Cross the bridge and join the dragons

53 years ago, early in her career, Joni Mitchell recorded this song.

It’s not something most people will want to listen to often. Shortly after that, she became the one and only Joni Mitchell. But first, she had dues to pay.

That’s the work of practice and discernment and skill. You’re not born with genius, it’s a skill.

You might have to sing more than one song like this before you end up with the art that resonates with your audience.

The limited-edition pre-launch of The Practice

My new book ships in two weeks.

It’s about the human process of shipping creative work, regardless of what sort of job we have. It’s about trusting yourself. Mostly, it’s about getting back to becoming the person you seek to be.

You can find details on the book (and links to pre-order) here.

For the true fans, I’ve put together exactly 400 sets of limited-edition swag. If you order the special 12-copy set of the book from Porchlight, you’ll also get a large handful of cool stuff, including a hand-lasered writer’s block, a set of letterpress hand-printed pages, six (of 12) collectible storage packs and a magical surprise that contains actual magic.

If you’re the sort of person who likes to go first, or wants to share a book with your peers, today’s the day. There aren’t many…




Can TREAT TOWN Virtual Experience from Mars Wrigley Save Halloween?

What does an enormous candy company do for the biggest candy day of the year during a pandemic? Mars Wrigley decided to make Halloween virtual with the launch of TREAT TOWN™, a trick-or-treat website and app. There are millions of fans of Halloween, many disappointed that in their community going door-to-door is not allowed this year.

Our Favorite Seattle Interactive Conference 2020 Sessions

The Seattle Interactive Conference took the virtual stage this year, delivering inspiring sessions that hit at the intersection of innovation, UX, design, and strategy. Members of Portent’s social media and analytics teams enjoyed two days of live and on-demand content from some of the best in the industry. Here are the top takeaways that Rommel Alcobendas, Rosalina Felipe, Whitney Norton, and Jessica Taylor wanted to share.

We’re Always Wrong: Testing Your Way to Big Ideas on Social

Presented by: Rachel Hofstetter, CMO, Chatbooks & Elise Davis, Head of Mobile and Connectivity, Facebook

You’re running an ad campaign…do you know where your results are?

This question was prompted early on in the discussion between Rachel Hofstetter and Elise Davis. Their presentation focused on a collaborative effort between the Facebook Creative Shop and Chatbooks, a company specializing in photo books, cards, and custom prints.

Chatbooks had been running campaigns on Facebook, driving great results, but were stuck, as Hofstetter put it, “optimizing into a hole.” They were choosing incremental wins like headline variations or different colored creative elements over something larger and more experimental when it came to their ad strategy.

The concerns holding them back, understandably, were related to time and financial investment.

As it turned out, the solution brought to them by Facebook’s Creative Shop was betatyping. By testing creative using multiple, lightweight prototypes vs. fully vetted, developed creative, the Chatbooks team could get results and audience input before the campaign concluded, and their budget was spent in full.

The benefits actually reduced risk for advertisers, rewarded their experimentation, and celebrated “being wrong.” If customers are always changing, why apply a “one size fits all” approach to ad creative?

After a period of creative development, Chatbooks finalized five ad concepts to use within campaigns. By leveraging existing assets to create text-driven videos, the team was able to make these unique ads in an hour and a half.


In short, their campaign was a big success. But betatyping also led the Chatbooks team to a revelation that entirely shifted the way they approached their branding and company ethos.


Because of the success of their campaign, “Designed for Kids,” Chatbooks reimagined their business structure around that concept. This meant implementing a “Toddler Guarantee” and leaning into the findings of their beta-typing test with kid-focused messaging as their North Star.

All too often, creative is an “all or nothing” variable within advertising, especially on Facebook. Clients and businesses invest heavily in a single concept and head back to the drawing board once a campaign has wrapped.

This discussion was a great reminder that testing can take many forms, and sometimes breaking the mold of the standard A/B test is required to get great results and game-changing business insights.

Creating Content for the Snapchat Generation

Presented by: Nicole Longo, Head of North America Business Marketing, Snapchat

The way that users interact on Snapchat is different from all other social platforms. Snapchat doesn’t have features such as likes or comments, which alleviates the pressure to focus on the engagement of the content that is posted. As a result, Snapchatters have the freedom to become their natural selves. In addition, the networking opportunity is not about following influencers or celebrities, but instead about building friendships, communities, and taking action on social responsibility.

Snapchat reaches “75% of users within the age of 13-34 in the US population.” As Snapchat learned how this generation engages with content, they’ve discovered themes, including values and behaviors that matter most for this demographic. When creating content on Snapchat, marketers should keep these five themes in mind.

