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Welcome! Here you will find essays on technology, trends and our take on making things work. Beyond that, we post design examples we love, and other cool stuff we find.

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Meet Zeus Jones San Francisco

In 2007, we created Zeus Jones around a belief that was unique in the agency world: that actions speak louder than words and that modern brands were built on experiences, not communications. Early on, we realized that building our company around this belief was not going to be easy. It meant that we’d need to figure everything out from scratch: the business model, the processes, the mix of talent, the right kind of company culture.

A job like this is never truly done, but over our first 7 years, we’ve made huge strides toward creating a whole new kind of agency. And we’ve been fortunate to put our beliefs to work in collaboration with some amazing brands, companies and clients. The results have exceeded our biggest hopes, and we’ve managed to have a far-reaching impact on the way our clients approach branding. We’ve helped brands find their purpose, created new products and services with them, helped them forge unique partnerships and helped them get more value out of all their efforts.

The most exciting part of the journey so far has been discovering that there’s always something new to learn, along with new problems to figure out, and new opportunities to pursue. And I don’t mean just new clients and new briefs – every now and then we get the chance to take the company itself in a new direction. And when Gareth Kay approached us about opening Zeus Jones in San Francisco, that was definitely one of those opportunities.

We’ve never assumed that Zeus Jones’ destiny is to grow big, and we’ve never set goals around things like how many people we have. We’ve been 100% focused on building a great company culture and doing work that we love to do. Staying independent has been a key part of that, which is why we’re always thoughtful about how we go about growing our company. The opportunity in San Francisco got us excited for a couple of reasons:

1. We had the right talent. Gareth is “one of us” – someone with deep knowledge and experience, who, like us, is always looking for new ways to apply his skills to modern business problems.

2. San Francisco is an exciting market. The bay area is a hotbed of business innovation, one that shares our beliefs in creating value for people over just marketing.

3. It gives us chance to apply what we know and to learn even more. As I said, we are always learning, adapting, improving. When we kicked off our business, we got mostly tactical communications briefs. Now, we’re given strategic business briefs. As a result, we have 7 years of experience building modern brands, and we’re ready to see if some of our approaches and processes can have the same results for emerging companies as they have for established big brands.

So, as of today, we’re officially announcing Gareth Kay as founding partner of Zeus Jones San Francisco! Gareth will be spending a lot of time in the first few months of the year with us in Minneapolis working hand-in-hand with the entire group, learning, teaching and planning with hopes of getting ZJ SF fully up and running the Bay Area by Spring.

Zeus Jones has grown significantly in Minneapolis over the last few years, so we are also announcing some additions to the partnership to help make sure both offices continue to evolve, grow and succeed. Head of Production Dave Annis joins Design Director Brad Surcey and the four founders as partners helping to oversee both offices. And senior designer Peter Petrulo will become partner in Zeus Jones Minneapolis.

We are super excited for 2014, more to come. In the meantime meet Gareth.

-Christian Erickson

A Short Hurrah for Companies Developing New Products, Not Just New Marketing

Lately I have thinking about Lay’s chips. While I am surrounded by case studies left and right of brands doing cool stuff to appeal to young people, there is something beautifully simple about what Lay’s is doing. Slowly and steadily, they are releasing interesting new flavors of chips. Sriracha chips. Chicken and waffles chips. Chocolate-covered potato chips. It doesn’t really matter what the marketing around these chips is. Put a cool new product in the aisles, and people will buy it. (Especially millennials, who are particularly adventurous and worldly when it comes to flavors.)

Think about how relevant to culture Lay’s chips would be if they had stayed, well, plain. Could any amount of Old Spice-caliber marketing have made us care?

While I realize that developing too many strains of one product can dilute what it means to customers, there is something that makes a ton of sense about starting with the product, not the marketing.

Look at Bud Light Lime, for example. The beer itself has to be facing some challenges in a market where locally-brewed, craft beers are on the rise. But Budweiser has followed the trend of experimentation with flavor by creating Bud Light Lime products aimed at novelty alone. I have had many friends who have been sharing their first experience trying their somewhat strange product, the Bud Light Lime-a-Rita on social media. Now, they’ve got a Cran-BRRR-ita for the holidays – and people are psyched, even if that psyched-ness is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I’m seeing this all over already:


Sure, millennials might sometimes prefer engaged conversations and experiences over well, junk food. (Or as this McSweeney’s article, Our Killer Appears to Be a Millennial, puts it: “This sick bastard loves to engage actively with brands if they approach him in an authentic fashion. He’s hungry for content and what’s new.”) But sometimes, we’re hungry for what’s new, and just something new is enough to matter. Especially if it’s a little bit weird.

