
I currently coach a high school mountain biking team and have coached youth lacrosse and football in the past, so we support local youth athletes and athletic events. I served on the board for Green Valleys Association and we rebranded that local environmental concern and helped promote their mission. We’re doing work for the Schuylkill River Heritage Area and the school district’s educational foundation.
This year I was a founding director of Pottstown’s In Focus Film Festival, a program we developed to showcase the pride and potential of a revitalizing borough. VFC designed and promoted the entire effort that culminated in a week-long festival.
VFC rebranded Phoenixville’s two homeless shelters, St Mary’s Franciscan Shelter and Good Samaritan Homeless Shelter and helped them both promote their mission while heavily supporting development goals. Last year we supported the launch of Nourish Mobile Market, an enterprise that employs homeless men while supporting the Good Samaritan Shelter through the sale of fresh, local food in communities with poor access and limited resources.
Why did you choose to support LGBT Equality Alliance with marketing and design from day one?
Part of it was timing. VFC has always committed to supporting two non-profit organizations at a time and we had just finished several years enhancing a shelter and making them self sufficient in their marketing.
The LGBT project came along and was mutually beneficial because we’re all interested in the equitable treatment of all of our community’s citizens and the organization had a real need for professional branding. LGBT Equality Alliance offered VFC publicity in exchange for marketing expertise, strategic planning and design.
Did you ever have any hesitancy about supporting and LGBT organization?
No. Never. We never worried about losing clients because of our work with the LGBT community. VFC wants to work with clients who have a similar mindset and we support equality and diversity. If a client chooses not to work with us over a social issue, we obviously don’t have similar ideas on what makes a vibrant, healthy and positive community.