Welcome to Independent Insights, a regular series that features interviews with independent agency leaders across the country. This week we’re featuring a Q&A with Andrew Lincoln, founding partner and co-creative lead at Work in Progress.
Before opening up Boulder-based Work in Progress last year, the team spent six years at CP+B transforming Domino’s from a laughable, failing pizza chain into a growing company heralded for its quirky innovations, like allowing customers to place orders by tweeting a pizza emoji and inventing customized delivery cars equipped with built-in warming ovens.
While the fledgling agency hasn’t yet experienced Domino’s-level success, it’s managed to attract an eclectic group of clients over the past year while creating boundary-pushing work. Case in point: earlier this year, the agency created the “world’s most remote popup” for materials company 37.5 Technology by installing a cliffside shop on the side of a mountain that handed out jackets and other apparel to climbers.
The agency also recently convinced Nescafe to open up temporary ‘Coffee Taproom’ in Toronto to rival Starbucks, the idea being that it could serve as a social place for people to make their Nescafe instant coffee without having to deal with baristas, overpriced drinks and misspelled names on cups.
As co-creative lead at Work in Progress, Lincoln has played a vital role in shaping the agency’s creative output and direction, much of which is rooted in a philosophy that he and his colleagues honed during their time at CP+B.
“We help companies identify why they actually exist and then really [prove] that out in the world through actions or advertising,” he said. “With Domino’s, we really started with an internal philosophy that we stuck to. It was a filter that we always ran all the work and all the briefs through, even new products through, to gauge what we should be doing as a company.”
The Drum recently caught up with Lincoln to find out more about where Work in Progress is headed, what he looks for when hiring, how the founders are shaping culture at the agency and more.
Considering you experienced so much success with Domino's at CP+B, why did you want to leave?
We kind of started developing our own little philosophy while on the Domino’s account. After awhile we started creating our own process - sort of like an agency within an agency - and we ended up wanting to take that same philosophy outside of Crispin and bring it to more than just the pizza category.
I don't think any of us really wanted to leave nor thought we were going to leave. We were in a great spot there. But getting the success [with Domino's] made us want to leave. After all those great results, we thought it was time to create our own new, modern agency. We all had that entrepreneurial spirit, especially living in Boulder, Colorado, where everyone has a startup. I think it just was something we've always wanted to do in our lives and it felt like the right time to do that.
What role does independence play at Work in Progress?
Independence plays a huge role. The ability to control our destiny is critical and has always been alluring to us. As a new agency, being able to go after the right opportunities that align with our philosophy is important. Too many times agencies are forced to pitch and win business that doesn’t align with an agency’s culture and philosophies. That’s bad for business in the long run, bad for agency culture, bad for the work and bad for the client’s bottom line.
Throughout our careers, we experienced things that we loved about being a part of a holding company and some things we didn’t. And, as we worked together over the years, we found ourselves wanting to evolve how agencies operate and service clients. Being independent gives us that opportunity to now change and even create a new way [an] agency and clients can work together. So many companies have lost trust and faith in long-term relationship with agencies. We feel that it’s even more important now for those relationships.
We plan on being independent forever. We started with the goal to not sell. Because starting a business that’s meant to sell acts and serves clients very differently if they’re in it for the long haul. We want to transform our client’s businesses. We felt like we did some of that in our past lives as a team, and we want to continue doing that for our clients now.
What do you look for when hiring talent?
Besides looking for the obvious traits – talented, self-motivated, non-egotistical and non asshole-ish folks – I personally find myself gravitating to talent that have a passion for some sort of highly intensive sport — like racing bicycles, training for an Ironman, running for a 100 miles for fun, playing on an ice hockey team, or practicing Texas Walker Ranger roundhouses. These people tend to have some very unique personality traits. They obviously know the value of incredibly hard work and perseverance, especially to keep going in the face of tough situations this business can throw at us. They also understand how to be efficient when it comes to working; they know when to put in the really hard efforts to get the best results without wasting time and energy.
On the flip side, they know when to recover when it’s time. Taking a break is just as important as putting in those hard efforts. It’s what keeps them being able to perform at their highest level day in and day out forever, hopefully.
I hope people know that I’m not saying these are the only traits we look for in talent or the only traits that make great creatives. We love the diverse perspectives and lives people have lived, and it’s those traits that make great friends and, of course, employees. We’re always looking for those with a passion for creating something out of nothing.
How are you building and shaping the culture at Work in Progress?
We don’t outright try super hard to create our culture for the sake of creating culture. Our culture just kind of happens organically because of all the very unique personalities we have in the building. Most of us have been friends for awhile, or even worked together in the past, so our culture has this very open, honest and inviting feeling.
There is one thing that has been created for the agency since the beginning that I love: the notion of taking a break for overall wellness. We have a daily hour-and-a-half agency calendar block called 'You Time' for everyone. This guilt-free block of time is meant for people to be able to go for a run if they wanted, take a long lunch, run family errands, learn Spanish, meditate by the lake out our front door, whatever you need to do.
Sometimes, if you don’t block time out for yourself the whole day will pass without taking a moment for yourself. And that’s not good for people, or the work, really. There is point of diminishing returns. To be honest, I am this way. I need breaks during the day to recharge. I need to get on my bike for a bit or just get outside to walk my dog. It’s a part of my process, it’s who I am and is what makes me work more efficiently and more importantly happy. We want the same things for everyone at Work in Progress, overall happiness.
Do you consider ‘experiential’ to be one of the agency’s core capabilities?
I would say we’ve become incredibly knowledgeable with experiential now since the launch of both the Nescafé Coffee Taproom in Canada and the 37.5 Cliffside Shop, as an agency. But I wouldn’t pigeonhole us as an 'experiential' agency or anything like that. Our process is so much about telling a story of why a company passionately exists or stands for. That may mean we need to build a brick and mortar coffee shop for an at-home coffee brand, build an app, a digital platform or a great piece of video content.
As a company, sometimes proving what you believe in means you have to go above and beyond just saying. And right now, experiential has become a great way to do more than just say. So while we have, of late, created what seems like just experiential, it’s actually a way for us to help tell a more meaningful story for our partners to break through their category clutter.
What advice would you give to people who are thinking about starting their own agencies?
I think the biggest piece of advice I can give is that you can't do it yourself, meaning advertising, in general, is a team sport. Sure, ideas can come from one person, but to get it done and to really get it to the best possible place is a team effort. Being able to collaborate with folks to bring your agency to life is very important, so relying on your team and trusting your team is huge.
Indie Influence is supported by Choozle, an independent digital advertising platform.