Culture – it ain’t a foosball table, folks.

As a former “hungry college grad” desperate for a job in advertising, I can’t tell you how many agency websites I visited that shouted about their “unique” culture from the rooftops. It doesn’t stop within the shop – just google “agency culture” and find thousands of think-pieces on the topic. It all starts to sound the same, and quite frankly can get exhausting.

So you can imagine my surprise when I jumped into the day-to-day at KW2 and found out that agency culture isn’t a B.S. term thrown around by people trying to nail a pitch. It’s a real thing, and it matters. At KW2, it means living and breathing our three core values: positivity, endless self-improvement, and authentic relationships.

#1: Positivity

As a digital project manager, my job is to both manage our internal smarties (UX designers, digital strategists, designers, etc.) and the client’s needs. The details change day-to-day and project to project, but positivity is the constant: approaching every problem with the belief that we can (and will!) fix it makes it easier for our team, both internal and client-side, to deliver killer solutions to complex digital problems.

#2 Endless Self-Improvement

If I’m not working day in and day out to make myself better, I’m failing my clients and my co-workers. By focusing on continuing to improve both my digital knowledge and expand my horizons, be it in digital communications, marketing, or even in business, I’m making KW2 a better agency partner and a better place to work. It’s a no-brainer.

#3 Authentic Relationships

This one is my favorite, for selfish reasons: I work best when I can be transparent with my clients. But we take this a step further at KW2: authentic relationships doesn’t just mean honesty. It means integrity in how we treat our clients and each other. It means taking pride in making great work – collaboratively, with the target in mind, with no stone left unturned in developing the right strategy for the project. It means the confidence to say “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out” when you’re asked a question you can’t answer. It means there’s not room for ego. And sometimes it even means having the tough conversations, and saying no.

Agency culture isn’t having a beer fridge or a “bring your dog to work” day. Culture is a set of values that drives how you treat your clients and how you work together. It’s how you know you’re going to walk in, every day, with a smile on your face, a cup of coffee in your hand and a desire to keep getting better. Without our core values, KW2 would just be a place where I show up every day and make decent websites. And I’d much rather embrace our culture–and make a great one.



On baseball, business and managing your team

As the smell of freshly-mowed grass reaches these parts of the upper Midwest, my thoughts often turn to baseball. Baseball. Seems like a sport that should have gone the way of the passenger pigeon. How can a sport that’s as slow as the spring thaw still draw millions of fans to the stands? My humble opinion is that much of the success of baseball is due, in part, to the methodical approach and strategy of the leader of the ball clubs – the manager. Before the first pitch is even a wisp of a thought in a the pitcher’s mind, the manager has prepared a plan for his team to follow and he’s most likely played out multiple scenarios in his head so he can be prepared for all nine innings. One of the best to ever manage a team was Tony La Russa. Mr. La Russa retired in 2011, but not until he had brought my hometown St. Louis Cardinals another World Championship trophy. And so, in honor of Mr. La Russa and our nation’s favorite past time, I’d like to share with you some tips that work for managing baseball clubs as well as managing business teams:

You can only take advantage of what you have
Play to your strengths and manage your strategy around those strengths. Take an honest look at the people representing your organization. What are they best at? Write it down. Where can they use improvement? Write it down. Study it. Plan around their strengths, but also have a pathway to address improvements that are needed.

Put people in the best position to compete
Establish a solid relationship with each member of your team. Get to know their strengths and weaknesses and set them up for success. They’ll come to work each day knowing they are supported and that their success is at the top of your list.

Know when to give players the hook
If someone on your team is consistently underperforming or not bringing their A game, make the move earlier rather than later. Chances are the first time you have a question about an individual’s performance won’t be the last. So pay attention, and give the issue the time it deserves so you can make the decision whether to continue with that player.

If you need too many meetings, your club is in trouble
Mr. La Russa believed there were few times throughout a season when meetings were needed, but if you need too many of these, you’ve got people not paying attention or you’re not getting through to your team.

Those devilish details
Make notes about your game. Your players. Your successes. Your failures. Review them often enough to remind you of changes you’d like to make.

And finally, the three things every manager should remind themselves of each day:
Preparation and process. OK, so that’s only two.The third? Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Repetition is key to making your team as effective as possible. Heck, each of these could be its own blog post, but that’s for a different time and maybe another baseball season.

Now, enough reading about the game; get out there and make some of these changes happen! Go, Cards!

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Why we got rid of the snack table: A lesson in collaboration

What do snacks have to do with teamwork? It turns out when your entire company culture is centered on collaboration, your coworkers don’t need to be lured with tasty treats.

