A Fortnight for Example

Free beer, no assholes

It’s a phrase Shineboxers know well and use often.

Partly because it’s punchy and memorable. Sprinkled with logos, pathos, and ethos. (The Greeks would’ve loved it.) Mostly, however, because it’s one of our core values.

And it’s taken seriously.

FBNA is more than rotating beer taps and zero tolerance for micro aggression. “It’s literal, but also figurative,” Shinebox Founder & Visionary Randy Larson explains. “It’s about hiring the kind of people who don’t really need rules.” Trust. Accountability. Understanding. This is what we ask of Shineboxers when they come aboard.

And it’s something our leadership team demands of itself, too. It makes sure FBNA (and our other core values) act as cultural drivers, spurring progressive change at all levels of our work. And it started with not working.


PTO: Please take off

At the beginning of the year, Shinebox assembled a new leadership team to take the business in bold new directions. One of the first changes the team made was to implement an unlimited PTO policy, feeling it aligned closely with FBNA.

“There’s your work life, personal life, and sleep life,” Randy said. “You have to get enough of those three things. Not only to sustain yourself, but to feel fulfilled, to feel loved and to recharge your brain. Unlimited PTO gives our team the tools to help balance those three equal parts.”

Shinebox is certainly not the first to implement unlimited PTO. Job postings advertising unlimited vacation policies rose 178% between 2015 and 2019 with adoptees citing flexibility, retention, and reduced administrative work as major benefits. Even still, there were concerns about potential downsides for Shinebox. Though the downsides are slightly counterintuitive.

“Studies show that employees by and large do not abuse unlimited PTO policies,” CEO Jason Cook said. “In fact, quite the opposite is found; employees don’t take as much PTO as they should. And that’s a problem.”



The fortnight, unlimited PTO’s chill cousin

We’ve defined FBNA, an essential Shineboxism. Let’s crack open the dictionary once more. The Fortnight, noun, is a yearly two-week vacation Shineboxers are strongly encouraged to take.

E.g., “Bobby used his Fortnight to go camping in Banff with his two little kids Sally and Bob, Jr.” Now we’ve established what The Fortnight is, let’s dive in. Why two weeks?

The thinking goes: two weeks allows enough time to step away from work, enjoy your time off, and get back into the swing of things. It’s not too short. Not too long. It’s just the right amount of time to recharge.

“The Fortnight gives people permission,” according to Tiffany Hahnfeldt, our Director of Operations. “Two weeks gives you an opportunity to get away from work long enough to rest and reset.”

And what if the thought of two whole weeks away from work is too much to bear? Don’t take it. Remember the thing about rules? The Fortnight is a tool in your PTO toolbox. If taking a few days every month is best, that’s just fine.

Our ECD Ross Phernetton puts it another way. ”No one should be so important that they can’t be gone for two weeks. That’s the hidden benefit; it fosters trust and shared accountability.” Shineboxers know that co-workers have their back while they’re gone. The no-vacation martyr who needs to feel like the linchpin—need not apply.


Core Values: Having them vs. living them

You’ve probably heard about, or worked for, companies whose core values are meaningless, empty statements. Written on a wall, or in a handbook, or alluded to in an all-hands meeting.

It’s refreshing to have joined a company where core values are continually applied to policies, and where leadership looks to employees for input on work preferences. The Fortnight is proof of that.

So while it’s clear where the agency is headed, I just need to figure out where I’m going for fourteen days straight. :0

Stop asking your agency for 3 ideas

I like focus groups

Not because I find them scientifically effective, but because I’m fascinated by the people. During these long sessions I find myself wondering about the participant’s secret agenda. Are they in a state of mind that represents where they will be when they see our advertising in the real world? Is their cousin in marketing? Maybe that’s why they feel qualified to tell us what the strategy should be? Or do they just sense the power and voice they’ve been given?

For decades, agencies large and small have been training clients to abdicate decision-making. Nearly every agency you can think of walks into their client’s conference room (or more likely Zooms in) with a three-headed monster in tow: three options with not much of a choice. It’s time to reject that and expect your agency to get it right, once. Not right once and wrong twice.


