This week on the A-List Podcast, host and DiMassimo Goldstein CCO Tom Christmann is joined by Dan Lucey, Executive Creative Director at BBDO. With multiple awards to his name from Cannes to The One Show, among many others, Dan is one of the most respected and accomplished creatives in the industry.
In this episode, Dan takes us full circle, starting from his time as a student at Adhouse Advertising School all the up way to becoming a teacher for the program. He shares valuable lessons from his experiences of both triumph and defeat, tells the story behind his hilarious Talking Stain ad for Tide, and explains why having “unrealistic optimism” is an asset in the advertising industry.
Full episode and show notes below!
[0:00 – 1:27] Intro
[1:28 – 6:05] Dan talks about how being a student at AdHouse helped him break into the industry, and how he returns the favor today by being a teacher for the program
[11:31 – 13:55] How working by yourself can help you find your point of view, and why having a balance of both honesty and respect is essential in a creative partnership
[13:56 – 18:30] Dan reflects on the culture at Mad Dogs & Englishmen and what he learned from his time there
[18:31 – 21:49] Getting a full-time gig and moving into an apartment on the Upper East Side, and getting to work on Haribo Gummy Bears
[21:50 – 25:10] Dan talks about being laid off, what he learned from the experience, and why being unrealistically optimistic is an important asset in the advertising industry
[25:11 – 27:50] Freelancing for magazines and getting back into design
[27:51 – 29: 29] Getting back into advertising working on the Hard Rock Hotel for DiMassimo Goldstein before ultimately going to Saatchi & Saatchi
[29:30 – 36:18] Dan talks about what it’s like to work at a big agency and shares his mental approach to work
[36:18 – 42:55] The story behind his hilarious Talking Stain ad for Tide
[42:56 – 47:00] Moving to San Francisco to take a job at Goodby Silverstein & Partners, and what he learned from working in Jamie Barrett’s pressure-free environment
[47:01 –49:32] Dan shares a recent story that highlights the importance of staying calm in the midst of chaos
[49:33 – 55:14] Why he waited 18 months to take the job at Goodby, and the passion and intensity that Rich Silverstein has to make things great
[55:15 – 58:35] Why he eventually moved back to New York to work with Chris Beresford-Hll at BBDO, and why he loves the culture there
[58:36 – 1:00:27] Dan talks about his leadership and management style, the importance of clear direction, and not forgetting what it’s like being a young creative
[1:00:28 – 1:02:58] Dan shares what he looks for in portfolios
[1:02:59 – 1:03:41] Outro
“The A-List” is a podcast produced by DiMassimo Goldstein, recorded at the Gramercy Post, and sponsored by the Adhouse Advertising School, New York’s newest, smallest, and hippest ad school. You can subscribe and rate the show on iTunes or listen along on SoundCloud. For updates on upcoming episodes and guests, be sure to like the A-List Podcast on Facebook and follow host Tom Christmann on Twitter.
With season two of the A-List Podcast launching soon, we wanted to first take a look back at Season one and compile some of our favorite clips into one episode for your listening pleasure.
With over 15+ hours of insightful interviews to sift through, this was no easy task. Each episode is jam-packed with insights, incredible stories, and lessons that would prove valuable to any young creative looking to break into the industry.
With that said, the episode below contains some key takeaways from season 1. Ten lessons from ten different A-listers. Have at it, and stay tuned for more updates on season 2!
[0:00 – 2:47] Intro
[2:48 – 9:00] Terri Meyer & Sandy Greenberg on the importance of a strong client relationship
[9:01 – 10:39] Omid Farhang shares Alex Bogusky’s philosophy of “Malicious Obedience”
[10:40 – 14:02] David Baldwin shares why young creatives should be looking for a good boss, not a company
[14:03 – 17:28] Paul Caiozzo talks about the importance of consistency
[17:29 – 23:47] Why Kash Sree thinks that sometimes, it’s better to stay stupid
[23:48 – 30:17] Rob Schwartz talks about the value of having a mentor
[30:18 – 35:15] Gerry Graf discusses why young creatives should embrace failure rather than be afraid of it
[35:16 – 37:10] Megan Skelly on the importance of humility
[37:11 – 41:03] Jill Applebaum on the dangers of being too picky when looking for a job
[41:04 – 46:10] Greg Hahn on why self-delusion can be a valuable tool
[46:11 – 48:20] Outro
*REMINDER: Fall registration for AdHouse classes has begun! Sign up today and learn from A-listers in the agencies they work! To sign up, click HERE.
