Author: Ben Libby, Creative Director, Bear Notch Studio
Contributing Author: Matt Cole, Creative Director, Revere
Editor: Sara Welsh, Senior Copywriter, Bear Notch Studio
Folks are fascinated by creative agencies and what goes on inside them. Here is a peek within an upstart agency in Vancouver, Washington. Questions asked and answered will give you an idea of what is involved in getting one up and running (and keeping it that way). Have you been thinking about starting your own agency?
[Bear Notch Studio]: First challenge, can you provide your best stick figure of an elephant? Think of this like a Microsoft Paint challenge.
[Revere Creative]: Boom!
// Our bears are now intrigued. //
[BNS]: Revere is a small but powerful creative agency; when did you start, and how did you come to be?
[RC]: Revere was founded in early 2016. The idea came about 8 months before that over pancakes one Sunday morning. After leaving my previous agency and spending 4 years trying to be everything to everyone, I wanted to create an agency that did things differently. That means that client service would be paramount to our services because we felt like anyone can produce good work, but to produce good work AND deliver an incredible experience where clients felt valued, heard and taken care of was something else altogether. Secondly, the people we work with are the cornerstone of who we are. We value the contributions of everyone we collaborate with regardless of work status - freelance or employee. We wanted them to feel accepted as a part of our family and to treat them well – not just as hired guns. From the very beginning, we strongly felt that both the brands we worked with and the people we collaborate with should be revered – hence, the name Revere.
[BNS]: Do you think it’s essential to have a select number of social media apps? Which ones are most important?
[RC]: Yes! Whether you’re a design studio, SEO agency, development shop or any other discipline – we’re all to some degree in the marketing business. We don’t believe that the cobbler’s shoes should have holes in them. We feel that if brands hire us to represent them creatively, we need to exemplify quality in our own marketing efforts, too. That said, we have selectively chosen which platforms to be active on. For Revere that’s primarily on LinkedIn and Instagram. Consequently, those are the two channels we get the most traffic from. Choose where you’re going to communicate and be consistent with it. If you don’t have the capacity for one, then leave it alone – nobody earns credibility by neglecting their own thing.
[BNS]: We love your Instagram feed: providing visitors with stories and interesting content. Do you think it’s important to post daily, weekly, monthly, or when you’ve finished a project?
[RC]: We think it’s important to just post consistently. For us, that means several times each week. There are brands and agencies that post more often and less often than we do. The important thing is to make sure you are showing a regular effort that works for you, taking the time to source and share quality content.
[BNS]: Considering Accenture is a massive corporate ad team but failed to deliver a promising campaign for Hertz, do you think smaller scale studios and agencies like us, could deliver the same results? Would it be more cost effective?
[RC]: As a small agency, I think the important lesson is to follow through and do what you say you’re going to do. Whether it’s a $32m project, $32k project or $320 project, you have to deliver. Could small agencies like Revere or Bear Notch Studio deliver a project on the same scale as Accenture was supposed to for Hertz? Probably not. There is an incredible amount of infrastructure and manpower that we just don’t have to support a venture like that. But if Hertz or another brand came to us and asked us to build something within our capabilities and capacity and we accepted the work, I wholeheartedly believe we would produce something that was ultra high-quality and delivered on time and on budget. That’s because doing so speaks to our values system.
[BNS]: Some creative agencies and studios don’t require an office right away, resulting in zero overhead. What’s the best way to market a startup creative studio / agency without needing to hire an actual marketer or marketing team?
[RC]: In the early stages, you should absolutely do what you can to keep your overhead low. That often means working from the kitchen table and hiring freelancers as a part of your project cost. As you grow, build resources and take on more work, you’ll inevitably need to scale-up. I love the co-working movement. It’s an affordable way to get a desk or an office, be engaged with a like-minded community and still keep overhead manageable. We did that for the first two years. Revere’s model is uniquely based around freelance talent both for practical reasons and philosophical ones. We’ve really enjoyed having freelancers available and finding the right fit experts for each project, but it’s arguably the best way to keep costs down and chained to a project budget, too.
[BNS]: Do big clients reach out to you first, or do you reach out to them, offering a better and more innovative solution?
[RC]: I think every young agency owner dreams of Fortune 500 clients reaching out to them first, but the truth is, it doesn’t work that way. The early days of your agency will be a real grind at times. The most notable clients we’ve had the privilege of working with have come through a lot of nurturing. We network, we reach out and we offer, offer, offer. Eventually someone says yes and that’s one of the best feelings in the world. We then take that opportunity to prove to them that we can handle whatever they throw at us. This eventually leads to bigger projects and better work.
[BNS]: When onboarding a new client, what’s the easiest aspect and most challenging aspect?
[RC]: The easiest part is all the touchy-feely stuff that shows your dedication to client service and sharing your gratitude for the work early on. We love onboarding new clients because it gives us a chance to show that we mean it when it comes to delivering a high-quality client experience. The most challenging part is the business end. It’s negotiating contracts and terms, getting documents signed and sticking to a process. If you do both right, then it sets the stage for a happy and positive experience throughout the relationship.
[BNS]: Has your creative team seen Netflix’s Mad Men? And if so, can you relate to “An ego-driven world where key players make an art of the sell.”? Do you think this is still relevant in today’s industry?
