There are a lot of agencies out there. What makes Fact & Fiction different?
Hopefully that we work hard to deeply understand challenges so that we can actually solve business problems. When I was on the client side, there were so many times when I was getting these proposals from agencies that had nothing to do with my problem - they hadn’t listened to me at all, they hadn’t tried understanding my business, my category or my specific challenge. We pride ourselves on really listening—actively listening—to clients to understand the complexities of the problems they face before considering a possible solution.
We truly want to bring value to every relationship touchpoint, and ultimately add value to our clients or our clients’ customers— who are actually the ultimate customers. We try hard to be the agency that showcases how much we care through being mindful and thoughtful about where we are spending our energy. The best way to add value is to actually listen, be empathetic and then deliver a unique combination of strategy and creative solutions.
Takeaway: Listen (no—really, actually listen) to your clients. They’ll be much more inclined to return the favor.
We talk a lot about “caring more” than anyone else. What does that mean to you?
Active listening. Not going in and knowing what you want to do, but going in and understanding that you’ve been hired to solve a problem. And caring about that problem; thinking about that particular client beyond just our role in their challenge and understanding that they are a person with a career and a team and boss.
Remembering that at the end of the day, caring counts. We have to care deeply about the work. About the client. About their business problems. About the consumers. It’s hard to measure and quantify, but easy to feel. The client has trusted us with their reputation - that’s no small thing, and we need to do whatever it takes to reward the trust placed in our team.
Takeaway: People are people. That’s obvious in life, but in business, it can be really easy to forget.
What does success look like for this agency?
Making meaningful, business-changing work for our clients. I want talking to our team to be the highlight of our clients’ day.
Coming in with energy, having fun every day and working on things we care about. I want everyone doing work that’s valuable to them. And recognition - not in the form of awards or PR but in terms of inbounds or referrals through reputation and word of mouth.
Takeaway: Drink more Red Bull and stay curious.
Why did you get into this business?
I was a classic high school newspaper and debate nerd—I loved research and finding the “silver bullet” that was going to solve some kind of problem. I had four different majors before I followed my brother into an advertising class and suddenly it just clicked. It was all the things I loved, rolled into one: pop culture, media, problem solving, everything.
I never wanted to do anything else. I was always good at making things, so I chose the industry that would let me do that as much as possible.
Takeaway: Zach was a nerd. So was Kyle. Passionate, problem-solving nerds.
What is the biggest pain point in client/agency relationships?
Misaligned goals. Great agencies get fired all the time while doing wonderful work because if you don’t have the same values, goals and respect for each other, the work doesn’t really matter.
Takeaway: Great work that doesn’t solve the client’s problem isn’t actually great at all.
Innovation happens so fast in the digital space. How can clients keep up?
By focusing on the big idea - the connection with people first and how it comes to life second. Great insight and storytelling will never become obsolete. There are more channels and outputs now than ever, but don’t let your brand be led by tactics. It’s easy to get caught up in “I need this widget” or “that thing” and all of a sudden you’ve forgotten it’s about the story you’re telling. Brands don’t need to tell more stories, they need to tell the right stories.
Chasing the “how” will only get you so far. Organizations always ask “should I invest in Snapchat?” But it’s what Kyle is saying—it’s the “what” you pump into it that will never change about the business. If you aren’t good at that it won’t matter.
Takeaway: Create the concept first, then choose the medium. And don’t confuse the two.
Can there be great creative without a great strategy?
No, truly great creative is always strategic. Fact & Fiction has been constructed in a way that our work will always combine these two disciplines.
I think there has been good creative without a traditional “planner” attached to it, but that creative was inherently driven by insight. There’s never been any good creative without insight in it. It’s either there or it’s not.
Takeaway: A great (or just plain expensive) execution will never make up for lack of insight.
What makes a strategy powerful?
Truth and simplicity. To me, a good joke is just a truth presented in an interesting way. It’s a compression of all the stuff in life we intuitively understand but don’t think about - where you have the involuntary “yep, that’s it.” That’s powerful.
Strategy and insight are two different things. Strategy can be tactical - insight is what we’re after. Insight, when properly paid off, makes you feel something.
Takeaway: If the insight involuntarily wrenches your heart, boggles your mind, or shakes the rafters with your laughter, you’ve struck gold.
Do people hate advertising?
No, but they hate terrible advertising and there’s a whole lot of it. We use the term “value exchange” a lot; if you’re going to interrupt someone’s post-season baseball game or Dancing with the Stars, then you’d better make it worth it.
Takeaway: Don’t interrupt, invite. “Impressions” aren’t always a good thing, especially if you’re just trying to force-feed your customers.
We hear a lot about failure as an industry mantra. Is failure essential to success?
If you aren’t pushing yourself and taking chances by doing something that could fail, you’re not doing it the right way. Having courage and pushing beyond your comfort zone is mandatory for success and sometimes the output of that may look like failure, but I’d rather be in that space than be comfortable.
Takeaway: Failure isn’t failure, it’s just learning.
How will Fact & Fiction impact the industry?
I hope we can contribute to our industry by making honest, clever work. I want to be an agency that is operating under best of intentions and honestly seeking some sort of truth that we can connect between consumers and brands. I’d rather have ten passionate customers around a brand than a hundred people that buy once and never return.
It’d be cool for me if we elevated the understanding of what an agency can do so that it wasn’t always marketing departments that hire us. That an operations department would see the value we add, an HR department or an IT department. To be able to shift that classic “marketing is a cost center” mentality would be the impact I would like to have.
Takeaway: Agencies should solve problems, not create them. Sorry, Mad Men.
What makes an ideal client?
Someone that has passion for what they do. Who’s willing to be open to what solution can look like. Someone who wants to play offense. And pays their bills on time.
Courage. It can be scary to make work that’s going to move the needle. We empathize with the tough jobs that clients face, but hope our insight and data-driven creative can help bridge the “gut feeling” gap.
Takeaway: Mutual trust means we can build something great together. Just make sure you trust fall towards us.
What vertical holds the most potential for Fact & Fiction?
With the right type of client relationship, you can do great work in any category.
Stereotypically “boring” clients are underserved and get B or C-team effort when they don’t deserve it. It can be really rewarding work because they’ve been underserved for so long. Like finance—there’s so much bad work being done in that category, but so much emotion to play with. When you’re talking to a person about his or her money, they pay attention, but there’s so much bad work that barely touches any of it. We’re fluent enough in that space where we can be additive.
Takeaway: When you talk to people about what really matters to them, it’s never boring.
If this agency could be known for one thing, what would it be?
The agency that’s known for putting clever work in the world that resonates with people. Not because it’s the biggest or most polished but because it’s smart and it’s right. You see it and say “I wish I had that idea—it’s so obvious.” I’d love to be known for that.
I’m the same way. I think it’s creating work of meaning, big or little, and indifferent of category.
Takeaway: People being jealous of you is a really nice compliment.
Hey, we’re glad you made it this far. As a reward for sticking with us, you’re welcome to ask Zach and Kyle anything* that’s still spiking your curiosity. Just send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get right back to you.
*don’t bother asking for credit card numbers or anything like that. Trust me, I’ve tried, and they’ve yet to fall for it.