Charlie McKittrick is exploring space

I had to take a break from publishing. Truth, I got extremely busy at my full-time job, some challenging freelance strategy projects for brands, and little disinterested in extra effort beyond all of that.

Thanks for hanging in there while I paused. When I tried to turn the podcast and newsletter machine back on, nothing really happened. Like a lot of procrastination, I assumed it was all about the build up of imaginary pain that prevents me from starting certain work or tasks. But as I waded back into production (real producers would be offended to my version of the craft) I paid attention to each step in the process at what I liked and didn’t like.

Honestly, I started this podcast and I continue it for my own selfish purposes. I do it to speak to and learn from smart people. People who are experts in their field, or who have information I find interesting or have questions to work through together. That learning is the part I care most about, followed by the conversations that kick off with people who listen after (nearly) every episode. Everything else, meh. Coordinating schedules, recording, editing, transcribing, blech. Even writing this letter, until my fingers touch the keys was just overwhelming me.

So here’s my request – tell me what parts you like and what you can live without. I did a Twitter and Linked in poll (very scientific) and less than 30% of people said they ever read transcripts. But if a single person tells me they personally read transcripts of this show, I will continue doing them.

The good news is I’ve got new conversations lined up, and I’m excited. If you have a guest you’d like to hear on the show, please send them my way. On this episode, Charlie McKittrick joined me and I was so happy for the opportunity to speak with him. He’s seen creative business from a lot of perspectives, and he’s now CSO and Managing Partner at Mother, and agency I’ve long admired (and so have you). His energy for understanding creativity and finding the ways and the space for it to flourish is contagious. He and the very smart people at Mother are working together to learn from the last extremely bizarre 20 months and try new ways to inspire, motivate and respect agency professionals and partners to continue meeting their high standards for results.

The Strategy Inside Everything is the podcast for people who think  for a living. If you have an idea, a question or you want to push back  on something you hear in this episode, go to https://thatsnotaninsight.com and leave a message or a voicemail for me. The best and most  interesting messages will be added to future episodes. And I can’t wait  to hear from you. Music for The Strategy Inside Everything is by  Sawsquarenoise. Host Adam Pierno is an author, speaker and strategy  consultant. Learn more at adampierno.com.

Listen here: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/charlie-mckittrick-is-exploring-space/id1269432601?i=1000542475771

Transcript:
Adam Pierno 0:03
Welcome back to The Strategy Inside Everything we are back after a bit of a layoff and coming to you from New York. Charlie, is that where you here today?

Charles McKittrick 0:19
Yes, yes. Go on. It’s Brooklyn. In fact, Oh, beautiful,

Adam Pierno 0:22
beautiful. I have the chief strategy officer and managing partner at Mother, Charlie McKittrick. Charlie, thank you so much for joining me via the interwebs. I really appreciate you making time for me.

Charles McKittrick 0:35
It’s super good to be here. It’s good to see you and meet you.

Adam Pierno 0:38
Yeah, we’ve already been getting up to speed and getting to know each other. And I think we’re gonna have a really great conversation. For my own context. I’ve obviously stalked you on LinkedIn before we got going here. But I think for the listener to hear that. I think for the listeners, would you give them a sense of how you got to the role that you’re currently in a mother?

Charles McKittrick 0:59
Yes, yes, with two caveats. A, it’s a terribly on strategic process. So there’s very little bit learn from it. And two, I hate talking about myself. And so even though I spend my entire career is sitting in rooms, introducing myself to very senior clients in large groups of people, every time it gets to me, I choke,

Adam Pierno 1:19
it makes me sweaty to tell people my career path I exactly. It’s terrible,

Charles McKittrick 1:23
but I guess it’s therapeutic. I mean, I did. And it’s also sort of a, I took the occasion of talking to you to sort of reflect back on it too, because there’s whatever, there’s been a number of changes. And I do my sister’s a therapist, also in Arizona, and she always talks to me about how people get stuck in their narrative. And so I thought, Oh, well, why don’t I just rethink what the narrative is? Anyway? Not that I know. Basically, I think there’s basically there’s sort of three parts. There’s kind of the early la years, there sort of Ogilvy and Mather, to mother years. And then there’s recently which is sort of mother but on a, on a bigger picture, sort of basis that I think we’ll go talk about, which is our new building and go on us and a lot of the new companies we’ve started and why we’ve done that, and how that all comes together, definitely. You know, that it’s, I basically I was a, I was a not a failed, but a philosophy major, who went astray, I was sort of seeking responsibility, and application. And I’d had a professor who’ve done a lot of documentaries, popularizing philosophical topics, I thought, oh, that will be cool. And so I went to LA to sort of become a filmmaker, and I fell in love with cinematography. And I thought that was going to be my thing. And I met up with this sort of great Romanian out tour, a guy named Adrian Villa chesco. And we sort of fell in together and did a couple of projects, and including a feature film and Sundance. And a number of things, but also including sort of starting a business at that point to to sort of fund the filmmaking. But it was probably an early digital business, it was sort of we had all this equipment that we’d created. We we bought and put together in order to have more control over our filmmaking. And then it turns out, you could use that to do a lot of things for clients. And so we developed that into a business. And then that was super interesting.

