How TJA stays accountable while working from home.

Navigating new territory as a small business.

We’re all in these uncharted waters together. Thousands of employees with little to no telecommuting experience are suddenly working from home with 24 hours of family, significant other or alone time. While there’s no shortage of helpful articles on how to set up a routine to maintain a sense of normalcy, we wanted to tackle another aspect of the work from home experience: accountability.

As a small-but-strong business, we have the privilege of being able to pivot with relative ease. As we get into the flow of the work-from-home dynamic, we’ve learned a few lessons that help keep the engine of our business running while maintaining our focus and upholding the quality of our work.

Virtual check-ins

Our team hops on the Zoom tube at 9AM every day. (We started on Google Hangouts but preferred Zoom’s grid-view option that allows us to see everyone’s face at the same time.) Making sure everyone is present, accounted for and visible on video helps us start the day feeling connected. We also take the time to convey any relevant updates from the previous day. As always, TJA likes to sprinkle some fun in with the business. Our morning video conferences have included glitter bombs, cats, and a company-wide rendition of “Happy Birthday” to our Account Manager Charlie Crews (and yes, it sounded as bad as you’d imagine).

At 4PM, each department conducts smaller video chats to discuss what they’ve accomplished, where they might need support and their goals for the next day. We also use this as a time to catch up and check in on stress levels.

Time tracking in real-time.

One of the first measures we implemented was real-time time tracking. An up-to-the-hour account of how we’re spending hours eliminates the risk of wasting time. It also builds internal trust knowing that everyone is working together toward a common goal. Our project managers can discern patterns of productivity that arise through this new pace of work. That helps them resource for the upcoming days while adapting to new needs.

Transparency in communications.

Over-communication is the name of the game. The TJA environment supports open and honest communication at all times, but never has that been more beneficial or critical than when we’re working remotely. Empowering the team to speak up when they have too much on their plate or are in need of a project helps maintain an even spread of work. it also prevents anyone from feeling overwhelmed or underutilized.

Simultaneously, the need for straightforward client communications has never been more apparent. By engaging in honest discussions about adapting to new business needs and rapid-response action, we’re better able to serve our clients with creative solutions. This, in turn, improves their ability to respond and recover.

Upholding our culture.

The administrative elements of twice-a-day check-ins and real-time time tracking help keep us accountable. Our team also worked hard to maintain our culture while practicing responsible social distancing. With birthday celebrations and Beer Lab hosted over Zoom calls, it brings a sense of togetherness to the company at large. Coming together for moments of joy and fun keeps spirits high and allows us to carry that momentum into our work.

Keep tabs on us.

Everyone is trying to make the best of the new situation we find ourselves in. Follow us on social to see more of our work-from-home strategies and shenanigans. We’d love to hear from you about creative working solutions you’ve seen.

Stay social (but distant)

How to use decision filters to prioritize your life.

In good company.

TJA has the good fortune to welcome inspirational individuals into our fold. They share their hard-won knowledge so we can benefit from their expertise. During our most recent quarterly huddle, the whole company came together to review our wins and strategize for the upcoming months. Speaker and entrepreneur extraordinaire, Russ Perry of Design Pickle, was invited to give us the low down on an indispensable tool for prioritizing our objectives: decision filters. His insight resonated with our firmly-held beliefs about establishing boundaries, maintaining personal integrity and setting goals. If those are values you want to integrate more into your personal and professional life, read on.

Shiny object syndrome.

Decision making is unavoidable, especially when there’s a never-ending torrent of content, opportunities, challenges, to-do lists, obligations and indecisions. How much energy do you spend deciding what to do before you even begin a task? Does it add up? Does it weigh down on you? When your options are seemingly infinite, and the people, places and things demanding your attention are endless, you are forced to streamline and prioritize. It’s time to break the chains of shiny object syndrome.

Decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue is real, y’all. The more you invest in making decisions, the more energy your body consumes, the more depleted you are at the end of the day. The real kicker is that longer sessions of decision making actually result in deteriorating quality of judgment. Here’s the science to prove it. Feel free to use this rationale next time you’re trying to get out of a long meeting, but don’t blame it on us if it backfires. Knowing that our attention is a precious resource that gets spent, how can we be more selective with what we dedicate our energy to? 

Use a filter.

Time to dig deep. The concept of a decision filter relies entirely on what you value in your life. If you’re looking at your aspirations from 30,000 feet, and are thinking about your long-term goals and overarching ambitions, what matters most to you? Where do you want to go? We broke the categories into personal and professional, but you could have a set of decision filters for any area of your life—family, finances, relationships, etc. The point of adding this tool to your cognitive arsenal is to increase your certainty in each move you make. With certainty, you can make decisions faster and trust their outcomes, which brings you closer to your dreams in a shorter period of time. Sounds like a good deal, no?

Make it personal.

Once you’ve done the soul searching and come up with your top priorities, apply your filter throughout the day. If one of your top values is to travel more, take a moment before each task and hold it up to your filter. Will spending the time, money or energy on this particular activity bring you closer to taking a remarkable trip? If your main ambition is to build your own business, will the conversations you’re having and people you surround yourself with help you get there? It’s impossible to live your whole life according to your filter, but one of the most useful traits of employing a decision filter is that it shows you how often you’re acting for (or against) your best interest. That knowledge in and of itself can encourage corrective habits to get you closer to your goals.

Scale it up.