The illusion of choice feels empowering

Think about it. You’re asking your agency to waste 66% of their time, energy and budget on concepts you have no intention of using. The Frankensteining of ideas and waste of time aren’t even the worst parts. It’s that your agency only spends a third of their time on the right concept—the recommendation. The rest of their efforts go into playing the game. You know the one. There are several variations of this game of “choice,” but here’s a common one, The Straw Dog.

Campaign A is the safe bet to get you nodding. Campaign B is the out-there concept that’s just meant to make Campaign C (the recommendation) safe by comparison. A lot of agencies spend as much time strategizing on how to force your choice as they do on the actual strategy. Everyone plays the game, and nobody talks about it.

Escape the false choice trap

Demand One Idea. I know this may sound counter-intuitive or even crazy. But starting in 2017, we tossed aside the multi-concept approach at Shinebox. We may explore many strategies, but we present one creative concept. We’ve iterated and improved our method over time. We call it the BrandBuilder, and it works.

It works because we spend more time in strategy—what we call the Brand Story or the brief. It may take several versions, but we don’t stop until we have alignment with the client, right down to the legal department if need be. This preserves dollars and the creative energy of the agency. We can then invest in a richer creative product because we’re focused on a single concept. This concept can be delivered with a bolder vision and with more activations—which are much better suited to qualitative comms checks than campaign directions.


It takes confidence

The less confidence you have in your agency, the more ideas you’ll want to see. The less confidence you have in your organization’s ability to make a decision, the more likely you’ll outsource those decisions to testing—the results of which are often inconclusive.

I have two suggestions for building confidence. Firstly, move faster. The more time you spend developing multiple ideas and testing them — the more pressure and external validation you’ll want. Plus, markets and culture are moving faster than ever.

Secondly, don’t let mistakes become toxic. If your culture doesn’t tolerate mistakes, there will be no risk taking. Multiple creative options inevitably lead teams to mitigate risk by choosing the option perceived as safer, without considering that maybe the riskier option is the more conservative one. Risk is foundational to building a brand and a business.

The One Idea is better financially for our clients. And we’ve never had a client ask for the “other concepts.” We’ve seen double digit increases to a client’s market share in a single year. And we’ve seen continued annual growth after five years.

We have clients who recommend us to other marketers. Not only because of their success, but also because they’ll never have to choose from three incomplete concepts again. Many smart and creative people are spending two-thirds of their career on work that will die as an animatic in an office park outside of Pittsburgh. There’s a better way. Try it, and tell us all about it.

If your brand isn’t loved by your customers, does it still exist?

Shifting focus to the customer

We come across many different forms of brand strategy in the work we do with clients. We’ve seen brand pyramids, brand matrices, brand promises, and brand stories. The result of these brand strategies is a focus on what the brand does for the audience. They may state things like “We provide the…” or “We inspire more….” WE, WE, WE. Most do contain some form of audience insight but fail to tap into a more powerful shared experience.

Building a compelling brand

A disruptive, strong, growth-oriented brand results because the customers of the brand make it so. It is not the brand’s words that create the success. It is the customers relationship, loyalty and love of the brand that allows the brand to exist. This makes me wonder why more marketers don’t obsess over their audiences and customers.

Why is audience obsession important?

Because all the product features in the world don’t mean a thing if the customer doesn’t realize the value the product provides for them. So, every company needs to become intimate with what drives their customers. And then speak directly to the shared values between the two groups.

We’ve learned about the role of customer insights during our discovery phase. We’ve seen the value of finding what matters most to our client’s customers. We’ve condensed these findings into a Brand Story.

When we develop the Brand Story it’s not a quick meeting. It takes time because we’re defining what will become the “Truth” for our client. We need to absorb everything we learn and get the brand right. Not just in messaging and imaging, but as a foundation for how the organization lives and presents itself at every level.

Relationship over disruption

When our client digests the audience insights & shared values from discovery, we start identifying opportunities for audience-based disruption. For a genuine relationship. This is important. While disruption has been a buzzword for a while, it can’t just be disruption for disruption’s sake. At Shinebox we’ve made a business out of finding audience-based disruption. This means that what and why we’re doing something will resonate directly with our client’s customers in an entirely new and meaningful way.

