Small Agency Series: Rule of 3

By Egotist / /

Can you give us a brief overview of your agency – when you were founded; how many employees (full- time and average number of freelancers you use at any given time); major clients; where you’re located, etc.

Rule of 3 was founded in 2013 by Bay Area Creative Director/Designer Hilary Wolfe and Creative Director/Copywriter David Stolberg. Our primary clients are: Boudin SF Bakery & Restaurants; Silver Spring Networks (smart grid networking); Xactly Corporation (cloud-based Incentive Compensation); Curry Up Now! Restaurants; Lending Club (personal lending) and Tailored Brands (Men’s Warehouse+Jos A Banks). We currently have a full-time staff of 5 and flex to 8 or 9 based on freelance needs. We’ve recently moved our office to downtown Oakland and enjoy aligning ourselves with a growing creative community here.

Why did the world need your agency? Why did you start it?

Funny, our website acknowledges the world didn’t need another ad agency. We wanted to offer a new rule of 3—traditional, digital and social marketing that’s integrated, highly creative, and delivered efficiently. Relationships don’t get bogged down in layers here. There’s no switcheroo … you don’t hire us and we disappear. There’s no trademarked strategic process— we’re about moving people and delivering impact. It’s not revolutionary, but we’ve been fortunate to align ourselves with client-partners that appreciate our approach.

What benefits do you think a small shop has over medium-sized or large agencies?

Our POV on larger agencies is that they tend to throw more resources at a project than it requires—or that a client needs to pay for. Clients today are deeply invested in their company’s brand challenges and aren’t looking for “the pros” to simply step in and show them the magic. They want respect for their intellectual investment and real collaboration. We love that kind of “roll up the sleeves together” approach. That is why the first CMO’s to hire us are either still with us or have brought new business to Rule of 3 when changing jobs.

What keeps you up at night when running a small agency?

Programmatic thinking—the increasingly popular idea that the plumbing is more important than the creative insight, execution and emotional impact. That and the usual: Like, will we be able to pay the bills this month?

Network agencies dominate so much of our profession – from news to awards to how clients think about advertising. How does a small agency like yours make its mark?

It is an interesting question because we come from cultures deeply motivated by winning awards. Who wouldn’t want to hear something you created is considered unique or special? But we also realize there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in the industry, and self-hype, and we’ve been at it long enough to take it all with a grain of salt. To make our mark, we try to give our work the best chance to get noticed, and mostly, to value and grow our relationships as much as possible. We hope that in the long run these are the strategies that matter.

Do you find that clients care that you’re small? And if so, how do you address that with them in pitches or meetings?

Well, we’re not being invited to break bread with Coca Cola or Mercedes. The clients we speak to are often looking for new ways to be scrappy, to make more out of less. They want inventive real-world answers. So in a meeting, they want evidence of how we think more than a list of capabilities. They’re kind of past the old model of doing things and realize that 9 times out of 10 a dedicated, passionate core group can deliver what’s required.

How does your size affect the quality of the work you turn out?

Our size is a huge asset today as it enables us to stay closely engaged with the problem and ultimate solution. We have built Rule of 3 to span across a network of relationships with, honestly, the most talented people throughout the business and that extends our culture beyond our four walls. In this way, our size isn’t a liability as our size can adjust quite rapidly, bringing in amazing people.

When it comes to your vision and culture, what do small agencies offer that the big guys just can’t?

Ideas, ideas, ideas. The unexpected insight. Because nobody at a small agency has to fit within an org chart, everybody feels liberated to pitch in. There’s an opportunity to hit a home run and get credit for it. That keeps our people fired up.

What’s the biggest surprise you learned from running a small shop?

Whether you create branded experiences or powder-sugar-covered donut holes, owning and running a business is hard. It requires knowledge and humility that goes well beyond the demands of being a creative marketer. We enjoy the challenge of being businesspeople today as well as creatives.

What do you love most about keeping things small?

The team spirit—experiencing the immediacy and passion of people who are pulling for one another. Everybody matters in a small shop. Truly.

How big do you want to get?

Big enough to qualify for your mid-size agency series. When is that so we can plan? Seriously, we want to be big enough to impact brands as completely as possible and as often as needed. So not a startup. But not Omnicom either.