Move Over L.A. And NYC! Tampa's Spectrum Productions Vies For Another Emmy

Before Bollywood came to town, before we had a film commission, Tampa-based Guy Nickerson's Spectrum Productions/Mindclay was already creating Emmy-winning TV programming and stood at the vanguard of digital advertising. In fact, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced in May that Spectrum Productions has again been nominated for an Emmy, winners to be announced June 20, 2014. 

With five Emmys already to its name, this is Spectrum's 17th nomination in the past 8 years.

"You can go to L.A., to New York and I will put my money on Spectrum to compete on aesthetic, creative and production value, and they are right here in Tampa,'' says Gerard Hoeppner, Busch Gardens VP of marketing and long-time Spectrum customer. Hoeppner says Spectrum's "sophistication and investment in technology and talent pool, is remarkable.''

This may be Tampa's best kept digital secret.

"They're the hidden gem of the Tampa film industry. They are doing such cutting edge things at the top of what's trending,'' says Hillsborough County Film and Digital Media Commissioner Dale Gordon. "I am very impressed with their model.''

Original Programming
A kid from "sort of all over the place,'' Nickerson found his way to Tampa as a "shooter,'' a news cameraman, for Channel 8 in 1985 where he quickly worked his way up the ranks. Through a growing freelance relationship filming video for Busch Gardens and later Jack Hanna, he was able to go out on his own, officially launching Spectrum, a production company in 1987. The business took off and the relationship with both of his initial customers continues to flourish. Spectrum's current Emmy nomination is for Outstanding Travel Program for Jack Hanna's "Into the Wild.''

Nickerson explains that "with a show, we fully produce absolutely everything, from story development to scripting to field production.'' Their programming experiences tend toward travel, tourism, and entertainment, which includes sports, wildlife and conservation, and what Nickerson terms "personality.'' Swamp Men (National Geographic Wild), Plane Xtreme (The Weather Channel), Gorillas on the Brink with Natalie Portman (Animal Planet) are a few familiar titles produced by Spectrum.

Nickerson is constantly scouting for potential plots, and has at least a handful on his computer that he is pitching at any given time -- from Miami-ink type spinoffs to hilarious profiles of personalities such as a couch-potato dad who spends his days entering video contests to tales from an exotic animal hospital in South Florida. He has a mommy concierge program, a blond duo that caters to expecting celebrities and the well-to-do in Malibu, managing everything from baby wardrobe and registries to customized nursery décor. Very compelling -- who can resist baby-meets-HGTV combo?

Digital Creative

Mindclay, a division of Spectrum Productions, came out of the demand Nickerson saw to support the marketing needs of their customers from digital solutions to branded content. They do advertising agency type work -- logos, commercials, marketing videos, animation, websites -- the gamut, with the full strength of their digital prowess.

Yet what Mindclay does can be complex and draws on Spectrum's identity as storytellers. "Our foundation is in storytelling,'' says Nickerson. "Our digital approach is how we deliver our stories.''  

This is best explained by example, perhaps.

In the months leading up to the opening of Cheetah Hunt, Busch Gardens approached Spectrum wanting to put together something spectacular and never done before.

What the Spectrum/Mindclay group came up with was building the hype through what Nickerson likens to a "murder mystery.'' They built the story piece by digital piece addressing both the blogging world ("huge decision leaders'' when it comes to theme parks, according to Mindclay account manager Samantha Morris) and the consumer fanbase through a maze of clues, employing every technology in the toolbox –- microsites and boutique sites, digital animation, teaser blue prints, symbols, loads of clever video and eventually pre-visualization of the ride experience itself before it was even constructed. Each of these clues led to a deeper interaction with the campaign. For example, bloggers would be sent personalized messages game-style, and would be rewarded for figuring things out, consumers would gain advantages for adding friends on Facebook. Around the construction site at Busch Gardens, QR codes (those ubiquitous scan-able black-and-white squares) were posted for more clues in-situ that would lead to teaser videos, with yet more clues planted within.

In the aggregate, the clues told a story and by the time of the true launch, the hype had crescendoed to the point of explosion. Nickerson calls it "360 degree engagement,'' and says that "this type of engagement can apply to a restaurant chain, to a lot of different industries.'' Hoeppner of Busch Gardens, describes the campaign as "outstanding'' and says this is only one of the many innovative approaches Spectrum/Mindclay has produced for them, "merging of the use of video and virtual communications with savviness.''

Gone are the days of a polite ribbon-cutting ceremony and champaign, apparently.

Business Plasticity

A re-convergence is on the horizon for Spectrum's two-tiered business.  Nickerson is increasingly finding customers "on the branding side that want to create shows or content that leverage our sensibilities in the TV shows.'' And at the same time, "network clients that now want apps, that want digital properties because so much more of the network space is a blend.'' He says this is where the industry is going and alludes mysteriously to more on his company's changes, coming soon.

Any entrepreneur or small business in Tampa could learn from Nickerson's remarkable lack of concern for geographical borders or other typical business barriers. In addition to travel for his established customers, without hesitation he goes to where he smells a story, his peripatetic mind in "non-stop development'' of new programming.

He is unfettered by confines of human resources and routinely contracts freelancers from Los Angeles or New York and seamlessly brings them aboard, complete with temporary Spectrum living quarters. He has no problem juggling cell phone interviews from, say, Uganda.  

The company relies on their robust internship programs to build talent. "We try to find students that will fit our culture, we want to invest our time wisely,'' says Ryan Glidden, VP of operations, who runs the program. "We've had great success with that approach.'' He estimates about 40 percent of their interns later return as freelancers and about 15 percent as employees.

Chemistry Sparked By Personality

Spectrum's exposed brick 13,000-square-foot stylish state-of-the-art HD facility, is home to upwards of 20 employees and the many contractors that come in for projects. In the lobby of their hip Channelside offices, one can find Emmys casually lazing around like magazines on the coffee tables, available for anyone to browse. There are QR codes on the doors instead of engraved plaques. The Spectrum/Mindclay team looks plainly concentrated, intense, focused on their work, surely using the highest of tech.

Yet Nickerson says it is no longer about the technology.  

"Everyone has access to the technology, the software. It's the people behind the technology that matter,'' he explains. "I consider us like Mensa in our industry -- everyone here is as smart as they come. They could work anywhere. I just feel lucky they are working here.''

"Beyond talent,'' Nickerson continues, ''for me, its chemistry, personality and all that stuff, because that's what makes a good company.'' He adds that he is proud of their culture and "proud of being able to do what we do in Tampa.''

Kendra Langlie is a freelance writer and cultural enthusiast, based in Tampa. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Kendra Langlie.

Kendra Langlie is a feature writer at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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