The Insights Blog

Mark Figliulo on Storytellers for the Information Age

Mark Figliulo on Storytellers for the Information Age

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Written by Stephen Boehler 

Mark Figliulo is not only one of the world’s most decorated and accomplished creatives, he’s as thoughtful and nice as they come. His FIG Agency has been growing rapidly since its inception and is routinely an AdAge A List firm. We were lucky to pry a few minutes of his time to hear him talk about positioning his agency for success.

Fig Agency is positioned as Storytellers for the Information Age – where did that come from?

Storytellers for the Information Age was something Judith and I jotted down on day one and we’re sticking with it. It addressed a need in the marketplace that wasn’t being met. Brand-building was happening on TV and performance-based marketing was happening online and they were separate worlds. We thought it was time for those worlds to come together.  Everything a brand does and says is information, no matter the channel, and stories are the best way to deliver it.  One of the jobs we do for our clients is boil down all of the information they want to share and compress it into a structure to tell one story in many different ways.

Tell us about One Story, Many Voices

Storytellers for the Information Age is our philosophy and One Story, Many Voices is how we do it.

When we started FIG, marketers were doing one thing on TV and another thing online and another thing on their website and so on. They were all different stories. We felt that clients needed one story, that one true thing that they stand for, and once you have that, then you could be consistent over time and across channels. But once you build that structure you need to add variation to keep it surprising and interesting. You need that structure of one story, but you also have to keep it fresh and you have to show up in a lot of different places with different tones of voice.

So, we’ve talked about a brand having many voices. It’s a story being told in many different ways and a lot of different places, but it’s the same story. And that’s how stories work. If you think of any good film franchise, how many times are we going to watch the Batman movie? We just keep retelling the same familiar story in a fresh surprising way. That’s variation. But you can’t do variation unless you have the right structure in place. 

So, our first sort of business with most clients is to find that structure and something that they can live in for a long time. And then we say, okay, how are we going to start to tell the story and then how are we going to evolve it and let it grow over time?

How did you come up with the One Story Many Voices “Four Box”?

We did it on the back of a napkin for the Sprint pitch.

Judith came from LBi and had a much different approach than I did coming from Chiat. We both were used to a different process. So, we needed a new language to talk to each other with, and the four box lets us boil the complexity down to the simplest terms. As soon as Caroline Kreidit joined, she took it and added a dimension to it and layers to it. It is a blunt tool, but in a good way. It’s very simple but you can discover very sophisticated ideas using it.

FIG Agency also has a special culture for working with clients – can you please describe how you developed that culture?

We picked one value as our main focus and not a bunch of cliché words. That doesn’t mean we only have one value, it just means if we get this one right it sets the stage for everything else. We chose telling the truth. It starts with telling the truth to each other. The partners and everyone in the agency. We are an open book when it comes to our numbers, for instance. The most junior creative understands what our revenue is right now and what are profit is this year. We’re very transparent. And it’s not that the numbers are important or that we’re nice guys, it’s we think when people understand everything and are told the truth, then they’ll return that favor to us and tell us the truth. And we’re doing something wrong they’ll tell us that too. And that seems to be happening in a really good way. 

So, once we tell the truth to each other, the logical extension is we tell the truth to our clients. It sounds so easy but it’s so hard to do. It takes a lot of courage to tell a client or to tell one of your partners the real truth. For a creative director to be able to look at the head of strategy and say, I don’t agree with this strategy and say it early enough in the process that we could change it, is really important. And the same goes for the relationship with our clients as we are unafraid to tell them what they need to know. And that’s sometimes a very difficult conversation but it’s always best in the long run.

Mark has advised some of the world’s most successful brands for over 25 years. His vision for a new type of agency coupled with experience gained leading agencies like TBWA has led to the resounding success that is FIG, The Brand Agency for the Information Age. Mark has been named in Ad Age’s Top Ten and has been nominated for an Emmy four times. Mark has won over 30 Lions and every other award, in every color and in every category. Mark focuses on the vision behind FIG, striving every day to reinvent what an agency can be.

Steve Boehler, founder and partner at Mercer Island Group, has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Nokia, HP, Microsoft, Sprint, Nintendo, Abbott Laboratories and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve Boehler cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles and Jif.