“What I learned this year” by Josh Denberg, Founder/Creative Director at Division of Labor

By thesanfranciscoegotist / /

It’s the end of the year and now that you’ve likely finished embarrassing yourself at the office holiday party, there’s only one tradition left: The SF Egotist’s “What I learned this year” series. We’ll have new pieces each day from amazing Bay Area creatives, and we’re kicking things off with Josh Denberg, Founder/Creative Director at Division of Labor.


Ten years ago we had the chance to start Division of Labor and somehow we’ve managed to stay around for a decade now. 

This year was a good one: Division of Labor moved to a bigger location, won a bunch of new clients and added some new employees who have completely changed how we operate. The experience has taught me quite a bit. So here’s what I learned this year about running a small independent advertising agency:

Craft Still Matters
Technology is ubiquitous. There’s a new platform developed every day. But the writing and the design are still what impress clients most. (At least, that’s what our clients tell us.) We can do things our clients can’t. That’s why they come to us. We can write in human, simple ways that get people to click and engage and buy. And we create designs based on design principles, not ephemeral technology platforms. We make things our clients don’t make. So don’t try to mimic a client’s skill set. Execute yours.

There is No Secret Sauce.
People, please. It’s just mayonnaise and ketchup. Big words and complex processes that claim to be proprietary or secret are what we refer to as, “liar liar pants on fire.” Engaging ideas, properly executed by people you like working with is not a secret, it’s just hard to do consistently. But, hey, that’s what we’re paid to do.

The Importance of Saying No
We said no a lot more this year and it was good for everyone. Say no to anything that sets you up for a bad relationship. Say no to pitches that don’t feel right. (You know the ones.)

Say no to potential projects that don’t align with your thinking. Say no to timelines that are too short. Clients want great work and great relationships, and if they’re asking for stuff that won’t deliver that, it’s your job to say so. 

What’s Best for the Agency is Best for the Client
This year a potential client said to me, “I’ll need to present this work to my bosses and they don’t care about making a fun, brand message they want to move the needle.” As if our goal as an agency is not to “move the needle.” Everything we do is designed to “move the needle.” But we know you can’t just tell the needle to move.

What’s best for an agency is creating work that is engaging, entertaining and successful. That’s also what’s best for the client.

What’s best for an agency is having a successful campaign case study with great results. And that too is best for the client.

Small Ideas Beat Big Ideas
Big, brand launch ideas are essential for any successful campaign. They make a statement, set the tone for a brand, get press and attention. But the small ideas that follow matter just as much, possibly more. SEO is a small idea. Retargetting using a benefits chart is a small idea. Landing page optimization is a small idea. Promotions run on SnapChat is a small idea. Live-read radio to support digital video is a small idea. But you need these small things to be executed perfectly if the big ideas are gonna work.

“Best Practices” is just another way to say “Copy Cat”
If everybody does something one way, that doesn’t make it best. It makes it common and exactly what you want to avoid. And for every piece of data that suggest some “best practice” there are ten pieces of data that point to avoiding the way everyone else does things.

Find New Ways to Do Things
Advertising is like technology; the moment you get used to it, it becomes obsolete. Just because you do it a certain way doesn’t make it right. We put in place new SEO this year, new partnerships, new presentation plans, new shared working documents and I’m even going to teach a class at Miami Ad School this year because, well, I’ll learn new things while teaching the craft. So if you’re used to it, maybe look at changing it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *