Today I have the pleasure of sitting down with another one of my siblings. This time it’s my older sister Anna, who is the President and Founder of Anna Goodson Illustration Agency; one of the world’s leading Illustration agencies known for connecting creative thinkers with illustrators and motion graphic artists from around the globe.
By championing an inclusive, culturally diverse family of talented humans, Anna’s agency helps brands transform their ideas into powerful visual content.
I invited Anna to be a guest on my show to learn why illustration is becoming more popular with brands as a way to differentiate themselves. I also want to discuss why diversity has always played such an important role in her agency’s branding.
Hi, I'm Joelly, your branding badass. Welcome to my new podcast, branding matters. Today I have the pleasure of sitting down with another Goodson. This time it's my older sister Anna, the president and founder of Anna Goodson illustration agency, which is one of the world's leading illustration agencies known for connecting creative thinkers with illustrators, and motion graphic artists from around the globe. They believe that by championing an inclusive, culturally diverse family of talented humans, they can help brands transform their ideas into powerful visual content. I invited Anna to be guests on my show today to learn why illustration is becoming more and more popular with brands as a way to differentiate themselves. I also wanted to discuss why diversity has always played such an important role in her agency's branding. Anna, welcome to branding matters. Hey, go really, really happy to be on your podcast. Congratulations, by the way, you've done an awesome job. I'm super proud of you. I'm happy to be on the journey with you and to share some of my experiences with Oh, you're so sweet. Thank you very much. I appreciate that. And I'm super excited to have you here. Before we get into it. I want you to share what Anna Goodson illustration is and why you started and how you got into it. And it's an illustration agency is an agency that regroups a little over I think we have 50 something artists from around the world, we basically represent artists and manage them and nurture them and guide them and then help them connect with potential clients about the world. So we do quite a bit of editorial illustration magazines and books. We do a lot of advertising campaigns, posters, basically, anywhere you see drawings, those are illustrations done by illustrators. So how did I get into this? Well, coming from a family of marketers, and creatives, I worked several years in advertising and decided at one point to switch over and I joined a fashion photography agency where I worked for about a year and a half repping fashion photographers. And at one point, I just decided I wanted to go out on my own, but I wasn't sure I wanted to continue with fashion photography. And somebody came into the agency actually around the time when I was thinking to leave. And it was a French illustrator who came in and showed us our portfolio. But since the agency only wrapped photographers, I was the one that met with this guy. And I said, I'm sorry, you know, we wrapped with photographers, but I told him on the side, I said, Look, I'm about to leave and join my own agency. And maybe once I leave here we can talk. So I met with him and I took him on. But literally when I when I started rapping illustrated in the very beginning, I actually had no idea what illustrators do, I didn't even know he was a career. So he was the first guy I turned on, and he actually taught me he was the first guy you turned on. We will save that for another topic. Yeah, he was not the last Illustrator. Yeah, so I decided to launch a business because I wanted to continue as an agent, I really enjoyed what I was doing in the fashion photography industry. And when I learned a little bit more about illustration, I thought it would really be a fun mix to rep photographers. And that's how you got into it. And so and a good sin illustration, didn't you start off being called Anakata? management? Absolutely. We launched originally as an integrated management because we had both photographers and illustrators. I think it's been about nine years now that we're no longer repping photographers, I wanted to really concentrate and focus on illustration, and you're coming up on 25 years. That's pretty amazing. So how has the illustration industry changed in the last 25 years? First of all, how is it changed. So many things have changed in 25 years, no more visit from FedEx, I used to have a great rapport with a FedEx man who would come and pick up and deliver I mean, you know, the artists used to draw and paint back then. And none of my artists work traditional anymore. And if they do, then they scan it and send it to clients. So we've been pretty much you know, we've been online we launched our website back in 96. Before most people even have access to the web, and therefore the the traditional medium, creating art has really changed and become digital so that I'd have to say for one is huge. Another thing that I really miss a lot is the one on one with clients. I used to run around the city here in Montreal and I would travel quite a bit to New York and Toronto and other cities with big heavy portfolios of each of the artists. And we don't have physical portfolios anymore. I mean, all our portfolios are online and even dealing in business development when I started out launched the agency You know, you could call up an advertising agency, for example, and you would speak to the receptionist who would then put you in touch with the art director, well, and then it moved on where the receptionist was replaced by a voicemail, and then you would get transferred to another voicemail. And then that got replaced with email. So a lot of the personal contact has changed. However, since COVID, and and zoom, we tend to be meeting face to face again, we've been lovely for me with my artist and with and with clients, they actually really like taking the time to sort of meet and speak with us, there are so many things that really have changed, where you have a bigger group