People in the advertising industry are very familiar with the creative brief. It is the input document that provides the instructions we need to create the advertising we have been hired to develop. It provides background and target audience information. It identifies what we are attempting to make, both generally and specifically. It provides a key idea to communicate, and support points to back that idea up (#BackThatThangUp.)
Let’s get cooking
The creative brief is quite literally the recipe for creating any piece of creative advertising or design. And you must refer back to it during concepting in order to re-ground yourself. Because during the creative process you often go off on tangents upon tangents upon tangents. Which makes it important to regularly revisit the original direction.
I have seen the light
Through the experience of launching my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I have found the creative brief and the process it guides you along don’t just work when you are trying to develop advertising and design elements. The creative brief also works when you are trying to build a creative business. Or any other business for that matter.
You need an input document, like a creative brief to identify what you are trying to make. But once you begin the process of building and growing a business you will often go off on tangents and wild goose chases. You will have new, random and crazy ideas you will want to pursue. Just ask Chris Gaines. In other words, it is common to get distracted from the original vision and mission.
Back to the brief
To overcome the distractions you encounter during the process of building a business, it is important to regularly revisit the original brief. Remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing. Remember what are you trying to accomplish. Revisit what the org chart is supposed to look like. Then ask yourself if you are anywhere close to that today. If not, course correct. Refocus. Get back to the plan. And start building momentum towards your original vision.
Every great accomplishment starts with a great plan. But the real value of a great plan, written down, isn’t just at the launch of an adventure. The great, ongoing value is in how that original plan can serve as a north star when we get lost, turned around, or distracted along the way. It is like the Ritalin for Business ADHD.
But you don’t have to be building a business to use the power of a creative brief. This simple document can help you chart a more satisfying life. Because it helps you identify the problem to be solved and create a vision for the future state. If you work in advertising, design or marketing and already use a creative brief regularly, consider using this Who-Where-When-What-Why-How formula to focus your ambitions outside of work. Including your side hustle. You’ll be amazed at all that little brief can do. And all that you can do with its help.
It was the rapper Notorious B.I.G. who once penned that famous American quote: ‘Mo Money. Mo Problems.’ In 2018 I learned Biggie was right. Because as my young advertising and idea agency was growing at an exciting pace, we also faced mo money problems. Or was it less money problems? Maybe it depends on whether you’re more East Coast or more West Coast.
Go With The Cashflow
In 2018 The Weaponry, faced a cash flow problem. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t been warned. My posse of entrepreneurial homies, including Dan Richards of Global Rescue and Jeff Hilimire of Dragon Army, warned me that as you work with larger and larger clients they will use their financial muscle to get longer and longer payment terms. So instead of our standard 30-day terms, new clients began requesting, pushing for or demanding 45, 60 and even 90-day terms. #WhatWouldSugeKnightDo?
The 60 and 90-day terms put growing businesses like mine in a conundrum. Obviously we want to work with the biggest and best companies in the world. The problem is that while we wait to get paid for the work we have completed, we still have to pay the Weapons, vendors and freelancers who work for us. Which means that like a leaky bucket, more money is leaving the system than coming in. #DearLizaDearLiza
By June of 2018 we had been in business for 2 years. We could clearly feel the momentum build. There was sharp rise in the demand for our work. But with all the new work, longer payment terms, and invoices that seemed to have taken the slow boat to PayMe Town, we started carrying between $500,000 and $700,000 in our monthly accounts receivable stack.
For a business that bootstrapped its way into being just 24 months earlier this was an interesting turn of events. It is nice to be owed that kind of money. But cash is the life blood of a business. And there were serious demands on our blood supply.
We were always able to pay our salaries and all of our bills. But the depleted cash on hand meant that we weren’t able to invest in our own growth. We had started looking at space for our Columbus office in June, then hit pause on our plans to sign a lease in order give ourselves some breathing room. We waited on transitioning some of our freelance help to full-fledged Weapons. And we postponed the company offsite meeting in Monaco.
