About Bree Thomas & Blake Ebel
What projects are you currently working on together?
Bree: All Qdoba projects. We’re getting ready for mango season, a limited-time product, with Qdoba. We’re planning some in-store material, presentation on the website and potentially a social campaign. We also have some brand activation work that is coming to fruition, which we are very excited about.
Blake: Yes, we’ve been working on brand activation ideas. With the budget we work with, it can be challenging to get outside of the restaurant; and easy just to focus on in-store creative. We’ve been working on fun and surprising ways to engage the consumer outside of the restaurant. Ideas that can live online and get shared.
Bree: Additionally, we just completed the Qdoba brand book. It takes the creative strategy Fear Not developed and presents it in a format we can share with our internal departments, partners, and franchisees – enabling all groups to speak the brand consistently throughout their respective channels.
Blake: A brand book is important because when you circulate a campaign into a company, it can be difficult for an entire company to understand the rules of the brand. From how to use the logo lock up to a brand’s voice and personality.
What are some of your favorite projects you have worked on together in the past ?
Blake: Audi Superbowl was pretty fun.
Bree: Ohhhhh, yeah! That was fun in a masochistic kind of way.
Blake: That was two years ago?
Bree: I think so. We did quite a few Superbowl Audi projects, so I forget. But that one was fun. Blake and I worked for the digital agency of record, while the actual commercial was shot by another agency in San Francisco, but we handled all of the digital extensions, which was a huge undertaking. For the Superbowl, you are looking at pre-event, the actual game day and then the follow-up. The work and campaigns you build up before game day are large and game day is of course huge. Followed by a solid three days to a week of heavy activity post-game day.
Blake: Bree and I were fortunate to work on amazing brands together. Brands like Audi and The North Face. One of the projects that was pretty cool was the Audi A7 app. We created an app that took the control of selling out of the car salesman’s hands. Consumers consider working with car dealers a horrible experience. You’re being sold to by someone you don’t know or trust who’s trying to rip you off and make money off of you. We took that control out of their hands and put it in an app. You could pick the color of the car, go inside, spin the car around and find more details in hotspots. It was a big undertaking, and we literally put an iPad in the hands of every dealership across the country.
Bree: We did this for the A8 too, since it worked so well.
What are your initial thoughts on the importance of creative space?
Blake: Space is important. Upstairs we try to make it as bright and fun as possible. It’s more than just a physical space, it’s more about the attitude of the work environment. It’s important to create a space where people can blurt out a dumb idea to a group and not necessarily feel stupid. So you can say, “What if we did this?” Part of creating this environment is definitely the attitude as opposed to the physical layout. It’s important to feel inspired, to feel like you can take a break, to take a walk outside and to hang out. We have a basketball hoop outside so when we feel a little fried we’ll head out there and shoot hoops. Goof off, laugh, clear your head and start over.
Bree: As a client, I love to meet and work here. There is a freedom and looseness, but you can tell there’s a tremendous amount of work that gets done. It’s true that walking out to the basketball court and playing a friendly competition of PIG or HORSE is important. Even just sitting in the sun, away from the downtown street, makes a huge difference. It puts everybody at ease.
Blake: I can even take a call out back. Feel the wind, have the sun hit your face, relax for two minutes before you come back in and hit it. I think all of that is important.
What are your most important items to have in a creative space?
Blake: I love to have tons of advertising and design annuals close by. We have CA annuals, the One Show, Art Directors Club, How and Print. Sometimes in the creative process you start to overthink everything. You spend so much time in a strategy and you know the product too well. It’s good to step back and be inspired by other people’s thinking; I’ll see an ad and think, “How can I do something more like that?” We go to these manuals to get inspired and they are some of the greatest work that’s ever been done.
Bree: Monitors matter!
Blake: Yes, definitely. The new Macs are faster and you start to realize how important speed is. A carpenter is only as good as his/her tools. We’re building things and we need to have the right tools to do that. Upstairs we have light pouring in all the time, and being in Denver that certainly helps. Tons of snacks, an espresso machine, candy, and water are available. It’s just an easy place to be in – it doesn’t feel like work and that’s the goal. Sometimes work can be hard, but we try to make it a place that’s easy to spend time in.
Bree: From a physical standpoint, Fear Not’s building isn’t huge. The long rectangle desk set-up adds room for other types of spaces. If you consider the downstairs sitting area and the couch space upstairs, there is room to create meeting space. There’s no real conference room – this is as close as it gets. There are little spots where people can unhook themselves from the monitor and have a seat with someone else. That’s where most of the work gets done. We sit over there by the whiteboard a lot. Having a place to come and do that is paramount because you can’t get it done via email or phone.
Blake: We sit and google doc our brains out together.
Bree: You can’t forget about Post-it Notes, too.
Where do you think the future of digital advertising is going?
Bree: I thought we were already in the future? There are so many articles written about this so I’ll give you my quick two cents. I think I’ll be happy, and perhaps convinced we’ve reached the future, when people stop talking about “digital advertising”. When we stop looking at traditional and digital separately, because digital is already inherent in every customer’s experience. I don’t care how old you are. There might be a few people out there who are not engaged in some sort of digital-based interactions, but that small group likely doesn’t make up a significant portion of your target.
Blake: I spent twenty years in Chicago, and it we were so far behind the rest of the world in this space that I believe it’s going to take a while.