“The A-List” is a podcast produced by DiMassimo Goldstein, recorded at the Gramercy Post, and sponsored by the Adhouse Advertising School, New York’s newest, smallest, and hippest ad school. You can subscribe and rate the show on iTunes or listen along on SoundCloud. For updates on upcoming episodes and guests, be sure to like the A-List Podcast on Facebook and follow host Tom Christmann on Twitter.
In my 25 years in the advertising industry (wow, I’m old) I’ve worked at agencies that call themselves “big”. (Ogilvy. BBDO. JWT.) I’ve worked at agencies that call themselves “small”. (Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners. Taxi. Cliff Freeman.) I’ve been an independent freelancer (it doesn’t get any smaller than that) working at agencies on both ends of the spectrum (sometimes at the same time! Cha-ching!). Today I am a Chief Creative Officer and partner at DiMassimo Goldstein, an agency in New York City that is still smallish in size but growing fast.
Last week, I went to the Ad Age Small Agency Conference in Marina Del Rey, California. And I was inspired. Most of the attendees were “big agency” veterans like me who had bravely gone their own way. Sandy Greenberg and Terri Meyer. Bill Oberlander. Anselmo Ramos. Between speakers (and checking in with our teams), we all chatted about what it means to be small in a world that seems obsessed with size and power. In talking with my fellow “smalls”, one thought kept surfacing in my mind: There’s no such thing as a “big agency”.
A global behemoth like Ogilvy may have offices in every corner of the globe. But, in practice, each client gets a team of smart, motivated individuals dedicated to their brand. Example: When I was ECD on a giant financial news account at one of the big agencies above, we did the whole thing with about 20 people in total. That’s including the account team. And planners. Sure, we could call on the power of the network if we needed it. But, day-to-day, no more than 20 people did the work. Sometimes way fewer. And we rocked it. The big global snack company I ran got about the same (and a lot of them were the same exact people, honestly). One mega-client had the largest team in the whole place I would bet. But it amounted to less than 100 people in the end. And they all worked on other things, too. And took weekends off.
Robin Dunbar, a British Anthropologist, coined the Rule of 150, which states that the evolutionary structure of social networks limits us to 150 meaningful relationships at a time. Once a group of humans grows to more than 150 people, the group tends to lose cohesion and want to split up into smaller groups. This is hard wired into our brains from back when we were bands of hunter-gatherers running from tree to tree trying to not be killed by Sabre-toothed Tigers. Paul Lavoie actually used this 150 people rule to run his agencies. Whenever one got close to 150 people, he would go open another one in another city and start all over again. And every client was serviced by no more than four client-facing professionals. This is where the name of his agency network — TAXI — came from, four being the number of people you can fit into the average city cab. Paul knew that clients don’t hire “agencies”. They hire people they trust.
At BBDO, I was lucky enough to get hired to work in Gerry Graf’s group. There were eight creatives in that group. Those eight people made every ad for FedEx, Guinness, Red Stripe, Visa and Snickers. (To be honest, Gerry himself wrote a lot of the ads. He was tough to compete with.) I remember meeting Susan Credle, one of BBDO’s most celebrated ECDs, for the very first time in the halls. She was leaving to go to DDB. (Or was it Leo Burnett?) I shook her hand and she said “Are you new?” I said, “No, I’ve been here for two years.” We had never met until that moment. It makes sense. Susan’s group did M&Ms and AT&T. Were we working at the same agency? Does it matter?
It seems like the market is starting to understand the Big Agency myth. The stock prices of the holding companies have started dropping. Independent agencies are starting to be included in bigger pitches. Maybe technology has made finding great ideas easier. Maybe fracturing audiences and social media have made nimbleness more important than global scale. Maybe talent is realizing its own power and doing something about it. Many of the smartest people I know in this business have chosen to stay “small” as long as they can, at least in spirit. Jay Chiat famously said, “Let’s see how big we can get before we get bad.” But his creative leader, Lee Clow, may have said it best: “It’s more fun to be the pirates than it is to be the navy.” Arrrrr, matey. Arrrrrrrrr.
Another great thing about the smalls is that there’s just so many of them. So you can really find one whose mission aligns tightly with your brand. For instance, at DiMassimo Goldstein, a lot of our clients are direct-to-consumer brands who want to make customers feel like members of a community. We believe in co-creating with the brand team to do things in the world that lead to that result. We call it Inspiring Action. And we’re super passionate about it.
