12 Things I’ve Learned Running an Ad Agency

Written by Patricia Buchholtz | November 12, 2020


Happy Anniversary lookthinkmake! Here is a look back from 2008 to today, twelve years of building brands that build community – bookended with recessions. What have we learned since launch? It’s not what I expected, that’s for sure.

1. Focusing on community is the best guiding light

When we make brands and campaigns, or websites, or pitch stories to journalists, we spend time thinking about community. Who are we serving? Why do they need or want it? How does it help?

This is what every good agency should do. But we also like to look at the community of vendor-partners that we work with, the community that our clients work among, the community of our coworkers and our families.

We try so hard to lead with work-life balance so that we, as a community, can experience this life that we are hoping to influence.

2. Worrying over the outcome makes the process filled with anxiety

Of course we want to do good work, but worrying about whether it will be good is a feeling best to avoid.

The process of creation takes time, needs room to breathe, is iterative and collaborative. If you give the process the space and time that it needs, the outcome will be fantastic. No worries.

3. Losing can sometimes (often) be a good thing

Sometimes we don’t get selected by a potential client and that’s ok. We are learning that as long as we put our best selves forward, then the right clients will be drawn to us.

We have enjoyed working with some incredible people that have become dear friends. We think of that as a good thing.

4. Kindness and humor are actually best friends

The ugly humor that uses terrible aspects of people in order to mock? It’s actually not necessary. But the cathartic humor that finds truth in humanity and sheds a smile on it so that we can accept our flaws and relax around our imperfections – that’s straight up kindness.

5. You can hurt other people without meaning to

Yep, we all do it. It’s a terrible feeling for all involved. Learn to apologize, and really – learn to forgive yourself. Then try not to do it again.

6. Doing uncomfortable things can be extremely enjoyable

Ok, I love this one. It’s hard on the non-designers and the introverts. But we do a year-end recap presentation that we call Pecha Kucha – fondly named after the better-than-a-Ted-Talk event that is held throughout the world.

Each LTMer presents their perspective on a series of questions. It’s soul-touching. I have laughed, cried, groaned, been dumbstruck, and deeply reflected. I rewind my life on Pecha Kucha moments from time to time.

7. Gifts from the heart don’t have to be fancy to be meaningful

With each of us keeping our distance, this struck me deeply this year. For my birthday I received a handmade set of simple bead bracelets that I wear almost everyday.

They are bright and fun and have an amazing message that suits me perfectly. I’m wearing them now.

8. Flexibility is critical to positive outcomes

Good heavens, if this isn’t the truth. How many times have we had to change our plans in order to make it day to day in 2020?

Our office is now fully remote. Great. With new technology to support that. Great. With family members also in our workspace. Great(?) With a little dash of fear whizzing around us. Great(?) We be always ready to help someone else. That’s the rule for 2020 – hopefully beyond.

Lifting as we climb is lovely, but these days, it can feel like grabbing onto your sidekick’s arm to keep them from falling as the bridge breaks mid-crossing.

We are all on that bridge, so keep grabbing arms. We will get back to climbing in a minute.

9. Success is personal

Keeping this in mind is tricky. Tracking the success of my coworkers, clients, vendor partners, nevermind friends (which often have the same titles listed already) and family.

Success might be financial for some, but it might be completely unrelated to money. Take a minute to find out – who knows, your success might be their success.

10. Index cards can lead to revelations

My kids shared an idea with me that I admit I haven’t tried but still keep in mind. Make a Good Side and a Not-So-Good side on an index card.

When you say something to someone, notate if it was good or not-so-good. At the end of the day, take a look at your output.

Were you nice in your words to others or not so nice? It means my mom was also correct. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

11. Leave money on the table

I had a client once tell me that leaving money on the table was just an investment in the relationship. That told me alot about him, and also about how to view our work and the money we make.

I believe that doing great work will lead to prosperity (and revenue) for all involved and I seek to make that my mission daily.

12. Wash your own dishes

Relationships, food, room officemates, frustrations, arguments – we have it all at lookthinkmake. It’s fascinating to read marriage self-help books (you know, for a friend) and then constantly realize that everything in it actually applies to people at work.

Celebrate the wins, forgive yourself and others for mistakes, and please, wash your own dishes.

13. Baker’s Dozen

There are few things that truly matter in life. In 100 years our world will be very different. Sean and I and everyone at lookthinkmake will have passed on.

It may seem macabre to keep this in mind, but it’s one thing that actually motivates me. What really, truly matters? It’s the people that we love and care about.

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that love extends to you. Yep, even you, copyeditor. If it weren’t for this core belief, we wouldn’t be doing this work.

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