-Becky Lang



What We Can Learn from The List of the 100 Most Loved Brands

APCO recently published a list of the 100 Most Loved Brands, and the winners might surprise you. As they should, considering branding, business and culture have changed a lot since we hit the millennium. The list is truly a mixture of the old big-hitters, the new world-changers, and some randos thrown in for good measure. (Click through to see all brands, or read about it on Adweek for their context.)

The first thing you will probably say is, “Why is Yahoo! at #2?” Me too. I don’t have an answer for you there. But I bet Marissa Mayer took a break from retooling some major part of the company over the weekend to take a shot or two at this news.

But there are a lot of telling insights to be drawn from the rest of this list. Overall, I would say it confirms what many of us sense as a major sea change in branding. In the last century, the rock star brands were basically unnecessary, unhealthy food brands who did massive amounts of marketing (Coke, McDonald’s etc.) And, maybe because of childhood impression turned into adult ritual, we still consume those brands regularly and maintain that childhood imprint of wonder and affection.

Yet as those brands sink, edging their way up, slowly but sturdily, are different kinds of brands. Useful brands, which significantly change our lives, and ethical brands that change how consumerism works. Examples of the first would be Google, Apple and Amazon, and a powerful example of the latter would be Whole Foods showing up at number 8. Whole foods beating Coke. Now that’s a huge deal.

The next notable group would be brands that provide access to consumers of all price ranges – access to pop culture, access to fashion and access to the home goods necessary to carve out your adult life in a rough economy. Yes I’m talking Netflix, Target and Ikea.

The final big class I’m noticing is large heavyweight brands who have managed to stay relevant to consumers through innovation and connection with culture – Nestlé, Kellogg’s and General Mills. Plus maybe people just love food.

Nike sitting all the way at 18 comes as a surprise. I would have put it in the top 10. But Nike has been very innovative and still connects with fans a lot better than other heavy hitters. It’s faring a lot better than McDonald’s (all the way down at 69) and Starbucks (96).

And Disney being #1 might seem due to the clout they built up in the last century, but they’re still doing amazing stuff today.

Who’s absent from the list? Best Buy for one. MTV (do people still want their MTV? Not anyone I know). Burger King. American Express (a surprise since they’re doing some really cool stuff). Chipotle (can that be?).

A few general lessons we can learn:

-Healthy (or the perception that a food is healthy) is edging out empty calories.

-Cultural clout doesn’t always reflect consumer realities, or Chipotle would probably snatch a high spot from a brand like Yahoo!.

-Brands whose products aren’t necessary or useful will need to create products that are to stay afloat. They should consider developing healthier or more useful products rather than putting all that money into advertising.

-While department stores and mass chains may be less popular with Gen Y, big companies are still putting the most effort into innovation and aren’t having a hard time staying in customers’ hearts.

What are your observations?

-Becky Lang



How to Talk to Women in Advertising

Peggy Olson on Mad Men has to do a lot to convince men they are talking to women incorrectly. She has to fight with Don about “Bye Bye Birdie,” argue with Freddy about how women don’t use cold cream just to find a husband and well, play nudist with Stan. What often makes this show so uncanny to watch is realizing how little things have changed. Half of the ads directed at me feel tone deaf, like a bunch of Freddy Rumsons paged through a Cosmo and decided women love cursive, yoga and bedazzling things.

While obviously the best way to talk to women in advertising is subjective, I am going to offer some advice.

1. Listen to the People Who are Different in the Office
This scenario is so often flipped in our society. While the people who have unique perspectives should be the ones enlightening people to them, they are often silenced instead. Why? The people controlling the conversations don’t like hearing that they are wrong. This happens frequently to Peggy on Mad Men. “Nah, she doesn’t know what young women want. We middle-aged guys do.” A lot of ads target women and minorities specifically, and a lot of them are tone deaf because of this. Encourage people in your work place to speak up against stereotypes that come to the table. (Yes market research reports are full of them.) When people feel confident enough to speak up about the reality of their situations, you will find that being a woman or being Latino or being homosexual, etc. are not one-dimensional experiences. And thus your advertising will be less one-dimensional too.

2. Talk to Women Like You Talk to Men
This is my gut reaction to the how “How do we talk to women?” question. We are not really that different. We are not exotic deer in the woods whose ears cannot handle certain sounds and whose eyes cannot handle certain fonts. We like straightforward, clever things too. We don’t like being pandered to or talked down to or being “protected” from things we supposedly can’t handle. And if you’re talking to men in a “super masculine” way they probably don’t like it either. Do men like to be hit over the head with how dude-ly they are in advertising? I assume lots of men feel insulted by the advertising of Dr. Pepper 10 or Axe body spray right?

3. Don’t Try to Mirror Us
You’re selling a product or service, and ideally some kind of lifestyle, belief, purpose. Talk about that rather than using your ad to show that you’ve been studying women and can use our “lingo.” We’re not buying your ability to talk like us. Sell us on your company not your market research findings translated to a commercial.

4. Avoid Clichés
Talking to women shouldn’t mean finding our “visual language” (pink, diamonds, lace, cursive, apparently). It should mean bothering to create something new that will genuinely improve women’s lives. And the visuals surrounding that should reflect your brand, not your little sister’s Pinterest. And if your product is not just for women, why do you need to be talking about it differently to women?

5. Forget Our “Aspirational Lives”
We don’t want to see perfect women living the lives we can’t figure out how to have. We want to see women who reflect the challenges life actually offers up. Because if you understand those, then maybe you’re in a position to help us with your product. And in terms of role models, don’t just pick the actress with the biggest boobs and smallest waist. That’s committing a Don Draper – advertising to men under the guise of advertising to women.

6. Include Women

You’d be shocked by how many movies there are that just don’t have a female character. Or by how many “best of” lists don’t include females. When I switched my Rdio station to be “more adventurous” it pretty much cut out female musicians. We feel left out sometimes. Please include women in more things because we love to root for women.

I hope some of this helped. Feel free to comment with any of your thoughts about how you are advertised to.

-Becky Lang

Are Consumers Anti-Science When it Comes to Food?

If I asked if Americans are anti-science, you’d probably reply, “Yes! They deny evolution and the big bang regularly!” So yes some Americans are anti-science.

But the people who buy expensive food in America are not the demographic that I typically think of as anti-science. They are the privileged class, the over-educated class, the wealthy class. They are the people who couldn’t imagine feeding their children a fast food french fry. The kind who might keep a whole meat freezer in the garage for their paleo diet. The kind who only eat heirloom tomatoes and fear ever ingesting pesticides.

They think far and wide about what to and not to eat. They read books by people like Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan. They have campaigned for regulation and labeling of organic, “natural,” antibiotic-free, GMO-free foods. Food is not an afterthought for these people.

And I think all of that is great, except for my suspicion that a lot of this culture is primarily driven by emotion. Overall, what they want is a feeling from their food. They want it to feel pastoral, to feel old-fashioned, to feel simple, and most importantly pure. They don’t want to be puzzled by their food. They don’t like words like “tocopherol” even though it’s just a chemical name for Vitamin E. They don’t want to eat grains because cavemen didn’t and what’s older must be better right?

But if you look at food from a long-term point-of-view, this type of food culture isn’t sustainable. The human population is expected to reach 9 billion in 30 years, and the U.N. has reported that food production will have to increase by 70% by 2050 to feed all those new mouths. Unless some massive innovations happen in agriculture, it’s unlikely that organic food and even meat will be available for anyone but the very most privileged minorities.

So while we are busy desiring purity and naturalness and trying to eat like cavemen, on a large scale we are desperately requiring massive innovations and scientific breakthroughs in order to deal with these confounding numbers. And it’s likely that some of those answers are going to come in the form of genetic modification, and lab-grown meats, and all kinds of things that don’t conjure farmers of yore.

I’m not saying it’s bad that we are demanding food become purer and grown with more integrity. That’s necessary somewhat, today, to whip food companies into shape after some of the scary production methods they’ve gotten comfortable using over the last century. But in the long-term, we need to make sure we don’t have an anti-science mentality when it comes to food. Simpler is not always better when it comes to solving fast-approaching global hunger problems.