  1. They take social responsibility seriously. 82% of Snapchat users believe they have the personal responsibility to change the world.
  2. They give back to their communities. The Snapchat generation cares more about their communities. 34% of Snapchat users are more likely to buy from brands that support their local community.
  3. They nurture friendships. Their close friends influence their purchasing decisions 4X more than celebrities or influencers.
  4. They celebrate individuality. The Snapchat generation celebrates what makes them unique. According to Gen Z Snapchatters, “be yourself” is the slogan that best defines them.
  5. They communicate with friends in new ways. Snapchat users drive new behaviors. 75% of users say that vertical video is more personal and immersive.

Designing for Trauma

Presented by: Alain Sylvain, Founder & CEO, Sylvain Labs

During his presentation, Alain recounts the 1972 Buffalo Creek flood disaster and the psychological and sociological aftermath sociologists identified as “collective trauma” felt by the community. This collective trauma is felt throughout human history, at all scales of shared experiences, and is present and ongoing this year. One in three people has displayed clinical signs of anxiety, depression, or both since March 2020 in America alone.

What happens when everyone experiences the same trauma? Social fabric changes, and designing to cope has to evolve with it. When communities face collective trauma, two responses result:

  • A divisive retreat is part of that immediate response to trauma. Observed human behavior reveals that a flight-or-flight reaction will find people seeking comfort in their own safe space and community, resulting in shutting out others.
  • Seeking solidarity is another response found in people that experience the same trauma. Habits, behaviors, and continued shared experiences allow showing support and solidarity.

Alain continues to recognize that these coping mechanisms are only a short-term solution, or “surge,” and argues that responding to collective trauma with sustained solidarity is possible through design built on three motives:

  1. Create Shared Languages. Build messages, symbols, and iconography that can be shared to combat a divisive retreat. Creating a shared language can help bring people together to communicate and progress.
  2. Shaping Gathering Places. The designed experience of collective contemplation and ideas. Memorials and museums are examples of physical locations to best serve peoples’ needs for reflection and virtual communities to share ideas.
  3. Reframe Storied Narratives. Shaping stories of a collective trauma that will allow people to witness the experience from another person’s perspective influences a stronger sense of empathy and emotional intelligence. Stories of resilience that retell the experience of trauma will help with reflection. Allow the stories of old to be told for a new audience as an opportunity to learn and understand.

Writing Inclusive Experience

Presented by: Brittney Urich, Senior Experience Designer, Ogilvy

“As UX practitioners, we have a responsibility to build human-centered experiences that are inclusive for everyone. This includes writing that can be understood by all users.”

Though it wasn’t the flashiest of sessions, that was exactly its point. Simplicity and straightforwardness resonate with users and increase conversion.

Users come to our sites to do something. In order to do it, they need the context of content. Regardless of education or reading level, our attention for digesting this content is stretched thinner than ever. Writing in plain language conveys our expertise and respects our users. This is possible—and especially important—for sites promoting highly technical products.

Urich gives five guiding principles for writing in plain language:

  1. Write for your audience. Know their experience level and use words that are familiar to them. Use words that are precise to their discourse community, but avoid slang, idioms, and jargon.
  2. Simplify your language. Be concise. Use pronouns appropriately; use “you,” “we,” and “I” in place of company or department names. Added bonus: this infuses humanity into your content. For guidance, visit
  3. Be Actionable. Use an active voice. Write descriptive links.
  4. Design for reading. Use clear headers and bulleted lists to allow users to find the content that is most relevant to them. Use tables for complex information and to allow for easier comparison.
  5. Test before launch. Test your content’s readability scores with tools like Have a member of your audience read it too.

Final Thoughts

And that’s a wrap! Those were our top takeaways from SIC 2020. We look forward to sharing what we learned with our teams and clients, and applying these ideas and strategies to our day-to-day. Hope to see you next year at SIC 2021!

The post Our Favorite Seattle Interactive Conference 2020 Sessions appeared first on Portent.

“I hate this restaurant”

Back in the old days, I took someone to a local Italian restaurant for dinner.

As we looked over the menu, complete with regional specialties and handmade pastas, he started to sulk. With a sullen look, he said, “I want a hamburger and french fries.”

Somehow, the patient kitchen staff figured out how to produce this out of thin air, and a tantrum was narrowly averted. But I’ve been thinking about that interaction a lot.

In his mind, “restaurant” meant, “a place where I can get a hamburger and french fries.” If you look at many 1 star reviews (of books, of music, of restaurants) this is precisely what you’re going to see. A mismatch of expectations. A mismatch that is blamed, completely, on the person who created the work, not the critic.

