Meet Creative Allies, the Raleigh Firm Helping Create New Gilmore Girls Merch

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Lorelai and Rory Gilmore—the fast-talking, mother-and-daughter duo from the fictional town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut—are back on our screens after nearly ten years. You probably already knew that. You may even have spent Thanksgiving binge-watching the wildly popular series’ four new 90-minute installments.

But you may not know that a Raleigh-based digital marketing firm is tasked with finding an artist to create a design for Gilmore Girls licensors to use to market the show’s new merchandise.

Creative Allies connects artists from around the world with celebrity- and consumer-branding experts, giving designers exposure and access and their clients a greater range of options. And it’s working: Since 2009, it has hosted more than a thousand digital design campaigns. The group has cultivated a community of more than 125,000 designers and serves hundreds of clients.

We spoke with longtime Triangle resident Donald Thompson, who was brought on as CEO in January, about connecting designers and artists on a global scale, the Gilmore Girls contest, and what’s next for Creative Allies.

Creative Allies CEO Donald Thompson

Creative Allies CEO Donald Thompson

Tell me about Creative Allies.

We have seven employees here, between Raleigh and a couple in Asheville. Our designers, however, are located all around the world. This technology platform allows us to work with, partner with, and curate art from designers worldwide. I was brought on to really accelerate the firm’s growth. We have done a thousand design contests, but we really hadn’t figured out a way to expand the brand in a significant way to grow the firm. That’s what I was brought on to do. 

So how does the process work?

Our clients approach us with their marketing campaigns—for a Ben & Jerry’s, for an Arizona Iced Tea, for a Selena Gomez. They will have project briefs that they want great design work for. We will put those project briefs out to our community. Instead of five-to-ten designs that one or two artists could do, we typically get from 250, to, in some of our top contests, 4,000 pieces of artwork that our clients can choose from. 

How was Creative Allies selected to find designers for the Gilmore Girls?

We have a partnership with an e-commerce firm called CafePress. They’re a $250 million e-tailer, and they have a series of entertainment-licensed properties. They were looking for a way to produce world-class content in a cost-effective manner. So they partnered with us to do The Big Bang Theory and Orange Is the New Black, and they will partner with us to do Game of Thrones. The Gilmore Girls was right in line. They want to have cutting-edge design, but they don’t have the cost structure to be able to have a global design community like we have. It is a win-win situation.


After designers submit designs for the Gilmore Girls campaign, how are the winning designs selected? 

The contest will close December 19, and CafePress, in partnership with the licensors for the Gilmore Girls, will decide on the winners. Not only will it be a cool design, but three or four of our artists are going to get pretty significant recognition by being selected as the winners. 

If you think about the secondary goal to a client, they want social engagement. It’s one thing for the Gilmore Girls to have close to four million “likes” on Facebook. It’s another thing to activate that Facebook following to be included in design contests, vote on designs, and be a part of what’s new and cool about a brand they love. 

What will the design be used for once it is selected?

In particular, it’s going to create a new line of merchandise that will be available throughout the holiday season, going through Christmas and early into the New Year, that’s representative of the themes of the Gilmore Girls. The “new and cool” will allow a new line of merchandise to be developed in partnership with Creative Allies, CafePress, and, obviously, the Gilmore Girls

How unique is this business model in the design world? 

I would definitely say it is a unique business model in terms of creating a crowdsourcing platform where everybody wins. It’s not a crowdsourcing platform where it’s just a small prize. When we market to resell any of the design content from our site and our platform, we pay a royalty back to the designers who produced it. Everybody really gets a financial benefit. From that standpoint, I would say we are positioned pretty uniquely. 

What’s on the horizon for Creative Allies?

One of the things we are launching in 2017 is a social commerce component to our site. Let’s say you have a nonprofit, and you want to do a fundraiser. Why not create a theme and a creative design contest at Creative Allies, which will merchandise great art? Every time you sell that T-shirt or that poster, the proceeds go back to your charity. It allows you to use our e-commerce engine and design platform and be able to get your community to come and vote on different art pieces. A revenue share goes back to the charity. As we continue to do well in the marketplace, it’s a way to do some social good and continue to get our brand out. 

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Jane Porter
The Raleigh Agenda's Senior Reporter