Illustration of ants holding an apple over their head.
Original art by our Art Director, Ivy Liu.

Lessons From the Road

A small agency’s take-away from Ad Age’s Small Agency Conference

Last week, we ventured up to Boston for our first ever Ad Age Small Agency Conference and Awards. I’m fairly new to the agency world – I’ve been with Kworq about four months and at the conference I learned some things, and became curious about others, but came away from it wanting to kick ass in the ad world.

Failure is almost a certainty. Linda Kaplan Thaler was one of multiple speakers to talk about the power of failure – and how in order to be great, one must not only be ok with failing but must be good at picking themselves up from failure. As a small agency trying to make a name for ourselves, we often talk about getting that “big brand” – you know, the one that will see our creative vision, take a chance, and catapult us into advertising nirvana. The truth is, you are gonna swing and miss a lot of those pitches in the beginning. But that doesn’t mean we stop going up to bat.

Celebrate the world of weird. I was particularly fond of the Spotlight on Creativity talk that Mike Byrne from Anomaly did with Geoff Cottrill of Converse. “Weird” is having a resurgence – brands aren’t afraid to play around with strange and Converse is one of those brands. Byrne and Cottrill shared that by keeping a relationship that involves “not taking themselves too seriously” and frequent “unreasonable meetings.” The latter being a conversation within the agency where the team is encouraged to pitch anything – no matter how ridiculous. Genius ideas surface in an environment where there are no boundaries.

Culture matters. We’ll admit that this is something that we’ve struggled with. Not because we lack culture but because we don’t quite know how to define it. We’re a fun, creative, weird, loud, and dedicated group. There isn’t a day that goes by where we aren’t cracking up about something in the office. But how does that translate to a culture that our clients will respect and want to work with? We need to figure out who we are before we can expect a client to understand.

Innovation.Innovation.Innovation. A show-stealer at the conference was Nicolas Pimentel from +Castro, an innovation house based in Buenos Aires that we developed a slight agency crush on. Pimentel gave countless pieces of advice, but there were two that stuck the most. The first was not to chase brands for a chance to bid; instead develop an idea, find the perfect brand to fit your idea, and pitch it to them. His second piece of advice was really more an awesome news anchor sign-off: “Stay small, stay smart, stay good.” Which brings me to our next take-away…

Small can (and should be) advantageous. We’re an agency of six. There, I said it. We’re not ashamed of that – and we learned we shouldn’t be. Brands are looking for smaller; less bureaucracy, less bullshit, better culture. Big ideas don’t have to come from big companies. Be small yet mighty.

Bring people of diverse talents. To the conference and to your clients. This one is a bit of a no-brainer for the clients – bring the biggest talents forward, and convince every client that they’re getting the best. But this also applies for the conferences you attend. I attended the conference with my boss, Chris Sullivan. While discussing what we learned and what we remember he says, “We took away very different things from the conference.” Yeah, we did. He’s a tech-nerd who co-runs the company and I’m the new junior producer with a background in writing. Of course we took away different things; our brains work in different ways. But that’s cool. By bringing team members with diverse backgrounds – you consume diverse pieces of information.


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