Maybe some boards of directors will always be soothed by the news that the CMO has hired a giant, global advertising agency that they’ve heard of. Nobody ever got fired for doing that, right? And, let’s face it. There’s no replacement for being wined and dined by a holding company exec who has been knighted by the Queen of England. But next time you are tempted to think you absolutely must hire a “big agency”, consider the small. Because in the end, no matter what size your agency pretends to be, all that really matters is the handful of people actually doing the work.
Last week, our Chief Mark DiMassimo went AdAge’s Ad Lib Podcast to talk with host Brian Braiker about building brands and businesses in a direct-to-consumer world, why traditional advertising is less important today, how behavior change marketing can be used to help fight the opioid epidemic, and much much more. Full transcript and podcast below!
Mark: What experience do you want them to have? Like when you think about this thing?
Brian: What experience do I want my listeners to have?
Mark: Yeah, why should they tune in?
Brian: I want them to be entertained and informed, inspired, possibly scared. I think they are already probably a little scared.
Mark: So they feel like they need to listen, might be dangerous not to listen.
Brian: If they miss a single episode of this podcast, they’re doomed.
Mark: Alright well, I wanted my brief, so I gotta be entertaining and interesting.
Brian: And who are you? You’re Mark DiMassimo, Chief of DiMassimo Goldstein. Welcome to Ad Lib podcast
Mark: Great to see you and be here. And we are literally seeing each other across this card table.
Brian: It’s a shoestring budget here and you can change that with sponsors. First, let’s start with the basics. DiMassimo Goldstein, what is that? You’re an independent agency that’s 22 years old.
Mark: You know a lot about this business and you know a lot about my business. We are an independent agency in New York that I founded in 1996, 22 years young. Even though we’ve been around for 22 years, we have not had the same year over again because we work with growth-stage turnaround state of businesses so our clients are constantly driving us to embrace change.
Brian: Well I don’t think you have a choice in the matter when it comes to embracing change. So who are these clients?
Mark: Let me give you a few because right now, this is not about being self-promotional…
Brian: Yes, because this is not the DiMassimo Goldstein hour.
Mark: We believe in a direct-to-consumer, choice-filled world, and that people are actually out there in the marketplace trying to get inspired to do great things, and the right things. We want them to do that so some of our top clients right now are Salesforce.org. So Salesforce is one of the big tech companies in the world. And Salesforce with Salesforce.org they really help drive the not-for-profit economy and really help a lot of people so we’re really proud we’re working with them. TradeStation is a fantastic company that went from small competitors to Charles Schwab, to now the fastest-growing programmatic trading, very excited about them. I should mention the Bronx Zoo and Wildlife Conservation Society.
Brian: What a cool client. So you said the words direct-to-consumer, you say those words a lot? I’ve heard those words a few times before we turned on the mics. What do you mean, really, what does that look like?
Mark: So when I founded the agency in 1996, I had this thought.
Brian: Were you a holding company refugee?
Mark: Right before I started DiMassimo Goldstein, I was Creative Director at Kirschenbaum, which was an amazing experience, and we were challenging the holding companies; but before that, I was at J Walter Thompson, YNR, started at BBDO and I went on to be this integrated guy who was working with the brand and advertising. But I had this early experience with direct-to-consumer and I saw technology making everything more and more direct-to-consumer all the time and I thought, man, when they turn to agencies, they always get the folks who don’t know brands, who don’t know how to build brands. I thought, wow, we could be the agency that builds brands for this direct-to-consumer world. For twenty years, I couldn’t really say that, because agency people always heard direct marketing, performance marketing, and it isn’t that. It’s building brands and businesses in a direct-to-consumer world. Dollar Shave Club, for example, all these platforms, Uber, Airbnb, I could go on and on.
Brian: So how does that work? Direct-to-consumer means knocking the agencies out of the way.
Mark: Look, absolutely. We are also agents in the middle and about 10 years ago, Google got together and talked about if it was time to get rid of the agencies and, thank god, they decided to work with us for now. But any middle professional can ] be pushed out of the way. We have to find how we add value.
Brian: How do you add value?
Mark: In a world where everybody has these expectations, I want instant, I want choice. In order to respond to that, you need your agency to understand those expectations. Those people are choosing an experience, but they’re also choosing what club to join. Thats why its also a subscription world, right, we’ve heard that with Amazon and Netflix. It’s people piecing together their own service world. So what inspires me? What clubs do I identify with that I want to make part of my life? You need agencies that can think those things through. Business and brand experience delivered through product service and then marketing, that’s the hierarchy today. So I think one thing that large agencies that grew up and built large factories for advertising, one thing they’re suffering with are these legacy agencies that were built for a world where the advertising drove the brand positioning. That’s not the case anymore.
