November 16th, 2015

Four ways to avoid needing a stiff drink after creative presentations

Mortar agency what if

So you want to sweat less in creative presentations in 2016? Here are four things you and your agency could be doing now to make creative development easier and more fun:

1.  Switch the dynamic from vendor to partner

The first thing to consider is how you think about each other.

The big reveal thrives in a client-vendor relationship. It feeds off a competing power dynamic which sets you up as the benevolent dictator, ready to punish the imagination of your agency if they get something wrong. Leading your agency to second-guess their position as your favored supplier. In truth, the vendor dynamic sucks creativity out of the process and the soul out of participants. 

The best people never work for you. They work with you.

Partnership not bondage, cooperation not domination, love not war: ambitious, passionate and ongoing collaboration is the best way to unlock creative freedom and achieve a common goal.

Thinking of your agency as a partner is the first step away from suffering during big reveals.

2. Throw open the doors to new ideas

How many times have we heard it said: great ideas can come from anywhere. But does your agency actually mean it? If your agency’s idea of collaboration is stops at Google Docs, you’ve got a long way to go.

Effective creative groups are built from members with an ability to think broadly together, confident that lunacy will be greeted with warmth and enthusiasm. Agencies build teams just like this all the time: they are called “Creatives” (snarf). But most Creative teams remain walled-off behind Account, separated from you by “the need to push-back” and coddled by a culture deeply suspicious of outside contribution.

That is how Madison Avenue did it. Sadly, it is still how most of our colleagues run their shops.

Given the right conditions, awesome ideas can come from anyone—especially you.

Advertising is the “most fun you can have at work with your clothes on.” And while it’s the reason we all work in agencies, there’s no reason you shouldn’t share in the fun too.

3. Your agency should fit like a glove, and not all gloves fit

If you have made the choice to partner with your agency, evaluating fit becomes an exercise in mutual honesty.

At Mortar, we focus on clients that can thrive in constant and urgent collaboration. We have found that our best clients often have substantial experience with creative development—some of it gained on the agency side. Your agency may be different. Either way, success hinges on being honest about who you can partner with, and who you can’t.

Over the last 18 months, our new focus has helped cut our client roster by almost half. Giving us the chance to focus on clients most willing and able to collaborate. Now we can confidently throw our hearts into sharing ideas early and often.

Isn’t that what we all want?

4. Break the ice (preferably over cocktails)

Lastly, it’s up to you and your agency to break the ice.

This means being upfront about what honesty really means, about what you’re trying to achieve together and why it is so hard. The place to start may very well be over your favorite cocktails—because partners prefer to kick things around in person, not on conference calls.

Breaking the ice means being clear and frank with one another, and holding one another accountable. Good partners make room for feelings (gasp) and don’t point fingers. Partners are kind to one another because they share the same goals and aspirations.

And it also means instead of schmoozing you at fancy dinners, your agency could invite you into impromptu whiteboard sessions designed to squeeze the brief for hidden value and insight.

Great ideas thrive through open, honest and regular collaboration. They shouldn’t be jammed into a box and expected to shine in the dark while they wait for their big reveal.

What do you think? Do you have the courage to change the dynamic and revel in a pool of collaborative goodness with your agency? Does your agency?

Follow our “What If” series here. Join the #WhatIfMortar conversation.

November 2nd, 2015

Autumn brings it all: the colors, the smells and the excitement of Day One

Mortar GGU

Let’s talk about that journey called life for a minute. Because it sure is a winding one, with twists and turns, speed bumps and open roads. There are smiles and tears and heartbreak and joy. But above all, there’s excitement.

Who doesn’t want that journey to mean something?

So, when you enter Golden Gate University, of course you bring it all. And with your peers you become part of a community filled with energy. The first day can be the hardest day, but it’s your day. Flip the switch. And turn your “One Day” into “Day One”.


Mortar GGU

October 15th, 2015

Agencies that Collaborate? No Longer Wishful Thinking

Mortar Agency

Other industries are doing it. Why not creative agencies?

Our post about the perils of the big reveal in creative development has generated some heat.

Most of it positive. But some of it not. Which is cool with us. As long as the discourse is honest we’re all in.

Our position is simple: agencies rely on the big reveal way too much. But it’s about as useful as playing pin the tail on the donkey.

We should (and do) know better. So why aren’t creatives adopting better methods?

Everyone else is.

In software, engineers have turned to agile processes: more uncomfortable human contact, less reputation-shredding big reveals.

How about NIKEiD, bringing co-creation right to the production line.

Or Starbucks, minimizing customer disappointment by tapping right into their grey matter with My Starbucks Idea.

Open innovation, SCRUM, customerization, heck, democracy–they are all different flavors of more open, agile and collaborative ways of working together.

