Friday, May 1, 2009

Digital Kinship

Q: Introduce us to yourself and your company.
Andreas Tagger – co-founder / CEO / creative director of Brothers By Choice. Brothers By Choice is an independent, SF based boutique. We do all kinds of work from integrated campaigns to visual identity to something as small as an e-mail blast or a print ad. We started in January 2007 with my business partner and fellow founder and creative director Nei Caetano da Silva. We’ve been lucky enough to work on some really great brands since we started like World Wide Wrestling Entertainment, ESPN, Autodesk, Seagate, 2K Sports and Sagatiba.

We started the agency at a time when we were really, really tired and exhausted of agency life and all the inefficiencies and egos and general bullshit. We had been dreaming of doing this for a year or two before we actually made the final decision to try our hand at crafting our own agency. Nei and I were both working at an agency where he was the creative director and I was the senior art director. I got laid off, so Nei quit the same day I got laid off, we got really drunk, and on the next day started working out of his living room launching our site. We actually had the agency logo done about a year before, so we didn’t need to spend that much time figuring out our identity or how we wanted to position ourselves.

We really started the whole thing to enrich our lifestyle and continue being creative, but on our own terms. People often ask about our name, or if Nei and I are brothers. The name “Brothers By Choice” is summation of the idea that if you aren’t doing something in your life by choice, then you shouldn’t be doing it at all. It sounds silly to ask yourself if you are doing something on your own accord, but it’s easy to overlook if you analyze all your actions during the course of one day. We try work with our society of Brothers and Sisters in a collaborative environment, from friends, to partner companies, to clients.

Q: Interactive Producers come from all walks of life, they are a hybrid of talents, tell us about your background and how you got interested in digital production?
Since we don’t do production in-house, we don’t really have interactive producers. The interactive producers are brought in by the companies we choose to partner with. Some of them can improve, some of them are awesome. We try to pick companies we think we can grow with, so most of the time we’ve had great experiences and the interactive producers really help us set expectations for the client and manage workflow.

Producers have a hard life in my opinion. A colleague and I were just discussing how producers are essentially shit on 24/7 by the creatives and agencies as a whole. Out of the producers I worked with at agencies, and spent a lot of time with, one had a heart monitor and anxiety attacks, and the other two were hardcore alcoholic workaholics. All of them were really strong people and had to deal with major bullshit, so I give them a lot of respect. Beyond making sure a project got done on time they needed to manage or baby sit a pack of narcissistic children and make sure the agency was making money. You’re basically getting fucked by the agency executives and creatives, and I don’t think anyone every thanked them or even noticed their hard work. It’s kind of sad really.

Q: How do you stay on top of emerging technologies and keep your team informed and motivated?
We read Wired magazine and stuff like that, and we are all techie guys by nature. Our friends will pass along cool links to us, and we are always talking about technology or fiddling with IPhones or playing Xbox 360 or being gadget geeks. I think the technology just finds us naturally. It’s like doing magic or something discovering something supernatural, so we like it.

We might actively seek a certain technology if an idea warrants that kind of attention. We recently did a project for WWE where we need to find a way for consumers to edit video online, so that was interesting to see why or who we would partner with to get the consumer experience we were looking for.

As far as motivation we like design books and pretty aesthetics wherever they are. Our clients motivate us, since we are a small agency and have direct contact with the client during all phases of any project. We are always trying to do a good job for our clients and grow the business, because at the end of the day we love the feeling of being a “good boy.” It sounds silly to say, “I’m a good boy” or “good girl”, but I think everyone craves this basic need of feeling loved and accepted and nurtured. It makes us giggle when we can wear this badge, because it takes a lot of effort to be a good boy or girl.

Q: What does your ideal client/project look like?
Any client where you can become friends or laugh with, and any project that makes you feel proud and engaged creatively. Having repeat clients is really rewarding as a small business owner. A lot of our clients have turned out to be really cool people, so it’s more like working with friends than working for some depersonalized corporate monster. It needs to feel light and fun. We like projects that are integrated and keep us challenged. A project with a film component, web component and some kind of ad component like print are always fun to work on, but I think any project can have its merits in one way or another. It’s also good when you get projects that don’t have a timeline that is unrealistic.

Q: How do you educate your clients and set realistic expectations for a project?
I think it’s pretty simple. Honesty. You need to be honest at all times. A lot of people like to bullshit their clients and put on this used car salesman schtick and say “yes sire, anything you desire.” We treat our clients like people. If something is not possible, you just say, “I’m very sorry, but we can’t do that for you.”

Clients often come to us and say “can you do x,y,z by tomorrow?” We say no we can’t, because it’s not a realistic timeline, and you’re going to end up with something you’re not happy with. Then we ask them why there is such a rush. Over promising and under delivering is the worst situation you can get your self into, so most of the times they listen to us. We don’t lie to our clientele.

It’s important to try and educate your client about what you can and can’t do, because everything is always going to come last minute and there’s never enough time. Any client that cares about an agency will take the time to understand you, and respect your process. If the client isn’t growing with you and is treating you like a whore than it’s a sign it’s not a good relationship. It’s not a good creative breeding ground either. Business is important to us, so we try our hardest to make sure the client is happy. We try very hard to get the client to avoid certain pitfalls which hurt the creative process and their insurance policies. Clients come to agencies not only to do good work, but to advance and protect their own marketing careers. You need to be good to your client, and they need to be good to you, otherwise no one is gaining anything and everyone is wasting their time.