Brian: The case today is agencies help build the brands themselves; is that where you’re going with this?
Mark: Exactly, I see it again and again, your CCO better be promoted to chief marketing officer and service content and brand or else someone else will. Then, your CMO will be reporting to a chief growth or product officer. Everybody has access to the opinions of others through consumer reviews and rating sites in every category. So product experience that you give and the story you tell around it through content, PR, social media, has to all hang together so advertising is a lot less important than it used to be.
Brian: So this need for brand building at holding company level has made room for consultant agencies to move in.
Mark: When I look at the independents that like us are thriving, they are brand consultant agencies at the core, but then activating through social or an integrated way like we are, or they’re innovation shops. That’s why innovation shops have grown up, because what are we gonna be has become a much more important question than what are we going to say about it.
Brian: So the traditional advertising agency as you see it, the writing’s on the wall?
Mark: Look, I think there are massive global companies that have all the problems of scale and they probably need ways of dealing with those scale problems. I don’t claim to be an expert on that, I believe those worlds are troubled both on the client side and the agency side. It’s really hurting now. I love that Martin Sorrell and I agree for the first time.
Brian: That holding companies are broken? Now that he’s on the other side?
Mark: Right! Now that I’m on the outside, I realize it. No, you were part of the problem, you profited from the problem, you understand the problem really well because you were on the inside and now you know how to compete.
Brian: That’s what George Soros did in a way, too.
Mark: Hell yeah.
Brian: What do you think is going to happen with WPP and the holding model? Pure speculation, obviously.
Mark: I think they compete as public companies, their stories aren’t great, compared to tech companies driven by pure tech stories. They’re holding a lot of what they used to consider cash cow assets, that are actually weighing them down now; they’ve also got a lot of new models. They’re buying independents, they’re trying to integrate them, make them matter for scale. I will not be surprised if we see some divestitures of mature assets. Meanwhile, I hear all the time from folks who would love to get people like me and agencies inside in order to get clients the experience they’ve been leaving for. What they keep telling me is that there are fewer and fewer things to buy.
Brian: Would you sell?
Mark: If the answer was yes, I would already be sold. Wherever I am, the next three years of my life are always too important to me. I’m not going to be the richest guy in the cemetery, but I’ve done well enough that if I love my job, I’ll be OK and that’s my priority to keep growing this place. I’ve given other people this experience in working in a focused, inspiring, less-problematic environment and I’ve seen what it means in their lives, too. We’re not for every client, but we play an important role in the lives of our clients as well.
Brian: Talk about then what you’ve learned at BBDO, JWT, that you saw there that you chose not to replicate. You said you did see a need for that kind of brand building skill set. What did you see that you didn’t want?
Mark: Great question. Without fail, the people at the top of the large agencies I work for, I’m forever grateful I got to work closely with these people. They were really smart, good and the same people that were running small independent agencies before. I won’t name any names but a lot of them at the top are the result of acquisitions, so at that level, there’s similar thinking. But I’ve seen people go into those situations and see problems they have to solve and the genius they go in with thinking about brands, orchestrating teams, really innovating through creative, they get worn down by the problems of how do I keep people out of this meeting. Everybody wants to sell their thing in the meeting. It becomes a how do I keep this all from going south then try to be a little bit better than other people who compete. The other thing I found, and my experience is a little old, but everybody tells me that the beautiful, pure brand planning that I worked with at Kirschenbaum was never really replicated very well at large agencies. As a creative director at J Walter Thompson, I was really a better planner than a creative director. That was true with just about every creative director there. We didn’t have planners. So we had to be right about the brand and therefore, the creative suffered. Whereas in independents, you have strategic thinkers working in lockstep with creatives and media people. But you don’t have to be your own strategists. You can connect your creative mind with somebody who’s really focused on that and it’s in a team where people who aren’t adding to the conversation are not in the conversation. That’s what I mean by the problems of scale. We have to find some way to engage all these people all over the world, even though that’s going to dilute the quality of this conversation. We don’t have that problem. We have it on the client side to some extent as our clients get bigger, but we help create these works that then help and inspire the rest of that team.
Brian: What are your clients’ pain points right now? What are they coming to you looking for help on?
