The 10 forbidden, face-meltingly horrible things clients (sometimes) want.

Just a small list of things that make us cringe. We love making beautiful things, and it hurts our souls when we can’t. However, a little education can go a long way, and we always try to educate our clients whenever possible.

Bigger is Simply Bigger.

Why specialization and craftsmanship is the past and future of creative.

An inspiring blog article popped up in my feed yesterday from fellow Kansas City agency VI Marketing and Branding’s Tim Berney entitled “Why a Large Marketing Agency Is Your Most Cost Efficient Option.” It was a different kind of inspiring; —it inspired me to write this rebuttal. Sorry, Tim.

Tim opens with “In the early 1990s there was a national trend toward hiring boutique advertising agencies. It didn’t last too long because national brands soon found out that they couldn’t get by on the slim resources that these specialty shops provided.”

Sadly there’s no citation given to back this up. My guess is Tim forgot about internationally recognized small studios like Muhtayzik Hoffer whose clients include Netflix and HP or Heat who have the Madden NFL for EA Sports account or the thousands of other small creative studios with similarly impressive clients like Swift, Roundhouse, and perhaps the industry’s most notable envelope pushers, Sagmeister & Walsh.

In fact in 2011, (these numbers are hard to get at so forgive the 4-year-old stats) large corporations threw more than twice as many dollars at the boutiques than the big boys.

First things first: let’s talk money.

Small studios have minimal overhead. With that comes a slew of benefits. First and foremost it introduces a level of flexibility to pricing that the big boys have a hard time matching. BIKLOPS isn’t the cheapest studio around but we have the option to chase the smaller clients that inspire us and initiate passion projects to keep our talents sharp without fear of missing a mortgage payment on a giant brick and mortar headquarters.

With that out of the way let’s talk quality.

When big agencies cut a client a break price-wise it’s almost always accomplished by throwing the studio interns at the project. Less money=less talent. But small studios like ours don’t have the option of selling a project short. Every project is conceived and executed by the studio’s principals. They have to be. Which means every project tackled by a small studio has their best talent on the job.

We little guys are fast, flexible and leave room for inspiration.

Small teams are fast and agile. In a landscape where the big TV spot is increasingly a rarity, a small team that can react to engagement opportunities instantly is a huge asset. Trying to get a single tweet approved at my former big agency job would take days—at BIKLOPS a piece of compelling creative can be created and pushed onto the world stage in a single day, hell, a single hour.

Capabilities are over.

“We can do it all, but I don’t believe in this day and age you need it all. More is not always better,” says founder of boutique media agency R.Rock Enterprises, Roger Gastman.

If your studio can shoot video that’s great. If your studio can manage Facebook ads that’s great too. But the problem with capabilities is that they’re easily (and already) commodified. There are cheap apps to manage ads and cheap services that can create video content. Quite frankly for a few hundred bucks you can have a page-long list of supposed “capabilities” in the form of cheap subcontractors, analytics apps and social media monitoring software. A laundry list of services is no longer a differentiator.

There is, however, one thing we can offer clients that’s invaluable: insight. The ability to see a problem and solve that problem in a novel, memorable way is still a rare and beautiful thing. A unique perspective leads to a unique aesthetic, and a unique aesthetic leads to a long list of happy clientele. Small studios are perfectly equipped for this new, point-of-view-lead creative economy: with low overhead and smaller, less hierarchical teams, indie agencies such as ours can afford to stick to our guns. The end-result is a studio with real personality and brand insight to share, not a roster of cogs in a machine spitting out their tiny piece of a beige-colored puzzle.

The truth is if you’re choosing your creative partner based on anything other than the quality of their work you’re crazy.

Look at the studio’s work. Does it move you? Is it memorable? Does it rise above the white noise of same-same advertising and communications or does it stick out as something special? Choose your creative studio partner based on the one thing they should bring to the table every time: creativity.

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The case for a new economy.

Last Friday I ventured out to my first ever Creative Mornings, a nation-wide design-centric lecture series. I found myself completely inspired by the talk I heard there by Jennifer Armbrust, the former owner of Motel and the current brains behind Armbrust & Co and PORT.

Armbrust’s concept is a rather earth-shattering one: is the western economy non-sustainable, and if so, what will replace it? She proposes that business and money in America is largely defined by masculine ideas of power: a system of winners and losers with an ever-shrinking number of winners at the top and an ever-increasing base of “losers” at the bottom. What if this atrophying system was replaced by an economy of feminine ideals? A way of doing business that is more inclusive, cooperative?

 

My mind is still reeling from the questions presented in this talk. I hope you’ll find time to check it out! (And if you’re a cheater it gets down to brass tacks starting at 8:18)

 

 

I’m So Happy For You Open Table

I’ve never been so excited about something so walk-by-able. This redesign has been out since March, but given my previous repulsion to the Open Table brand it’s no wonder I hadn’t come across this until last week when Jeff was implementing a reservation form an the new American Restaurant website we are currently developing.

Binder Clips are the Best!

I use binder clips for everything and wanted to share some of my favorite uses.

You’re not a CEO. Stop saying you are.

 

At BIKLOPS, we work primarily with new and mid-stage businesses—in annoying biz-speak, SMBs. Thanks to a huge rise in entrepreneurship in Kansas City and a couple of great startup clients, 2014 was the ‘year of the startup’ at BIKLOPS. We worked with a half-dozen start-ups, met dozens more and found ourselves designing, strategizing and consulting for a lot of newborn companies.

The work was fun. We met a lot of smart innovators that I hope to work with again. We also met a lot of “CEO”s. A lot. The title felt a little off and off-putting. To quote The Kernel’s Milo Yiannopoulos, “What, precisely, are founders of a company with no revenue, a handful of staff and possibly even no funding the chief executive of?” The self-appointed title was telling: founders are taking a huge risk, and afraid of failure, they often wrap themselves up in the emperor’s clothes. CEO feels successful—and the appearance of success breeds real success, right? Well, yes and no.

Nice hairpiece, buddy.

There’s a solid business reason to avoid the “CEO trap”—this is the age of the authentic brand and you’re telling a lie. People can smell it. Other businesses and investors can smell it—and I’ll let you on to a little secret: being honest about your company and your role is an advantage. Potentially a big one.

Think of it this way—there are two potential audiences for your service or product: the people that would like to hire the services of a big company manned by a “CEO” and the people that would like the services of a hungry entrepreneur—an alternative to the slow-moving dinosaurs they’re currently working with. That unnecessary title just alienated those open-minded, CEO-hating rebels that respect a “business owner,” an “entrepreneur”. To make a long story short: it’s best to earn it before you claim it. You’ll benefit and feel more honest. It’s a win-win.

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All My Friends Hate Advertising

Hate is a strong word for a reason. But seriously, all my friends hate advertising.

The Rookie Mistakes Small Brands Make

Branding is hard. Your new startup is going to have a hard time creating a memorable brand identity. But whatever you do, don’t do this.