It Was All A Dream.
When I shared our mounting money challenge with our team, they once again stepped up to solve the problem. Simon Harper, one of our outstanding account directors, shared how we could adjust our invoice timing to make sure we were paid by our clients sooner. Other account leads also contacted their client contacts about the outstanding bills. Which helped get the money ball rolling.
Our accountant, slash bookkeeper, slash egg dealer, Sally Bretsch, recommended another adjustment to our billing process that would ensure that our invoices got into our clients’ accounts payable systems faster, with greater accountability. Which is either totally meta or just a nice word play (Did I mention I used to read Word UP! magazine?)
From Negative To Positive (And it’s all good.)
With these team-driven enhancements in place, suddenly we dramatically decreased the turnaround time between work performed and payments received. We had our own Black Friday moment, when suddenly, following months of increased billing, but decreased cashflow, we started seeing the fruits of our labor manifest in our bank account.
Business is a team sport. As an entrepreneur, leader or department head, it’s important to understand that your team will find ways to solve problems and improve performance faster, and in better ways than you would be able to unearth on your own. Share information with your team. Make them part of the solution. If you’re thinking about starting a business, surround yourself with a strong crew who knows more about their specialties than you do. Then give them a mic and let them flow. That’s how small teams make big things happen.
When I first decided to launch my own advertising agency, I had a clear vision of what the fully formed business would look like. It was spectacular, as visions should be. Because it costs just as much to envision a multi-billion dollar empire as it does to envision a lemonade stand. So you might as well envision big.
In 2015, even though my startup was still in the embryonic-stage, I was confident that great things lie ahead. I just never knew the pace at which success would unfold. But I knew, like a 2-year old in a laundry room, the unfolding was just a matter of time.
Things Started Happening
In the fall of 2015 I ran an alpha test of our minimum viable product (MVP) with our first client. The test run went as well as advertised. (#punsalwaysintended) Then, in the spring of 2016, my home office in Atlanta, where I planned every detail of the business, became The Weaponry’s first headquarters. Suddenly I was in business. And I had the best commute in Atlanta.
By the end of 2016, as part of my life design, I moved to Milwaukee. The Weaponry’s new headquarters was my new home office. In 2017 the business was humming, we saw plenty of runway ahead, and we signed a lease on 1000 square feet of office space downtown, on the Milwaukee River (actually it was on the side of the river).
But Wait. There’s More!
I never wanted to settle for just one office. That’s why I developed my Home Office Strategy. Which means I plan to establish an office every place I’ve owned a home. This includes Milwaukee, Atlanta and Columbus. I also want an office in New England, where I grew up. So Burlington, Vermont and Boston are possibilities too.
By 2018 we had full-time employees in Milwaukee, Columbus and Atlanta. 6 months ago we started thinking about the next office. And, (drumroll app please…) we’ve decided that Columbus, Ohio will be the home of the next office of The Weaponry.
Columbus, Ohio is a hidden gem. It is well stocked with a highly educated workforce. It offers an amazing quality of life. And thriving industries. We have had full-time Weapons in Columbus for well over a year. And we are eager to add more.
I spent 7 great years in Columbus with the ad agency Engauge, before it was acquired by Publicis, and I was asked to move to the new headquarters in Atlanta. Columbus has a 3-ship flotilla of talented advertising and design professionals. And there are more great brands and smart marketers there than even John Lennon could imagine.
Getting Down To Business
Columbus is the home to well-known brands like Nationwide Insurance and Safelite Auto Glass. There are great restaurants headquartered in C-Bus, including Wendy’s, Bob Evans, White Castle, Charley’s Philly Steaks, Sbarro, Donatos and Steak Escape. There are great retail brands, including Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Express. Scott’s Miracle Grow is also growing plants miraculously in Columbus. Cardinal Health, which is the 14th largest company in America is headquartered there too.