Mark: I’ll say how they define the problem, then the changes that come from that. Without fail, the client needs to both build revenue and do it in a way that builds the brand at the same time. There are all kinds of pressures to sacrifice the long term of the brand for short-term sales. Different kinds of organizations have different pressures, so they own this problem. If they don’t solve this revenue problem in the short run, they’re out. They don’t get to build the brand. If revenue doesn’t actually build the value of the brand, it’s gonna stop working; then they’re gonna be out. With very few exceptions, when they turn to agencies, the agencies all wanna own one side of that problem or the other. So they need someone to step in and say, yes, I will own the integration. They got performance marketing agencies that are all about, let’s personalize, let’s automate. We don’t really care when customers get together if they speak the same language as us. We just need to maximize the amount of sales. Then we got brand people, who often don’t know how to create a brand platform that actually combines all of that stuff in an experience product promotion. The client has to be the orchestrator. When they come to us, they want somebody to sit with them at the table and be an expert in integrating those aspects.
Brian: Talk about your work in partnership with Drug Free Kids, which I think is interesting. Using advertising to fight the opioid epidemic. Why that cause?
Mark: Well, if I go back to the 90’s, when I first got involved with them, the woman who would become my wife and I got involved in the organization at the same time. She took a job there working with all the great agencies developing what has become the largest, single-subject public service campaign ever. She was on the inside working with agencies; I learned a lot how agencies present through that.
Brian: Can you give an example?
Mark: We don’t pitch. We’re one of the fastest-growing private companies in America in the last five years, and we do not do creative pitches. Back then, BBH entered this private market and I got to meet John Haggarty, they would say we don’t pitch. That was a mystery to me; what did that mean? Well at the partnership, I joined the creative review committee, which is now creative development board and I’m the chairman of it as of this year. I saw several times BBH present what they pitched and what I saw was, when you focus on ideas, not execution, you focus the client on the highest leverage you can bring, rather than all these distracting images and pictures. You’re allowing them to imagine whatever they’re going to imagine. You’re going to work with them for months to figure out how to execute. So they didn’t bring in nothing. They brought in strategic thinking and platforms. They said it wasn’t creative. So what I realized is, first off, clients are buying experience and a lot of agency experience is really awful. We’ll basically say you’re just buying one campaign, if this goes, well we’ll work on many things together. So let’s start with a project. We need to commit that much, so you need to commit that much. We’re never going to tie your hands and ask you for a two-year contract because we’ll earn our way; but let’s start with an initial project that assumes it is going to go on. Let’s talk about ideas and how it’ll be to go together, and we find that works. Meeting all these other agencies while working on anti-drug advertising gave me a window into the different cultures. I got to see folks from Crispen present when they were the hottest agency in the country and they set up their work less, they defended their work less, and they were so cool when they got direction. I would see these people come in and talk and talk and defend, and they were like, oh yeah, cool. Later they would decide if they would integrate. They gave you the feeling of confidence. Jill went on to become a client, one of the heads of marketing at Tommy Hilfiger, and I’d say, what do the agencies that work for you really give you? She’d say that as a client, you’re afraid. You can’t do it, you can’t force the agency to do it, and you don’t know how to make it work, even if you’re smart and good. A confident agency, confident enough to listen and support, is so reassuring. How would they be confident? And she’d say well there’s this one guy who will say this is our 7503 commercial, we’ll get this right.
Brian: That’s great that you have somebody on the inside feeding you pro tips.
Mark: Listen to the clients, I care about creative, I care about brand planning.
Brian: What about data?
Mark: We are very teched up and data-oriented because, in the direct-to-consumer world, our mix is 75% digital, including email. How do you integrate what you’re learning from your data with what you’re trying to build for your brand and experience? That’s the challenge your client lives with, and compromise is ultimate failure. Agencies that are either data-or brand-focused tend to sell what they do. They pull in their direction against the other guys and clients are stuck in the middle. It’s super uncomfortable and it makes them feel more responsible and less confident than they want to feel. We’re deeply into the data, and we have to translate it into insight and explain how it fits within what you’re trying to build as a brand. Not all data should immediately trigger a computer to pull a trigger, because that could undermine the brand. There are other ways to sell that will work better.
Brian: Back to fighting opioids.
Mark: Back to fighting opioids. Those guys back in the 80’s it wasn’t about opioids. But those guys who got together from Johnson & Johnson and media companies from the big ad agencies, they had this perfect storm of society is really worried about drugs, the government gets that they’re worried. Industry could really come together because the media landscape meant that advertising could really do something about it. They created the partnership and they did amazing things. They slayed crack, then ecstasy; they went out there and created effective campaigns.
Brian: How do you create an effective campaign to fight drugs? A human behavior that is never going to go away and kids are not receptive to advertising, less so now than ever before.
