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TV ads a hit for Watertown pair

Their tiny production firm gaining national audience

If you find yourself in the frozen food aisle looking for fish sticks or TV dinners, you may have a Watertown company to thank -- or blame.

LaunchPad Media, a tiny-but-growing video production company in Watertown, has been busy over the last few months creating a series of national TV commercials for Mrs. Paul's and Van De Kamp's fish products and Hungry Man frozen meals.

The three Hungry Man spots, which went on the air in September, feature edgy National Football League stars Warren Sapp, Jeremy Shockey, and Clinton Portis buying the frozen dinners by the Hummer-load.

The Sapp and Shockey ads are even playing on the jumbo video screens during halftime at McAfee Stadium in Oakland and at Giants Stadium in New Jersey.

The Sapp ad, which shows the burly defensive tackle tipping a supermarket freezer over to make sure he gets every last box into his shopping cart, recently won an Aegis award, an honor given out annually by professionals in video and film production.

So how did a company far from the glamour of Madison Avenue with no advertising credits land a couple of big-time commercial accounts?

Founders Alex Poulos, 34, and Jacob Eidsmoe, 31, like to call their business a ''creative boutique." Its five employees are all skilled in writing, producing, filming, and editing.

LaunchPad initially specialized in building websites, assembling training videos, and preparing Powerpoint presentations and other audio-visual setups for company tradeshows.

Its customers ranged from Boston Medical Center to Dunkin' Donuts to tennis pin-up Anna Kournikova (Eidsmoe designed her official website several years ago).

Poulos said that that work gave his company insight into understanding how companies view themselves, providing a strong foundation for LaunchPad's foray into advertising.

''They took the time to really learn our business," said Pat McAndrew, Hungry Man brand manager for Pinnacle Foods, via e-mail.

McAndrew said that thanks to its low overhead, LaunchPad could work ''at a fraction of the cost" of other agencies, and being small it could ''move very quickly, which is important in our business."

Seismic shifts in technology and in the visual sophistication of clients have helped LaunchPad compete with larger, more established ad agencies, thus the company's, ''Better, Faster, Cheaper" motto, said Poulos.

A decade ago, a typical video project cost at least $100,000 while a professional-quality camera ran more than $150,000, said Eidsmoe.

Now, the same shoot is just $10,000 and top-of-the-line cameras can be had for $5,000.

Poulos and Eidsmoe met eight years ago doing video production and editing for another Watertown company, the now-defunct Reunion Productions.

Originally from Westwood, Poulos attended the University of Vermont and received a graduate degree in broadcast production from Boston University.

Eidsmoe grew up in northern California and studied TV communications at Pacific University.

After graduating, Eidsmoe came east in 1996, driving his Ford Escort from Portland, Ore., to Portland, Maine, in search of landscape photography work.

When he didn't find any, he moved to Watertown to work for Reunion.

The pair struck out on their own in 2002. Their first office was Eidsmoe's living room, where their equipment consisted of a couple of video editing decks and some computers.

Within a few months, they moved to a real office next door to a hair salon on Grove Street.

Last year, the company did postproduction work on a video that featured actor Val Kilmer reading from Mary Baker Eddy's book, ''Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures."

A production by LaunchPad employee Todd Domke received a lot of attention in the run-up to the 2004 Summer Olympics.

The 25-minute video ''Bill and Chuck's Baseball Odyssey" focused on a pair of Greek Americans who spent six years trying to put together the first Greek national baseball team for the Athens Olympics.

Issued as a video news release, the film was shown on CNN and European television.

Last month, Poulos and Eidsmoe were busy analyzing focus group reactions and narrowing a list of storyboard ideas for their next job, a national ad campaign for Mrs. Paul's and Van De Kamp's. The commercials will likely hit the airwaves in February.

The company is moving from Grove Street to a Galen Street space twice the size.

It plans to hire several new employees, including another editor, a producer, and an office manager by early next year.

The owners say leaving Watertown was never a consideration.

''There's a network of like-minded companies," said Poulos of the nearly two dozen production and post-production houses and equipment rental businesses in town, concentrated in the Galen and Hunt street area.

They include: Videolink, which feeds live images of Boston's talking heads to CNN and MSNBC; Big Blue Dot, which designs logos and kid-friendly websites for Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network; and Soup2Nuts Studios, known for the animated series ''Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist," which ran on Comedy Central.

''Being outside the city is just our thing. It's our style," said Poulos. ''We're comfortable here."

Christina Pazzanese can be reached at cpazzanese@globe.com.

From brainstorm to commercial

Early this year, Pinnacle Foods commissioned LaunchPad Media of Watertown to design a new ad campaign for its Hungry Man frozen dinners. The ads can be viewed at: www.launchpad.tv/hungryman/

The assignment: To freshen up the image of Hungry Man dinners from the chow of bumbling, out-of-shape guys to ''a big portion of food for big, bad . . . guys," said LaunchPad cofounder, Alex Poulos.

The process: Pinnacle Foods issues a creative brief laying out the product philosophy, the commercial's goals, and the creative parameters. Poulos and partner Jacob Eidsmoe brainstorm, coming up with about 10 ideas. They flesh each out with short summaries or ''mini-treatments" that include possible plots, taglines, even casting. After internal discussion, the 10 are whittled to eight. Market research, a focus group, phone calls, and e-mails to Pinnacle executives reduce the candidates to four. In the reject pile: ''desperate housewife" Nicollette Sheridan seducing a guy with a Hungry Man meal and Paris Hilton giving her ''That's Hot" seal of approval to Hungry Man as a post-workout snack. Time: two months.

The pitch: LaunchPad sketches out story boards and preliminary scripts for the final four ideas. More calls and e-mails, then an in-person presentation result in a winner: NFL players shopping for Hungry Man at grocery stores. Storyboards and scripts are fleshed out and submitted for final approval. Time: two weeks.

The logistics: At LaunchPad's suggestion, National Football League stars Clinton Portis, Warren Sapp, and Jeremy Shockey are signed. LaunchPad hires a director and people to scout a location and make the wardrobe and props. Time: six weeks.

The shoot: A Houston supermarket is rented for four nights from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. for filming.

The aftermath: LaunchPad edits raw footage, color corrects film, adds graphics, chooses music. Slight changes to pacing, line delivery, music, narration style, even to the smiles of actors lead to 34 versions of the commercials, plus one just for Canada, where the product is sold in a different package. After more conference calls, Pinnacle approves three variations to be aired. Time: two months.

The broadcast: Three commercials begin to air nationally in mid-to-late September, timed with the beginning of the NFL regular season. The ads, which run into the NFL playoffs slated for late January, have already been shown ''hundreds of times" on both male-oriented networks like ESPN and female-targeted networks such as Lifetime. Time: four months.

CHRISTINA PAZZANESE

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