Not knowing whether their business would sink or sail during the pandemic, Goldfarb Weber Creative Media (GW) President Ron Goldfarb and CEO Tony Weber faithfully went into work every day in their downtown office.
While editing projects were still being done from home by employees, no new work was coming in. Goldfarb and Weber, who formally took over ownership of GW in 2009, were weathering the storm when an unexpected pivot took place.
The pivot started with a call from Sherwin-Williams Chairman and CEO John Morikis, who wanted to come into the GW studio to record a message to his employees.
“They were the first client that helped keep us in business during that time,” Goldfarb says. “Once John realized how easy and effective it was to communicate with his employees who were starved for information, he started coming in every week to tape his message.”
Morikis told his friend Jerome Grisko, president and CEO of CBIZ, about his successful video messaging. CBIZ, a financial and employee business service with corporate headquarters in Cleveland, was GW’s first pandemic client. (Sherwin-Williams was a GW client prior to the pandemic.)
Along with video messaging from Morikis and Grisko, GW has produced more than 30 virtual events, including the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland fundraiser, Northeast Ohio Medical University commencement, Shoes & Clothes for Kids fundraiser and the YWCA Greater Cleveland virtual Women of Achievement event.
During one week in November 2020, GW worked three live events: Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio fundraiser, Christ Child Society fundraiser and the Achievement Centers for Children event. COO Vic DiAngelo says the team “flawlessly navigated” all three events.
The Achievement Centers commemorated its 80th anniversary with 80 hours of celebration, which included agency updates, client stories, entertainment, raffles, a silent auction and more. Prior to the pandemic, GW’s average video length was three to four minutes.
“I remember when it started, we were really busy, and I felt guilty about it because we had friends and peer companies that weren’t busy and restaurant owners whose businesses were being completely shut down,” Goldfarb says. “We kept it to ourselves how busy we were. We didn’t want to brag about it because everyone else was in a weird spot. We just kept our nose down and stayed busy.”
Goldfarb and Weber say they could not have executed the pivot without the help and technical expertise of their longest tenured employee, DiAngelo.
“The virtual event business could not have happened without Vic at the helm,” Weber says. “He has a background in switching live television and a broadcast background from news. He hadn’t used it in over 20 years, but he pulled the knowledge to help keep us in business.”
DiAngelo worked his way from an entry-level position at GW in 1999 to “running the show,” according to Goldfarb and Weber. DiAngelo spent one week working from home in the midst of the pandemic, and the remainder of his time in the office with his bosses.
“It’s exciting to get involved in the live event space and virtual events because it was kind of like working a system that I hadn’t used in a while,” DiAngelo says. “I enjoy being able to react to anything that can happen live.
“I had already purchased the software to do this because one of our clients was using it, but we were working with a much smaller audience. It was just a matter of, ‘Hey, we have this software, and we can do this quickly.’ I think we only had to buy one or two adapters to put into my computer and we were ready to go.”
With each event, GW says it’s learning and improving as the virtual event business grows. Weber says GW's nonprofit clients have especially seen the positive effects since their fundraising efforts can now be broadcast to a global audience. With no overhead expenses at the events, such as catering, entertainment or valet services, donations have remained the same or increased. Costs for some events have decreased.
Take for example the Sherwin-Williams Women’s Club (SWWC), a philanthropic and professional development club with more than 850 global members, which is celebrating its 110 year anniversary this year.
This year, it held its first virtual Sherwin-Williams Women’s Summit. More than 2,900 employees from across the globe attended the three-day summit, which included two panel discussions and a keynote discussion. All of the content was digitally published and available in 10 languages. SWWC partnered with GW to film, edit and package the content.
“GW brought ideas on how to film in a virtual environment while still delivering an engaging event,” Sherwin-Williams Product Manager Dani Neumann, the 2021 president of SWWC, says. “We relied on their expertise for filming locations, zoom techniques and more. They worked with us to follow our company’s COVID-19 protocols and achieve our goals for the event, bringing to life a professional, global and virtual event.”
Like Neumann, Cuyahoga County Public Library communications and external relations director Hallie Rich is pleased with GW’s ability to create compelling video storytelling to an expanded audience.
“When the pandemic forced all of us to transition from in-person events to virtual, GW was naturally positioned to help us engage our audience remotely,” Rich says. “They helped us conceptualize our first live interactive Flourish fundraising event in ways that were entertaining, engaging and, most importantly, effectively conveyed the library’s story.”
Cuyahoga County Public Library’s Flourish fundraiser was held this summer. The event, backed by culinary literacy ambassador chef Rocco Whalen of Fahrenheit restaurant, raised thousands of dollars for library programs. Whalen and chef Matt Mytro, partner of Flour restaurant, presented a live cooking demonstration at Vitamix’s test kitchen in Olmsted Township for event ticket holders who purchased Flourish food or party kits.
“These live-stream events are a bell that is not going to un-ring,” Goldfarb says. “If you are doing an event in person, to me, anything that goes up on the big screen that everyone is watching at the event can be streamed live to anyone who was unable to attend the event. They can sit in their living room and watch.”
With a text to give telephone options for in-person guests and those at home, bids can be made and funds can be raised.
“That’s one thing about having a small business and having 10 employees — you are able to shift and pivot,” Weber says. “We couldn’t have done that if we were a huge company. Our employees are used to wearing multiple hats. We are fortunate we have employees who are willing to do that.”
Goldfarb, Weber and DiAngelo agree the company’s reputation, expertise and can-do attitude gave clients the confidence to come to GW for assistance during uncertain times.
“Virtual events weren’t in our business plan, but now they are,” Goldfarb says.