Mark: Yeah, exactly right. That’s what’s changed. That worked for the media environment of then, but that doesn’t work for today. Before it was media agencies and ad agencies, now its the core digital firms. The Googles, Facebooks, Twitters and the rest of media plus agencies and deep integrated digital agencies. It’s a deeper coalition in the world today. Now, what we’re focused on is the partnership for Drug Free Kids and what that means, is helping parents who are on the front line with their kids. We’re not up there advertising to kids saying stay away from drugs. What we are is providing services in a direct-to-parent way. Leveraging these partnerships with Google and Facebook. It’s working, and the government isn’t spending money on getting help for parents. They’re not spending money right now on prevention; maybe they will. But if you’re in a tech firm, media firm or agency, my message is this is our generation’s problem, and I know you’re working with guns, add that, too. This one of the biggest social behavior problems of our generation and step up, it’s a whole new thing now. If you’re interested, a lot of folks have had personal experiences, reach out to me, I’m not hard to find on social media. We need people to step up and be a part of this, and we have some great people on this creative review board now, amazing thinkers, a top innovation guy from Apple, great CCO’s from agencies. It’s a great thing. I don’t think it’s just me. We found through our research that folks are having trouble with technology addiction.
Brian: We saw that in Apple’s keynote.
Mark: Tim Cook is right again. How many of us are working on attracting people’s attention and distracting people from paying attention, engaging them for as long as possible. Getting them to click for as long as possible. We’re all out there mastering the art of diverting people’s attention and casting a spell over their behavior. There’s an enormous amount of choice and my belief is that values have to come above business. I think values will drive business success, but you have to align. I believe we can help people solve this choice problem. We can help people control themselves a bit more, so they can get more satisfaction out of life. If we do that, the brands that do that are ultimately going to do better. This is why we focus on inspiring action brands and help people form more empowering habits and make more inspiring decision. That’s what we do.
Brian: I’m sure that’s hard to monetize.
Mark: Because people are desperate in situations like this, now because of what’s happened, I really believe that is what’s driving us into a direct-to-consumer marketplace. I think the brands that give you a better experience feel better afterward. This is why Facebook and Apple are doing this. They realize that there’s a limit on just pure behavior if people feel miserable, if they don’t feel empowered, they’re going to go elsewhere and there will be competition. Talking about the benefits of scale, the benefits don’t extend to be able to make people miserable forever. Government will rise up, too. I’m a challenger, but I don’t want to challenge through government. I want to create alternatives that give people incredible experiences. And I also would love to help brands like Apple and Google do that as well. But I think we have to give people better experiences of themselves, feeling empowered.
Brian: That’s an empowering place to leave things. This was excellent. Sounds like you’re doing good work. Thanks, Mark, appreciate you being on the show today.
Sometimes, you must first fail before you can succeed.
Few can speak to this as much as Stewart Butterfield, the co-founder of team collaboration tool Slack.
In many ways, his “failures” are also his “successes”.
It started with Game Neverending, his first project, and his first public failure. Developed by his then company, Ludicorp, Game Neverending was intended to be an online multiplayer game for the masses, but it never saw the light of day. When it became apparent that the game would not survive, Butterfield shifted his focus to the game’s photo-sharing tool, turning it into its own stand-alone product, Flickr.
Determined to make his game-developing dreams come true, he would try his hand again. With much of the same team from Ludicorp, Butterfield cofounded Tiny Speck, and began building a new online-game in Glitch.
It was during this development process where Butterfield would inspire a worldwide behavior change revolution – though he didn’t know it at the time.
Frustrated by existing communication tools, Tiny Speck developed its own tool to help better manage the creation of the game. During the three years leading up to the game’s launch, the Tiny Speck team, consisting of 45 people, had only sent 50 emails.
Then, at the end of 2012, the eureka moment came. Butterfield closed the book on Glitch, and Slack, the communications tool his team had developed, sprang forward.
But the Slack squad only knew how their team interacted on the platform, and if the product was to work across industries with varying company sizes and workflows, they needed a bigger sample size.
For the next seven months, Butterfield and his colleagues begged friends at other companies to trial Slack. This gave them the opportunity to see the tool from an outsider’s perspective, and each new company armed the team with unique observations and feedback that they would later use to optimize and tweak the product.
Finally, in August of 2013, Butterfield felt the product was polished enough to be shared more widely and announced a preview release. The launch amassed a large amount of media attention, and within 24 hours, 8,000 companies had signed up for the service. Two weeks later, that number doubled to 15,000. Slack was an instant hit.
That type of staggering growth, although unprecedented, was an accurate indicator of what was to come. Slack quickly became the fastest growing business-app ever, and was considered a unicorn shortly after its first year. Last September, just four years and a month after the company’s launch, it was valued at over $5B.