Adam Pierno 3:16
I think that is interesting. Normally, I don’t interrupt during the career context, portion. But I find it very interesting that you started with the idea of documenting telling that story telling real stories, that was your primary interest was was figuring out how to bring those cultural stories to life.

Charles McKittrick 3:38
Actually, yes, but I think it was also, I mean, I think one of the things I thought and reflecting just in talking to, it’s also, for me, it was about sensemaking, which is a lot. And I know that sounds like a crazy word. I’m apologize for using it on a podcast about strategy. But it’s like that’s what philosophy is, right? Philosophy is sort of, like, how does the world work? How do we make sense of it? And I think that’s what I liked about the idea of making films about philosophy was helping people understand the world because philosophy usually just tends to stay among philosophers, but there’s a lot of things that can help us, you know, as we battle ethical issues, and scientific issues, and all sorts of issues to bring it out. But I also think it bridges to a little bit even just then starting a company in order to fund support the film’s I was also like, really interested, how does this company work? Like, how do you build a company? And like, I think I got really interested too in our clients. And I was like, I don’t understand why our clients are buying, what they’re buying, and I don’t understand how it’s helping them in their businesses. And so I think a little bit that’s what then led me to them sort of bridge to the next phase, which was I went and got my MBA, because I sort of thought, well, if capitalism is the lifeblood of a modern economy, I bet understand how that works right to

Adam Pierno 5:01
the source. Yeah. So

Charles McKittrick 5:03
I went right to the source. And so, so that so then I followed that. And then I got, I got an internship, right, the fight for internships at business schools, as I don’t know, maybe some of your host guests have talked about. It’s a mercenary, but I wasn’t very mercenary. And I literally, I took an insurer internship off of somebody who just had an extra one. Basically, he was like, Oh, I developed this internship at Ogilvy and Mather. But I decided to go to Europe and like help start an electrical company. Would you like it? And I was like, Yeah, I’ll take it.

Adam Pierno 5:38
And love it. Like, there’s an empty seat I’m hopping in. Oh, my

Charles McKittrick 5:43
God is shame. I mean, it’s literally it’s probably like one of the biggest like, bifurcating branches in my career. And it was literally just because some dude was like, Hey, I got this internship, do you want it? And I was like, Yeah, I haven’t developed one for myself yet. But it turned out it was, I mean, great luck, because Ogilvy was, was sort of a perfect place to bring together sort of a former, you know, creative, both filmmaking and design background, but then my sort of newly learned like business, you know, sort of like theory and application and skills, and sort of put those together. You know, and it’s a great place. It’s a great training ground. There’s pockets of great work, and Oakley, especially in those days. And so I spent a couple of years there, and I think what was great, too, is strategically there was such variation, it was so large that we had brand strategy, a communication strategy, we have

Adam Pierno 6:36
commercial strategy, or were you on the account side, or what, what role did you take,

Charles McKittrick 6:40
I was I was in this sort of weird group called strategy, I think we call it a marketing strategy. And it was a little bit of brands planning, it was a little bit of commercial planning. And it was a little bit of media, you know, meeting connections planning. And it’s sort of in that era, sort of the big, it’s funny, it’s a pendulum swing, the, the Big Five consulting had started to eat the big agencies brand lunch, and the big agencies were trying to protect against that. So they were sort of trying to up there, the sophistication of their strategic skills and their business acumen. Which is why they they like, they liked me. But I think you know, so it was, it was great. And it was exposure to all these different disciplines. And I just sort of like mopped up as much as I could about every other job, other than the ones that I was doing. And I eventually built sort of a great department there, which was a sort of a marvelous hybrid of all of the things. But that was the core tension, like, I was an integrator, I felt, Oh, we’ve had to bring all these things together. And then that’s how you solve really big and interesting problems. And that’s what clients want. Clients don’t want 32 People all thinking about a micro segment of their problems. In a larger

Adam Pierno 7:54
assembly line, they want the philosophy of how it’s going to get fixed. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Charles McKittrick 7:59
But that was sort of a countervailing tension to oh, well, the OB is a OB is a like a disaggregated. They just want like, the best specialists in every unit. And so we eventually just like, had competing tensions, because I thought you can find enough sort of brilliant, funky few people to do all of the things really well. And that’s where mothers sort of came knocking. And again, the energy of mother felt a lot like the energy of LA, you know, a decade before where we were just like, you know, sitting in a warehouse downtown, doing really interesting things. And it was sort of confusing. But mother had just moved from Bond Street where they’d started in America. And they sort of kind of crossed this line, they bought the story got this big three story building up on 11th Avenue. And they sort of it was they were like, they went from like 30, like highly irresponsible, highly creative people, to all of a sudden, they were like, 60 in climbing. And they were I think a little bit they were like, Hey, Charlie, can you help us be a little bit more disciplined?

Adam Pierno 9:03
Do you think 60 Is the number is I’ve always I have a lot of conversations about, you know, where’s the number where it goes from freeform collective of creative thinkers to we have to get serious and get our act together? Let’s hire an MBA to lead us, you know, is it about 60? Or have you seen it? I’ve seen it go higher. But I’ve also seen that at 12, where somebody said, we need to we need some someone to help frame this up for us are with us?

Charles McKittrick 9:28
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s probably a little bit earlier than 60, though, I think, depending, you know, depending on what your tolerance for pain is, you can, you know, get to 60. But it was it was I don’t think you can go much farther than 60 at all. I think also just the complexity of the kinds of clients you need to have in order to feed that many mouths. All of a sudden just demands a level of sophistication.

Adam Pierno 9:52
And you’ve had a great run at Mother I mean, you’ve been there a decade. So you’ve seen the further growth at that place is obviously it turned into a continuing the legacy of the original office and just always plugged into to great work.

Charles McKittrick 10:08
Yeah, I mean, I think that I mean, I again, I feel I feel grateful. I feel grateful that I ran across Mark Robinson, who had a free internship for me. And I felt grateful that like, I ran across mother who’s also independent, financially independent and privately held, which I do think is one of the secrets to the business and creative universe. But it’s, I think, because of that it has this combination of a quest for Audacity, right, the level of creativity that we want from ourselves is incredibly high. And there’s just this common spirit of like, Oh, if that’s, if that’s an answer that somebody else would have come up with, like, is that really the answer we want? Like, let them go to that other agency to get that same answer? Like, let’s give them the one that we want to give them?

Adam Pierno 10:54
How much of that? So I know, you know, a lot of the debate you’ll have in an agency, a lot of debate we have is, hey, is this is this work the right answer for our brand? But do you have an internal debate that is, is this? Does this feel like something that only could come from mother on top of that filter of? Is it right for the brand? And that’s something that’s actually Absolutely

Charles McKittrick 11:13
not? No, if anything, we I think one of the one of the other characteristics of mother is a creative promiscuity, both in form meaning experiential, digital, big advertising, you know, big, big Super Bowl spots, whatever starting companies, building companies investing in companies, like that kind of promiscuity, as well as just total promiscuity, I think we there, there shouldn’t really be a tone to Mother other than unbelievably ambitious, audacious answers to clients that work. And there’s a little, there’s probably a little bit of a rebellious ness to it. Which isn’t, you know, which again, I don’t even think shows up totally in the work, but it should show up in the light. When you see the work, you should feel like, God, I can’t believe that they had the chutzpah to fucking put that in front of a client, and get them to do it. But always because it works. Like it’s never it’s never to trick a client. It’s never been, it’s always because we legitimately understand what that client’s business is. And we legitimately believe that that’s really the best way to answer. Yeah. And

Adam Pierno 12:15
how do you because I know you have a background and philosophy, and you have an MBA, and you’ve obviously been doing this at a high level? Oh, Nm. And I don’t think we call it that anymore at at Ogilvy, and Mather for a long time. How do you balance the philosophy side, the business side, and then prove out? You know, because creativity is, as we know, there’s a lot of subjectivity. How do you make that case? And in when there is something on the table that you say we really feel strongly? Is it through data? Is it through gut? Is it just through, you know, conversations and hearing concerns and trying to figure out how to address or knock them down?

