A behind-the-scenes interview with the creators of Pittsburgh Dad
We continue our interview with the creators of Pittsburgh Dad, Curt Wootton and Chris Preksta, ahead of their induction into the AMA Pittsburgh Hall of Fame, taking place at the 11th annual Marketer of the Year event on December 6th, 2017.
Pittsburgh Dad creators Chris Preksta and Curt Wootton
Q: What was your first move to start promoting Pittsburgh Dad?
CHRIS: Pittsburgh Dad came out in October, the first episode was released in October of 2011. That summer, in July of 2011, we had released a web series on the SyFy channel and NBC Universal, this black and white 1950s sci-fi thing, so we already, in that fall, had drummed up some local publicity about the web series. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Magazine were already talking about us. Pittsburgh Magazine was reaching out to us to do an article about that SyFy series [and] in the middle of that, Pittsburgh Dad dropped. When they suddenly realized, Oh, these are the same guys, then an article went out about Pittsburgh Dad pretty quickly. Sometime that summer the Post-Gazette ended up picking up a story that went on the Associated Press [newswire], and so a million other newspapers ended up running this story online which was bizarre to us – a random newspaper in Iowa suddenly was popping up with stories about Pittsburgh Dad.
And then, in the first couple of months, we got invited to the WDVE morning show. All these things in a very short period of time started helping getting the word out. Every opportunity we got, we just took it. WTAE ended up doing a news story on it in those first couple of months. It all happened really fast, and it was both surprising and fun for us because we’ve worked on a lot of projects where it has not happened like that. You know, where you’re out pushing it and trying to get it in front of eyeballs and really promoting it on social media, and it just doesn’t click, or the momentum never picks up. And so it was really refreshing for this time around, for it to pick up some steam of its own.
Q: When was the decision made to start getting into merchandise?
CHRIS: In the first couple weeks, we had started getting comments on Facebook and Twitter that people wanted to buy things for their dad for Christmas, so we very quickly threw together a print-on-demand t-shirt site with a company in Greensburg. So it was just real quick, it was just the Pittsburgh Dad logo on a t-shirt that people could buy. And then we started doing what we call meet-and-greets, where a store would invite Dad to appear and sign some autographs or take pictures with people, and we showed up…
CURT: The first time we showed up, we didn’t even have any merchandise. We didn’t really know what people wanted to do when they wanted to see you. They like to buy something too, little did we know. But shortly after that, we were ordering more t-shirts and posters so we can actually have merchandise with us on-hand for those type of events.
CHRIS: It was funny for people to walk up to the meet and greet, they’d walk up to the table with money in hand and like yell at us that we had nothing. We were just doing the meet and greet to meet people and do pictures. We didn’t want people to feel like we were trying to gouge them for money. But lesson learned: people wanted posters. Meet and greets are still a big function of ours. We do probably 2 or 3 a year. We do one annually down in Florida…there’s a Primanti Bros. restaurant down in Florida, and we go down every summer, and about 100 people show up to that meet and greet. We do one every year in Ocean City at a Pittsburgh bar down there. We did one this past July and there were 500-600 people in line.
CURT: It was crazy. I mean, it’s a Steelers bar in Ocean City, so it’s pretty much a no brainer.
CHRIS: But it’s nice, you know. You’re getting a face-to-face meeting. People get to get pictures, people share their ideas. For the past few years, we’ve done meet and greets at the Home & Garden Show down at the Convention Center, and once again, you get to make that personal connection so people see the people behind the show.
Q: Pittsburgh Dad can be considered a “social media influencer.” Are you working with an agency to help with contracts?
CHRIS: It depends on the contract, and it depends on the company. For larger stuff, we certainly have a lawyer and a manager that goes over the bigger contract stuff. We published a book a few years back with Penguin Books, so that certainly went through a bigger contract deal. We did episodes with IKEA and McDonald’s, and those larger brand things typically go through those contracts. And then there’s other times if we’re working with a smaller partnership and we got a good vibe about it, it’ll be a simple memo or a simple agreement, not necessarily some massive contract. It’s just a case by case basis.
Q: Do you guys have any must-have tools for creating and distributing content?
CHRIS: iPhone and laptop. Every single episode that we shoot, aside from the short film and chunks of our Back to the Future episode, but other than that, every other episode has been shot on my iPhone and edited on my laptop.
CURT: Very guerilla-style film making.
Q: Kennywood is also being honored as an AMA Pittsburgh Hall of Fame inductee this year, and coincidentally, you guys have done several videos with them. How did your relationship with them start?
