Alumni Spotlight Interview
Kristian Summerer ’99
Major: Graphic Design Communications
Fresh out of college and bussing tables at a Manayunk restaurant in the summer of 1999, Kristian Summerer was slow at first to start his career in creative advertising. However, the then-22-year-old PhilaU graduate was about to embark on an upward climb of personal and professional success.
Now the co-founder, principal, and creative director of Machinery, a strategic and creative agency located in the Chinatown section of Philadelphia, Summerer’s clients range from Tony Roni’s pizza franchise, Mystic Aquarium, and GoldenNuggetCasino.com to Princeton HealthCare System, Villanova University, and Americans for the Arts. “We pride ourselves on our diverse client roster. We don’t specialize. Whether we’re selling pizzas in Philly or raising awareness for a national non-profit, our job is same — to foster an emotional connection between a person and a brand,” explains Summerer. Machinery is only a six person shop, including two PhilaU graphic design graduates, but they’ve been delivering “big agency” work for nearly 10 years.
To get to this point, it took some childhood inspiration, a thoughtful professor, and the perfect first job to garner Summerer the credentials necessary to run a successful business.
Summerer’s grandfather was a sign painter. In the 1960’s and 70’s, his work could be seen on almost every storefront in Kennilworth, NJ. This was Summerer’s first exposure to graphic arts. In high school, Summerer took a graphic arts course which taught him the basics of page layout, pre-press production, and offset printing. “We used to produce stuff for the school like the directory and game schedules. It was a fun process. I loved watching my work come off the press and the idea that hundreds of people were going to see it, at least for a couple seconds, before throwing it in the trash," joked Summerer.
While high school inspired him to pursue graphic design in college, he didn’t graduate with a traditional fine art portfolio, which many art schools required. Undeterred, Summerer applied to Philadelphia University (then Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science) where he was accepted and declared his major of Graphic Design Communications.
Kristian attended PhilaU between 1995 and 1999 and during his junior and senior years, he worked nights and weekends as a bus boy for a restaurant in Manayunk. After graduating, Summerer stayed in Philadelphia and continued working for the restaurant full-time. “I probably should’ve been trying to get a design job but I was making a lot of cash and having a lot of fun. I think I was suffering from ‘endless summer’ syndrome.”
Fortunately for Summerer, a former professor knew of his talents and called him about a job opportunity at a hip design firm in Old City and encouraged him to apply.
“I was completely unprepared—no portfolio, no resume—I missed out,” Summerer said. “But that phone call was a wake-up call. That week I bought my first Mac and got to work.”
In due time, Summerer landed a job at Red Tettemer which today is a full-service advertising agency with offices in Philadelphia and Santa Monica. But in those early days, Summerer was “employee number 18” working in a small space above a residential garage in charming Narberth, PA. It was there that Summerer dove head-first into the world of advertising.
Through on the job training, Summerer found himself learning all the ins and outs of his new career while doing nearly every job required in such a small firm. At first Summerer worked in the production studio, resizing ads, setting jobs up for press, and assisting the art directors. But soon enough, Summerer’s talent and the demands of a growing agency afforded him an increasing number of creative opportunities. Within his first year, he was assigned his own projects, began collaborating with copywriters, produced his first television commercials, won his first Addy award, and was promoted to the position of art director.
After eight years honing his skills and mastering his talent, Summerer, along with his creative partner, Ken Cills, decided it was their time to leave. “The next logical step for the two of us was to start our own shop,” Summerer said. Without hesitation, that’s exactly what they did. In 2007, Summerer and Cills created Machinery.
“Our plan was to ‘grow as we go,’” Summerer said. “We wanted to make our ascension to greatness as gradual as possible—because once you reach the top you’re going to have to come down.”
When Summerer and Cills co-founded their agency, it was during a difficult time in the economy when everyone was scaling back their marketing budgets. Clients were leaving their big agencies with their larger overhead and seeking out smaller shops. “It was perfect timing for Machinery,” said Summerer. “We really never missed a beat when we left Red Tettemer; we were busy from day one and it’s never let up.” Summerer is proud of his firm’s reputation and the loyalty of his clients. “They mostly come from word of mouth and tend to stick around.” To this day, Machinery still retains its first client, Tony Roni’s.
Summerer says while he is always excited about work and chasing the next great meeting with a new or existing client, he lives for the weekends with his family. He has two children, ages three and seven who Summerer notes are the muse for his personal hobby, photography. When not focused on work and family, Summerer pursues a passion for fine art photography. Last fall he showed a collection of four prints at Brick+Mortar Gallery in Easton, PA.
“I work for my family,” Summerer said. “That sometimes means long days and nights in the office or on location but, come Friday night, I do my best to turn it off so I can be sure to spend time with my kids.”
Always dedicated and enthusiastic about his career and his work, Summerer enjoys always trying to outdo himself. “When you’re in the creative industry,” Summerer said, “you’re in the business of coming up with ideas and then bringing them to life. So I love when we’re in a new business meeting, showing our work for the first time, and seeing the client’s face light up.” Summerer claims, “For an ad guy, that’s your high -- that’s when you know ‘we nailed it!’”