Back at KW2’s old location, the two-story former church with a garden view on Old Middleton Road, the Digital Department was burrowed away in the back corner known as the West Wing. We had a sneaky little entrance where we bikers could secure our ride, go straight to our desk and start working. Some mornings, I wouldn’t even say hello to the folks working up front until my first cup of coffee around 9:30AM. Not because I didn’t want to see them, but simply because I didn’t have any business in that part of the building.

Maybe it’s because our work was independent, or maybe it’s because we’re typically unkempt and quite strange, but we didn’t get many visitors from the front of the building in those days either.

One day, to encourage more smiling faces and interaction with the rest of the agency, we decided to develop and maintain a snack table. We loaded it with treats from dark chocolates to trail mix to Goldfish crackers, and saw our visitors increase sevenfold. Time in the West Wing increased by an average of 2:00 per visitor, and the number of unique interactions increased. However, our bounce rate remained high. People came for the snacks, stayed for a little conversation, then left. Word-of-mouth seemed to be our highest traffic source, especially on days when we had a new shipment of sea salt caramels.


Fast forward to today, in our new one-story space at 2010 Eastwood Drive (you should visit us sometime; the view is to die for). Our layout still has the Account Service team’s offices nearest to the front entrance, but the more open space encourages foot traffic between the Account, Digital and Creative departments. Big windows and wide hallways and standing tables all encourage us to stand and talk, sit and talk—just, talk. To keep up with tradition, we originally met to discuss where the snack table should live in our new space, and what our first treat offering should be. However, our move wasn’t the only change that happened last fall.

The entire company was also invigorated, excited, and ready to start a new journey—together. We were inspired to be a part of a more collaborative advertising agency. As a result, we found a new interest back and forth among the departments, a crossing over of expertise and knowledge. Folks started helping out on things we previously wouldn’t have touched, or even known about. It didn’t come from the new building’s layout alone, but it was primarily a factor of our new philosophy of growing together as an agency for good. We had made a new commitment to collaborate.

Suddenly, I didn’t need a reason to visit “up front” like coffee or to see some sunlight. And people stopped by my place, not for chocolates or the promise of an afternoon crunch, but for sincere, great discussions about each others’ clients and projects.

We got rid of the snack table because we, as an agency, don’t need a lure anymore to work together. We’ve realized that seamless integration of brand strategy, creative thinking and digital strategy is the key to our success. This kind of cross-discipline thinking helped us win Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, our biggest client yet, and it will only help us serve our clients better and better in the months and years to come. The result: everybody learns, and everybody gets better.


At KW2, doing Good for our clients means putting them first, giving them the best thinking, and producing the best work possible. We’ve realized that this kind of thinking comes only when we work together, naturally, using our combined talents, experience and abilities. So while we still bring in treats from time to time, they’re placed in the community kitchen where they belong. The creative and strategic thinking fills in all the spaces around that, in a colleague’s office or on the sunny patio, in the cozy workshop or the focus-friendly conference room. Collaboration is all around us now, and we think that’s a good thing.

What’s your office culture like? Do you have any tips on how to encourage collaboration? We’d love to hear from you.



Introducing the Intern Journal – Chapter 1

We’ve started a new tradition at KW2. We picked up a blank journal that we’ll leave with our ever evolving team of interns to communicate across time with one another. Each new intern will be encouraged to tell us their expectations. Through their time here, and most importantly, at the end, we’ll ask them to note the big takeaways from their experience.

Here’s what we got on our first try:

The Intern Journal Entry #1
By Taylor Laabs

3 Big Takeaways From My Internship

1. ASK
Asking questions is a big part of why I had such a great time here. Ask to be in meetings, ask to see new work, ask any questions you may have regarding advertising. Most importantly, ask and be proactive in looking for new work and projects. The projects I asked to be a part of were often the most fun and interesting for me.

Embrace the culture here, because it’s a great one. Try to attend as many Happy Hours, Beer:30’s and Good Music events as you can. Because during these events are when the best and most meaningful relationships form.

Try to form as many relationships with people here as you can. These people know their craft and have a lot of knowledge they’d love to share with you. Informational Interviews are also helpful. Plus, these people are connected to a wide array of contacts and industries that may prove useful to you later on.

Interns are important to us. We value our interns at KW2 and share everything we possibly can with them. They’re involved right away in the thick of things and bring valuable insight. Heck, we’ve even hired a few over the years. It’s amazing to see them go on to big agency jobs in Chicago, New York and LA. It’s wonderful when they come back to visit and tell us about their new adventures.

We thought of The Intern Journal as a tool to help new interns get comfortable and learn about KW2: who we are and what we do. But the good folks at KW2 will certainly learn from reading these words of intern wisdom.