From a marketer’s point of view, it’s worth it to challenge people to think more broadly about the systems surrounding the food products they’re consuming. Show how you are thinking in the long term, not just how well you can follow trends and demand. I love Chipotle, and I think their new commercial is beautiful. But I’m skeptical about the way they’ve drawn a line in the sand between purity and the rest of the industry. Let’s try to appeal to people beyond just their emotions and fears, but to help them understand how these problems will be solved, yes, with science, in the long run.

From a consumer’s point of view, deciding how to eat is a struggle. Obviously you don’t always want to start deciding how to feed your family by thinking about the long-term global food climate. You just want to pick what’s healthiest, and usually that is going to be organic, fresh, local food without antibiotics and suspect junk in it. Eating mostly processed foods isn’t something that anyone should have to do. But it’s worth acknowledging that the food available to us isn’t as black and white as it seems, and not everyone has access to the healthiest foods. Food companies have to solve problems at a massive scale, and it’s worth having an open-mind as we face a complicated future.

-Becky Lang

I Want to Marry You in Minneapolis

photo via

A few months ago we got a call from Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak asking if we would collaborate with his team on a print ad campaign. Generally speaking, print advertising isn’t something we do around here — Zeus Jones’ philosophy about the role of marketing is fundamentally different from the traditional agency world — but this project was pretty unique.

Following the May 2013 passage of legislation that provides equal marriage rights to same-sex couples in Minnesota, Rybak wanted to proactively showcase Minneapolis as a destination city for loving gay and lesbian couples who are ready to take the matrimonial plunge but aren’t empowered to do so in their home state. For starters, he wanted to strategically place ads in regional cities like Chicago, Madison and Detroit, inviting out-of-staters to savor both the fruit of our legislative progress and the talents of our local wedding industry.

Zeus Jones has a history of outspoken, tangible support for equal marriage rights. On that basis alone, we were eager to help. But if we were gonna defy our steadfastly modern approach by working on a print campaign, we wanted to make sure it had meaning beyond the page and reflected our larger belief in the social movement behind the law.

Simply put, we think support for same-sex marriage rights isn’t just a political position. It’s a value held by real working people all over Minnesota — some mildly, others more passionately. A lot of those people have decades of experience making great weddings happen. So if we’re going to invite people from other states to come into our community on that basis, we want them to see the faces of actual men and women who not only support marriage equality but also live and work in the service of loving connections every day. Many of these folks are positively elated about the new law, not just because it might mean more business and more income but also because it gives them a chance to do what they do best for a previously marginalized group of people whose love deserves the same level of ritual and recognition.

The choice of the first-person statement “I Want To Marry You In Minneapolis” as a de facto tagline is intentional. Every person pictured in the ads has a personal story and a set of values they bring to their craft. Mayor Rybak is the one making worthy PR waves, but it’s hardworking wedding-industry pros who’ll be delivering on his invitation and living up to Minnesota’s collective promise of support. (One of those pros is photographer Leslie Plesser, with whom we’ve been proud and happy to collaborate on this project among many others.)

Of course, we also feel strongly about the parallel impact that a campaign like this can have on public discourse. People in every state should be talking to each other about marriage rights. If a Minneapolis-based florist, caterer or wedding photographer can help to spark those conversations, we see it as one more way our local community is supporting the interests of same-sex couples everywhere.

Let’s Challenge Consumers a Little Bit More

I am frequently tasked with explaining how products work. That means understanding what kind of research went into a product, what kind of thought went into choosing the materials that make it, what kind of quality and safety measures surround it, etc.

And that has changed the way I assess everything I see, hear and consume. And it has generally made me more optimistic.

For example, I generally assume that the meat in Taco Bell products is fine. Taco Bell may not have 100% grass-fed, free-range beef going on, but they’re doing their due diligence to make sure that beef (or beef product) is consistent in flavor and safe to eat. And that’s really what you’re paying for, isn’t it?

The other thing I have started to think about is how many goofy commercials are out there using elaborate metaphors to explain what their product does. For example, in a Tide Pods commercial, they show a tiny futuristic laundromat opening up inside of your laundry machine, with tiny little people personally removing all the stains for you.

When I see something like this, I picture a team of corporate lawyers shaking their heads. They do not like the insinuation that the stain removal capacity is as good as someone personally dry cleaning a product. I have started to automatically be able to point out not “false” advertising but lightly stretched portrayals of just what a product is capable of doing. And usually these stretched portrayals of what a product can do happen in these silly metaphor commercials.

Which makes me wonder why they still exist.

In reality, I’m sure the chemistry and innovation behind the Tide Pod is way more interesting than this cute storytelling I am seeing on the TV. I’m sure hundreds of hours of R&D went into coming up with that thing, and designing it to work optimally in the package it’s in. I would rather hear about that.

I understand why many advertising campaigns center around these cute, entertaining metaphors. There didn’t used to be a channel (the Internet) where consumers could sit and read for hours (or minutes – still longer than a TV commercial), about how a product works. Companies just had to say, “Trust us, there is innovation here, here’s some analogy for you so you can know it does what we say it does.”

But now you can provide that information for consumers. And I truly think they want it. Sure some people just want Go Daddy-style ads that say, “there’s girls with cleavage, buy our stuff,” but I think consumers are for the most part both smart and interested in learning more.

And leaving that gap between what you’re actually doing and what consumers know about what you’re doing can be dangerous. In an absence of transparency, they will go ahead and assume that what you’re doing is way worse than what you’re actually doing. Or, they will start to demand things out of their products that they don’t necessarily understand are unsustainable. And people will go ahead and demand unsustainable products forever as long as they have no clue how products are developed or how a supply chain works. And companies will generally go ahead and keep supplying them.

So let’s story-tell around more of that less sexy, more information-based stuff. Companies are already doing a lot of research on the supply side. Consumers are doing research on the demand side. The more we can connect those two processes, provide transparency and educate consumers on products, the more we can build a sustainable economy.

-Becky Lang

Innovation in advertising agencies

I was lucky enough to get invited to talk at Cannes with a bunch of other fine folks. The subject was innovation and agencies. In particular, why can’t agencies innovate and what can they learn from innovation companies. This is a modified version of the talk I gave.

Cannes 2013 v4 from Adrian Ho

Thanks to Alex Pallete for the invitation and to Alain Sylvain and Margarita Berrera for sharing the stage and their wisdom with me.

Are Advertisers Responsible for the Sexist Mess that is The Magazine Industry?

I think many women have the same basic experiences with the magazine world:

1. You grow up loving magazines, learning about makeup, fitness, life experiences, relationships, whatever from them.

2. You discover men’s magazines and realize that the scope of them is a lot more broad. For example, there are articles about planning your stock portfolio regularly. This discrepancy of content feels insulting to your intelligence, and your life plans. But it feels too late – you have been trained to think more about how to properly apply under-eye concealer during the formative years of your life.

3. You realize that men’s magazines are not a safe harbor, but are in their own way very sexist. (Read this if you don’t believe me.)

4. You feel frustrated with both gender-targeted magazine worlds, but equally frustrated with the world of journalism itself, which favors white, male editors, writers and points of view with its award and recognition system.

This article very well articulates how frustrating the world of magazines, and moreover, professional writing, can be for women. One of her main conclusions was that women’s magazines used to be up to very high standards, but when they started integrating advertisements, things changed. The advertisers wanted their ads to be integrated with content about clothes, makeup and weight loss products, and thus the content started to lean heavily in those directions. This is all true, although not exclusive to women’s magazines.

The classic criticism of the advertising industry is that it purposely lowers women’s self-esteem to sell them products, and it creates a false sense of beauty that they have to aspire to. While this isn’t something I’m going to argue against – I don’t think it has to be an inevitability.

A scene from Mad Men comes to mind here. Peggy is charged with making an ad for cold cream, and she reaches the insight that the cold cream application process gives women an excuse to stand in front of the mirror and look at themselves, something she believes women just like doing. Not out of any particularly pathetic tendency, but just because it helps them get in touch with themselves and feel more beautiful. Her writing partner, Freddy Rumsen, continually insists that her approach is pointless, and that they should hit hard on implying that the product will help women land a husband.

This was an interesting scene to me because it showed how a lot of the advertising that has changed women’s culture, and the editorial content surrounding it, was created by men who didn’t always have a Peggy around to say, “No, that’s not how women think.”

I don’t think it’s necessarily a sinister plan against women, but more a result of a system created before women had much of a voice in the matter. To be positive, I think there are many factors that are leading away from advertising having such a negative affect on women’s editorial content (and on their egos in general).