that we represent, we started off I think with four and then maybe eight, it was very, very difficult for me to get people on board, my first launch when you're an unknown and starting out, and particularly a woman in business launching a startup, which mine was 25 years ago, it's very, very difficult when you don't have a name, and I couldn't even get artists who are willing to have me take them on. And today we I mean, we have 1000s of artists that contact us from around the world. In quite a journey. That's amazing when you talked about zoom and how you're meeting with clients. Now, I agree with you one of the positives. I mean, even you and I you're in Montreal, I'm in Calgary, we've probably seen each other more now, in the last probably eight months than we have in the last how many years I've been living out west 20 years or something. Now, it's everybody's hopping on Google meats and zoom and facetiming. And just having that visual connection, I think has made a big difference. So can you tell me why are more brands using illustration in their marketing these days? You know, you mentioned COVID, I think that what happened, everything came to a halt, really, for marketers and advertisers. And illustration is really a great way to do a quick turnaround for a creative concept. And illustration has often been used in marketing, but now photography was there was a stop there because of the COVID people couldn't get out. And illustrators are continuing to work. illustrators have always been freelancers. Basically, my job hasn't changed. everybody around me has changed. But I've literally been working off my phone and my laptop from all different locations for the past 25 years. So being able to supply creative very quickly. I mean, we've produced stuff literally overnight for clients. I mean, illustration has always been popular way back to looseleaf track used to do posters for bars, and so on. So illustrations always been popular. It just seems to now be really fashionable. I think that the creative expression and the diversity and the fact that you can work with people from around the world trends go back and forth from illustration to photography. And now I think that we are on a really great upward journey in terms of illustration and art, it seems to have made a huge comeback. Many brands are using illustration. It's fun, it's lively, it's colorful. So how would you say since COVID, you've actually gotten busier, we are getting very specific demands to supply artwork from artists from different cultures. You know, we have clients that ask us, for example, if they're working on a project to speak to black Americans or to speak to the Asian community, they're actually looking for artists who come from that background. And I think that's great. You know, I used to talk to clients sometimes and or the artists and say, how come there's not more women, for example, in business images we take for granted and we just see an image and most of the time, it's always sort of a little man in a suit when we're talking about a business image. And now more and more we see women Well, now, all of a sudden, since a black lives matter, I mean, go on Pinterest, on Facebook, every second ad is showing black Americans and thank God, you know, and and advertisers, even here in Quebec, they're casting like crazy, and they're looking for people, people are demanding to see real people. Yeah, we've always had a very diverse group. And I think that that comes out in the kind of artwork that we show you've always been passionate about. And you're the first one to always say well, and challenge and say, Well, how come there isn't more women? or How come there isn't more minorities? or How come there isn't more gay people or any minority? You're the first person? Where do you think that comes from? You know, growing up, we were three girls and one boy in the house. And you know, when I was really young, there are different situations that happened. You know, I remember going with dad and Scott to take him to his first tee ball. And it looked like so much fun. And I was always really sporty. And Scott must have been five or six. And so I was just a little bit younger, I might have been four. And I was like, This looks so great. I want to play and dad just turned to me said you can't and I'm like, Well, why not? And he said, Well, you're a girl, you know, girls can't play so that whole girls can't play kind of followed me as I grew older. You know, we again the three girls at home when we would have dinner we did the dishes yet Scott took out the garbage twice a week, you know, considering our family was anything but traditional. In a lot of ways. We were very traditional dad worked for kids at home and mom stayed home and the only thing that I couldn't justify didn't make sense because, you know, it didn't make sense because he had a penis that he could play t ball and because I had a vagina I had to do the dishes and so I grew up really struggling To be an equalist, to be treated equally to want to have the same options as boys. And then as men had as I was growing up, and I got to experience all these challenges, I became a feminist, I became someone who wanted to make the same salary as somebody doing the same job as I had done. And you know, when I ended up starting my own company and running my own business, I wanted to run my business in a way that was very equal and inclusive. And, you know, also being gay and growing up gay and having to hide my whole life and not being able to be open and express love to say a girlfriend that I had at the time, we're living now in times where we embrace the fact that we can be open that it's a positive to be vulnerable. And it's a real attribute, to be honest. So we're like that in business. And that's always been out of my business, philosophy, all the struggles that I had going to see a bank manager and asking for a small loan when I started my business, and he said, Come back with your dad, it was infuriating, but it was educational, me and it gave me the empathy that I have now. And the understanding when I'm working with artists, wow, that's a I just am speechless. Thank you for sharing all