The Weaponry C-Bus
We have collected a great nucleus of talent in Columbus, including both full-time and freelance Weapons. The relatively low-cost of living and high quality of life make the city a great draw. What’s even better is that Columbus is within a 3-hour drive of Detroit, Windsor, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Lexington, Louisville and Indianapolis. Not to mention Youngstown, Akron, Canton, Dayton and Toledo (wait, I DID just mention them!) The close proximity enables us to service clients in all of those cities from our Columbus hub.
There is a lot to love about Columbus. Which is why we are excited to be opening our next office in this great city. I look forward to sharing how we’ve gone about the process of finding our new space, and why we landed where we did. If you are in Columbus and want to be part of a great team, we should talk. Because things are about to get really interesting.
One of the great debates in business is about how much information we should share with our teams. There are two schools of thought:
The ‘You-Can’t-Handle-The-Truth’ Community College.
The ‘There’s-No-Such-Thing-As-TMI’ Prep Academy.
I have gone on recruiting trips to both campuses. They feel very different. One has a work hard, play hard vibe. The other feels like the place where the parents from Footloose went to school.
Solving For Happy
One of the key factors of employee satisfaction is feeling like you know what is happening within your organization. Employees are afraid of being left in the dark. It makes them feel like outsiders, when all they really want is to feel like insiders. #SodaPopAndPonyBoy
A lack of information sharing makes employees suspicious, and encourages them to jump to their own conclusions. In many corporate cultures conclusion jumping is like an Olympic event, and a world-class distraction.
Low Unemployment Means Higher Expectations.
Today, the labor market is tighter than a Boca Raton facelift. Which means that we have to make sure our employees feel valued and included in order to keep them engaged (I mean actively interested and invested in your company, not committed to getting married).
That’s why I believe in this simple philosophy:
Share information to show your employees that you see them as part of the solution. And not part of the problem.
If You’ve Got A Problem, Yo, Let Them Solve It.
At the beginning of 2018 all of the business at my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, was project based. We were thrilled to have the work. And the work we performed for many of our clients was steady throughout the year. However, because we didn’t have any long-term commitments from our clients it limited our ability to plan. And it prevented us from committing to more full-time hires, which would better serve our clients.
I shared this challenge with our team at the beginning of 2018. Our account leaders took matters into their own hands. They had discussions with several of our clients who regularly engaged us for projects. They shared the merits of having a fixed plan in place, dedicated employees who accumulated knowledge on their business, and the ad agency-equivalent of rollover minutes that would never expire.
As a result, by the 3rd quarter of 2018 we had 6 retainer clients who compensated us with a fixed monthly payment. That helped make our revenue stream steadier and more predictable. It makes it easier for our clients to manage their budget. The retainer commitments have enabled us to think longer term about the work we do for our clients. And it has allowed us to invest in our team and infrastructure to better serve our clients.
People love solving problems. They love showing that they know, or can find the right answers. So share information with your team. Let them solve more of your organizations challenges by giving them more of the information they need to create great solutions. Remember, leadership will never have all of the best answers to the challenges that face an organization. It’s amazing how much faster and more intelligently you can solve an issue when all of your best minds are working on the problem.
On the eve of my 40th birthday I sketched out a vision for the rest of my life. I wrote in great detail about what I felt was my personal legend. By starting with the end in mind, I was able to determine the actions I needed to start making in order to accomplish all of my personal and professional goals.
It was a transformational evening. In the last hours of my 39th year I determined the best way to grab control of my life, and design it exactly the way I imagined, was to start my own business.
I became totally focused on bringing my design vision to life. I put my plans into motion. Two years later, I launched my own advertising and idea agency in Atlanta. I named it The Weaponry. And I have been living into the vision ever since.
One Life. One Wife.