The Art of Listening

If you listen, they will talk – Hear what your customers have to say

We’ve heard the command since we were old enough to talk. “Listen up!” said our parents, teachers, coaches, and instructors. It’s easy to become numb to the idea of listening, or at least fall into the habit of listening poorly. However, the value of hearing what clients, and their customers, have to say can’t be overstated. That’s a key element of what we do here at KW2: we put our customers first.

Listening can help improve the efficiency of your business, streamline your practices, and bolster your relationships with customers, co-workers, and personal contacts. Here are 5 easy strategies to consider:

1.   Listen without distraction. Put down the phone. We’re all multitaskers in theory, but science tells us that we actually are just shifting focus between tasks momentarily and with great speed. That means you miss details if your attention is divided, even slightly.

2.   Actually listen. If you’re talking, you’re not hearing what is being spoken to you. There will be times where you need to speak up, but allowing your mind to absorb what is said helps YOU in turn develop better ideas and retain information.

3.   Ask clarifying questions. This helps avoid confusion and mistakes down the line since you’re ensuring you have complete and accurate information. It also helps the speaker feel that you value and understand what they say.

4.   Doodle. Yes, draw things while you listen. It engages the visual parts of your brain, and it helps you avoid other, more involved distractions. Fast Company’s article, “How to Turn Your Mindless Doodles into Productivity Enhancers” suggests what your doodles say about you and how you can turn them into productive tools.

5.   Don’t agree with everything, but be prepared to change your mind. Inspire true dialogue by challenging assumptions and the status quo. Take a moment to think. What were we trying to accomplish? What was said? What underlying meaning was there in the conversation we just had? Then DO. Innovate and explore as many ideas as possible to arrive at the best one.

Better listening leads to informed, more efficient decision-making. Engaging your customers, your staff, your peers by truly listening to them ensures that you miss the mark less. Ideas come from everywhere … are you willing to hear them?



The Importance of Giving Back: Humanitarian Strategies for Companies

Social responsibility is a facet of business that organizations are increasingly attempting to integrate into their culture. Companies struggle to find the importance in giving back because it typically takes time, labor and resources away from day-to-day business. Instead, it redirects those assets toward an endeavor that may not directly influence the bottom line. But, a well-strategized humanitarian act can benefit an organization in more ways than one.

KW2’s social responsibility campaign includes Happy Music, the monthly community concert series, and Goodstock, a 24-hour marathon of creating advertising and marketing for non-profits. Also, the agency supports local artists by displaying an art gallery of work in the lobby to greet guests as they stop by. KW2 isn’t one of those agencies who is solely dollar-driven, but rather people-driven, which helps differentiate and resound the KW2 brand.

Why should companies be people-driven? It helps the public gain a sense of understanding of the company and see what the company stands for. It also shows the building and work for a greater good in the community. Lastly, from an internal perspective, the workplace can expect to gain a boost of morale and teamwork.

A feeling of obligation shouldn’t be the reason to give back, but rather the rooted sense of altruism and community. Surely, a company can only give back so much without compromising interests or earnings. On the other hand, with the right balance of business and good, a company can grow its brand by developing its genuine worth to the world. It is great when individuals give back, but when a company gives their time, talents and efforts in goodwill, it speaks volumes.


Happy Music

KW2 and the Harmony Bar present Happy Music, the new happy hour concert series.

An advertising agency hosting free happy hour music concerts at a Madison music institution? Huh? Here’s how that just happened.

Well, Brad Czachor has served Andy Wallman many lunches. For years, they both worked near Hilldale Mall where Brad was the manager of the Great Dane Brew Pub & Brewing Company. Andy and the folks at KW2 made the Great Dane one of their haunts.

These days, Brad is still behind many lunches that KW2 folks are enjoying, as he recently bought the Harmony Bar and Grill from longtime owner Keith Daniels. In a calculated strategy to stalk Brad for the rest of his life, KW2 also recently moved to the east side, and we are once again Brad’s neighbors.

At the west-side office, KW2 hosted a free monthly music series for clients, employees and pals called Music:30. After the east-to-west move, James Mills, an journalist/blogger for the outdoor industry suggested having Music:30 concerts at the Harmony. Andy and Brad got to talking, and now KW2 and the Harmony Bar will debut Happy Music, a free monthly happy hour series.

The first concert will be October 17th, featuring longtime local Madison musicians, Biff Blumfumgagnge and Jay Moran. They will play from 5:00 to 6:00pm. Admission is free, so bring your mom. We’re working with many other great musicians to help make Happy Music a fun east-side tradition at the Harmony Bar and Grill, 2201 Atwood Avenue. The good folks at KW2 and the Harmony Bar hope to see you there.