Q: What was the best project you have ever worked on?
Probably the work we did for Sagatiba. We did a lot of brand positioning for them, got to shoot for two weeks all over Brazil in this sort of hellish vacation, got to shoot mixology films all over the United States and meet a lot of cool people. We partnered with some really cool companies and there were so many players that it was a rewarding experience. Currently we are launching their web presence internationally, which is challenging and also really exciting to work globally.

We love working with WWE also because they send us cool tee-shirts and laugh when we show them pictures of us playing with dangerous weapons in our office. I like clients that will randomly email things other than just work email, like funny pictures of kittens and weird kids that are giving them the bird and stuff like that. Having a sense of camaraderie with your client is really fun.

Q: How many projects are you comfortable producing at one given time?
I’d say four to five projects at our current level. But that number could increase or decrease depending on staff and partners. We’ve handled about four projects simultaneously and it was doable, but stressful also. You need to be clever with how you handle your day.

Q: What does your dream production team look like?
We more or less have the flexibility to work with any production team or company we’d like to, so it’s any partner that would be perfect for the project at hand. Hopefully it’s someone that we can grow with and work with in the future, and have a really great experience with. We’re always looking for that because most of the day is at work with your associates. Sometimes budgets and numbers can interfere with reality or who you would think is ideal or perfect, but most companies are pretty cool and level, if you are just honest and tell them up front you can’t do it for that price.

Q: How do you ensure that your client's best interests are met?
By setting expectations, giving good client service and creative that solves the problem at hand. I think clients like being around creative people that are quirky and can solve problem and offer unusual perspectives.

Q: What is your vision of what the next phase of our industry is going to look like?
Hard to say. The ad rags really like to sensationalize this question. Most of everything they say is all bullshit. I think the industry is folding in on itself. Technology has played a large role in making people and the industry, as a whole, uncomfortable. The economy has really made people uncomfortable, considering we are facing the second economic downturn in eight years. It’s awful.

Personally, I think the big agency model owned by holding companies is a bit like the modern banking crisis, except there’s probably not a bail out plan in place for when they crash. The holding companies thought they could just acquire a bunch of interactive shops over the past four years and then get the traditional ad shops to tell the interactive shops to make ads for the internet. I don’t know how well that’s working because the ad guys don’t get the internet and the internet guys want to conquer the ad guys. I’m guessing there’s a lot of backlash with this acquisition model and a lot of unhappy investors. I can just imagine at some board room, someone said, “We really need to diversify our holding portfolio.”

I’m really, really hoping there’s an era of independent shops that large to middle sized clients will migrate to, realizing that they are going to get a much better level of service and better creative. I hesitate to even call them “ad agencies” because this new breed of business could come in so many forms and be like weird changelings. Maybe it’s a shop where the guys are brilliant at Flash and also After Effects and make amazing videos and sites. Maybe it’s a shop that focuses on connecting with consumers in cost-effective ways to connect consumers with modern technology.

Big ad agencies have so much inefficiency and fat, and that’s why people get laid off the second a client decides to put an account in review. The big ad agencies will do anything that they can to hold on and pretend they know what’s going on and use people. It’s sort of like the current state of the record industry. I can see a lot of lower tier agencies on the holding companies roster being dissolved for non-performance felonies.

I don’t think anyone knows what’s going on, or where things are going next. At this point, I’d guess it’s about retension of control and adaptation. The shops that can work multi-disciplinary are the ones to watch as the next big players. I don’t think you can really survive as an agency anymore and say “we don’t do interactive” or think saxophone is good. Sadly, a lot of shops that say they “can” to the press, simply hire another company to come up with the ideas for them, so it’s really a little inefficient and pathetic. TV is also dying. I think the clients are slowly coming to the realization you don’t need a couple million dollar production of thirty seconds of image to connect with consumers anymore, but they are still a tad bit tepid to accept reality. There’s a lot of money being wasted, and lot of hungry agency alumnus in the field.

Another thing I can see changing is the idea of geography. When people think of Europe or South America, the assumption is they can’t have that reach, but it’s possible. I can see a lot of smart European or South American agencies stealing business from the United States and vice-versa. There’s very little need to sit down in a physical conference room with a client anymore. There are very distinct advantages for agencies to not have staff working on location as well. People are used to the notion that if you are located in the United States, you work in the United States, but email brings everyone closer.

Eventually, I’d love to see the development of an advertising union. I think it’s bullshit that agencies take for granted that workers can work all night and not get paid for their time. It’s a little stupid, and I’m shocked it’s not illegal. The companies don’t care about the people who are spending less time with their girlfriends or boyfriends or kids. It’s not fair, and there are ways to accomplish the same amount of work in less time by working efficiently. Think about how cool it would be for workers to go on strike because the agencies are exploiting their workers? The world needs the Jimmy Hoffa of advertising in the next ten years. Just turn off the ad machine for a while.

Q: Please share a snippet of wisdom that you would like to impart on our readers.
Advertising is not art, it’s a creative process. Engage in the process, do your best, and then try to get over yourself.


  1. Brothers By Choice are a great pack. These guys have been truly an honor to work with. I had the great chances of working on a handful of projects with the team and at times I wish more agencies small or big shared the same ideals that B.B.C. does. I will say, everyone else in the list of upcoming agencies should be worry and on the look out for B.B.C. these guys will soon share lines and works with some of today's and tomorrows greatest clients.

  2. really fantastic words from andreas. he inspires me.