that. With me being so vulnerable. And being so open like that, it's, it's really important. And I agree with you, people want reality, people want vulnerability, because that's how brands are going to connect to talk about your brand. That's how you're connecting with your audience. And that's how you're getting your clients to connect with their audience through the way the illustrations are expressing that you touched on photography before and how it takes so much longer than photography, where it took so much longer to do a photo shoot, and then stock photography blew up and stock photography, people could just go online and grab stock photos. But what happened with stock photography is that everybody started using the same pictures. And so you would go online. And and this actually is funny, because this actually happened to me today where I went on a website, and I recognize a picture and it was a stock photo from another website. And so people were starting to get confused about brands. My view and when I look at illustrations is it's a great way to differentiate brands from each other because they are custom. So it's sort of taking that custom photography, but doing it in a way that is really specific and faster for different brands. So how do you think illustrations have been helping brands stand out from their competition? Well, it's funny, Joe, because he talked about stock, you know, I came up with an ad that we started using to promote and the headline was, don't be stock up, be original. So one of the things about photography and stock illustration is that recycling images is one way maybe an expensive way to sort of do that. But you're absolutely right. Not only can you see the image possibly over and over again. But I think it's a way of killing an industry. My mission, really, as an agent, what I do is I get work for artists, and because of what I do, these people can live. And so if we don't want to completely eliminate an entire industry, whether it's photography, or any of the creative industries illustration, for that matter. It's up to us to support artists, and how can we support them, it's by hiring them and creating original work. And I feel very deeply and passionately about that. I mean, you know, artists need to create an illustration in a way that artists can basically make a living and even then some make a great living and some make an OK living. But if they were to be replaced, has stock photography killed the photography industry. I mean, I think it would be terrible. I've always said that I would never get involved in stock illustration, we see more and more becoming, I'm a customer fine. Oh, you know what I'll use, I'm gonna use Red Bull as an example, because I read this really interesting thing about Red Bull where they're famous ads all over TV and the internet is the Red Bull has wings. And that's all illustrations. And that's really customized to them. And that's how their brand stands out from everybody else. Because I've been doing a little bit of research just about illustration and branding. And so what I've realized, and what I'm learning is that illustration is a great way for a brand to stand out from their competition because it can be a lot more customized to the message that they're trying to convey to their audience and connect with their audience at the same time. That's great. Are you looking for a part time job because you actually just wanted to know your take on that? Do you agree with that? Absolutely. 100% I mean, there's nothing like getting like an awesome illustrator to come up with concept where I mean, just visually like you said, For years, there are brands that we just identify I mean, Coca Cola Santa, you know, that illustrate exactly what it is that we remember. I mean, who the heck remembers a picture of somebody in a something that you know, we've seen an over and over again a million times, right? Yeah, so absolutely. And we've done such cool stuff. I mean, look at what absolute has done. illustration and live I mean, we've worked with absolute and did some phenomenal stuff we worked with did huge campaigns for lavalife when they were like big, big dating site and plastered imagery all over New York City and it gets people's attention. Some of the top magazines always use illustration and can continue to do so I was reading I think was on your website, we talked about how your illustrators create images that define decisive cultural moments. Can you elaborate on explain what that means? Cuz I thought that was a really powerful statement. I said, No, I did want to bring up something else before when you were really open and vulnerable. And you basically just talked about how being a gay woman can you share? I mean, you didn't really talk about that for many, many, many years. Professionally, I know you came out to me into the family and probably to your friends when you were 17. But I think that was a big challenge for you. When did you decide to come out professionally? And how has that impacted you, as a businesswoman be honest with you, I think it's really it's not relevant, I didn't come out and put flags all over the website and scream it from the top of buildings, I think it just became more accepting. And therefore I became more comfortable. Because when I came out to my parents and family back in the early 80s, it was something that you were still, I think, ashamed of and hid from me only because there were so many repercussions and negative reactions to that. And so I think in Canada, we're extremely lucky. I mean, there's still countries where you wouldn't have come out, and it's looked down upon its fact, it's dangerous. And I think it was really just a matter of just feeling more more comfortable. I don't think that it changes anything in my life for the fact that I'm open about it. And I feel exactly the same. It's like it's a secret where Finally I feel like I can talk about it or whatever. Everybody who knows me and has known me over the years knows that I'm gay. What about the young businesswoman out there, or the young graduate who's looking to start her own business and is a bit insecure? Because I would say that confidence comes