Change is good

Change is good

Change is good. Like the kind that would, say, come from having a Madison advertising agency’s address at 2010 Eastwood Drive on this fair city’s fashionable near-east side. The excitement, the jostling that change brings to thinking and creativity, the many fantastic local restaurants and businesses we’ll be supporting…all good.

Advertising has come out of the hallowed halls at 5201 Old Middleton Road longer than any other place in Madison’s history. In 1923, on St. Patrick’s Day, Arthur Towell Advertising was born. In 1972, Towell, Inc. moved into 5201 Old Middleton Road. Knupp and Watson moved in there in 1992. That’s 41 years of advertising in one location. I’ll have to buzz Doug Moe or Stuart Levitan to see if that’s some kind of record.

The props for the famous Pizza Pit delivery-driver-in-the-snow ad were created at 5201, by longtime Madison ad guy Dick Zillman. Many local, regional and national businesses were helped there. A ton of important work for the State of Wisconsin was created there. The “best U.S. annual report of 2010” was created there. And many, many great friendships were created there.

We will still have some operations happening at the old location as we settle into the new location. We think you’ll love its wide open spaces, the views, and the beautiful outdoor deck. Let us know if you’d like to check out our new digs, and see the change for yourself.



First (and Lasting) Impressions

The advertising world is a great place for me. There are artists, strategists, writers, digital experts, musicians and other creative minds working with people who specialize in making budgets work and numbers fit into spreadsheets, which in turn churn out invoices, reports, and everything we need to help clients succeed.

I’m a little bit of all of these things. I am creative in that I have been an artist, actor, director and musician. I am also adept in the office environment. I know how to clear most jammed printers, order lunch for 40 people, mail merge and more.

The thing I do best, however, is answer the telephone. This tiny, little part of every day is such a huge deal to me. I am lucky it’s also a huge deal to my employer and our company culture.

Every time the phone rings, it’s my opportunity to get it right, to do something great for someone else. I’ve learned how to smile on the phone and convey that smile to the person on the other end. It is important that I make a caller feel taken care of. It’s so much more than just getting someone the extension they are looking for. It is about shepherding them to the person or information they need, while assuring them that they’re in good hands.

I know from experience that the initial contact can make all the difference. One time, I had an issue with my muffler. I called CarX and the guy on the other line made me feel so sure that I had called the right place; I immediately took my car there. When that same voice greeted me at the door, I became a CarX customer, exclusively.

The hook for me was seeing the face, with the same smile I had heard on the line. It was meeting the one who listened and already understood my problem. It was watching him explain my issue to the mechanic and give me an estimate that was fair, and delivered on. I continued to go there until another mechanic amazed me with even better customer service. There was an important lesson in leaving CarX, too.

First Impressions are important, but lasting ones take a lifetime of work. It’s about keeping the smile on all the time, giving all you can, and making sure you choose the right way to feel around your customers, your co-workers, and your community. The co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s, Ben Cohen, once said, “There is a spiritual aspect to our lives – when we give we receive – when a business does something good for somebody, that somebody feels good about them!”



I can hardly wait for my Common Cup.

I use the same coffee cup every day, and have for six years. It’s a pyramid-shaped, ceramic mug designed to sit on the dash of a car, with a foam base that won’t slide or spill. It means the world to me. My mother gave me one that looked just like it fifteen years ago. I used that one every day until it broke. I found this cup at a yard sale the next day. It was like a sign or kismet, because it was green and brown, like my new reception desk, and the same shape as the cup from my mom. It was a perfect match. It soon became an extension of my hand.

When my old company closed and I learned of an opportunity at KW2, I was thrilled to read about the Common Cup. “The Secret Sauce,” as the website described. It was about creating community. It was about recognizing that togetherness, collaboration, and really great work were things that grew out of good relationships. And good relationships were based on things like eating meals together, celebrating milestones together, and drinking coffee together from our common cups. I knew about that stuff. I’d experienced that already, in my own way, with my own cup. Suddenly, I wanted a Common Cup of my own – real bad. After getting the job I found myself looking at co-workers cups, putting them away from the dishwasher, wishing and waiting for the chance to hold my own.

The process is long. There are steps involved that take time. The kiln itself at Cambridge Wood-Fired Pottery only fires up three or four times a year. It takes six days of 24-hour care of the flames to generate the heat it requires.

So, today the fires burn in Cambridge. And inside me burns excitement for my own Common Cup. My hopes and fears all spun up in a piece of art I allow to help define me, and define the company culture I am now a part of. That is the good stuff. I’ll let you know how it comes out!