How did it all happen? What was different about Slack?
Team Communication For the 21st Century
First and foremost, it was created at the perfect time. Built for the era of mobile phones and short text messages, Slack’s growth coincided with the rising trend of companies operating remotely, and offered a less formal, more user-friendly way of keeping in touch with co-workers.
Around the same time, Microsoft Office, Windows, and seemingly every other tech company that could were churning out new tools left and right. Each trying to better each other. In most cases, the competition was healthy, and the tools themselves evolved greatly. But what was left was a scattered ecosystem of tools and services. The fragmentation led to friction and inefficiency. While the tools themselves had improved, the user-experience was left behind. There was no glue to hold it all together.
Enter Slack, integrating all the tools and housing them all in one place. Twitter. Salesforce. Dropbox. Google docs. You name it, it’s all on Slack.
And when you combine that seamless third-party integration with a thoughtfully-designed interface, full of vibrant and playful colors, and an endless amount of customizable applications like to-do lists, reminders, project management tools, scheduling assistants, and hundreds more, what you get is a communications tool that boosts your productivity tenfold.
Perhaps the biggest reason for Slack’s growth is its customizability. Created for any workplace, the product can be catered to your team or individual needs. Channels can be made for departments, projects, office locations, or whatever you deem fit. If a channel becomes too loud, you can “mute” it. If you need to conduct deep, uninterrupted research, you can activate “Do Not Disturb” mode. You can customize “highlight words” that are important to you so that you are notified every time that word is mentioned – be it your name or an urgent project you’re working on. If you’re going to be busy for the day at work conference, or are going to in a long offline brainstorm, you can set your status to reflect that. Files, images, PDFs, spreadsheets and other documents can be shared in real-time with a simple drag and drop.
In group chats, or “channels”, Slack allows you to overhear conversations, giving you an ambient awareness of work developments that you do not get from email. If you want to share something confidential, you can do so through a private channel or direct message.
Files, images, PDFs, spreadsheets and other documents can be shared in real-time with a simple drag and drop. And everything on Slack, from notifications to links to images, are all searchable so that you can find what you need and find it fast.
Consistently evolving and introducing new features to meet user demands, Slack is delivering on its mission to make people’s working lives simpler, more pleasant, and more productive.
A Behavior Change Revolution
While it may not be obvious on the surface, Slack is one of the leading behavior change companies of our time.
In a medium post, written on his page, Butterfield states the following:
“The best – maybe the only? – real, direct measure of “innovation” is change in human behavior. In fact, it is useful to take this way of thinking as definitional: innovation is the sum of change across the whole system, not a thing which causes a change in how people behave. No small innovation ever caused a large shift in how people spend their time and no large one has ever failed to do so.”
“By that measure,” he goes on to say, “Slack is a real and large innovation”.
And he’s right.
Butterfield knew he couldn’t sell a “group chat system”. People simply wouldn’t buy that. Instead, what Slack sells is “organizational transformation.”
“We’re selling a reduction in information overload, relief from stress, and a new ability to extract the enormous value of hitherto useless corporate archives. We’re selling better organizations, better teams. That’s a good thing for people to buy and it is a much better thing for us to sell in the long run. We will be successful to the extent that we create better teams.”
This is not a one-to-one behavior change. Slack must be sold to companies, both massive and tiny, and everything in between. Companies that adopt Slack are betting on a massive, positive behavior change. They want effortless communication. They want to work more efficiently. They want a business tool that works for them rather than against them, helping them make more inspiring decisions and form more empowering habits.
“We’re asking a lot from our customers. We are asking them to spend hours a day in a new and unfamiliar application, to give up on years or even decades of experience using email for work communication (and abandon all kinds of ad hoc workflows that have developed around their use of email). We are asking them to switch a model of communication which defaults to the public; it is an almost impossibly large ask. Almost.”
The change is both dramatic and far-reaching. We know this to be true because we at DiMassimo Goldstein are a proud member of the Slack revolution.
We weren’t looking to abandon email entirely, but to reduce it, and Slack has done that. We found ourselves having too many meetings, which Slack has helped cut down. The transparent communication makes it the perfect place to review projects as a team, on the go, and from anywhere.
Put simply, it has made our work lives easier and most importantly, it has pushed the work we create to help inspire others forward.
That’s why Slack is our Inspiring Action Brand of the Month!
I recently discovered in reading my copy of The Daily Drucker that I’ve long shared one of Peter F. Drucker’s main management philosophies – the concept of two-track planning.
