Squarespace CCO & 3 Freelancers Show You How to Stand Out
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
Squarespace's newest campaign is a hilarious PSA on how different types of artists, from musicians to magicians to "storytellers" can "Make It Stand Out." It points to the fact that, statistically, our job titles (and band names) aren't that unique. The campaign naturally suggests both using Squarespace to build your custom site and making a few tweaks to your self-branding to help elevate you and your work above the crowd. For creatives, no matter how talented at their craft, standing out is often the hardest part. So we reached out to Squarespace CCO David Lee and three of the WNW Members he enlisted for this campaign: Brock Kirby, Mathieu Zarbatany, and Adina Birnbaum. In addition to hearing from both sides how the campaign came together from idea to execution, they also each offer invaluable advice on what they do to make themselves and their work stand out.
To kick things off in the interview below, David tells us why it's important for a "creative, design-centric company" like Squarespace to bring in freelancers. "I’m a big believer in having some capabilities in-house, but ultimately you will benefit from an outside influence on the ideas and the work. It’s very easy to get stuck looking two inches in front of your face and the work becoming very similar over time. Having some outside creative influence to support our work is something we always look forward to."
This was art director Mathieu's first time working directly for a brand/client, and he liked how focused the process was. "No need to spend days putting together decks and presentations. We were able to focus on the actual work instead. Everything was accelerated. Ideas would get the green light very quickly." It was also the first time that these three creatives had worked together. "Normally I’d be a little freaked out by that," copywriter Brock tells us. "But David Lee (CCO), Josh Webman (CD) and Sandra Nam (Production Director) did a great job putting together a team of good humans on this one. No egos. Just smart folks."
We also asked David what portfolio trends he wishes would die. "The ones that try too hard. At the end of the day, it’s all about the work: there’s no smoke and mirrors and dry ice tactics you can do to cover it up if the work isn’t great... Make work that matters and has cultural impact. Don’t show work that doesn’t." Adina, the producer, breaks down how she makes her work and portfolio stand out: "As one of many producers out there vying for a gig, I try to highlight the work I've done for unexpected brands. I chose jobs I'm so excited to put on my site, be it post-production on SIA's music videos, an Hermès Petit h Holiday pop-up event, or a man-made yogurt contraption for Chobani. Before I accept a job, I ask myself, 'Is there something in this production opportunity that I haven't done yet?' I'm always going to grow and learn, and these unique jobs are the ones that stand out."
Describe Squarespace in 3 words.
DAVID LEE: Make it Beautiful.
What attracted you to Squarespace? What about its creative culture sets it apart from other companies?
DL: Squarespace has always been a creative, design-centric company - it’s part of our DNA. We relaunched Squarespace in 2012 with creatives in mind because we know that creative types are the most discerning, and felt that it was the most difficult problem to solve for in our space. We’re a bigger company today with a much broader audience, but it’s important that we continue to build products that will be embraced by the creative community. It’s also important to note that we’ve always been protective of our brand and make sure that everything we put out in the world is brave and beautiful.
What was the initial brief for Squarespace’s latest campaign, "Make It Stand Out"?
DL: We wanted a campaign that was targeted to an audience who may not think they need a website at all. We built the campaign for people who have no intent to build a site and focused on what could we do or say that could cut through the noise and communicate a simple message that anyone could understand.
What drew you to Adina, Brock, & Mathieu as creatives who could own Squarespace’s voice?
DL: Squarespace exists to empower people and allow them to voice their ideas, and as such we’ve always been open to fresh perspectives and insights on our brand and our business. It used to be you needed a huge agency to do this – today you can easily do the same with a freelance creative team and a producer.
I have worked with Mathieu for almost 15 years. We started out at an agency in Montreal called Diesel which then became Sid Lee (most people don’t know that Sid Lee is just an anagram of the word Diesel). We ended up working together again at AKQA San Francisco. While we eventually went our separate ways – I moved on to W+K London and TBWA\Worldwide over the next few years, Matt went on to W+K New York – we’ve always kept in touch.