Charles McKittrick 12:58
I mean, I’m gonna give you a terrible answer, which is, it’s literally every single thing you just said. And I think I’ll give you one observation, and then one set of facts. One observation is I feel like advertising. I think there was an incredible hustle to advertising in the early days, and the people who started those agencies were entrepreneurs. They were incredibly entrepreneurialism is creative. Yes. And so but they were simultaneously, doggone good business, people who created an industry that didn’t exist, like structured organizations in a way that no other organizations in structured, you know, like they were but also incredibly audacious and creative. And then I think there was an era where they got bought up by the holding companies. And then they became sort of cashflow generators for basically a portfolio holding company that’s just mopping up cash flows, because the margins are so good. And I think that’s when advertising lost its business edge a little bit. And when it got defensive, right, all of a sudden, I think that’s when creativity and business got disaggregated. And it was something you had to hide from a client or justify or trick a client into. And I think the nice thing about Mother and I think Robert Sabol who started the business in London, and Paul, and even Peter revi, who’s our CEO now is that it’s like, it’s always been the same thing for us. And I think because we’re independent, we have that early. It feels to me like that early entrepreneurialism and advertising where it’s like, it’s all we want a really, really big problems to solve. And all we want us to solve them in really, really interesting ways. And we don’t think that business is this other thing. I think that’s the mistake a lot of advertising made a decade ago. Was there like businesses a different conversation? It’s a different skill set. It’s scary. We need to hire different kinds of people to have different kinds of conversation that we have, and I think the answer is like, that’s not actually really true. It’s exactly the same. You need to understand the logic you need to understand the difference between you know, gross margin and operating margin. You have to understand Just like whatever, when you start talking about distribution that you’re gonna start to lose margin and have capital costs, but it’s not you know what I mean? Like, you don’t have to hire different people to do it, you can have one simultaneous answer. So that’s part one of mine. Can I do part two? Absolutely. So that’s part one, which is just my observation, which is like, business doesn’t need to feel different than creativity, we can do them together. But I think then to your to the, your sort of like palette of options is, I do think you need a lot of things. And I think a little bit, that’s why we’ve just sort of kicked off this new office and go on us and Brooklyn, it’s a 60,000 foot creative playground for people. But it’s, it’s because we have a we, I feel like we need all these new things like we started a media company. Over the pandemic, we started a production company over the pandemic, we’ve gotten mother designed for years. And it’s one of like, the greatest design shops in the country that I think still can do like incredible things. We’ve got this thing called Mother goods that does sort of products for like, no good reason other than we think they’re amazing. And they make us laugh. And then we’ve got a series of like venture investments that we think bring creative energy and experience back to us. But I think that’s to your to the way you even out line those those options, like we see that as like, there’s this big table, and we’re all sitting around the table. And it’s how Robert started mother 20 plus years ago was at his kitchen table. So we need all those people. And then depending on the right answer, it’s not everybody has to be at the table all the time. But depending on what the problem is, and what the answer is, maybe you do need some really rigorous, you know, media data, in order to show that there’s a brilliant system that can bring this to life, maybe you do need a really interesting, you know, production system that’s actually using craters on the ground and like harnessing the energy of like people actually doing things to bring that forward. You know, what I mean? Maybe whatever. But I think those are all the conversations we’d like to have with our clients. But because we have all of that stuff, working together when we needed to, we can have a simultaneous sort of creative and a creative conversation that a client believes like, these guys want the best for me, they understand how my business works. And they’ve been able to tell me a story that’s both persuasive, analytic, poetic, intuitive and quantified. You know, so that I believe them. And we go on this journey together.

Adam Pierno 17:23
Yeah. So it’s funny, because when you described your, your first role at Ogilvy, you mentioned that, that assembly line model that that we’ve seen, that’s what the holding company is essentially created. And that’s what the push into digital sort of forced was, Okay, we’re gonna have this person who’s going to hand off to this person, we’re going to streamline, we’re going to maximize revenue that way or maximize profit that way, which is pretty antithetical to the way creative really works. And then what you just described that mother, everybody’s sitting around the table, is almost the the antidote? Where do you think you would embrace it if you hadn’t lived the opposite? Or observed the results of the opposite? Or were you always geared this way?

Charles McKittrick 18:06
That’s a really good question. And I don’t, I don’t know the answer. I mean, I think having seen the opposite, has helped me have more confidence in the position we have now. And to I think it’s helped me and us all design the system we do have, because I do use that the operative word, which is other places where I’ve worked have had media agencies, and analytic businesses, and experiential companies, right? They’ve done that. But the thing that holds all those together is a pursuit of scope. And it’s a pursuit of money. Literally, like, you know, probably priority one and two,

Adam Pierno 18:50
and those when when those holding company agencies bring in their partner from the experiential, or the media team, then it becomes the knife fight over well, I’m gonna take this extra 10%. And it’s it’s not partnership. It’s kind of the shared Battle Royale that we have to hide from the client, but we’re all fighting over the extra 10 hours.

Charles McKittrick 19:11
Yeah, I mean, that’s one hundo. And I think it’s the worst. For us this, this is what this is what I like about us, and it’s something I’ve I’ve learned from other and maybe even from Robert Sabol, but it’s one of the best ways to make money is to not try to make money. And I think that that’s, that’s what holds all those people together in our system in the mother system is that we don’t work together because we want the money. And we don’t work together because we’re getting a greater share of scope. And we’re not working together because we think it’s them advertising of the future is more quantum you know what I mean? Like it’s not some idea of some trend. We want to work together because we want to do the most bonkers, am I allowed to swear? Yeah, The most bonkers fuck you work that we can that answers the problem in the best way. Yeah. And I think that that then, when everybody’s different, right because media people are a little bit different than advertising people and they’re different than design people. And they’re different than everybody’s different. And that’s okay. But what connects us is because we know each other, we like each other personally, we hang out, there’s an informality and an unprofessionalism to this place that sort of gets everybody to just meet everybody on their own terms be their true selves. And then we’re inspired by everybody’s excellence, then you sort of see like, when experience first got here, A, they hung out for a while. And everybody was like, yeah, they’re cool. And they’re a little bit that they’re different. They feel different. They sort of feel like they come from more of like a promotional background, but whatever we get it. And then they did the standard spectacular, which is when we, they emptied out the entire southern face of the standard Hotel in Manhattan. It’s like 250 rooms, put a dancer and a light kit and a backdrop and every single room gathered a million people on the West Side Highway looking up at the southern face of the standard hotel and did this like massive light show dance thing? I recommend anybody like go Google it, like Target standard spectacular mother link

Adam Pierno 21:13
in the in the show.

Charles McKittrick 21:14
But it made them the agency, everybody in the agency, then it looked at that and was like, holy moly, that is amazing. And then everybody wanted to do it. So my long way of continuing to answer this your question the same way as I do think, hopefully, that’s why we can combine those elements in a way that other people can’t, is because what holds us together, what gets us to work together. It’s not a fight over scope, or p&l. It’s a sort of a common desire to do really amazing. Fuck you work that really solves really big questions, too. I mean, I think that’s part of part of my observation about modern creativity is I think the good news is, is it’s everywhere. And there’s more of it. And businesses are embracing it more. I think the bad news is we have to fight to keep it big. You know what I mean? I think we have to fight to like answer really big, important questions. And I think that’s, that’s what drives us is hopefully that sort of personal connection. And that shared inspiration. And that acceptance of differences in desire of doing really amazing work two really big questions, is going to allow us to combine those people in a way where it doesn’t become like a scope fight, or even like a cultural territory war.

Adam Pierno 22:24
Yeah, you know, you’ve given me so many things. I’ve just took a bunch of notes. I don’t know if we’ll get to all of them. But one one thing I want to talk about the new space and GLONASS because you built it at this crazy time, you have a pretty ambitious plan. It sounds like you’ve added a lot of units during COVID. And during everything that’s going on, what kind of how did you plan for building that, what I’m going to reward I think, as informal culture, and kind of the trust factor into the space so that people would go there and feel safe to create and comfortable and in the mind space that they need to get to the kind of big, audacious solutions that you’re chasing, or you’re trying to encourage or that clients call mother for. Yeah, I mean, I mean, what a scary time to open an office. So just the audacity of having to deal with that as a brief on in this current time, that must have been daunting in itself.