It doesn’t matter that the thing was clearly marked. It doesn’t matter that the thing was extraordinarily well-produced. And it doesn’t matter if just about everyone else experiencing it was thoroughly delighted.

Because for this spoiled, under-informed and impatient patron, it failed.

This failure comes from a few contributing factors, all amplified by our culture:

First, you can’t know if you’re going to like an experience until you experience it. All you know is your understanding of what was on offer. And because there are so many choices and there’s so much noise, we rarely take the time to actually read the label, or we get carried away by the coming attractions, or we just don’t care enough to pay attention until we’re already involved.

[And marketers are complicit, because in the face of too much noise, they hype what’s on offer and overpromise…]

Second, because many people are afraid. They’re afraid of the new and even more than that, afraid of change. Most people in our culture would like to be entertained not transformed, lectured at instead of learning.

Third, the double-edged sword of giving everyone a microphone means that we’ve amplified the voices of dissent at the same time we’ve given people a chance to speak up about their desires. This means that mass culture is far more divisive than it ever was before, and it also means that bubbles of interest are more likely to be served.

And so the fork in the road:

You can either turn your operation into a cross between McDonald’s and Disney, selling the regular kind, pandering to the middle, putting everything in exactly the category they hoped for and challenging no expectations…

Or you can do the incredibly hard work of transgressing genres, challenging expectations and seeking out the few people who want to experience something that matters, instead of something that’s merely safe.

Better and cheaper

That’s a pretty powerful combination. Some customers gravitate toward the option that offers ease, quality and convenience, while others prefer low price. If you can do both…

One way we’ve seen that done is with scale. Many people prefer the big box store to the local merchant. Not only is it often cheaper, but the selection might be dramatically better, the parking might be easier and in some rare cases, the service is better as well. How is this possible? Because volume pays off in almost every way that matters to the customer.

Another way is with proprietary insight. If a company has a production process, a patent or some other barrier, they can often deliver something faster and cheaper… a barrier that a competitor without that shortcut can’t overcome.

A third way is with herculean effort. When the people who work on the team simply care more. Caring is work, and caring is in short supply. An organization staffed with smart people who care can often run circles around a lazier competitor.

Most of the time, though, you’re probably unable to rely on one of these approaches. If that’s the case, the next best option is to choose. To actually be better (regardless of price) or to actually be cheaper. But pretending that you have both doesn’t work very well.

It costs a lot but it’s worth more than it costs.


The word has a very specific meaning, which is why it’s so powerful.

If we accept behavior that’s unacceptable, we’re compromising on something that we thought was too important to compromise on.

And that’s how we end up with the unacceptable becoming commonplace.

Two kinds of limbo

Uncomfortable limbo happens when we’re seeking firm footing and there isn’t any. The discomfort comes from not knowing, from our unlimited desire to get through it to the other side.

And comfortable limbo is a place to hide. We lull ourselves into complacency, because the limbo of being in between feels safe, with no responsibilities.

Amazingly, two different people can experience the same limbo in totally different ways. It’s not the limbo that’s different, it’s us.

We like what we choose

Not the other way around.

It feels safer to say that we’re born with talents and gifts, that we have a true calling, that we’re looking for what connects with our passion.

That’s not useful (because it means you spend a lot of time shopping around) but it’s also not true.

New research confirms that random choices lead to preferences, and then it follows that preferences lead to habits and habits lead us to become the person we somehow decide we were born to be.

If you had grown up somewhere else or some time else, there’s little doubt that you’d prefer something else. The things we think we need are simply the things we’re used to.

And if you like what you like simply because you have a pattern, that means that you might be able to like something else if you could develop new patterns.

In short: If we commit to loving what we do, we’re more likely to find engagement and satisfaction. And if what we do changes, we can choose to love that too.

How to Hold Your Client Accountable

This is one of the hardest things to do effectively when working in an agency environment.

If your day-to-day role puts you at the table working directly with clients, learning how to hold your client accountable is a skill that is not discussed or taught as often as it should be.

By effectively holding clients accountable to the work agreed upon, agencies and their practitioners can benefit immensely. I’ll also argue that it can help clients get better results from their engagement as well. Getting this right is so important, and it’s a fine line for agency folks who are constantly under pressure from the prospect of losing a service contract.

Effectively holding your client accountable positions your agency team to do their best work, it keeps your agency financially healthy, and arguably, it actually sets your client up to achieve the best outcome from your work together.

Missing here results in your client dictating the course of your work together, an unprofitable account for your agency, and an unhappy agency team held back from properly executing on their expertise. Your client may be happy with that in the short term. Long term, nobody, including your client, will win.

With so much at stake, it’s vital to get it right.