[RC]: I know everyone talks about how the industry has changed over the last 50 years, and it has. I love that show and there are still some parts of it I can relate to today. In this business, you certainly encounter a lot of ego still and yes, our work ultimately is about the art of the sell, because at the end of the day we’re supposed to help our clients grow their business through a creative solution. That doesn’t mean it has to be smarmy. The Revere team always tries to find meaning in our work because it keeps things impactful. There isn’t a lot of ego around here either because we know that there’s always another agency willing to take our place the moment we fail to deliver or our work falls flat. The agency world is far more competitive than it was from the Madison Avenue days of the 1960s because frankly, there are a million and one agencies – big and small – out there. Technology, channels and more sophisticated approaches also contribute to that. Our job is to do what’s in the client’s best interest and offer the most creative and innovative solutions we can.
[BNS]: According to eMarketer’s Digital Ad Spending what are your thoughts when it comes to traditional vs digital advertising methods? (Source: https://www.emarketer.com/content/global-digital-ad-spending-2019)
[RC]: I think clients and agencies both love digital mediums because of the data that’s available. You can target your audience now with surgical precision through digital, serve ads and monitor performance in real time. Hard to beat that. But that doesn’t mean that traditional methods are obsolete. There’s still an argument to be made for the tactile print piece, the effectiveness of out-of-home displays and the engagement offered through tv and radio.
[BNS]: Can you provide us advice, tips, and tricks when writing / filming a video advertisement for our own studio? (We’re thinking bears here, John West Red Salmon “Bear Fight” is a favorite)
[RC]: Sure! Think about the purpose of your video first. What are you trying to achieve? And how will you know it’s successful? This is a conversation we have with our clients as well. Anything that’s interactive (video/motion, web, digital) usually is more resource intensive to produce, which means ROI is slimmer. Your video could end up being incredibly witty, charming and well-produced, but if it doesn’t get you any traction, then what was the point? We ALWAYS start with strategy on projects, because the more informed you can be prior to production, and the better your plan is, the more your creative output will resonate with your intended audience.
[BNS]: If they visited your office location, what would clients and visitors find most appealing on location?
[RC]: We’re in the heart of Vancouver, Washington which is immediately north of Portland, Oregon. Portland has its own fame and reputation and so as a suburb of that city, Vancouver is lesser known and not as top of mind. However, we find when clients visit us from Portland or elsewhere, they remark how cool Vancouver is. It’s a hidden gem. Vancouver is also home to an emerging creative scene so there’s a pretty solid network of agencies and freelancers here and we love getting together to talk shop or share work. Our agency is housed in an old building with super hipster coffee shops and breweries all within arm’s reach. While we don’t have the most state of the art office, it’s our home and we get a lot of compliments on how it’s an extension of our own brand. The thing we probably get the most comments on is our super cool mid-century bar cart that’s a nod to the Mad Men era. :)
[BNS]: Computers are becoming more powerful than ever. Apple’s iMac store page offers a great headline: “iMac - Pretty. Freaking Powerful.” Is Revere Mac or PC based? What’s your current hardware lineup?
[RC]: We are all Mac-based here, but honestly it has less to do with brand loyalty or platform fanboy-ism. I think it’s just familiar to everyone and at the end of the day, you need a tool you can do your work on, often quickly. If an employee came in and wanted a Surface Pro, we’d totally be down to provide that for them.
[BNS]: Great Marketing Content should be equal to Great Graphic Design. True or False?
[RC]: As an agency whose primary discipline is design, it pains me to say, “not always”. Design is a language that should support great marketing. It’s a way of thinking about how to effectively communicate and solve problems. We have seen terrible design attached to incredible marketing and vice versa. Ultimately, it’s about communication – are you effectively communicating in a way that resonates with your intended audience? If so, then that’s what ultimately matters. We just happen to believe that great design more often than not helps achieve that!
[BNS]: When you become an entrepreneur, such as starting a studio, agency, or business, there are many feats of strength to face. Often, being ahead of the curve is essential. What has been most challenging? And how did you get over those obstacles or road bumps?
[RC]: Coming from a design background, I found that I was really good at that thing. I had plenty of experience in it. What I didn’t have experience in was managing a business – that was more of a trial by fire. Business management itself isn’t hard if you’re committed to it. You have to be willing to learn, be vulnerable to feedback you’re given and committed to evolving. I always believed it takes true grit to start and run any business. The most challenging part is just figuring out how to handle each area unknown to you and not losing your shit when things don’t go according to your perfect ideal (hint: they rarely will). Being able to get back up each time you’re knocked down takes quite a bit of emotional intelligence, but if you’re committed to learning from it all, then the next time you’re a little more prepared.
[BNS]: If your team hits creative roadblocks, what’s their go-to when getting out of that dreary and gloomy stage?
[RC]: Everybody in. That’s how. The best solution doesn’t rest solely with the CD, or designer or the copywriter or strategist. Just because it’s a creative solution you’re applying doesn’t mean the creative person has to solve it. Roadblocks will come, but you’ll mitigate those best with true collaboration. Let your account manager or intern chime in. Keep the conversation open. We’re all better together.
[BNS]: Lastly, do you think it’s important to form strategic friendships and business relationships with other creative agencies? Or would it be too competitive, and that each agency should keep to their own?
[RC]: Hell yes. I mentioned we have a burgeoning creative community here in Vancouver. Occasionally we’ll compete against them, but most of the time we know we’re all on the same team. There’s so much to learn from others and we have a local monthly meetup where we get together and share insights and ideas and help each other out. We even have a Slack channel to discuss those things. The guys that keep to themselves I think are hindered through their isolation.
Matt Cole is the founder and creative director for Revere.
Revere is an integrated brand experience agency camped in the heart of the Pacific Northwest. We believe that through a well thought out plan and solid creative execution, brands can be heard, grow and offer solutions for making the world better.
To see their portfolio of work, please visit: http://revere.one/