Charles McKittrick 23:31
I mean, that’s Yeah, and I don’t know how we did it, we, we’ve started looking for space, even before the pandemic, and then when the pandemic came, you know, for a moment we like, our stomachs dropped, and we were like, holy shit. But then I think we were like, Oh, well, let’s take this as an opportunity to then negotiate the best deal that we can. And I think a little bit with Peter Peter, who’s the CEO, and my partner, and Paul, who’s the creative founder, Paul Malstrom. There’s a little bit of just a little bit of again, it’s rebellious. entrepreneurialism, where I think we just all had that instinct, which was like, in that those dark days of the pandemic, which is like, we either move forward, we either like get really aggressive, or we slip back. There’s no Holding, holding power here. And we didn’t lay anybody off. We didn’t fire anybody. We didn’t trim anybody salaries. That was the nice thing about being a privately owned company. We sort of we just like we took care of everybody. And we got aggressive. And I think it was this fundamental belief that proximity is important. And proximity is important in creativity and that that all of those different pieces need to inspire each other and they’ve always inspired each other by being next to each other. Like we’ve always had the work on the walls, because we want I want the target team to see what the Dave and Busters team is working on. And partially just to be inspired by it and even if a designer is sitting there and doing it requirements document that’s 400 pages long. They’ve got this, like, you know, bored of all their inspiration pinned up, and you’re like, wow, what is that Minor Threat poster from 1982. You’ve got That’s fucking incredible. And then they’re listening to some crazy music. And you’re like, what is that? Where did you find that, and then all of a sudden, you take that back to your project, and I don’t know, maybe it helps you maybe it doesn’t maybe you just are a little bit more excited than when you have to go and tackle your problem. And so I think it was like, deep down in the heart of the pandemic, we just, we knew that we had to get that we knew that that was not going to go away. And the creativity comes from different people inspiring each other and making connections that you hadn’t thought were connected, and that that happens in a physical space. And I think that the thing, you know, this is, you know, Paul’s point and to your question about safety and security, like, we don’t know, you know, like, I know, we can’t make anybody go back to work anymore. And I know what honestly, like the way I’m saying it, too, is it’s, it’s the future of not working. I actually don’t need anybody. If you think of, I think when people think of work, they’re like, that’s when I said in my cubicle, and I have my laptop open and my headphones on and I do my work like that part of all of our jobs like, we I never care, I don’t care where you fucking do that. Like, if that’s better do it at home with your peloton and your organic lunch. More power to you. But there’s advertising, it’s just a series of convenings. And people coming together and meeting and inspiring each other and stimulating each other and, and that’s the part where we want people to come in. And but again, I think to Paul’s point, like he was like, we just have to make a place that people want to come to. He was like, we can’t make anybody do it. And so and so partially, I mean, we’re building now, but I think there’s a couple of things a, he’s like, let’s create a space, where and this is mother spaces have always been this way, but where people can put their own print on it, where it’s not some designer’s vision, you know what I mean? That belongs to Paul Malstrom. And somebody else, but it’s actually like, a place where two years from now, we’ll be like, Oh, my God, I can’t believe that the people did that. It’s

Adam Pierno 26:58
a it’s a vessel that allows them to come in and add build on it. And yeah, it’s kind of the improv Yes. And model. Yeah,

Charles McKittrick 27:04
yeah. And I think the other thing too, is he, he sort of, he half made up and, you know, half is, you know, perfectly authentic, this idea of the seven energies. And whatever, it’s, by the way, there’s not really even seven, there’s only six of them. But when the seven energies, but it was sort of it was it’s this idea that I, I’ve been reading a lot of the architectural, the articles about the future of work and the future of the workplace, and all of that stuff. And that’s like, a real, like, I keep a list, task based pods, type ologies, activity based work areas, team rooms, collaboration rooms, complete hybrid work ecosystems, and, and I’m like, collaboration, like I can make a room and call the collaboration room. And I can put beanbag chairs and like a swinging chair, and some like, you know, post it notes, colored post notes in the middle. But that still doesn’t make people who think different ways, collaborate together, like collaboration isn’t like sticking your slides in different sections in a document. To me collaboration is like calling up somebody and having like, it’s like lots of little tiny, intimate moments where you’re like, What do you think about this? How are you doing that? And you listen to what they say, and you don’t believe five of the pieces, but three of the pieces, you’re like, oh, that’s super cool. And then somebody else calls you who’s working on the project and was like, What do you think about this, you’re like, Well, I’m thinking about that, you know, what I mean? It’s like, all of these little notions. And so, to me, it’s like, collaboration and connection is about the feeling and the emotion of the space. It’s not about the, you know, archetypes, work processes zones. And so a little bit, that’s why, you know, Paul designed he did, he designed the building to the six energies. And the six energies are sort of the different, just the different emotional places that anybody wants to be at during the course of the day, and you don’t have to go through all six, maybe you never go through any of them. Maybe you do one in a day. But it’s like, sometimes you need really quiet time. You know, where nobody disturbs you. And you just feel Zen sometimes you need, you know, a performance time where you stand up in front of a bunch of people and have to sell the shit out. Sometimes you need like, moderate interaction time with other people where you’re not sitting back on the couch, but you’re not leaning on forward, but you’re just sort of add like a cafe setting. Sometimes you just want to like hang out with your buddies and you just got like a couple Couches and Coffee Table and your feet up on the thing. So anyway, so that’s this is a long rambling answer to your to your question, but which is parsley, we just tried to design for the the emotional elements that made the place feel good that makes that makes the place help people feel connected to each other. So that then we can collaborate and then hopefully that inspiration is then what’s going to like, keep people coming back. For those parts of working that are important and for the parts that they don’t have to that’s fine.