WNW Member Andrew Jasperson worked with us on our Dreaming with Jeff campaign for Super Bowl 2015 as part of W+K New York and also has a great working relationship with Mathieu. When they decided to go freelance, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with them again.
While I had never worked with Brock before, he had the reputation of a mythical writer who always ended up working his magic on the winning scripts for W+K Portland. I’m glad we had a chance to work on this campaign together and we’ll no doubt work together again in the near future.
Adina provided the production backbone we needed and came in at the perfect time. She worked closely alongside our Creative Production Director Sandra Nam to manage multiple moving parts of the campaign which spanned TV, OOH, Radio, Digital and social in a very tight deadline.
Do you often bring in freelancers for Squarespace campaigns? How does an outside influence help push a project’s potential to the next level?
DL: Yes. We’re bringing in freelancers more and more to complement our internal Creative team. I’m a big believer in having some capabilities in-house, but ultimately you will benefit from an outside influence on the ideas and the work. It’s very easy to get stuck looking two inches in front of your face and the work becoming very similar over time. Having some outside creative influence to support our work is something we always look forward to.
Besides having enough sense to build their portfolio sites with Squarespace, what else do you look for in a potential freelancer or full-timer’s portfolio?
DL: A short and concise explanation of the problem they were solving and the role they played. You would be surprised how many portfolios we see of the final work, but no explanation of how they got there.
What are some stale portfolio trends you come across while hiring that you wish would die?
DL: The ones that try too hard. At the end of the day, it’s all about the work: there’s no smoke and mirrors and dry ice tactics you can do to cover it up if the work isn’t great.
What advice can you offer to creatives who are looking to stand out from the crowd?
DL: Make work that matters and has cultural impact. Don’t show work that doesn’t.
Anything else you’d like to add?
DL: We’re always looking for freelance creatives. Hit me up.
ADINA BIRNBAUM, BROCK KIRBY, & MATHIEU ZARBATANY
Had you three worked together on any prior projects or campaigns?
ADINA: This was our first project together, but I was familiar with both Brock and Mathieu's work.
MATHIEU: First time. And not the last I hope.
BROCK: Normally I’d be a little freaked out by that. But David Lee (CCO), Josh Webman (CD) and Sandra Nam (Production Director) did a great job putting together a team of good humans on this one. No egos. Just smart folks.
What is it that you most admire about the others’ work and style?
ADINA: Brock is clever, thoughtful and quick. His comedic sensibility is sophisticated yet relatable. His joke is never the joke, there's always another layer, another deeper joke. Right in the middle of laughing he then hits you with another chuckle - a one, two, knockout. He makes work enjoyable and can bring humor and levity to the most stressful of situations.
MATHIEU: I’m always amazed at the kind of ideas he comes up with. Stuff I would never think of. Very original mind. We wrote dozens of scripts for this project. There’s a bunch of google doc gems out there.
ADINA: Mathieu is the perfect combination of conceptual art director and artful, meticulous designer. I don't think Squarespace could have picked a better AD for this campaign. Channeling the brand strategy of standing out, Mathieu succeeded in creating a look for these 3 spots that is different from other brands and uniquely Squarespace. They have a vaguely European look and deliver surprises with each view.
BROCK: I think Mathieu is very smart in his approach. His ideas are usually very simple and elegant at surface level. And then you realize how nuanced and layered they can become after that. Just look at "Atlas" to see what I’m talking about. Simple idea, but every vignette in Atlas is its own piece of art.
MATHIEU: She’s super resourceful and so positive. Also very connected. She basically knows everyone in the industry on a first-name basis.
BROCK: Adina is one of those producers who isn’t afraid to share her creative opinion on things. And I love that. She’s got good instincts and usually has something damn smart to say.
It should also be noted that Andrew Jasperson, a very talented freelance writer who I admire, was on this project at the beginning and cracked the big Idea with Mat and the team. They started with the Atlas stat and the campaign came together pretty easily from there.