1. More Women Working in Advertising

A lot of women work in advertising now – but there are probably still a lot of ways that sexism remains in this industry. For example, many of the customer profiles we use are generalized types of people that exist as a result of a gendered world, whether created by it or created in opposition to it. Having more women working in advertising means more empathy, ideally, so that the content is more meaningful and less, well, stupid.

2. More Anthropological Understanding of Consumers

Lumping types of consumers into one broad category and reflecting what that looks like is still common in many types of ads. For example, many car ads aimed at women are like, “I love indie rock music and adventure! I’m a woman who loves this car!” But this isn’t the future of advertising. Because we have a lot more resources in culture to reflect what people are actually like (social media, blogs, etc.) and the means to analyze that more deeply, we can start to ditch the old customer profile in favor of more sweeping examinations of a product’s role in culture, as well as the customer’s.

3. The Death of the Print Ad

Print ads used to be the meat of people’s advertising portfolios, but now they have to compete with massive digital strategies, cultural initiatives and participatory platforms like The Pepsi Refresh project. What did you remember more this year – the Dove Real Beauty Sketches or any print ad you saw for makeup? Probably the former. Magazines and the ads that support them are no longer the sustainable business model they used to be. Many are desperately tailoring content around the advertising demographic as a last-ditch attempt to stay profitable, but I’m skeptical about the efficacy of that strategy. People read magazines for their unique point of view, which is why Monocle and Vice are doing just fine.

It will take awhile for women-targeted editorial systems to change. In the meantime, we as the people putting out brand messages can be dedicated to being more conscious of the way we’re affecting the media channels that shape women’s lives. We can hire people who resist one-dimensional portrayals of women in the work they’re doing. We can push for strategies that further the content people’s 12-year-old daughters are reading in interesting, useful ways that will make them grow up to be stronger women. And we can listen to women more often.

-Becky Lang

Music Has Been Good this Year – Here’s Our Playlist

Last year was kind of a meh year for music, but 2013 has been pretty amazing. I gathered our favorite songs at Zeus together into a playlist for anybody to listen to, so check it out. (Update: Here’s a Spotify version, for those that don’t have Rdio. Thanks Mike!)

Here are some of our favorite albums out this year, in some kind of order, maybe.

The National – Trouble Will Find Me

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

Deerhunter – Monomania

Kurt Vile – Walkin On a Pretty Daze

Generationals – Heza

Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety

Inc. – No World

Junip – Junip

The Knife – Shaking the Habitual

What are your favorites?


Become a Part of Our “Pets of Lyndale” Project at Open Streets

Do you live Uptown? Do you have a pet? Do you plan to head to Open Streets MPLS on Sunday June 23rd and hang out? Then we urge you to bring your pet and visit us at Zeus Jones. (Only if your pet is comfortable and safe going outside, of course!)

We will have local photographer Leslie Plesser on hand to snap free portraits of anyone who shows up with their pet. All the portraits will become part of a website called Pets of Lyndale, which will showcase the many lovely people and pets that we get to see strolling around our neighborhood on a daily basis.

We at Zeus are major pet-lovers. You may have seen our staff profile of Waffles, who is one of the many dogs who work with us here at Zeus Jones. A lot of our work here is pet-focused, as many of us are working with Purina every day.

We’re also big fans of Open Streets, which brings people out and about on Lyndale Ave. as well as 3 other major Minneapolis roads in the next several months. That’s why we recently worked with them on a new identity and website. Check it out!

So join us on June 23rd – and bring your pet!


All photos are by Leslie Plesser.

Learning to flow

Learning to flow from Adrian Ho

This is the talk I gave last month at my mum’s festival in London. It was inspired by a comment she’d made that water is not only the source of life, but is also one of the only substances that supports and sustains all the life that come into contact with it. I thought that this was a particularly beautiful idea and also quite sad too, because the vast majority of things that our lives depend upon do not support or sustain the life that come into contact with them.

In particular, while almost everyone on the planet depends upon business, no one would argue that business supports the life that come into contact with it.

But, there are signs that business is changing, and in ways that make it more fluid, more human and more like water. So the idea was to try to show how, through changes in the ways businesses market, compete, organise and structure themselves both internally and externally, that business may actually be heading in the right direction. That it is becoming more fluid, more supportive and more human. That it is learning how to flow.