Bree: It’s amazing how much the bigger players in advertising view it as a separate task as opposed to really viewing the consumer’s experience as a whole. Some companies think, “Make sure we check the box on everything that qualifies in digital,” and then they just focus on making headlines attached to images, which are then formatted for broadcasting across digital channels.
Blake: Here’s a horrible theory. Big dumb agencies are run by old men. I think they are run by a bunch of people that can’t wrap their minds around digital because they grew up with television, outdoor and radio. It’s all they know and is safe for them. As much as you explain a CMS to them, they don’t get it. They must understand the value of taking this amazing medium and make it a part of the everyday experience, not just a separate little department in the corner of the agency. It must be made a part of every assignment or opportunity. Until they start to realize how valuable and important it is to have everything working together, they’ll be stuck in the past.
Bree: <Dramatic Movie Music >
Blake: It’s true. I saw it. It’s one of the reasons I came to Denver. I was so frustrated digitally at the agency where I was working. It’s not that the people weren’t wonderful. My CEO at Euro was the best I’ve ever worked for, but understanding the space is hard. You can’t just go buy it; it’s what big holding companies do. They buy the digital agency and force them into in a larger ad agency instead of creating a culture that truly loves digital, understands it and makes it part of the everyday problem solving. It sounds so simple, but it’s not.
Was there a pivotal moment when you both knew you wanted to go into digital advertising?
Blake: There was for me. I worked in Chicago and was in a meeting where I pitched a microsite. Bree, forgive me for using that term, but I did this entire banner and app campaign for a large national company. The client asked, “This is really cool, how can we make it?” The room fell silent, and I sat there squirming and thinking I had no idea how to answer that question. I don’t know how to make it, how it works, how to answer that question and none of my colleagues knew. They said, “We’ll bring it over to their digital guys.” The client knew we didn’t have a clue. At that moment, I realized I had to make a move and major change in my career. I have to learn this space. It was so hard to hear that, not have an answer and realize I am “that guy”.
Bree: There wasn’t a pivotal moment for me. Growing up in advertising, I was strictly on the digital side. Without Blake’s help, I can’t even create a paper invite.
Blake: She really can’t. She doesn’t know how to print anything.
Bree: It became a passion for me really quickly. I was fortunate enough to be in a position to sit side-by-side with developers (all the guys from Mode Set). There are a lot of people who focus in digital advertising and are quite savvy. However, there are a lot of people in digital that never really work with, nor make developers part of the team. Having the dev-guys as an integral part of the team is why I’m even good at my job. I learned a ton from the people actually producing the work.
Blake: I learned most of what I know from Gene Paek, a brilliant digital strategist here in Denver, who would explain digital to me over coffee and then all of the guys at Mode Set. They would take me aside and teach me. They are the most talented group I’ve worked with and they produce the best work I’ve ever seen by anyone and anywhere. We were fortunate to be around super talents who are amazing at what they do.
Bree: I’m also married to a digital designer (Geoff of Guiceworks), so that helps.
Blake: That makes my life harder because she’ll always say, “I asked my husband about this and…”
Bree: Blake’s background and talent are very different than mine, and that actually makes us an exceptionally good team. We’ve worked with amazing clients and are now working together on Qdoba in slightly different roles from our past, but still developing great work – and having fun.
Where do you feel the most inspired in the world?
Bree: Space is important; I like to be in a bright, well-lit and open space. For me, it really comes down to the team I’m around. The best ideas come when I surround myself with the people who are the best at what they do. If I’m with them around a whiteboard and have a set of markers and Post-it Notes, the best work happens.
Blake: I totally agree. I try to hire people who don’t need to work for me, but want to work for me. I don’t want to hire people who need the job because, if they need the job, they are probably not that great. Sean Herman could go work anywhere, so I feel fortunate to sit with him and come up with ideas.
However, I need to be alone to think of my best ideas too. I’m not great at firing ideas out on the spot; I’m not that guy. I like wearing headphones in the corner somewhere working by myself. I’ve found that I’m prolific when I’m flying. No one is around me and I can block out the world.
Bree: I can get a lot of writing done on airplanes, too. The other thing about planes is that I have a set amount of time. I know there’s no way I can be interrupted for this hour or two because my phone won’t work. You are rarely, if ever, not connected, but if you’re in the air, you have a few hours of real focus, but still under time pressure to get it done. I think that’s how the magic happens.
Blake: Deadlines are funny. It’s one of those things that everyone looks thinks, “How are we going to get this done?” Somehow it always gets done. You never miss deadlines. You just find a way to figure it out.
Anything else or words of wisdom?
Bree: I’m not old enough for that. Haha.
Blake: The thing I would say to every student is that if advertising becomes a job for you – being whatever form that takes – quit now and do something else. If it’s a career for you, then there’s probably passion that comes with that career with goals and dreams. Figure out what you want out of this business? What do you want for your career? Write it down and then it’s basically figuring out how to get there. When you simplify your goals and decide where you want to be in three years and then in five years, it is easier to figure out how to get there. I still set goals every year.
Bree: I’m a big believer in surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you. And take action. Make decisions. Don’t churn, don’t spin, or sit wondering.
Blake: Make yourself the most valuable person in the room; that was my dad’s advice to me. He was an ad guy. Make sure if there are layoffs, you aren’t one of them. Make sure you’re the most valuable person in the room.
Thanks Blake and Bree!