It can’t just be disruption for disruption’s sake.

Building a better strategy brief.

The end result of a Shinebox Brand Story Brief is something you could hand to your barber or barista to read and they would be able to know what a brand is about. It can’t be a long report, but a straightforward 1-to-2-page summation that serves as the compass for the rest of the brand identity.

  • There’s no fluff, no alteration, no catchy phrases – just strategy, honesty and clarity.
  • The “Truth”- the point of being beyond interpretation.
  • The Brand Story leads to the Brand Platform, or what we like to refer to as the funfest version of the brand story. The Brand Story gives us the skeleton – now we get to put skin on it. More about that in my next post.
  • Is your brand truly loved by your customers? If we build this relationship like we build others in our life, then the answer should be heart-felt!

Explore more

This is part two of a four-part series on building brands and the Shinebox Disruption methodology. We will explore how audiences and their values become a catalyst for disruption. And how disruption can build brands that build business winners.

How a love of video games & motorcycles built a B2B brand

Part I: Finding disruption in all the right places.

At a recent discovery meeting there was a lengthy discussion about our manufacturing client’s audience. The audience was assembly line managers, and the assumption was that productivity, time and quality were what these stakeholders valued. All of which I am sure are true… and conveniently these values seem to match the benefits of our clients’ product.

But these attitudes were related ONLY to the workday itself. What about the other two-thirds of their lives? What are they passionate about? What did they have in common that would make them stand out from others in management?

A fresher view of your customers' lives

So we began to look outside of the steady beat of the workday. They were young, mostly male, loved video games, motorcycles (a specific type) AND career advancement. Much more interesting! And the resulting campaign was unexpected, authentic and effective.

This experience was typical of what I found going through a few of our most successful clients. For our highest performing brands, it wasn’t about the amount of disruption, but about WHERE the disruptive opportunities seemed to surface.

Discovery. Not strategy. Not creative. Discovery.

Rewriting category priorities

At another discovery meeting a secondary stakeholder said — almost in passing — “Really the only thing that differentiates anyone in this market is customer service, and we suck at that.” He got a laugh from the room, the meeting went on, but that statement went on to become the disruptor we needed. The project changed, from one about messaging to one about company transformation led by a newly-found dedication to customer service. 

Face-to-face conversations

Many brands enter vital brand building projects assuming the magic will come from value propositions, sales offerings or at the strategy and creative phases. Disruption, the kind that transforms a business, often comes from things we cannot anticipate. From people we do not know. From social and cultural hot spots that we haven’t yet discovered.

Effective discovery identifies these threads and offers brands an open door to differentiation, purpose, big ideas, growth and legacy staying power.

We do a lot of branding research at Shinebox. Like everyone else we look at the statistics, the generational trends, demographics and engagements numbers. But all of that is only context. Powerful insights come from simply asking the right person, at the right moment, the right question. That means tracking our audience down wherever they are; LinkedIn, Facebook, or even face-to-face. 

Patience and persistence

When people trust you, they open up. They tell you what they genuinely care about, what keeps them up at night, and what they aspire to become. Sometimes they care about your brand or category – sometimes they don’t. Either way, you have what you need. Understanding the shared values between your brand and your audience is how disruption becomes business growth.

For Shinebox, Discovery has grown from a single meeting to — at times — seemingly endless interviews, audience studies, and focus groups. The impact of honest discovery in developing an effective Brand Platform can’t be over-emphasized. And the disruption that comes out of discovery has become about more than messaging alone, but about business opportunities it generates for our clients.

At Shinebox, Discovery takes longer than it does at many agencies. But we have a great reason – we’re still looking for your opportunity!

Explore more

This is part one of a four part series on building brands and the Shinebox Disruption methodology. We will explore how audiences and their values become a catalyst for disruption. And how disruption can build brands that build business winners.

Who’s getting more out of your branding campaign – you or your agency?

The problem with the awards culture in advertising.

Shinebox wins awards and – don’t get me wrong – we enjoy it! But I’m noticing a troubling trend. For too many agencies, winning awards appears to be more important than generating results. The trend becomes obvious when you take a closer look at recent award winners.

Award-winning campaigns are no longer driving brand growth.

