Pittsburgh-area firms offered brand exposure at discount price

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Small businesses and nonprofits hoping to broaden their public exposure without squeezing their budgets could soon get a hand from two East End businesses -- an ad agency and a data mining company -- that plan to offer discounted services to organizations that might not otherwise be able to afford to hire them.

East Liberty-based creative marketing agency Shift Collaborative will take its business mobile Sept. 4 with UpTo, a pop-up operation that will provide marketing advice, designs and other a la carte services for small business owners in Butler.

The UpTo staff, which consists of members of Shift Collaborative's seven-member team, will spend three days in a Main Street storefront taking walk-in requests for services that will run anywhere between $25 and $150. For example, a direct mail postcard will be $25 per design, a website review with recommendations will run $50, while a Facebook page creation is $25.

Shift Collaborative principal partner Eric Sloss said the steeply discounted services will allow UpTo's customers to present themselves in a manner similar to Fortune 500 companies at a more affordable rate -- and allow the company's staff to polish skills that will allow them to sell their wares to major corporations.

Mr. Sloss said Shift Collaborative can charge anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000 to create a new logo, while small business owners who visit UpTo can have the service done for $150, with two concepts and no revisions.

UpTo, which already has registered four businesses for the event, will accept applications through the Sept. 4 launch and take walk-in customers for any available time slots. Mr. Sloss said the Butler event kicks off what will be a series of UpTo events to take place in Erie, Etna, New Kensington and Youngstown, Ohio.

Shift principal partner R.J. Thompson noted in a press release the event also will give staff a chance to complete the work on tight hourly deadlines. "At Shift, we are often challenged to turn over good quality work in a short time. We think this is a great exercise for us to provide these services at a low cost and to deliver quality as we always do for our clients," he said.

For startups seeking a better understanding of how to relate to or even find their target markets, East Liberty-based polling and data mining company CivicScience's Pittsburgh Startup Research Project could provide invaluable information for no cost. The project, a collaboration between CivicScience and the tech events site BuiltinPgh, aims to select one local business per month to receive free access to the company's survey tools, data analysis software and reporting services.

CivicScience CEO John Dick said a typical subscription to access the company's tools is around $10,000 to $15,000 per month.

A press release describing the initiative said the business will be evaluated to determine whether the project can help with marketing and product ideas, finding marketing data to support fundraising, gaining new insight for the market and other issues related to consumer research. Applicants must have companies based in the city of Pittsburgh and must have fewer than 20 full-time employees. Winners will be announced on the 15th of every month on an ongoing basis.

Both Mr. Dick and Mr. Sloss said raising awareness of the benefits of marketing strategies are motivating factor behind both efforts, but they also said the primary goal is to help the regional startup economy reach its maximum potential, one business at a time.

"We're not doing this thinking we're going to make a profit. We're doing it to help the community and help ourselves by exercising our brain muscles," said Mr. Sloss.

"It's a benefit for all of [Pittsburgh's businesses] if other companies succeed. It raises the tide for everybody," Mr. Dick said.

For more information on Shift Collaborative's UpTo Project, visit www.whatareyouupto.org. For more information on CivicScience's Pittsburgh Startup Research Project, visit http://pghstartup.civicscienceinc.com.


Deborah M. Todd: dtodd@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1652.


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