Agency Pros Mark Sullivan and Ernesto Pacheco Use Talents in a Higher Calling
Tucked away in an unassuming space in Richardson, Texas you’ll find Character Farms HQ – the brainchild of Mark Sullivan, his wife Lynn, and long time advertising partner and illustrator Ernesto Pacheco. The first thing you notice is the staggering amount of artwork strewn about their office space. Stacks of vibrant characters and the whimsical worlds they inhabit drawn and painted by hand long before a computer ever enters the picture.
Eight years ago, Mark and Ernesto decided that after decades of working on some of Americas most notable brands and earning a reputation as some of Dallas’ top advertising creatives, it was time for them to pursue a more meaningful career.
“Charitable causes have always brought out the best in us. Despite the long and unpredictable hours marketing and advertising demand, we always carved out time to get involved with organizations like Camp Sol which supports kids who have lost siblings to cancer or Camp Feliz that helps kids with brain tumors. I’ve actually been a camp counselor at Camp Feliz since 1999,” Ernesto told us. Mark even served on the board for Leukemia Texas, a non-profit corporation dedicated to fighting the life-threatening cancer. “We helped raise money for research and patient aid for families whose children were in the advanced stages of this disease,” Mark added.
“These experiences opened us up to a new way to put our collective creatives talents to good use. It started really small… painting faces and encouraging kids to express their feelings through art. But we quickly realized the power those little artistic experiences had to give these kids and their parents a much-needed break from the struggle they were going through,” Ernesto told us.
This realization forged Character Farms – a unique endeavor that’s tricky to describe. At first glance, you might call it a theming company, specializing in transforming doctor and dentist offices into magical worlds. But Character Farms is so much more than that. At its core, their work is devoted to changing the lives of patients.
Lynn Sullivan stated, “We’ve been really lucky with our kids. Both our son and daughter struggled with asthma early on, so we got a taste of how stressful extensive testing and treatments can be, but that was nothing compared to what so many of our client’s patients are going through. As a mother, I don’t even want to imagine how hard it would be to have a child battling cancer or any other life threatening illness. It’s our mission to help ease that stress. The illnesses are scary enough. Going to the doctor shouldn’t be. We hope that our work brings them some comfort and helps them feel optimistic about the treatment they are receiving.”
“Sometimes it’s hard for our clients to immediately recognize the significant ROI they can get out of this kind of investment. You’ve got hundreds if not thousands of dental and medical offices in DFW, so everyone is looking for a way to differentiate themselves in the market place. It’s all a game of escalation to see who can provide the best experience… the best value. But while so many architects and designers focus on creating a really modern space that appeals to adults, we realized that those environments can come across a little bit cold and sterile. That’s not what kids want. Kids want something fun, something vibrant, something that engages their imagination. And parents just want their kids to be happy.”
Traditionally the medical and dental field has been devoid of fun. The typical waiting room has a few long outdated national geographic, a kids book or two, and a couple of sad toys. With that market place standard, Character Farms was in for an uphill battle to sway members of the medical field that it was time for an industry wide shift.
“We were really lucky to find a dentist who believed in our vision.
We turned his office into a Wild West environment with healthy teeth playing the role of the lawmen and unhealthy teeth acting as the outlaws. Once his patients saw the new environment the compliments came flooding in,” Mark explained.
“So much of a dentist or doctors business is word of mouth. When families visit one of the environments we’ve created they tell their friends and family. You change the experience. Kids aren’t scared or bored during appointments which takes so much stress off the parents,” Lynn said jumping in.
But it’s not just kids that are reaping the benefits of these office renovations. Ernesto filled us in on how Character Farms is bringing the experience to life for adults too.
“You know, it was funny. As we started hearing reactions from families, we found that the parents were a little bit jealous that the kids were having all the fun. So we’ve started creating worlds for adults too.”
They started flipping through photos of their recent installation at Preferred Imaging in Irving, Texas, where they’d transformed the MRI and CT rooms into beautiful Zen gardens. The process was incredible. It all starts with napkin drawings, quick pencil sketches before Ernesto works his magic drawing and painting the characters and environments by hand. The process is highly detailed and requires a significant investment of time and skills that took years to hone. It’s clear that the Character Farms team has a mastery of the medium that puts them head and shoulders above the competition.
As they shared the before and after pictures the change was amazing. The rich textures and calming imagery immediately put you at ease. If you had to go through the imaging process, there’s no doubt this is the office you’d want to visit.
While these radical makeovers are certainly impressive, we wanted to know what Character Farms could offer smaller practices with tighter budgets?
“We want to bring this experience to everyone, so it’s entirely scalable. It’s not an all or nothing investment. Some of our clients just need a little character – pun absolutely intended. It might be partial murals that creatively fill the space or one of our 3D characters popping off the wall to greet families. We’re currently working on creating a library of characters for smaller offices to pick and pull from,” Mark said.
So what’s next for Character Farms?
“The long term vision is to push the patient experience as far as possible. Our murals and sculptures are just the beginning. We’ve started building interactive elements with embedded iPads so the kids can game, but we believe eventually we can create a completely immersive experience for families with extensions they can engage with after their visit is over.”
The impact of Character Farms is spreading across Texas. Their revolution is bringing hope and happiness where it’s needed. Their journey is incredible, but far from over.