A behind-the-scenes interview with the creators of Pittsburgh Dad
We continue our interview with the creators of Pittsburgh Dad, Curt Wootton and Chris Preksta, ahead of their induction into the AMA Pittsburgh Hall of Fame, taking place at the 11th annual Marketer of the Year event on December 6th, 2017.
Q: What was your first move to start promoting Pittsburgh Dad?
CHRIS: Pittsburgh Dad came out in October, the first episode was released in October of 2011. That summer, in July of 2011, we had released a web series on the SyFy channel and NBC Universal, this black and white 1950s sci-fi thing, so we already, in that fall, had drummed up some local publicity about the web series. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Magazine were already talking about us. Pittsburgh Magazine was reaching out to us to do an article about that SyFy series [and] in the middle of that, Pittsburgh Dad dropped. When they suddenly realized, Oh, these are the same guys, then an article went out about Pittsburgh Dad pretty quickly. Sometime that summer the Post-Gazette ended up picking up a story that went on the Associated Press [newswire], and so a million other newspapers ended up running this story online which was bizarre to us – a random newspaper in Iowa suddenly was popping up with stories about Pittsburgh Dad.
And then, in the first couple of months, we got invited to the WDVE morning show. All these things in a very short period of time started helping getting the word out. Every opportunity we got, we just took it. WTAE ended up doing a news story on it in those first couple of months. It all happened really fast, and it was both surprising and fun for us because we’ve worked on a lot of projects where it has not happened like that. You know, where you’re out pushing it and trying to get it in front of eyeballs and really promoting it on social media, and it just doesn’t click, or the momentum never picks up. And so it was really refreshing for this time around, for it to pick up some steam of its own.
Q: When was the decision made to start getting into merchandise?
CHRIS: In the first couple weeks, we had started getting comments on Facebook and Twitter that people wanted to buy things for their dad for Christmas, so we very quickly threw together a print-on-demand t-shirt site with a company in Greensburg. So it was just real quick, it was just the Pittsburgh Dad logo on a t-shirt that people could buy. And then we started doing what we call meet-and-greets, where a store would invite Dad to appear and sign some autographs or take pictures with people, and we showed up…
CURT: The first time we showed up, we didn’t even have any merchandise. We didn’t really know what people wanted to do when they wanted to see you. They like to buy something too, little did we know. But shortly after that, we were ordering more t-shirts and posters so we can actually have merchandise with us on-hand for those type of events.
CHRIS: It was funny for people to walk up to the meet and greet, they’d walk up to the table with money in hand and like yell at us that we had nothing. We were just doing the meet and greet to meet people and do pictures. We didn’t want people to feel like we were trying to gouge them for money. But lesson learned: people wanted posters. Meet and greets are still a big function of ours. We do probably 2 or 3 a year. We do one annually down in Florida…there’s a Primanti Bros. restaurant down in Florida, and we go down every summer, and about 100 people show up to that meet and greet. We do one every year in Ocean City at a Pittsburgh bar down there. We did one this past July and there were 500-600 people in line.
CURT: It was crazy. I mean, it’s a Steelers bar in Ocean City, so it’s pretty much a no brainer.
CHRIS: But it’s nice, you know. You’re getting a face-to-face meeting. People get to get pictures, people share their ideas. For the past few years, we’ve done meet and greets at the Home & Garden Show down at the Convention Center, and once again, you get to make that personal connection so people see the people behind the show.
Q: Pittsburgh Dad can be considered a “social media influencer.” Are you working with an agency to help with contracts?
CHRIS: It depends on the contract, and it depends on the company. For larger stuff, we certainly have a lawyer and a manager that goes over the bigger contract stuff. We published a book a few years back with Penguin Books, so that certainly went through a bigger contract deal. We did episodes with IKEA and McDonald’s, and those larger brand things typically go through those contracts. And then there’s other times if we’re working with a smaller partnership and we got a good vibe about it, it’ll be a simple memo or a simple agreement, not necessarily some massive contract. It’s just a case by case basis.
Q: Do you guys have any must-have tools for creating and distributing content?
CHRIS: iPhone and laptop. Every single episode that we shoot, aside from the short film and chunks of our Back to the Future episode, but other than that, every other episode has been shot on my iPhone and edited on my laptop.
CURT: Very guerilla-style film making.
Q: Kennywood is also being honored as an AMA Pittsburgh Hall of Fame inductee this year, and coincidentally, you guys have done several videos with them. How did your relationship with them start?