Insights company Kantar illustrates this decline in campaign results in an eye-opening way (MarketingDive.com). It showed only a quarter of the Cannes Lions award-winning campaigns in 2019 provided short or long-term brand impact. More astonishing was that — for testing audiences — only about 25% of all award winners could be easily identified by brand. In comparison, award winners from five years earlier were shown to be 2X as effective at long-term brand building.


of Cannes Lions award-winning campaigns in 2019 did not provide short or the long-term brand impact.

What is happening? Introducing the "disposable" campaign.

The Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) published this report in 2019 titled “The Crisis in Creative Effectiveness” points to a dramatic change in campaign focus across our industry. Agencies are shifting from enduring, strategically grounded, long-term brand building to quick hits, attention grabbers and “short-term, activation-focused creativity.” These more ‘disposable’ campaigns show up in market for short periods of time, and are clearly designed to drive more immediate effects .In addition, we find many long-running campaigns also geared to short-term sales effects rather than long-term growth.

I can admire these campaigns as disruptive, but for all the wrong reasons. In short… these headline-grabbing, disruptive stunts and  repetitive punch-lines focus attention on the talents and skill of the creator, at the expense of the brand’s business objective. And to make matters worse, industry judges and organizations continue to bestow awards and recognition for the creators.

This approach has led to a cycle of “disposable” campaigns… make a big splash, impress your clients, win some awards, show them off, win more clients, make a big splash and so on.

“Creativity was once the single most important driver of effectiveness ... However, creativity delivers very little of its full potential over short time frames…”

— Marc Scott, Executive Officer

The result? Agency recognition at the expense of the brand.

No doubt these disposable campaigns get a lot of attention, clicks and high engagement numbers. But do they build durable, exponential growth for the brand? Are they a worthy investment in a brand’s future. Unfortunately no. Most quickly fade away and are replaced with another quick-hit campaign. This perpetuates the disposable campaign cycle. More high-end creative work — designed for peer recognition at the expense genuine brand building.

More effective brand building.

Effectiveness — if you were to ask agencies — is too often measured by a client’s love of the work itself. I hear it a lot. This can come out as something like: “The client just loved the work and so did their boss.”

Effectiveness — if you were to ask our clients — is measured by growth for the brand or business.

These two things — a happy client, and brand growth — really have no connection to each other at all. In some ways, it is simply another form of recognition. We do want our client to be pleased with the work. But if we stop there, if we don’t demand more accountability for producing growth, brand equity and results for the business, then we do a disservice to clients who trust in our advice.

“Despite our warnings, the misuse of creativity has continued to grow and the effectiveness advantage has continued to decline."

— Peter Field, IPA

Disruption and brand growth. The best of both worlds.

For Shinebox, effectiveness for a brand requires on two things: disruption PLUS insight. The result is what we call Disruption built on Shared Values. Without Shared Values, a campaign may be emotional, entertaining and even award winning. But NOT necessarily effective. Disposable campaigns focus only on being the most creative – disruption alone. We need to be giving our audiences something they actually care about, instead of cheap laughs, tears or just plain shock value.

It is not easy. It is very hard to combine insight AND disruption, then package it as a gift to an audience. Much harder still, to persistently craft messaging and creative that builds trust and woos audiences to fall in love with your brand over years. Brand growth requires disruption, but it also needs time, genuineness, persistence and an unyielding focus on the audience and their passions. Strong, enduring brands like Subaru, Coca-Cola, Nike and Apple know this.

Disruption is effective, but ONLY if your audience identifies with your content and then chooses to enter a relationship with your brand.

Our responsibility as an agency. A bigger opportunity for our clients.

If we are to be viewed as trusted partners for our clients, we need to be better focused on their success. We should be helping clients invest in strategies that promote brand endurance, along with the disruption typical of award-winning campaigns. We need to be partnering to find fresh insights, produce original content, deliver strong language, and demonstrate the dedication to evolve the work. Our clients should wake up one day to find they are leading the market, own natural brand awareness, have built brand legacy. They will see loyal audiences that have transformed from being consumers to being fans.

As an agency, we will continue to enter work in award shows, and try to make clients happy. But our first priority will be brand growth.