Can you share some of the challenges and breakthroughs that came with this campaign?
BROCK: As with any brand that consistently does great work, the challenge is coming up with something worthy enough, yet different enough to feel like you’re breaking new ground in some way.
ADINA: Coordination proved to be one of the more difficult challenges as the brand team was in NY, Brock was in Portland, and Mathieu and I were in London for casting and Kyiv for production. As our first time working together, it was imperative that we closely communicate throughout production. We made it work via googlechats and skype.
MATHIEU: Working directly for a brand/client was a first for me. Very different process. No need to spend days putting together decks and presentations. We were able to focus on the actual work instead. Everything was accelerated. Ideas would get the green light very quickly. But we just kept on going until it was the absolute last minute before going to make stuff. The toughest part was to pick what we all wanted to produce in the end. Fun problem to have I guess.
Which of the three ads are you proudest of and why?
ADINA: I like all 3 spots for different reasons, and each provided their own set of unique challenges. Atlas was the most ambitious from a set design and casting perspective, but it also provided the most exciting opportunities for creative exploration. Mr. Gammon, our incredibly talented costume designer and Alexis Ross, our production designer, worked tirelessly with Andreas Nilsson and our team to bring this vision to life. Each Atlas band is truly memorable and odd. The flautist gets me every time with his hair blowing in the wind.
MATHIEU: ATLAS for me. We came across that stat super early in the creative process and it pretty much became the genesis of the entire campaign platform. After watching it countless times it still makes me smile. I also think it looks pretty good. Andreas Nilsson, our director, did an amazing job.
BROCK: Obviously Atlas is the crown jewel of the three. There is so much good stuff going on there. But as a writer, I have a special place in my heart for Storytellers.
Did any of you refer to yourselves as “storytellers” on your sites before doing this campaign?
MATHIEU: I sure hope not. Brock?
BROCK: Nah. But I receive a ton of Ad School student books. And that idea sparked from a few books I got that week; each had “Storyteller” as one of their main descriptors. I advised them to find something a bit more unique. Then we made a script out of it.
ADINA: No, but perhaps I should! It's definitely a part of my job. In addition to the technical aspect of being a producer, it's also the soft skills, and the more abstract pitching and word-smithing that proves to be instrumental throughout the production. From partner engagement to cost negotiations, it's often how you frame things up as a producer that can yield the desired outcome.
What does each of you do to make your own online portfolios stand out?
ADINA: As one of many producers out there vying for a gig, I try to highlight the work I've done for unexpected brands. I chose jobs I'm so excited to put on my site, be it post-production on SIA's music videos, an Hermès Petit h Holiday pop-up event, or a man-made yogurt contraption for Chobani. Before I accept a job, I ask myself, "Is there something in this production opportunity that I haven't done yet?" I'm always going to grow and learn, and these unique jobs are the ones that stand out.
MATHIEU: I built a beautiful Squarespace of course. And I try to keep it up to date.
BROCK: Besides using Sqaurespace? I try to partner with really smart people and great brands.
Do you feel like you’ve established your own creative niche and voice based on your style, approach, and past projects?
BROCK: I want to a have a really broad spectrum of voices in the toolbox. I hope the next project makes you cry. And the next one super dumb and funny. And the one after that, culturally trenchant. That’s the beauty of freelance writing.
MATHIEU: I like to think so. Most of my work look and feel connected without being repetitive if that makes sense?
ADINA: This is probably best answered by those who have worked with me, but I think I give every ounce of myself to every job and that's evident in the hours devoted and the output. I try to collaborate as closely as I can with the creatives and while I support and protect their vision, I also feel it my responsibility to challenge them throughout.
Who are some of your comedic influences?
MATHIEU: Larry David
BROCK: Hal Ashby and my dad.
ADINA: I'm currently a fan of anyone who can make me laugh during this unusual political climate. Sarah Silverman, Chelsea Handler, Pamela Adlon, Trevor Noah.