For decades, I’ve heard the following sentiment.
“We can’t solve your problem because we haven’t done our strategic work yet.”
When I worked at other agencies, I always thought this to be the ultimate bureaucratic blindness.
Building the BRAND while we build the BUSINESS.
This is the core promise of our agency, DiMassimo Goldstein. This is the experience our clients have bought when they’ve bought us.
Not: “First we’ll build the brand, then we’ll build the business.”
Not: “First we’ll build the business, then we’ll build the brand.”
Instead, we do both, and simultaneously. Like you do!
Sometimes this translates as “Building the brand while lowering the cost of acquisition.”
Sometimes it’s “Building the brand while driving sales efficiency.”
Sometimes it’s just “Growing the business and the brand.”
Our clients never wait months to see returns from an agency engagement. We typically deliver measurable revenue within the first 30 days, and we don’t have to sacrifice future success to do it.
Drucker calls this the harmonization of the immediate and long-range future, going on to state that “a manager must, so to speak, keep his nose to the grindstone while lifting his eyes to the hills.”
At DiGo, we call this practice two-track planning, and it’s implemented in everything we do. Imagine two columns on a page, the left titled URGENT and the right titled IMPORTANT.
Some urgent things are truly unimportant, but some we term “The Runway.” The board meeting coming up. The quarterly results reporting. The partner’s meeting.
If a plane doesn’t get aloft by the end of the runway, it doesn’t matter how good the food service and the movie were going to be. There are things you just need in the short run to make the long run possible. Often these things include results. That’s the Runway.
And, we don’t lose our strategic heads. We see the long-term opportunities in urgent problems.
And we manage them both, so that our clients can move forward, paying for tomorrow’s opportunities with today’s wins, all while strategically planting the seeds that ensure growth for the future in a time-starved world.
Let’s talk about inspiring action in the short and long term!
A call to action to people everywhere to direct their attention to the ecological challenges facing our environment. To use this day as an opportunity to adopt new behaviors and habits that benefit our planet, and to ensure that those actions become part of our daily routine moving forward.
No action is too small. No action is insignificant. It is our collective responsibility as humans to be advocates for the protection of our environment, to continue to push the dialogue, and to commit to lifestyle changes that ensure the safety of our planet.
Brands, too, share this responsibility. With large audiences and the ability to captivate, influence, and inspire movements, it is vital that brands create purposeful actions to raise awareness around the many challenges facing our environment, and to implement alternative eco-friendly methods to help solve these issues, in all aspects of their business.
Here are some brands that inspired us by stepping up to the plate on Earth Day this year, reaffirming their commitment to make this planet a better place.
Apple debuted Daisy, a robot that can disassemble iPhones to recover valuable materials, getting one step closer to its goal of making products with only renewable or recyclable materials. Apple is one of the most innovative companies of our time, and inspiring action with inventions like Daisy further stamps their commitment to use technology toward protecting our world’s resources.
Republic Services, the industry-leading sustainable waste disposal company, encouraged its staff, the communities it serves, and its customers to commit to “#1More” action each day to become better at recycling. They released a series of tips to help educate, build awareness, and inspire action in people to recycle properly.
Staples expanded its Electronic Recycling Program to include coffee brewers, and for this entire week, Staples Rewards members who recycle an old coffee brewer at the national retailer can get a $10 coupon for any purchase above $30. Since starting its Electronic Recycling Program, Staples has collected more than 400 million pounds of electronic waste, including ink and toner, which is the weight of roughly 13 Brooklyn Bridges.
Popular outerwear brand The North Face partnered with the National Park Foundation to clean up waste in parks by pulling over 160,000 pounds of single-use plastic bottles and recycling them into “The Bottle Source Collection.” One dollar of every purchase made will be donated back to the parks.
With its new campaign, “Earth Day Every Day,”1 Hotels announced a year-long initiative that will include activations across all properties focused on raising awareness of environmental issues, specifically around saving our shores.
Though not yet an action, ride-sharing service Lyft announced its plans to become completely carbon neutral. If the direct-economy brand can follow through on its promise, millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide can be offset, which would be the equivalent of planting tens of millions of trees or taking hundreds of thousands of cars off the road. It’s a lofty goal, but one that would protect the environment and prevent the continuation of mass pollution dramatically if achieved.
As reported by CNET, home automation producer Nest used Earth Day to make an inspiring promise: to install one million smart thermostats at little or no cost to low-income homes over the next five years. The pledge is part of Nest’s “Power Project,” an initiative aimed toward raising awareness around energy efficiency and consumption.