Adam Pierno 29:47
Yeah, I mean, how, especially right now, I mean, the business even before the pandemic was more business more tense more, you know, squeezing out pennies out Out of each part of the, the assembly line for the holding company type agencies, how are you balancing? How have you been balancing the fun part of creativity or the adventure as part of creativity with that business solution? Even, you know, leading up to the new space?

Charles McKittrick 30:19
I mean, I mean, that’s the trillion dollar question.

Adam Pierno 30:23
That’s why I’m taking notes.

Charles McKittrick 30:26
Because that’s, we, we literally have something called the Holy Trinity that we try to do everything by and it’s great work, have fun, make a living, and that have fun isn’t like, you know, playing volleyball and Foosball that have fun is what you’re talking about. It’s the it’s the enjoyable part of doing a really hard job. And so I think we try to keep that there all the time. As part of my answer, Adam is like, that’s a requirement for us. It’s not a nice to have like it’s, it’s the job is too hard. Like if it’s not actually enjoyable. If you’re not enjoying the people you’re with and the arguments you’re having and the stress that you’re going through, then it’s not worth doing. But you’re right. It’s it was it was really hard we did. We did this thing called mother in the middle. So we we’ve studied it a little bit. And we did sort of an ID, EO exercise, we, we we polled everybody and had lots of both focus groups and interviews and just quant studies. And we basically came up with a bunch of recommendations. And one of them was, we actually did create this, I rented a restaurant, we rented a restaurant in Bushwick for most of the pandemic where people could just go and hang out at distance, you know, masked, but you could still get together with your team if you wanted to. And you could still get photocopies, and you could still get a free lunch. And you could still do that. We also did this thing. And this is one of my favorite things that we did. But we we figured out. So one of the metaphor was everybody knows how to play soccer. You know, what cleats to use, you know, where everybody says, you know where the lines are, you know what I mean? Like, you know how the ball flies, and then all of a sudden, over the pandemic, like we started playing soccer in space, like the field was banned, there was no gravity, you know what I mean? And yet, we were still playing by the same rules. We were conducting meetings in the same way. We were using the same technologies. And so a little bit the brief was like, what, how can we help establish a new set of rules so that we play soccer in space in the right way? So yeah,

Adam Pierno 32:27
take advantage of some of the new changes that were that we’re all Yeah, now we have these maybe their opportunities

Charles McKittrick 32:34
100. And so we did this, we did these things called they were these little Curtis proper videos. And I’ll send you some of you want to look at them. They’re there, their mother mental, but they’re really good. And they’re just really snackable snackable moments where we try to adjust that sort of the soft part of working together, ie, being really clear what a meeting is about. And not necessarily scheduling an hour long meeting for everything. Ie being really clear what format a meeting needs to take. And if it doesn’t have to be a zoom. And it can be a phone call do that if it can be people meeting in somebody’s backyard do that if you can just have the meeting versus teletype do that. For example, all the other things too about, we gave everybody lunch off, like no meetings during lunch, but making sure we reinforce that little things about people I did because again, everybody’s in different time zones. So establishing new rules for project teams that were starting, where they actually took a moment at the beginning of the project to say, I’m in Sweden, I’m in Denver, I’m in Los Angeles, I’ve got a kid and I’ve got to do this. I don’t have a kid, but I you know, and establish a common set of rules that was specific to that team and specific to that project. So that, you know, we weren’t sort of trying to cram, you know, this old, this old fashioned set of cleats to turn if that worked.

Adam Pierno 33:55
Yeah, but it sounds like on a project basis or a team basis, you’re giving them freedom to to make it work for themselves. And so the rules don’t have to be rigid for a, you know, the corporate rules, who cares? Yeah. Interesting. You guys to get the work done. Let’s make it work. You have kids, or if you don’t have kids, but you’re in a softball league, and you want to get out at seven o’clock and make sure you get your game like we should make sure that we can do that. No reason you can’t. Well, there are reasons why sometimes you can’t but but there should be a reason why you never make it to a single game.

Charles McKittrick 34:28
I did take a phone call during my kids soccer game two days ago.

Adam Pierno 34:32
I think we were all guilty of that.

Charles McKittrick 34:35
But yeah, I mean, it was It wasn’t perfect, but we did you know we did and we kept summer Fridays all year round. We just we tried to do as much as we could to adapt the way that we convene and work together. You know, so that it actually matched to the new set of requirements and the new environment and didn’t didn’t, you know, didn’t rub against it. I mean, it was it’s definitely hard and everybody I mean, again, I just like, I can’t believe everybody survived and arrived and now it’s just like, it’s the least least here at Mother. I just everybody was just amazing.