with maturity. And I think the older you get, the more at peace, you are with yourself. And you are more open to sharing parts of yourself that maybe you felt shame when you were younger. So for you, who is a very successful businesswoman, and entrepreneur, do you feel that there's sort of not a responsibility, but that you have an impact on some younger people that may look to you and say, Well, if she's open about it and look at her and she's successful, then that gives them the permission and the freedom to do it themselves? I think, honestly, I think it's, I think it's for me, it's completely my sexuality is completely irrelevant. Regarding business, however, and being a role model or speaking to women, young women, and encouraging people, whether it's through a startup taking risks, I'm very outspoken about that. I really don't think that there's any connection. And I would hope that the young generation is comfortable enough to be whoever they are, or any generation really, you touched on it earlier about being honest, and being authentic. And I think that's a big part of it is being real, and to brands that are the most authentic and real. Yeah, but I honestly, Joe, I don't think anybody cares about my sexuality. It's never been an issue. I think that people well, you'd be surprised. I don't know, I want to challenge you on that. Because like I said, I know it's not a big deal. I don't think it's a big deal at all. And what we do behind closed doors is none of our business. But like, you know, My son, Aiden, right, he came out when he was 12. He's 14 or 16. Now 17 Oh, my God. And you know, and he has a lot of kids that have looked up to him. And I have actually this mother of a son who came out who told me that Aiden helped him and gave him the courage. So I think you underestimate the value that you offer. And people look to you. And because everybody has, I think a lot of people have sort of that mentorship mentality when they see when they look at you. And they say I want to be like her I want to be you know, an independent, successful businesswoman. And let's say it's an illustration or whatever business and then they also know that you are vulnerable and you're open about that part of you. I think it would give them the courage to say well, she can do it then so can I here's how I'll answer this question because I you know, in hindsight, listen to you speak. First of all, this is the first time I've talked about it on a podcast, I'm talking about being gay, maybe people listen and be like, Oh, my god, she's gay. You know, and then we just lost half our viewership or we just gained had doubled our viewership. Somebody will like post something on YouTube with like our listeners. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, people might be surprised. Other people may not care. I so I think it's more of the fact that wasn't like when Elon came out on the cover of Time Magazine. I mean, I just don't think that people think about it, really. Because again, it would have been part of my fashional journey, I'd have to say, I think being gay and when I came out, like I said, in the 80s, is something that we kind of keep tucked away inside, and it's part of who I am. But, you know, for me, businesses business, I'm professional, what I do is I'm just focused on the work that I'm doing and the artists that I'm representing, and my personal feelings are what goes on I think in my personal life seems to be different took on a new artist last week, and as I was looking over images, I'm like, you know what, wow, I said, all of the people Most of the people anyways, and your images are older man, and they're white. And I said, You know, I love your style, I'd love to see more diversity in your work. So I've become also more more sensitive to images of diversity. I'm more aware, you know, when I hear the issues, I tend to be a bit naive, you know, I think that everybody's open. And I think that everybody's inclusive and to see people wearing shirts that are I mean, I'm Jewish, so to see anti semitism, I'm blown away because I have this naivete about myself, it's hard for me to wrap my head around all of this to see we grew up, my dad was very open and inclusive. You know, I see my kids. And when I talk to my youngest, who's 10, and even my 16 year olds, they don't even see people of color. When you talk about sexuality to a teenager today. They just Who cares? Mom, you know, and I'll be like, she's gay. She's gay. Oh, my God. He's gay. And I know, look at me, like, Who cares? You know, I think that that's where it's at. And so all this to say, I am very sensitive and more inclined to be inclusive. Probably, you're right, because I'm a woman. And because I'm gay, and that's all good. I mean, that's all who Anna Goodson is, and that's all about your brand. So I think who we are is so much about our journey and what we've overcome. How do you think illustration is going to be used for branding in the post corporate world, especially digitally? Do you think there's going to be more of a demand for it? Or how do you think it's going to change, I see things going in the direction of being more light and more whimsical and very colorful, after the Second World War, if you look at movie transfer, right, and what happened, there were musicals and dancing and comedy, and that really picked up people needed a lift. And I feel that we can do that through our and we're seeing that now. I mean, we're busier than ever, I think it's going to continue when you take in on some really wonderful, talented young artists in our gang, the reaction has been great. I do hope too, that other forms of creativity come back culture has been hit restaurants are probably the two industries that have been the worst hit since COVID. Started actors and singers and dancers and performers, and other artists and creators have really been badly hurt by COVID. And so I feel blessed that we are able to continue and to be able to create and that given this opportunity. And you know, we're happy that we have such devoted clients. Let's talk about most pets back in the day when nobody did them. I love your story about why you decided to do most bets as far