All in all, the talk went over quite well considering the majority of the audience were scientists and social activists. I didn’t get stuff thrown at me and people made nice noises at the end.

Portfolio 101 – Advice from ZJ Designers Who’ve Been Through It

We’re always hosting design student tours at Zeus Jones. I remember these tours when I was a student being pretty fun and inspiring. The most memorable was when I got to visit Spunk. I just remember how cool I thought their work was and how amazed I was by the brands they worked on from their tiny warehouse district office. That’s how I remember it anyhow and those guys still do killer work today.

These tours are a great way for us to share some of our work and the thinking that goes into it. While it’s fun to show off the work that you’re so proud of, I think it’s also important to give students some insight into the business. It can be a scary time when you’re pulling your portfolio together in your senior year.

We’ve got a tour coming by today as part of the AIGA Portfolio 1 on 1 weekend and this time around I asked all our designers a few questions that I thought may be bring forth interesting insights for people. Here are their responses, along with some links for you students:

I wish I knew how many moving parts there were besides just ‘design’. There are so many roles that I was pretty oblivious to.”

I wish I would have concentrated more on the design and worried less about the restriction of actually producing my work. You don’t need to be a developer or book maker to be a great designer. Learn to create great mock-ups so you can spend more time on type, visual hierarchy, UX and other design skills.”

Being strategic in how you approach a problem and how to effectively communicate an idea is just as important (maybe even more so) as aesthetics.”

There’s a huge design community to tap into. You can participate through the web, social and physical events. Connect, talk and learn from others.”

How fast you need to work. You don’t have two weeks to do a project. You may only have 2 hours.”


Take your projects to the next level rather than just stopping at what was assigned to you. Demonstrate killer craft but also your ability to see the bigger picture and how different parts come together.”

Your portfolio is never finished. Quality over quantity – your book is only as good as the weakest piece. Don’t apologize for anything in your portfolio. If you feel you need to apologize, redo it or take it out completely.”

Have a diverse portfolio. A range of both print and digital work will offer you more opportunities. You’d be surprised how many students have zero digital work in their books.”

Don’t limit yourself to school projects. Show your best work whether you made it in class or just did it for fun.”

It should have a flow and not just feel like you put 10 of your best projects together in a book. Break up the experience to keep the viewer engaged.”


Make sure that your work is buttoned-up enough to get useful feedback, but be prepared to edit/reprint what you made. I remember some people weren’t willing to revisit their projects and wasted great feedback.”

Be open to critique – it’s the only way you get better. Take the feedback you get and put it to use in your portfolio. Network and stay in touch with the people you meet.”

Ask for honest feedback. If everyone is nice and tells you your work is great, they’re not giving you the constructive criticism you need.”

This is a subjective field so don’t be discouraged if someone doesn’t like your work. You will probably/hopefully learn and grow as a designer more in the first year of working than you did in all four years of school.”

Don’t make excuses for your portfolio. If you don’t believe in your stuff, why will the person reviewing it?”

One other thing I like to emphasize in our tours is that there’s tons of inspiration and resources available online. We collected a bunch of links for you:


Inspiration - don’t be afraid to study other designers’ work. Here’s a few of our favorites places to get inspiration:

Tools - there’s no excuse today for not having an awesome website. Start with these:


Connect – use social media to connect with others in the community, follow design trends and learn about the agencies in town. Here are our Twitters:

Peter Petrulo - @orangetrulo

Grant Wilson - @grantwwilson

Brad Surcey - @bsurcey

Missy Austin - @missyaustin3

Ben Olsem - @benolsem

Brian Danaher @madeforrendering

Brian’s design list:

General design list:

Thanks to our Design Team: Missy Austin, Ben Olsem, Brad Surcey, Grant Wilson, Brian Danaher for pulling this together.

-Peter Petrulo

5 Tips for Creative Intern Candidates As They Begin Their Homework Assignments

In the interest of helping you succeed at being awesome and getting an internship at Zeus Jones, we put together some quick tips to help give you an edge.

1. Don’t be sloppy

Pay attention to the details. This advice applies across the board, but I can’t tell you how many people actually misspell “Zeus” in their submissions. If you can’t get something as simple as the name of our agency correct, how can we trust you not to make mistakes in your work?

