Poptent's Crowdsourcing Model Spotlights Freelance Creators

When a client needs a commercial produced, they turn to Conshohocken’s Poptent. Then, Poptent turns to its Web community of ambitious producers.

Poptent’s Charelle Brown, Chris Vasquez, Jessica Scarane and Monica O at the company’s Conshohocken operations center. (Photo by Jared Castaldi)
During last year’s Super Bowl, Dannon aired a commercial for its Oikos Greek yogurt featuring John Stamos. It begins with the middle-aged heartthrob seductively accepting a spoonful from an equally attractive actress. He then takes the spoon, seemingly to return the favor. When he doesn’t, his glaring companion is none too happy.

The understated 30-second spot was created by Poptent, a video production company with main offices in San Clemente, Calif., and Conshohocken. If you frequent the Internet, you’ve probably seen its work, about 80 percent of which is Web-based. Clients include Dannon, Amazon, American Express, FedEx and GE. Locally, there have been deals with Nutrisystem, the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Campbell’s.

Poptent specializes in crowdsourcing, or finding the talent for its projects through appeals on the Internet. Since its inception in 2007, the company has grown its online community to more than 50,000 professional and amateur creators—animators, cinematographers, directors, writers and more. There are no membership fees.

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In the case of the Dannon commercial, it was a 21-year-old college graduate from Weehawken, N.J., who submitted the original idea. He even directed the final version of the spot.

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Here’s the way it works: A brand comes to Poptent with a request for a commercial or video. Poptent gathers all the necessary details and notifies its creative community via the Web. “Then, it’s up to the individual or agency. They produce a great ad for, say, Nestlé, in hopes that Nestlé will choose their work and purchase the commercial from them,” says Poptent president Neil Perry.

For many of its clients, Poptent’s freelance-assignment mentality is a refreshing break from the conventional “contest” format, where one winner is typically chosen from three competitors. In some cases, though, Poptent will zero in on those who might be a good match for the job. “The assignment doesn’t show up on our website, but we’ll personally invite about 15 of our best creators, and we give them a little money to cover their costs,” says Perry, who lives in Wynnewood. “The client picks from those spots.”

Things were vastly different in the marketing industry when Perry began his career with McDonald’s more than 30 years ago. “For our campaign for Chicken McNuggets, we had to do a commercial for television and radio, a billboard, and a print ad,” he recalls.

Today’s brands require multiple commercials to combat the wear-out factor on TV, plus videos for websites, Facebook pages and YouTube. “Marketers are faced with all these needs, and that’s why they’re coming to us,” says Perry. “They have 20-30 commercials to choose from, instead of just one concept from a traditional ad agency.”

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And crowdsourcing is a lot quicker. “When I was with McDonald’s, it could easily take up to six months to produce a commercial,” says Perry. “We can provide high-quality content in about a month.”

The pricing is also more attractive. Poptent typically charges the client about $50,000, with up to $10,000 going to the creator. “Right now, the plug number for a typical 30-second commercial for TV is $350,000,” says Perry.

Recruited by Poptent founder Rick Parkhill, Perry has been with the company from the beginning. “The idea for Poptent came to Rick when he saw the professional quality of short films and commercials his teenage son and his son’s friends were making for fun,” says Perry.

As Poptent’s chairman, Parkhill works out of the corporate headquarters in San Clemente. At 70 employees and counting, the company is enjoying steady growth, with smaller offices in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and São Paulo, Brazil.  

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Located in an office park off Hector Street, Poptent’s Conshohocken location is the operations center. At 60, Perry is twice as old as many of his 25 employees, who mill about in an open work area of the warehouse-style space, where bikes line the wall. “It’s definitely a relaxed environment, but plenty of work is getting done,” says Perry.

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It was enough to lure Tim Breslin from a job in Center City five years ago. A graduate of Conestoga High School and Villanova University, the 38-year-old Berwyn native is vice president of product and technology for Poptent—though he admits he wasn’t totally sold on its concept at first. “I never thought people would accept assignments and spend countless hours working, with only a chance that their project would be chosen by the client,” he says.

But it didn’t take long for Breslin to realize that the younger workforce is well accustomed to what he calls a “mobile freelance economy.”

“People want to have a job where they’re doing something they’re passionate about, in the hopes that someone will care,” says Breslin. “Poptent is giving them the opportunity to do that.”

To learn more, visit poptent.net.

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