Adam Pierno 35:07
Yeah, you know, one. One thing I’ve observed in conversations with people on the brand side is there’s a, there has been a transition towards this presenteeism of logging in and being visible, when when when people are remote and answering or sending things out late or really early to make your presence known and show off how hard you’re working or how committed you are that you’re actually, you know, trying to make sure people recognize that you are working because it can be invisible for a lot of people, especially organs that have been fully remote. But at agencies, I can probably count on one hands over my 20 Something year career people that I thought were not putting in 5060 hours a week anyway. Has that been a concern? Or people? I mean, from a management perspective, your strategy team, I’m sure the last thing you’re worried about is? Are they building their hours? It’s almost probably the opposite of like, how do I? How do I protect these people from themselves? So they don’t feel that they have to do that? Is that something you’ve dealt with?

Charles McKittrick 36:11
Yes. Oh, for sure. There’s definitely we had unlimited vacations even before pandemic. But I think it’s even more important now. And I think again, it’s it’s I think it’s a, it’s about continuing to implement a lot of cultural tricks to then make sure that people feel like they can take that, like, it’s okay to take that like Nobody judges them for that. And that’s really soft stuff. But I think it’s important stuff. I’ve there’s a there’s, there’s a person who works on our team in Los Angeles, and we had a big pitch over the summer. And we sort of managed to do it in a way where the lead creative got to take their vacation. One of the junior strategists got to like everybody kind of got to do their thing. But the the, the, the lead the lead strategist on it didn’t get to. And so I’ve been talking to her all the time. And I’m like, you still like, take vacation now. And a little bit. I was like, I was like, it doesn’t even need to be a big vacation. Now like the thing of in our businesses, just take it when you get it like even if it’s just two days in the middle of the week, where you just like, go chill or you know, go get a massage or go do whatever you like, do that and then do if it’s you know, if it’s a Denver ski trip that you need to reschedule still go do that. But I do think it is about verbalizing it all the time, and creating an environment where people can can adapt to it. And we have a whole new set of rules. So we definitely have worked from home Fridays for now. And we also have something which is just an experiment, we’re just seeing how it goes. But this idea of 15 work from anywhere credits. Because I think one of the things that we saw that was really cool was people would go and work from Mexico City for a week, or they would go visit their parents in Denver and spend, you know, take a week off and hang out with their parents and then work from work from home for a week. So we thought that was really cool. And so we’re trying to people can then take those credits. And if they want to have like Monday’s work from home and Fridays, you work from home, they can use the credits that way, but if they want to go to Mexico City, they can do that as well. So it’s

Adam Pierno 38:14
hard they can do it. It’s not ideal when the entire company is doing it. But but having people move around actually creates new sources of inspiration, there’s benefit. Yeah, yeah, it sounds like you are tapping into kind of all the, all the tools at your disposal in this new zero gravity version of the sport that you’re figuring out.

Charles McKittrick 38:35
It just it’s just, we we just have to make a place that continues to be magnetic, you know, and I think the, the, the more broader the can creative canvases we have like media like production, like design, like, you know, experiential, like even venture investing, the more attractive we are, the more interesting this place can be, you know, in terms of having all the different emotional zones, you know, the more inspiring our work all of you know, it’s just like, I’m just trying to create as many things that make it attractive to the most creative people so that people do come in for those parts of work where we need to I don’t need anybody to come in and toil but I do need people to come in and inspire each other. Because that’s how we get to really big fuck you answers to really big questions, not small questions, like that’s part of my part of my challenge to advertising as we can get really small right now. And it can be about using empathy to optimize your, you know, customer experience stream, and that’s cool, but you know, we should be making sea level board room, you know, conversations about really big topics and, but that’s only going to happen if we all get together and if we create a space that this brings everybody together.

Adam Pierno 39:41
Awesome. Charlie, thank you so much for making time for me today. I really appreciate you dialing in here and joining me it’s been wonderful talking to you

Charles McKittrick 39:51
know, thank you so much for having me. It’s been really super fun.

Adam Pierno 39:54
I know people can find you at the mother site. Where else can people find you online specifically?

Charles McKittrick 40:00
that’s that’s pretty much it. Every now I’ve got an Instagram but it’s probably not for everybody. And whatever I try not to be too much of a blowhard that I probably should, you know, write more articles. But yeah, find me a mother for sure. Find me on LinkedIn and I’m easy to find and I’m happy to talk and do to anything people want me to do. Awesome.

Adam Pierno 40:23
Thank you, Charlie. Great, great talking to you.

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