If you’re struggling with where to start, there are a handful of places to narrow your focus. This post is all about how to set yourself up to hold your client accountable more effectively. No matter what, it’s a hard thing to do well, but it’s made easier if approached correctly. Here’s where to begin.

Know the SOW

Hopefully, you have a detailed scope of work to lean on before any work happens. As the agency, you need to know that SOW inside out. If well-written, that SOW should set you up with initial expectations and boundaries. Use that to your advantage.

Clients will push for everything they can get (and they should)! When the SOW is infringed on, you have to say something right away. ‘No’ doesn’t have to be the answer when a client asks for something that isn’t included in your SOW. If it’s a small ask, consider taking it on to build the relationship. If it’s a big ask, the answer can still be yes, adding, “but we’ll need to re-prioritize this with other work or draft an additional SOW for what you’re requesting.”

The SOW is there to protect both the agency and the client. Don’t ignore it. If your client signed up for something but wants something else, that’s fine. Talk about it, go back to your SOW, and decide the best path forward.

Your SOW is a signed acknowledgment of the agreed-upon work to reference. Don’t forget about it!

Acknowledgment of an agreement is the foundation required to better hold a client accountable. If you don’t have a specific agreement with acknowledgment from your client, good luck with any of this.

Start Firm

The best thing you can do to hold your client accountable to the work scoped is to set firm boundaries and expectations right from the very beginning.

The first 45 days of your work together are key. If you can get into a regular cadence that is in line with the SOW, you’ll set yourself up for success in the long run. If you’re consistently overservicing your client early so you can get off to a good start, plan on overservicing for the long run and losing profit margin on your work. Once you’re a few months in, the expectation is already set; reeling that back is incredibly difficult.

Document and Agree on a Work Plan

It doesn’t matter what kind of agency you are; whether you’re completing small tactical project-based work or you were brought in for a multi-year consulting contract, you should build and maintain a work roadmap that is shared with the client.

Once the work is planned and expectations with delivery dates are detailed, get sign-off from your client. I’ll clarify: get sign-off from your client in writing. A shared project management system is a great place to house all of this stuff.

That sign-off is your client’s acknowledgment and agreement to the plan. Acknowledgment of your agreement in combination is key. That acknowledgment gives you a receipt. Don’t forget about it!

When plans are made, expectations are set, and agreement happens, accountability becomes much easier. Yes, plans will change. And when they do, go back to your work roadmap, prioritize appropriately, reset deadlines, and get acknowledgment and agreement.

Document and Agree on Work Dependencies

Work dependencies represent the place where clients most often miss their commitments. When not held accountable to those commitments, agencies get crunched with unrealistic times or are asked to complete their work without everything they need to get it done.

This is where I see agencies struggle the most to keep their clients accountable to their agreements.

If you’re in a professional services environment where there are no dependencies on your work from the client, you’ll be in good shape. For most of us, our work has many client dependencies built into what we do. Those dependencies could be anything from waiting on marketing collateral to be delivered so we can start our work to waiting on approval from a senior vice president or CEO to launch something.

Regardless of what dependency you need from a client to progress your work, outline the dependency, detail how it affects the rest of your work, and set a deadline for the client to follow through.

It’s crucial to get acknowledgment and agreement from the client here as well. Once you have that, you’ve got another receipt to go back to when expectations aren’t met.

The documentation of details and agreement arms you with the basis you need to push back effectively when clients don’t hold up their end of the bargain. Agencies will always have to flex, but agencies should also be prepared to push back on clients who don’t follow through appropriately.

Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Saying ‘yes’ to a client is easy. Not saying anything when a client doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain is easy.

But taking that route over and over again isn’t going to get you very far. It’s really hard to step out on a limb and challenge your client. It puts agencies in a vulnerable place for so many reasons. The consultants, account managers, and agency practitioners that can do it the most effectively are also the ones that get the most out of their agency-client relationships.

Our strongest, most meaningful client relationships are the ones where we’ve been able to hold our client as accountable as well as we hold ourselves accountable.

The push and pull of a successful client-agency relationship must be a two-way street. But all too often, a needy client who is under pressure to produce results fast can run over their agency team with additional requests, delivering late on their commitments, or scrambling to change direction at the last minute. And as an agency aiming to please, it’s easy to let them, since they know they hold power in the dynamic of the relationship, right?

But when agencies can hold their clients accountable, and when those clients can take that pushback from their agencies to address any issues constructively, the promise of meaningful work is ever-present, and relationships between agencies and their clients can flourish.

Previous posts in this series:

Building Great Brand-Agency Relationships
How to Set and Maintain Meaningful Marketing Goals
How to Hold Your Agency Accountable

The post How to Hold Your Client Accountable appeared first on Portent.