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Updated: Feb 11, 2019

Being a startup means stepping away from one club and joining another. Go to any shared office space, and the people who broke away to forge their own identities are there, huddling together and becoming part of another group.

The startup crowd. The non-conformists spinning off and finding each other in the same whirlpool together.

There’s talk of disruption. Innovation. Elevator pitches. And niches. Gotta have one of those. What’s your deal? What do you do that’s different than everybody else? Does your company pass the toothbrush test? How do you attract investors?

These are all well-intentioned questions. Answering them makes you sharper, more viable. And maybe we’ll have great answers to those in the coming weeks. But for right now, we’re all about proving ourselves. Defining ourselves will come soon enough.

We’re asking questions about what we believe in. What kind of agency do we want to be? What kind of clients do we want to work with? What kind of co-workers do we want to be around? Should we get the cheap Ikea desks? Or the cheaper Ikea desks?

A sneak preview.

So far, we’ve come up with a handful of notions that we’ve learned, aspired to or always wanted for ourselves and the company we keep. Let us know what you think, and feel free to share your own thoughts with us. Idealism is more fun when shared.


THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS A DULL ASSIGNMENT. In our past lives, we’ve worked on just about every kind of assignment imaginable. But we take special pride in turning the work that nobody else wants, or the brief with the tiny budget, or the impossible request into the Cinderella of the ball.

Take Peter’s work for rental reimbursement coverage at Rodgers Townsend.

Peter didn’t write the song, but I like to tell people he did.

The request was to gussy up a small segment of the business by building a presentation for insurance brokers to use as a sales tool. What’s rental reimbursement? You probably didn’t know (or had an errant guess) before you watched that video Peter created with Kay Cochran. Now, you’ll never forget.

And here’s a little experiment I took on with art director Steve Brumm to see if people would actually respond to something as mundane as a garage sale poster.

Turns out, they did, and I decided to stick around the advertising business.

RESPONSIVENESS MATTERS. This is a client service thing. And while we don’t hang our hats on being yes-people, we do put ourselves in a position to always be ready. Jeff Goodby referred to creativity as a constant state of readiness. We love that.

We work closely, in both physical space and communication. And when one of our clients has a need or a question, we aim to respond quickly and thoughtfully. We want them to think, “Wow. That was quick. How’d they do that?” We also want to show that we’re more than prepared to take the next leap with them.

STRONG WORK BEGETS MORE WORK. It doesn’t matter how fast you make something if you don’t make a difference. We need to stay focused on what’s in front of us, make the most of it, and make sure it punches well above its media weight.

Then, we have to do it again the next time, so we have more next times.

CHARITY IS WORTHY; OTHER THAN THAT, NO FREEBIES. There are sexy assignments out there that many agencies would take on pro bono. Not only can we not afford to do that, but we also can’t expect a client to trust us if they don’t see the need to invest in our thinking. Skin in the game makes decisions meaningful and partnership essential.

CREATE WHEN NO ONE IS LOOKING. Working under pressure is a blast. Ideas come that you didn’t know you had. But we don’t wait for pressure. We start thinking way down the road in our first meeting. Before we have preconceptions, we have concepts. And we don’t let off the gas.

Over the years, we’ve learned that you’ll never have all of the information you want, and deadlines rarely move back. Again, we stay ready, so we can work efficiently and prolifically—if that’s a word.

A GREAT SOMETHING IS BETTER THAN A PERFECT NOTHING. This really applies to starting a company. Back to refining your purpose and putting your sales pitch on a cocktail napkin, sometimes you have to move forward. Chris Gardner emphasized this when we created the #AGILITYIS campaign.

If you get a chance to see Chris speak, do it.

THE WORLD RESPECTS SECOND-GUESSERS. BUT IT REWARDS FIRST-GUESSERS. My good friend, who is in the time-sensitive construction industry, says it better than I can, “Let’s make a plan to deviate from.” It’s true. Until you put something on paper, you can’t revise it. Likewise, until you launch a social media campaign, you don’t know if people will love it or crap all over it.

CREDIT IS MORE VALUABLE WHEN GIVEN. Our industry has more awards than a tee ball banquet. But standing up to take your own bow is fulfilling for exactly as long as it takes to stand back up. We see our job as making brands more endearing, and in turn, getting promotions for our clients. The rest is gravy. (And yeah, gravy is delicious. Awards are fun. But we want to win them as a byproduct of otherwise successful work.)

CONTENT IS FOR BOTS. This is more of a peeve than a belief, but we unanimously don’t love the term “content” when it comes to what we do. Might as well call it “filler” or “lorem ipsum.” We want to create gut reactions. We want to forge lasting bonds.

Placeholder copy and FPO imagery aren’t worth the pixels they occupy.

Not a lot to love here.

WE WILL BEND OVER BACKWARDS FOR OUR CLIENTS. BUT NOT FORWARDS. We want to lock arms with people who seek to grow and make a difference. And we will strive together to reach our shared goals. We won’t, though, “take one for the team this time around” in hopes that we will get more respect on the next assignment. No one wins at that game. And excuses make for boring case studies.

A HEALTHY LIFE LEADS TO HEALTHY CREATIVE THINKING. While we are dedicated to our work, we have to keep replenishing the well with more experiences to draw from.

We don’t subscribe to the Lorne Michaels school of applying pressure to make the diamonds. Maybe we should. He’s been fairly successful. But in our experience, we think we come up with the best ideas when we don’t overpromise or overextend. We have to be honest with ourselves. Then, we can be honest in our work.

This is our current office space, where ideas and ideals ricochet like racquetballs. And conference tables fold in half.

CELEBRATE ALONG THE WAY. Brian Brooker reminded us, when he spoke at the Ad Professionals Summit, that you have to appreciate incremental victories in order to fortify yourself for the inevitable setbacks. So, we placed a bell in the middle of our conference room card table. Any time something good happens, we ring it. Referral? Ring the bell. New inquiry? Hit that thing. A new blog post? Maybe.

That’s what we’ve got so far. Surely we’ll come up with more. Or we’ll look back and shake our heads at how naïve we were. But hey, that’s kind of our thing right now.

It’s tempting.


Darling Makery is a brief-to-life creative resource based in Saint Louis. With specialties in brand development and campaign launch, we bring high-level talent upstream in the problem-solving process. Darling approaches assignments for local and regional brands with entrepreneurial heart and humble craftsmanship. All with the goal of engendering brand preference. We love you more.


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