CHRIS: Very early on in the show, fans started making requests for episodes, and Kennywood was far and away the number one request. One of the first couple years, we ended up reaching out to them with the idea of filming an episode. Our goal was basically, we wanted to film Dad spending a day at Kennywood to capture everything we could, the feeling and the vibe of what it was like to be at Kennywood, not just for the people here in Pittsburgh but for the people who have moved away who can’t come to Kennywood anymore. You know, a lot of our episodes are for those people out-of-town that miss these places and locations. And Kennywood was certainly very gracious. We had originally gone through their PR team, and they gave us an unbelievable amount of access. They were with us while we were filming. And we were certainly like, “Hey listen, I know Dad pokes fun and all that, but our job is never to trash something.” We’re never trying to really throw some local company under the bus. The only things that we openly trash are Browns and the Ravens. And the Patriots.
CURT: We’ve worked multiple times with the Pittsburgh Steelers, early on, because Coach Tomlin had been a big fan of our show. And we got a request to come up to training camp, and initially when we filmed with him, they took the script, they looked over it, and they were like “you can’t say this, you can’t say that.” Our relationship’s been great with them too. So even at this point when we work with Kennywood or the Steelers, they don’t even look at our script anymore, they just give us the green light. It’s pretty cool.
CHRIS: Yeah, so Kennywood’s been great. There’s been a couple – the first Kennywood episode, the Back to the Future episode has a scene in Kennywood, and then mostly recently we did the Log Jammer episode. And that was another one, where when we heard they were taking it out, I just reached out to them and said “Hey, we’d love to have Dad take one last ride on it.” We were up front with it, like listen, we’re not here to bag on your decision to get rid of it, we’re here to say goodbye and show some respect to it and have some fun with it. And that was another [episode] that went viral. It seemed like everyone in Pittsburgh was sharing that as their goodbye to the Log Jammer. That’s another one that ended up on the news, it ended up in newspapers, it ended up shared on the radio, and it went everywhere. We didn’t do an ounce of marketing, it just literally came out of: I thought it’d be funny.
CURT: We found out that the Log Jammer was closing on a Friday, and we were filming that next day on Saturday. You just gotta keep your ears open for that kind of opportunity in this town.
Q: So the brands let you have creative control of the content?
CHRIS: Steelers just wanted to be sure that if we were doing an episode with the Steelers, like that the Steelers were going to appear in an episode [or] the coach was going to appear, that we weren’t trashing another team.
CURT: But in contrast to that, we did a video for the Pittsburgh Pirates, for their scoreboard, and their mentality was “trash the other team as much as you want.” Different organizations, different mindsets.
CHRIS: We shot an episode of Dad shopping in IKEA. You know, typically, we go through the experience: we spend a day walking around IKEA getting ideas and concepts, we create the script, we send it to them just to make sure that we’re not making a joke about a product that’s about to get yanked off the shelves, or something that we’re missing. But I can count on one hand the amount of jokes that have ever been cut from all scripts combined, by a company. Usually if we cut a joke, it’s typically for time or it just didn’t turn out funny…we just didn’t think it was funny in the edit later on. Once you build a relationship, people know you’ve got their interest in mind as well.
Q: What does being inducted into AMA Pittsburgh’s Hall of Fame mean to you?
CHRIS: It’s simultaneously an honor and it’s also a surprise. Like Curt said, we’re not marketers. A lot of the marketing end of things is us figuring stuff out as we go. Or a lot of it is us reaching out to people that we think are better at this and asking their opinion or getting advice on these things. As we’ve seen Pittsburgh Dad becoming a legitimate Pittsburgh brand, you know, an icon…it’s still surprising to us.
CURT: If you were accepting my father into the marketing Hall of Fame, I would understand that because that’s what he did his whole life, but I’m just, you know, making fun of him behind his back.
Q: What would Pittsburgh Dad have to say about marketing?
DAD: You know what? First of all, there’s too many commercials. You don’t need all them commercials. I know what products are out there, I know what I like. I don’t need you to shove it in my face every 5 seconds. The only commercials you need…you need that Eat ‘N Park Christmas tree helpin’ the star ‘aht, that’s the only one I ever need. That Kennywood one…the girl and the guy fall in love at the park…that’s beautiful. That makes me wanna go dahn there every day.
But as far as all this marketing, you know, you don’t need all that! People know what’s out there. What the hell you gotta waste all that money for, putting it back in our faces? Geeez. Why don’t you go spend that money on something important?!
Q: You’re being recognized as an icon in marketing. Thoughts?
DAD: I just say work hard, do your best, and good things will come. Don’t expect anything handed to ya…that’s what Pittsburgh’s all about: work hard. But as far as being an icon in marketing…yeah, that’s pretty cool.
Join Pittsburgh Dad’s creators at AMA Pittsburgh’s Marketer of the Year event on December 6, 2017 at LeMont Restaurant in Mt. Washington. Reserve your tickets.