My wife, Dawn, gets co-creator credit on my life design. Like Al Jarreau said, we’re in this love together. Because a good marriage is like a 3-legged race, my life plan had to accommodate Dawn’s, and vice versa. We also had to consider our 3 children as part of the design. While we liked Atlanta, it didn’t quite fit all of our design requirements for our perfect long-term home base. So we had to plan our next move.
We didn’t mind moving our children while they were young. But we wanted to stop moving by the time our oldest child, Ava, reached middle school. We wanted to be closer to our families. And as a couple who grew up in Wisconsin and Vermont, we wanted winter. So we began looking for a northern headquarters for our family and bouncing baby business.
The City Search
We began looking for our 13-year home. A 13-year home would mean none of our children would have to move again before they graduated from high school. We drew a circle of acceptability around an area that included Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Minneapolis. All of these cities are in the Central Time Zone, which we felt was the best time zone for a well designed life, and maximum business flexibility. These cities also put us within a comfortable driving radius of our parents. And we like our parents.
In the Goldilocks And The 3 Bears analysis of these cities, we decided that Chicago didn’t offer the best quality of life (cost of living and the commute were Boos). Madison was too small for the business I wanted to build. And Minneapolis needed another ad agency like an NBA player needs another tattoo.
The Brew City Sweet Spot
After much deliberation, we chose Milwaukee as our 13-year home. It put us within a 3.5 hour drive of both of our parents. I have a substantial network in Milwaukee, that includes former clients and co-workers from my time at Cramer Krasselt. Dawn and I both graduated from the University of Wisconsin, and Milwaukee is ground zero for Badger alumni. The city offers a great quality of life. The suburban schools are excellent. Plus, it offers easy access to Madison and Chicago, both just 90 minutes away.
But I’m A Rolling Stone…
While I wanted to provide my wife and children with long-term stability, deep down, and maybe not that deep, I like moving. By the summer of 2016 I had lived in 9 different cities. I wasn’t sure I could commit to one place for 13 years. So I built a solution into the master design.
The Home Office Strategy
As part of my life design, I developed The Weaponry’s Home Office strategy. Which is my strategic plan to have an office for The Weaponry every place I’ve had a home. This strategy would provide regular travel and consistent interaction with the friends, co-workers and clients I have made along the way. It would also make me feel like I am part of several communities, so I don’t have to choose just one.
The cities on The Weaponry Home Office Strategy list include Milwaukee, Columbus and Atlanta. Because I grew up in New England I also want an office in either Burlington or Boston. Both of which are wicked good options.
Laying The Groundwork
When I began looking at potential employees and freelancers to join The Weaponry, I was biased towards people based in the cities listed above. So I began forming little clusters of resources in the Home Office Cities to help me live into the dream. In the fall of 2017 we signed a lease on 1000 square feet of space overlooking the Milwaukee River in, you guessed it, Milwaukee.
Today, I am really excited about the next step we are taking to bring the Home Office Strategy to life. We have been putting a lot of time and effort into the next phase, which may mean a new office in a new city. So tune in next week, when I share the unfolding news of our HQ2. I can’t wait to tell you all about it!
If you want to live your ideal life you have to write down a vision of what you want your life to look like. You have to map out the steps to get you to your ideal design. Then you have to take deliberate actions to make it all come true. It’s an amazingly rewarding and fulfilling adventure. I’m typing proof.
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When I first launched my advertising and idea agency in 2016, I knew great things would happen. I just couldn’t predict the pace at which those great things would unfold. Despite my confidence, had I been grilled under oath by a great lawyer like Ally McBeal or Jackie Chiles, I would have had to admit that I had no hard facts, and no physical evidence to support my original assumptions about our imminent success.
Today, The Weaponry has indeed been a great success. Our rate of growth, roster of clients and level of talent is tracking with my lofty expectations. Most people who know the details of our story are impressed. But not everyone. Namely, my 11-year-old son, Johann.