CHRIS: Very early on in the show, fans started making requests for episodes, and Kennywood was far and away the number one request. One of the first couple years, we ended up reaching out to them with the idea of filming an episode. Our goal was basically, we wanted to film Dad spending a day at Kennywood to capture everything we could, the feeling and the vibe of what it was like to be at Kennywood, not just for the people here in Pittsburgh but for the people who have moved away who can’t come to Kennywood anymore. You know, a lot of our episodes are for those people out-of-town that miss these places and locations. And Kennywood was certainly very gracious. We had originally gone through their PR team, and they gave us an unbelievable amount of access. They were with us while we were filming. And we were certainly like, “Hey listen, I know Dad pokes fun and all that, but our job is never to trash something.” We’re never trying to really throw some local company under the bus. The only things that we openly trash are Browns and the Ravens. And the Patriots.
CURT: We’ve worked multiple times with the Pittsburgh Steelers, early on, because Coach Tomlin had been a big fan of our show. And we got a request to come up to training camp, and initially when we filmed with him, they took the script, they looked over it, and they were like “you can’t say this, you can’t say that.” Our relationship’s been great with them too. So even at this point when we work with Kennywood or the Steelers, they don’t even look at our script anymore, they just give us the green light. It’s pretty cool.
CHRIS: Yeah, so Kennywood’s been great. There’s been a couple – the first Kennywood episode, the Back to the Future episode has a scene in Kennywood, and then mostly recently we did the Log Jammer episode. And that was another one, where when we heard they were taking it out, I just reached out to them and said “Hey, we’d love to have Dad take one last ride on it.” We were up front with it, like listen, we’re not here to bag on your decision to get rid of it, we’re here to say goodbye and show some respect to it and have some fun with it. And that was another [episode] that went viral. It seemed like everyone in Pittsburgh was sharing that as their goodbye to the Log Jammer. That’s another one that ended up on the news, it ended up in newspapers, it ended up shared on the radio, and it went everywhere. We didn’t do an ounce of marketing, it just literally came out of: I thought it’d be funny.
CURT: We found out that the Log Jammer was closing on a Friday, and we were filming that next day on Saturday. You just gotta keep your ears open for that kind of opportunity in this town.
Q: So the brands let you have creative control of the content?
CHRIS: Steelers just wanted to be sure that if we were doing an episode with the Steelers, like that the Steelers were going to appear in an episode [or] the coach was going to appear, that we weren’t trashing another team.
CURT: But in contrast to that, we did a video for the Pittsburgh Pirates, for their scoreboard, and their mentality was “trash the other team as much as you want.” Different organizations, different mindsets.
CHRIS: We shot an episode of Dad shopping in IKEA. You know, typically, we go through the experience: we spend a day walking around IKEA getting ideas and concepts, we create the script, we send it to them just to make sure that we’re not making a joke about a product that’s about to get yanked off the shelves, or something that we’re missing. But I can count on one hand the amount of jokes that have ever been cut from all scripts combined, by a company. Usually if we cut a joke, it’s typically for time or it just didn’t turn out funny…we just didn’t think it was funny in the edit later on. Once you build a relationship, people know you’ve got their interest in mind as well.
Q: What does being inducted into AMA Pittsburgh’s Hall of Fame mean to you?
CHRIS: It’s simultaneously an honor and it’s also a surprise. Like Curt said, we’re not marketers. A lot of the marketing end of things is us figuring stuff out as we go. Or a lot of it is us reaching out to people that we think are better at this and asking their opinion or getting advice on these things. As we’ve seen Pittsburgh Dad becoming a legitimate Pittsburgh brand, you know, an icon…it’s still surprising to us.
CURT: If you were accepting my father into the marketing Hall of Fame, I would understand that because that’s what he did his whole life, but I’m just, you know, making fun of him behind his back.
Q: What would Pittsburgh Dad have to say about marketing?
DAD: You know what? First of all, there’s too many commercials. You don’t need all them commercials. I know what products are out there, I know what I like. I don’t need you to shove it in my face every 5 seconds. The only commercials you need…you need that Eat ‘N Park Christmas tree helpin’ the star ‘aht, that’s the only one I ever need. That Kennywood one…the girl and the guy fall in love at the park…that’s beautiful. That makes me wanna go dahn there every day.
But as far as all this marketing, you know, you don’t need all that! People know what’s out there. What the hell you gotta waste all that money for, putting it back in our faces? Geeez. Why don’t you go spend that money on something important?!
Q: You’re being recognized as an icon in marketing. Thoughts?
DAD: I just say work hard, do your best, and good things will come. Don’t expect anything handed to ya…that’s what Pittsburgh’s all about: work hard. But as far as being an icon in marketing…yeah, that’s pretty cool.
Join Pittsburgh Dad’s creators at AMA Pittsburgh’s Marketer of the Year event on December 6, 2017 at LeMont Restaurant in Mt. Washington. Reserve your tickets.