as promoting your brand. What was your impetus for clients, we're here in Montreal, moving more and more towards being on Macintosh. And since we had this website that nobody was using at you, we had our URL, and we had an email that nobody was using yet. This was really prior to anybody online, or very few for that matter, particularly in our industry, I just came up with the idea that you know, what could be more cool than to have our URL and our name and our brand right at their fingertips so that rather than have to look anywhere once they did catch up. And once they were online? Well, you know, the URL was there. And the drawing was of me sort of running around a little portfolio that first illustrator did. And he added our URL, I had no idea for the life of me that the internet was going to take off if it did, and that you know, our URL would be such a tool that it is Oh, brah I mean, mouse pads. I The reason I brought that up is because obviously that's my wheelhouse back in the day before they were, you know, now people still do most pets, actually, there's been a resurgence because now more people are working from home, that companies are giving gift packets to their employees. And they're actually giving the most pest to work at home just as a way to keep them connected. But I love the fact that back in 1996, it was so new. And it's a great way to connect your audience with your brand. The other thing I want to talk about, which has been a huge success, and it's still going today is your coaster campaign. Do you want to share a little about what was the impetus for that? Yeah, so the coasters very cool. So 18 years ago, I was trying to come up with an idea that we could produce a collection and include as many different images as possible and what would be fun and what marketing could we do to showcase everybody and what could be fun and toying out with ideas because we had clients that were dispersed all over thought about, okay, you know, have a drink on us. Great. Okay, have a drink on us. Well, how could you literally have a drink on us? Like, Oh, well, we could do a coaster and then you could sort of have a drink on us and put your glass on the coaster never realized that it would take off the way it did. In fact, we did it the first year and then somebody would get in the office and they would look through them right they're almost there like these beautiful round shaped because each coaster had a different illustration each coaster so we would have a theme each year we came up with a theme. Usually our themes were either a social issue or something we cared very strongly about. For example, you talk about being gay when I saw what was going on just prior to the sashi Olympics in Russia. I was completely devastated and angry and wanted to make a stand and therefore came up with a campaign was art speaks louder than words and all the artists created pro gay coasters condemning what was going on in Russia. We sent these out to clients. Last year, I think we did our bodies our choices, because again, all this talk about overturning Roe vs. Wade and bringing up issues of contesting abortion, and so on and so forth. So we took the stand at the same time, we created these beautiful collection of coasters that we would ship out to all of our clients. So a client would get a pack, if there were 3440 coasters, somebody walk in and be like, what's all over your desk? And then they would want some and I'm getting asked, because just in so and so's task, and people would bring them home and they would tell me their kids were playing with them. Oh, yeah. And the following year, they'd be like, are you doing your coasters? I didn't get them. You know, can I get them and people were expecting them. It was it's a fabulous way for us to showcase the work of the artist. It's a great way for us to take a stand on an idea, dare I say promote your brand from both? It's funny, but promote our brand. Absolutely. In a way that became a yearly thing. Okay, well, wow. And I mean, we could Goodson girls could probably talk for forever. I'm waiting for the phone to ring for Tracy to call me and say Kay, when am I coming? For those who don't know what Tracy's are younger sister, I appreciate you so much sharing all about your journey and your success and being so open and so vulnerable before we say goodbye. If someone wants to learn more about Anna Goodson illustration and a Goodson, the woman or anything about you what's the best way for them to reach you? Definitely go check out our website, for sure. Go to agents and calm and you can write to me through the website or on LinkedIn. Are you on social media day? I'm on LinkedIn I want we're on Instagram, Google Anna Goodson. Okay, great. So thanks again on, it's been so great seeing your beautiful face and chatting with you on zoom. And I'm so glad that we can connect like this. And I appreciate you being on here. And hopefully people learn a few things about illustration and how it can help them with their branding. And I look forward to seeing you hopefully in person real soon. Thank you, Joe, I really appreciate you having me on your podcast. Honestly, I'm, I couldn't be more proud of you. You're doing like a kick ass job. And not just as your older sister. I mean, as your older sister, but just as a woman, I think that you're doing a fabulous job. And I love you a lot. So good luck with this. And oh, thank you. I love you too. All right, well, thanks again. And we'll talk soon. Okay. Okay, bye. And there you have it. Thank you so much for tuning in. I hope you enjoyed our conversation, and maybe even learned a few things about illustration that can help you with your branding. But most of all, I really hope you had some fun. This podcast is a work in progress. So please make sure to rate and review what you think. And please subscribe to branding matters on whatever platform you listen to. And if you want to learn more about the branding badass, that's me. You can find me on LinkedIn under Julie Goodson Lang or on Twitter and Instagram or Facebook and even YouTube under you guessed it, branding badass. So until next time, thanks again and here's to all you badasses out there.