2. Choose wisely

Choose a brand that not everyone else will choose or a brand to which you can bring a totally different perspective. It also helps if you have personal experience with or passion for that particular brand.

3. Put time into not just the work, but the concept

One of my art professors once told me, “Hard work creates its own aesthetic.” What he meant by that was that hard work is obvious and tangible in the end product. Hard work doesn’t necessarily mean pencil-to-paper time (or mouse-to-screen time). The concept phase is equally as important and definitely shows in the end product as well, so spend time buttoning-up your idea before you start your creative work.

4. Show an idea in depth, but also the wealth of ideas that you can create

Execute the hell out of your ideas. Every year we have candidates that come up with really amazing thought-starters but don’t develop them. On the other hand, we have people that develop one idea in great depth. Comparing these people is like comparing apples and oranges. One isn’t necessarily better than the other. However, the people who really stand out are the people with great ideas who also bring them to life in really tangible and exciting ways. And by this, I don’t necessarily mean visuals. One of our candidates last year blew us away by writing a letter from the CEO of Best Buy to their customers. You can check out her entire homework assignment for inspiration.

5. Take former interns’ advice

Last but certainly not least, some meta advice straight from the mouths of last year’s successful intern candidates:

From Claire, mentioned above:

“Think about what YOU would want to see a business do that would be interesting and cool and amazing, and then come up with a bunch of ideas of how to make that happen. Pick out the best ones and then examine them – figure out what they say about the company’s values.

In the end, what you really want is to tell the story of how you could make those values a reality and communicate them to the world. Your original ideas might still work for that, but you might also need to come up with entirely new ones. Don’t be afraid to include stuff that seems impossible – it’s about changing the way people think, and sometimes that means taking risks.”

From Rachel, another former creative intern who was also hired in 2012:

“Research Zeus Jones – see what we have done, how we have done it and where it can be improved or where it rocks!

Take a look at culture – what is happening, what are people interested in, which sites and apps and experiences are trending.
How can your idea not just fit in, but be it’s own culture shifter?
Share your wild and crazy awesome ideas – nothing is too far fetched.

Follow through on an idea – a summary is only a starting point – how does this idea work across a whole company? Customers? People who don’t care about this brand?

Research your company – a solid amount of Google searching can give you insight into the brand you cannot get from your own head. Research can flesh out your idea, and help you see where the company could really improve.

Also look for traits, culture or values that are ignored and should be highlighted.

We are not about ‘polishing the turd’ – be real and transparent about your company – what do they have to offer, what are they passionate about, where do they need to improve? Honest experiences resonate with humanity far more than fake interactions. We can smell it.”

And from Becky, intern from 3 summers ago and current staffer:

“Don’t try to pander to what it may seem like marketers want: glitz, glamour and crazy, expensive stunts. Instead, let your inner geek steal the show. If you loved anthropology or global literature in college, bring that perspective to the table. We like deep thinking, not the superficial stuff. Also, show us what else you do. We like to hire well-rounded people.”

-Eric Frost, creative partner

Two charts that help explain what we do.

Zeus Jones has never defined itself a “digital agency” and our work often combines digital and real-world activities. More and more, the kind of work we do is being thought of more broadly as “always-on” marketing that uses digital at it’s core.

In the last year we’ve gotten much better at defining the role of an “always-on agency”. And these two graphics have helped us tell that story. (You can enlarge them by clicking through to the source image.)

The first – though not perfect by any means – describes the fundamental differences between campaigns and always-on. Always-on isn’t just “surround” or an extension to campaigns – it’s a completely different discipline with different roles, processes and success metrics.

Campaigns vs. Always-on (Click through to source to enlarge)

The second chart shows how we describe the role of digital in doing this kind of marketing. Because content is such a key component of always-on, we need a system that is more than just a container – we ought to be using our digital assets to help us create content and involve people in what we are doing too.

Always-on Digital Ecosystem (Click through to source to enlarge)

And you can see that’s exactly what we do. We take constant input and inspiration from many, many sources. We look for creative partners and co-creators (many of them from outside the agency/design/marketing world) to help us make compelling stuff. We publish that to our hub and serve it up to our social communities for reactions and feedback. We figure out how to use all of our available assets to distribute and evaluate what we make. Then finally we build on the best ideas and potentially build platforms, campaigns, products, etc around them.


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