11 Mar What I do as a Demo Artist
I am a Demo Artist & Post Production Workflow Consultant.
WTF is that?
Quite humbly, I’ve been told “Hey! You do what I wanna do!” or “I want to know as much as you!” following a presentation. This alone makes my day, if not my month. But I don’t think many people really grasp what I (we) do. Probably because the job title is a tad esoteric; it’s usage is generally relegated to the tech industry, and partly because the façade of a demo artist is one of confidence and domain expertise, when in reality, that’s nearly impossible at the reseller level. That may be why there are probably only a few hundred of us in the country, and the burn-out rate is pretty high.
I figure I should have a concise definition for what I do when grilled at a party, high school reunion, or the all important meeting of the girlfriend’s father. The nearest I can come up with is this base definition:
A Demo Artist in the M&E (Media & Entertainment) space should be able to verbally and physically convey the virtues of a set of products to a potential customer while being able to apply the product into the client’s environment.
Sounds like an ad on Monster.com, doesn’t it? It’s not.
This one sentence is the heart of what I do. But it is, in fact, only a small portion of what the position entails. I need to go beyond the product slick and not just parrot the specs. I need to know how the product interops with several dozen (if not hundreds) of complementary devices. Why? Because when I’m in front of a client, I am the expert. That’s the image conveyed to the client by the parent company. Otherwise, why would a client go with said company?
Let’s say you, dear reader, are gainfully employed, and you consider yourself an expert on the products and services your company offers. As a Demo Artist, I figure I must know at least 1/5 of that (ballpark, taking into account knowing more about some, and less about others. I believe it to be more, but I’ll discuss that later.) to sound at least knowledgeable about the product. An M&E reseller (I’ve worked for 3) typically carries 100+ manufacturers. That alone is 20X the amount of product knowledge. This does not include fringe products or more important products that are the core of your company’s business. That concept, in and of itself, is daunting.
There are some things which make that number bearable. Experience yields a foundation of knowledge of product lines & familiarity with older manufacturers, which give you a base from which to build. Like manufacturers (say, Storage) all have some basic criteria that is universal. So, it’s a bit easier to digest.
On the flip side, the days of expensive Big Iron are over. Now is the time of software and semi automation. This yields more competitive products, more scenarios, and more avenues for a client to pursue. In addition, keeping up with all of the nuances and what’s new is a monumental task. Many of my conversations are centered around “What’s new?” since they last looked at a product.
So, why might I need to know more than 1/5? Demand demands expertise.
If 25% of your business comes from 1 product, then you better be able to field questions – both pre and post sales – and handle demos much more adeptly than a commodity product. If that’s your bread and butter, you better know a fair amount about it.
Many people (myself included) in this role also have creative backgrounds in Post, which lends itself towards a natural inclination for some facets of Post. I happen to be heavily into Editorial, Stereoscopy, Post Audio, and Encoding. So, yeah, I’m gonna keep those skills sharp for my sheer interest in it.
Clients also want evaluations of product. This not only entails configuring the machines but knowing how to “drive” the box, and provide support during evaluation. While the manufacturer can be involved at this point, we still run into the manufacturer being unfamiliar with the client or perhaps the rest of their gear or workflow, in addition, what added value does a reseller bring to the table if all pre-sales questions go to the manufacturer?
Lastly the folks holding the purse strings want sign-off from their users or technical people in their facility, before spending a dime. This again requires more knowledge than simply product spec to instill product and reseller post-sales support confidence.
“So, what [else] exactly do you do…do?”
Other responsibilities can also include product training (difficult, given the aforementioned attention to so many products). In my case, I am also expected to develop content for seminars, events and the like, to further showcase any number of the 100+ product lines, and how they can complement our sales push. This is not only on the topical presentation level, but hardware and gear needed for the event. This can be for a handful of people, several dozen, or a hundred plus. This is the portion I crave; I love being in front of people and pontificating on technology or workflows. That kind of geek stuff gets me jazzed and the passion I tend to exude while speaking, that’s not a façade, I really, really dig it.
On a good day, we can try and have a manufacturer come in and “do the demo”, but more often than not this isn’t the case. Sometimes they are not available (scheduling can be a nightmare) and while they are certainly experts in their respective fields, this can become a conflict of interest when the client is looking at multiple solutions. Bias plays a big role, and as a “noodlehead” I need to keep bias to a minimum to ensure we are guiding the client to the right product – not just the product one company sells. Solution Agnosticism.
I absolutely love what I do. I happened to fall into this position through a series of fortunate circumstances. It suits my attention whore personality just fine. Some evenings I drive home ecstatic over nailing a client meeting or having all questions that day fall into my wheelhouse. Other nights, I’m simply astounded at what I don’t know. How can you be comfortable with only knowing (on average) 20% of what you want to know? It’s kind of demoralizing: You cannot possibly know everything people expect you to know. At least for my personality, that is a truth I have not yet grasped.