A behind-the-scenes interview with the creators of Pittsburgh Dad
Pittsburgh Dad has become a beloved character in Pittsburgh. Since 2011, his YouTube videos have accumulated over 72 million views, capturing the humor and nostalgia of growing up with a blue collar “everyman” father. With episodes ranging from watching Steelers games to Kennywood picnics, Pittsburgh Dad quickly hit a funny bone in the Pittsburgh region and from there, developed into a full “Pittsburghese” brand.
Pittsburgh Dad creators Chris Preksta and Curt Wootton
The character has inspired beer, pint glasses, hot sauce, themed Eat ‘N Park Smiley Cookies, a book, in-game jumbotron videos, t-shirts, and more. He even received a declaration of “Pittsburgh Dad Day” by the mayor. The videos have developed such a fan base that Pittsburgh Dad does annual meet-and-greets not just in Pittsburgh, but in Pittsburgh sports bars in Florida and Ocean City, Maryland.
So on December 6th, 2017, AMA Pittsburgh will honor the creators of Pittsburgh Dad, Curt Wootton and Chris Preksta, as Hall of Fame inductees at our annual Marketer of the Year event. We caught up with them as they were filming their Steelers vs. Titans football game episode to talk about the growth of their brand ahead of their induction.
Q: Pittsburgh Dad videos started as a something fun to share with your own families. At what point did you start to think of this as more of a business?
CHRIS: Shortly after that first episode. It was in the first couple months, anyway. We had been working on other film projects prior to Pittsburgh Dad, so thankfully we had garnered enough experience from those, trying to publicize and trying to advertise those projects, that when Pittsburgh Dad began to take off, we were at least prepared for how to handle that. The show already had social media, it already had its Twitter page and Facebook page – we had built that stuff in very quickly. But it was once the views started really picking up steam, once we noticed that there was something more there and that the views were climbing with each video, then we figured we’d at least give more videos a shot. We said we’d give it a shot for six months, maybe a year. We said if it lasted a year, we’d call it a win, and here we are, gosh, what is it? Six years later. How long it’s gone was surprising.
Q: You mentioned using social media early on. When did you launch those channels?
CHRIS: We actually set up the social media pages – once again not thinking necessarily business, not out of a strategy per se – but we started the social media pages maybe a week before the show actually launched, before the first episode went up. When the video was going to be released, we wanted to share it on something, so we at least had those social media pages ready to go and indicated to our friends and family to follow those pages because something was going to come out in the next couple of days.
Q: Is Pittsburgh Dad a full time job for you both now?
CHRIS: Yes, pretty much. We still do other projects on the side for our own enjoyment. We still work on other films and whatnot that are different from Pittsburgh Dad, things we like, but yes – Pittsburgh Dad is certainly the full-time gig for the two of us. Very blessed to have it that way.
Q: You guys hit your first million views pretty quickly, in just over two months. To what would you attribute the success of your content?
CHRIS: I think the relatability to people’s families…There’s certainly been plenty of other Pittsburghese characters done on radio, on YouTube, WDVE and Jim Krenn, there have certainly been other ones done before that. Our focus is so much on family, and putting a spotlight specifically on the time period that we grew up, the 70s and 80s, and even certainly the 90s. So I think it was the relatability. You know, the number one comment we got early on, and still get a lot of, is that people felt like we were secretly filming their own families. And so I think there’s certainly some joy in the fact that kids could share these episodes with their parents, and say “Oh my god, this is you!,” or siblings could share the video between themselves and go, “Oh my god, this is dad!” The authenticity and the relatability, I think, were key.
Q: Do you have a favorite episode?
CHRIS:The Back to the Future episode is very near and dear to our hearts. It was a lot of work, and a lot of prep and thought went into that episode. I think it really accentuates our humor. The Back to the Future episode is fun for another reason, which is, the entire Pittsburgh Dad show is back to the future. The entire show is about a fun and humorous, nostalgic look back at the way we grew up and our families. And so here was an actual episode that represented that visually, you know, where we physically sent Dad back to the time period. We jumped the shark pretty early on there so we don’t have to worry about that anymore, we’ve already done it! Another one would be the short film we just released this summer, Street Light Stories. I mean, it’s not necessarily an episode because it takes place outside of the normal episodes, but it was the film universe version of Dad where we get to see the rest of the family, and this episode actually takes place in the 80s. It was fun getting to explore that as well.
Q: How did the Back to the Future episode come about? And – follow-up question – did they let you actually drive the DeLorean?
CHRIS: There’s a guy here, Steel City Time Machine, [who] owns the DeLorean that was furbished out by the guys at Universal Studios, and I happened to run into him at a comic book convention. We just were chatting, and he was like, “Hey, if you ever need this for an episode, I’d be glad to include it in an episode.”
CURT: It was like, ding ding ding! We’ll figure something out!
CHRIS: We told him we will find a reason to have it in an episode. Then we just started kicking around [the idea about] what would Dad want to go back to, and the joke was that he would go back to something so simple, and he wouldn’t go back to anything like the JFK assassination.