Last week, as I drove Johann home from his piano lesson he asked, ‘Dad, what’s new at The Weaponry?’ Which he always pronounces as Webonry. (I’ve noticed about 25% of the population does this.) I excitedly told him about our latest news, the number of employees, the new clients, the new lease and more. I concluded with, ‘It’s pretty great huh?’
Johann responded with, ‘Not really.’
It seems a 2-year old advertising agency, launched from dust, now rolling fast and picking up steam, still has a hard time impressing a 5th Grader. I wanted to know what would seem more impressive to my elementary-aged son. So I asked Johann. And here are his answers.
11 Things Johann thinks would make The Weaponry way more awesome.
1. A Better Building Johann said, ‘Dad, nobody even notices your building. You need a much taller building. Either move into a building 20 stories high, or build one of your own. (He liked that my old office in Atlanta was on the 22nd floor.)
2. A Breakfast Buffet I couldn’t argue with this.
3. Promote Yourself! ‘You need to advertise The Weaponry on billboards all over the city! You need big signs with your logo that say “The Weaponry is for hire!”‘ I think all the personal injury attorney ads have gotten to him.
4. More People ‘Dad, don’t be an average business with very few people working for you. You need more than 100 people to be a big business. And the more people you have the more money you will make.’
5. More Clients ‘You need more clients. Like hotels and resorts. You should work with Coca Cola, Ramen Noodles, Fortnite, oh, and movies!’
6. More Offices: ‘You should have offices in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Houston, Atlanta and Orlando. You know, the big ones.’ I said, ‘You know I have employees in Atlanta, right?’ He responded, ‘Yeah, but they just work with you online. You don’t have an office there yet.’ Touché! #appealdenied
7. Even More Offices ‘You really should have international offices in Tokyo, London, Paris and Sydney.’ Me: ‘What about Greenland?’ Johann: ‘Greenland has a very low population.’
(Yet I dream of my blog one day being read in Greenland. It is the largest country on Earth that has never viewed my blog. #popularitygoals)
8. Celebrities: ‘You should work with celebrity spokespeople, like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Justin Timberlake and the woman who plays Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins Returns. Jack Black and the guy who plays Remy in Ratatouille. Oh, and Rachael Ray and Jimmy Fallon! But Not Miley Cyrus, because she was naked on a wrecking ball.’
9. Athletes ‘You should also work with sports people like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick, Aaron Rogers, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, LeBron James and Gronk!’
10. Directors: ‘You should work with directors like Brad Bird and John Lassiter. And you should also make memes.’
11. Real Weapons: ‘And Dad, The weaponry would be cooler if you actually made weapons. Like swords with skulls on the handles. That would be really cool. And you should have a sailboat that has your logo on the sail!’ Apparently I would be cooler if I was a pirate.
It is always helpful to have someone remind you that you are capable of more. It is easy to spend time counting your successes, and to surround yourself with those who tell you how great you are doing. But if you want to really accomplish amazing things that are universally impressive, find someone who will tell you all the things you have not yet done. You know, the things that would make you a worldwide success. And if you can’t find someone like that in your circle of friends, try stopping by an elementary school. Because as the saying goes, kids and the dumb ones tell the truth.
I love all of my clients. But I really, really love working with clients who provide an outstanding product or service, but whose marketing lags significantly behind the rest of the operation. This happens a lot. Because organizations often focus so much on crafting their product or service that they neglect to think about how they should package and promote it. Which means the story is already there. Someone just needs to tell it.
In 2017 my friend Mike Bortolotti, the VP of Sales and Marketing at Juiced! Cold Pressed Juicery, called me with exactly the kind of opportunity I love most. Juiced! had been generating a lot of buzz, and he knew it was time for their marketing to level up.