Here are 50 examples of business collaboration published by Co-society—almost 3 years ago. My favorite is how Reebok sought inspiration from Cirque du Soleil for a line of exercise accessories.

We don’t need to be stuck in the dark ages. Let’s steer this conversation towards how agencies and clients can collaborate—like the rest of the world.

Read our original post “The Sucker for Punishment Dilemma” here. Join the #WhatIfMortar conversation.

September 30th, 2015

The Sucker for Punishment Dilemma…

What if your creative agency is working with(out) you?

If your agency works for you, why do you feel anxious in a creative presentation?

When you’re excluded from the development of your agency’s big creative presentation, there’s little wonder they’ll miss the mark 80% of the time (by our estimates). And often spectacularly.

Yet, for some inexplicable reason the industry not only accepts this, but glorifies the process too (obligatory Mad Men references here, here and here).

The agency business is addicted to this big reveal—the final, much anticipated unveiling of a creative solution after weeks of frenzied hibernation. A presentation that leaves you, the client, in awe and the agency bursting with pride—one in five times.

We think that a business practice that keeps you at arm’s length and delivers less than satisfactory results, is broken. Here’s why:


Remember six weeks ago, when you sat down with your creative agency and poured your heart out. You spoke of dreams and hopes. You spoke of where you are and where you’re going; the very essence of your brand and business.

Then you left, feeling confident that your briefing would translate into work that would knock your socks off. After all, an advertising agency takes the reins of your business in a very significant way—they help determine how the world will see you. Socks had better damned well be knocked off.

Today, after several nights of lost sleep and with a very expectant boss breathing down your neck, you’re back in the conference room about to see the fruits of your agency’s labor—the big reveal so to speak.

Boom. The curtains rise and your heart sinks.

It’s not that they have missed the point. Far worse. It’s that they’ve done a spectacular job at missing the point. Amazing, but not what you need…


Herein lies the fundamental flaw in our beloved big reveal—the process ensures that instead of collaboration, we instead go our separate ways, and attempt to reconcile the outcomes in the end.

The client-agency relationship is almost uniquely separated. In what other areas do you associate creativity and innovation with notions of isolation and separation over collaboration and teamwork? Yet agencies adhering to flawed processes still insist on a closed-curtain approach when working with(out) their clients.

We all love a good ta-da moment, but we have yet to meet someone who wants to be surprised when the bottom line, is on the line.

So what is the true cost of a failed creative (anti)climax?


A failed big reveal often costs money, but always costs time.

The human cost of the big reveal is collateral damage that is seldom considered, and it occurs on both sides of the equation. On the agency side, significant energy is spent creating impactful work in short periods of time. Each time your agency falls short, enthusiasm and passion die little deaths. And you, on the other hand, become increasingly anxious as the luxury of time begins to dwindle. Deadlines draw nearer, and the opportunity costs of delay start to pile up.

Agencies work with you, often at some of the most critical times in business, and you know this better than anyone. The irony of using a flawed and non-collaborative process in such circumstances should not be lost on anyone.


Business is a process in constant flux, yet the big reveal demands the business problem remains “static” while the agency is away developing their ideas.

Several weeks of small changes—none of which on their own are significant, but taken together represent a significant alteration in course—may put you and your agency in very different places on the big day. On top of this, nobody knows your business as well as you do. So why would you allow yourself to sit on the sidelines waiting to be dazzled by a dog and pony show?

Your voice is most important during the process. The big reveal fails because it puts you in a passive position rather than a partnering one.

Who’d like to gamble their career on a one in five shot, especially when there’s a better way?


My high-school English teacher once told me the best way to improve your essay is to find your best sentence and remove it. The same holds true of creative agencies. We have grown to revere this exercise in agency chest thumping, and all its excitement, drama and intrigue as essential in an agency-client relationship.

It’s not.

But you come to agencies precisely because we are not you. We see the world in a different way, and we do surprise and delight. So how do we make sure that magic isn’t lost?

At Mortar we like to ask what if. A lot. It’s going to be a worthwhile journey. You’re invited. Have a beer, stay a while, you like bacon right?


Mortar’s What If is an exploration into the alternative. We know the traditional agency-client model is broken, but what if it were different? Contribute to the conversation #whatifmortar

September 29th, 2015

So, it has come to this! How to send an agency an RFP.

As an agency we’re always excited to see a request for proposal darken our inboxes.

Some of them are even well written, informative, and give you an idea of how well-suited your services might be to the sender’s needs.

So imagine the honor we felt to receive 102 pages of fun today from the City of San Francisco. All for us? #Blessed

Oh, what’s that? You’ve CC’d 20 other of the city’s finest agencies as well… #MixedFeelings