CURT: He doesn’t go back to something big, he goes back to Hills!
CHRIS: He goes back to a football game that he knows the outcome of. And then he goes to Kennywood and rides the rides that are still at Kennywood. We shot that episode, the stuff with the DeLorean in a church parking lot up in the North Hills. And it knocked us off our feet – we’re in this parking lot waiting for the Delorean to show up, and to see that thing pull into a parking lot, it literally feels like it just pulled out of the movie.
CURT: I actually got to drive the DeLorean and growing up that was one of your biggest wishes that you could actually drive one. And I gotta say, after driving it, it doesn’t really handle that well, and you’re sitting on the floor, you can’t see…and it’s no wonder that car wasn’t really a big hit among consumers in 1982.
Q: You both have turned Pittsburgh Dad into quite a brand – we’ve seen items like candles and hot sauce, commercials, sponsored episodes – how did the partnerships with those brands and products get started?
CHRIS: The first sponsorship, or the first brand partnership we did, was with Turner’s Dairy. They reached out to us very early on. You know, we were surprised – in the first couple of months of the episodes, we started getting reached out to by multiple different companies about advertising and sponsorship, and we approached it very carefully. We were concerned, we didn’t want the viewers to think that we were just trying to sell them things. And so we felt good about starting it off with Turner’s – it was a local company, it was a family-owned company, it was very integrated into Pittsburgh culture. It’s a product that Dad would actually use. That kinda kicked it off for us. And those guidelines are honestly are stuff that we adhere to even now. We don’t agree to many partnerships that don’t make sense for Dad. If it feel disingenuous to us – to the character, to the audience – we try to steer clear of that stuff. As for the products, we started selling t-shirts fairly early on because fans for Christmas were asking for things to buy as gifts. And then other things like the beer or the candles – or we started this new partnership with Steel City Clothing, once again a family-owned, local clothing company here in Pittsburgh, we started a new partnership with them and we’ve got some new stuff coming out with them. A lot of those products and things we do, like the Hill’s candle, for instance, are just things we’re like – it would be fun. Or it’s funny. Or it’s something that fans would like. But we try not to saturate with too much stuff.
Q: Do you two spend much time thinking about marketing?
CHRIS: Yes and no. I mean, I can’t speak for Curt – I will say that the vast majority of our time is more focused on the episodes themselves and the humor and the content.
CURT: Chris and I didn’t go to business school so we’re kinda green at this. So I feel like we just – when something comes along, we take it in and then judge it from there. I think most of the time we’re just focused on making a good show that people enjoy.
CHRIS: We feel that if the content is good, people will want to share it. The marketing really comes into play more so when we feel like there’s a big moment coming up, a big episode or something that we feel is special, and we’ll certainly put a lot more marketing effort into it. So for the Back to the Future episode, we reached out to DVE radio to see if we can get on to chat about it, and we reached out to the local news stations, or newspapers and magazines, to drum up some interest. We did a similar thing with the Kennywood episode. Street Light Stories was another one. If we feel like there’s something unique or special about it, we’ll do a little bit more publicity. But the show really, at the end of the day, relies on word of mouth and relies on shares and retweets. It relies on viewers sharing it with their friends and family, and posting it online.
Q: When you are creating content for these new episodes and projects, are you thinking about how to increase all of those views and Tweets and likes, or does it come organically?
CHRIS: It’s a mix. I will say that once again, our first thought is and always has been – Is this funny to us? Is this moment something that we’re going to laugh [at] and enjoy? And often times that translates into also making the fans laugh, sometimes it doesn’t – sometimes we end up with an episode with lower views and we’re like, Eh, we thought it was funny! Other times there will be a hot topic that falls into our laps – for instance, a couple months ago we shot a “Dad watches the eclipse” episode because everyone online, on social media, was talking about this eclipse. If we can get the character involved with that, people are already talking about it, they’re more likely to click on that, we reap the benefits of whatever’s hot on social media. Just a couple of weeks ago, with the release the new season of Stranger Things – we did Dad’s review of the first season of Stranger Things knowing that people would be searching online [for] the term, “Stranger Things.” Episodes that like help us break out of just Pittsburgh. We’ve ended up in the past with about four or five episodes per year trending on YouTube’s main page. And typically those are more national things. They’re either a movie review, or a big football game that we talked about, or something like that that helps attract some of those other viewers.
In part two, we will talk to Curt and Chris about how they got started with promotions and merchandise, their relationship with Kennywood, how the final Log Jammer ride came about, and what Pittsburgh Dad would have to say about marketing.
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Content Marketing World, the largest content marketing event on the planet, returns to Cleveland for a 7th year. This year the event will take place September 5-8 at the Huntington Convention Center in Cleveland, with an opening reception at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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