The reason cold-pressing is important is it allows you to avoid heat pasteurizing the juice, which destroys the great nutrition in the drink. And that nutrition is why you drink juice in the first place. #amIright
Mike, or Borto as I have known him for the last 22 years, first learned about Juiced! when he was working for the Milwaukee Bucks. The players on the team loved Juiced!. In fact, they loved Juiced! so much that management sent Borto to see if he could strike a deal with Juiced! to help lower their weekly juice costs by a few bucks (see what I did there?).
Juiced You and I
Borto loved what he found when he visited this scrappy little juicery, created by Jason ‘The Juice Guru’ Lannoch. After years in Manhattan, Jason left a great job to follow his passion for juicing and moved to Milwaukee. Jason quickly became the Rumplestiltskin of fruits and vegetables, blending them into solid gold flavors that people visiting his juice cart loved. His healthy concoctions soon developed a cult following among the heath conscious in Milwaukee. A city which was already famous for pumping out delicious beverages brands, including Miller, Pabst, Blatz, Shlitz and Milk.
Borto took a liking to this little engine that juiced, and soon opened up other doors for Juiced! by introducing them to the Milwaukee Brewers and Green Bay Packers (because Borto knows everyone).
Then he helped expand the brand’s distribution by introducing Juiced! to his friend Ted Balistreri, owner of Milwaukee’s premier grocery store brand, Sendik’s. Ted’s team loved the product and began selling it immediately. (Ted is also a former University of Wisconsin track and field athlete, like me. Go Badgers!)
Invested In The Future
But Borto wasn’t done there. He introduced Juiced! to potential investors, including rock star businessman, Ken Muth, who fell in love at first sip. When Ken bought into the biz, Borto did too. And in 2017 Mike left the Bucks to join the leadership team at Juiced! to sling cold-pressed juice full-time.
The team’s goal was to spread Juiced! to every thirsty, health-minded soul in the Juice-nited States of America. Ken helped introduce scalability to the operation. And Borto quickly helped expand the brand’s distribution to Kroger-owned Roundy’s Metro Market, and Pick N’ Save stores. As well as Piggly Wiggly, Woodman’s and Outpost Natural Food Stores.
In The Market For Better Marketing
The next dot Mike connected was to my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. In 2018 Juiced! became an official client and we began examining every aspect of their marketing. We started at the beginning with repositioning work, clearly identifying core audience segments, auditing the competitive set and determining the white space in the category.
Speaking of white space, we noticed that in their category, a space known for being clean and natural, there were no clean, white brand looks. So our team collaborated with renowned artist Reginald Baylor on package design, and developed a simple, clean white look that features Baylor’s artwork on each bottle.
The simple shelf set really stands out at retail. Local traffic reports and Google Maps suggest that the new packaging is causing backups in the juice aisle. #SorryNotSorry
As of the new year, the new and improved Juiced! brand look is everywhere. The new bottle design is on shelves. The new website we designed and developed is now live at ColdPressedJuiced.com. The site features all-new photography, designs and writing, which our team at The Weaponry led.
The Juiced! trucks now feature the new brand look. We have also helped create a Carmen Miranda-hat worth of other Juiced! marketing and sales materials, which will help the team expand distribution across the continent, like a cold-pressed juice-nami.
We love helping clients like Juiced! live up to their potential. And we’re thrilled to see their brand, sales and distribution grow. I encourage you to check out ColdPressedJuiced.com, where you can order all 9 flavors, and the 1, 3, 5 and 7-day cleanses, depending on just how much cleansing your system needs.
Look for the new bottles at your favorite grocery store, convenient store or cafe. If you don’t find them, demand Juice-tice! Tell your local establishment that you want some Juiced! the next time you come in.
A Free Bottle!
And if you stop by The Weaponry this Friday (1/11/2019 AD), we will be offering free bottles of Juiced! to anyone who drops by between noon and 5pm. How is that for a healthy Happy Hour?!? We are at 1661 N. Water St. #206 in Milwaukee. We hope to see you Friday afternoon!
Here are a few truck designs that didn’t get chosen: