Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mutt Fun Day, round 2

I love people–watching. I've watched for almost 23 years. It's how I learned invaluable lessons like riding a bicycle or pretending to listen and not–so–important lessons like where to hold my arms while standing for long periods of time. By watching others, I learn everything they know about what it is they're doing. This is how I reassure myself when trying something new and possibly humiliating or dangerous. For the most part, watchers watch and rarely do — we leave doing to those less afraid of making mistakes than ourselves. As a watcher, I never did anything without fully understanding the possible consequences, effectively eliminating all sports and outdoor activities for me early on. Imagine my surprise when I found myself holding a paddle in swimming trunks and a life vest on a raft — for fun.

I've only been a mutt for three months, but I've spent a majority of my time watching the other mutts and I thought I had them pretty much figured out. I knew that there were some who enjoyed light hikes and short camping trips, I didn't peg anyone as extremely adventurous or very athletic (I mean, this is a creative agency). Like most companies, Mutt has an annual fun day, sometimes a fun trip. Last year, the mutts went to Palm Springs for pool–side entertainment. The year before that, they threw a huge anniversary party at Beast in Portland. I was thrilled to find out where we were going for this year's real fun day (we already had a "fun day" that turned out to be an all staff meeting at Cromer's house) as soon as the email from Cheryl popped up in my inbox. Anxiety quickly replaced my joy when I read over the word "rafting" in the subject line. Rafting? The only other time I went rafting was at DIsneyland and I didn't even like it. I couldn't understand everyone else's excitement, I was terrified. What if I fall in? Or get lost? How should I wear my hair?

By the time rafting day came around, my nerves had come to a head. No amount of watching could have prepared me for +3 to +4 rapids that kicked our asses. The water was cold, my nose was sunburnt and no one stayed dry. Surprisingly enough, I did not fall in, get lost or care too much about my hair (only after the first water splashing fight). Even more of a surprise to me was that someone called me "athletic–looking" out on the water, literally the last adjective I'd use to describe myself. Getting out of the studio and onto the river with the mutts for a day was truly an experience — one I am glad I jumped into without over–analyzing and we all got to see my adventurous side, which almost never happens. Although we seemed a little hesitant toward rafting day at first, we all had a blast blowing off steam with water fights, paddle races and cliff diving in good company. Also, I am clearly an awesome rafter and might have found a new favorite pastime.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Controlled Chaos

Around midnight

I often wonder if this is just how advertising works or if there is a special brand of controlled chaos here at Mutt.  Take a new business pitch as example; I’ll try to describe what I witness.  Now, I’m a bit of a spectator to the process since I deal in money & operations here but I think this gives me a unique perspective and a 40,000-foot view if you will.

Initially, when we learn of a new lead there is generally an air of skepticism, either having to do with how real the prospect seems to be or our odds of landing the business.  There is always a warm up period, it’s kind of like needing to psyche each other up to go for it.  Questions, doubts, reinforcements etc.  But once we get there, watch out.

This is where the controlled chaos starts; it’s all hands on deck.  Research goes crazy, finding all kinds of interesting (and sometimes not so interesting) information on the category, the business, the players, the target – everything.  Here’s my first moment of wonder in the process.  So many questions start flying around; good questions, thought provoking questions, silly questions, stupid questions.  It becomes fun and everyone’s opinion is listened to.  The entire agency participates, including myself.  It’s pretty amazing that out of the opinions of 20 people comes that 1 nugget, the truth of what we believe will set this client up for success if they’re only smart enough to listen to us.  And what’s interesting is that there is a mind shift here, the prospect hasn’t chosen us, but we begin considering them our client.  You have to when you’re that deep & committed.

And now the hard part. The late nights start, the tense situations arise, tempers get a little edgy, empty wine & liquor bottles are all over the kitchen in the morning.  We have to take our truth and make it come to life and come to life in inspiring ways.  Make the client see why this is going to work and how it’s going to work.  So many options and creative ideas are generated. The conference room is littered with ideas on the wall, ideas in a pile on the floor. The distillation down to 2 -3 pathways is hard and again, I wonder at the collaboration & intelligence that gets us there.

And it always comes down to the wire; the team is here late into the night & up until the night before the pitch.  This isn’t laziness or true chaos; It’s passion.  There is so much passion to do this right, every detail is thought about.  How do we knock their socks off?  The presentation deck is done & re-done & re-done.  The ideas are refined & elaborated on.  There is always some doubt that we’ll finish in time and that we’ll have everything fleshed-out, but I’ve never seen us go in unprepared.  In the end, it comes together and is amazing.

This is my biggest take away – I work with passionate, crazy intelligent, fun-loving, hard working perfectionists.  It’s impossible to avoid controlled chaos when you’re dealing with Mutt.