Decision filters can go beyond the individual. We have agency-wide filters that keep us honed in on our objectives and keep us from straying from our purpose. Through clearly written mission and vision statements, the entire agency knows what matters, and every decision—whether it’s acquiring new clients or taking on new talent—is measured against our values. This sometimes means turning down enticing opportunities. It’s hard to rebel against shiny object syndrome, especially when it comes in the form of a promising prospect. Through experience, we’ve learned that even the best-looking possibilities can work against our best interests. Every organization stands to benefit from aligning their team over the goals and values that pave the path toward success. Here are a few of our filters to inspire you and prompt you to create some of your own:

  • Comparing potential clients and partners to our core values and making sure they walk our walk
  • Holding fast and steady to who we are and who we aren’t to vet team members
  • Ensuring there’s a “why” for every “what” to help us keep on the correct path as we grow as a business

Energy and attention are resources you can’t afford to waste, so utilize your decision filters wisely to achieve the goals you set for yourself. If your organization is looking to have a deeper discussion about how to accelerate toward its aspirations, we’d love to learn more about what your organizational filters are and how we can apply them to creative marketing endeavors.

Let’s strategize >

2019 Year-in-Review Highlights

Let our work speak for itself.

16 times on the podium:

  • Entrepreneur 360 | 2019 Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America
  • AZ Central Top Companies to Work For in Arizona, Small Company
  • Phoenix Business Journal Best Places to Work in the Valley
  • MarCom Award | Web Video/Marketing | Travel Costa Mesa
  • MarCom Award | Web Video/Marketing | National Harbor
  • MarCom Award | Marketing/Promo Campaign/Branding Refresh | Travel Costa Mesa
  • MarCom Award | Marketing/Promo Campaign/Branding Refresh | Spinato’s Pizzeria
  • MarCom Award | Web Video/Marketing | Travel Costa Mesa
  • MarCom Award | Marketing/Promotion/Guide | Travel Costa Mesa
  • Addy Award | Elements of Advertising-Logo Design | Loft+Manor
  • Addy Award | Branded Content & Entertainment | Travel Costa Mesa
  • Addy Award | Sales & Marketing | Hotel Valley Ho
  • Addy Award | Integrated Advertising National Consumer Campaign | Mountain Shadows
  • Addy Award | Print Advertising, Branded Content & Entertainment | The Cliffs Hotel & Spa
  • Spaces Arizona Awards 2019 | Best in show
  • 2019 PRSA Phoenix Award of Merit | Colleen’s Dream Foundation Butterfly Effect Campaign

6 Brand Videos:

10 Rebrands & New Brands:

  • Camelot Homes
  • National Harbor
  • Starfire Golf Club
  • Cabana
  • Mavrix
  • Spinatos Pizzeria
  • ECD Systems
  • ZuZu at Hotel Valley Ho
  • From the Rooftop
  • Poppy

16 New Websites:

2020 promises to be filled with more of the exciting projects and people that make TJA so special. Cheers to the new year!

Five things my TJA internship taught me about being an agency pro

I’m going to take a wild guess and say that if you are reading this blog post, you aren’t planning on retiring any time soon. Chances are, you are a young professional looking to get a leg up on the competition by reading some quality insider content from those in the know.

That’s where I come in: I’m a college senior finishing his first agency internship at TJA. It’s been a great leap into the big leagues, and I can say that I learned quite a bit about what it means to be a bona fide agency professional. Here are my top five takeaways: 

  1. Work without borders

    There is a time and a place for silos. Bountiful fall grain harvest? Get a silo. Making some beer? Consider a silo. However, in the world of advertising, nothing happens in a vacuum. If you want to put out quick, quality work, it is important to familiarize yourself with every step of the process. My official title is Media Intern, but I made it my goal to learn and work with each department and ended up learning a heck of a lot more than I would have otherwise. A puzzle is always easier to put together when you can see the whole picture on the box.

  2. Fail gracefully, recover tactfully

    Everyone always says “Oh don’t worry about failure, it’s a part of learning!” which is true; it’s good advice. However, it doesn’t do you much good in the moment when your clients and superiors start asking you why your work was subpar or why you missed an important deadline. Anyone can mess up, but what separates amateur hour from the big leagues is how you recover. Apologize sincerely, correct quickly and move on. Don’t fight it, fix it.

  3. Embrace the things you’re bad at 

    I spent the first two years of my marketing major thinking that I could get by solely on creative prowess and intuition like some 18-year-old Don Draper. I was afraid of data and was generally clueless as to how one uses it meaningfully. It wasn’t until I had to work with survey data for a marketing research class that I realized my disdain stemmed purely from a lack of understanding and fear of messing up. With that revelation, I dove in headfirst and haven’t looked back. Now, I work with data on a daily basis and have found that I actually enjoy using it to tell stories quite a bit. You can’t learn to swim if you don’t get in the water.

  4. Find your calm 

    At a recent quarterly meeting, lifestyle coach John Beck of Leadership Embodiment, gave us his advice for finding our calm in the face of stress. His technique was as easy as inhaling while sitting up straight, exhaling while relaxing the chest and thinking of something that makes you smile. It is simple, yet solid advice. After a few attempts at this myself, I started to realize just how often we tend to rush into a problem without fully thinking it through. Never underestimate the value of facing a situation with a level head.

  5. Follow through

    Life moves fast in an agency and it’s often easy to lose track of deadlines or outright forget them all together in the face of larger projects. Be the person who does what they say they will do, when they say they will do it, even if it means writing down every deadline or staying late to finish a project, there is great value in being a person that others can depend on. After all, a person is only as good as their word.

So there you have it

Above all, make sure you enjoy what you do. If you are having a good time, the rest is sure to follow. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and never stop learning. Be the kind of professional that you would enjoy working with.


Written by: Harrison

Should you bring your dog to work? Absolutely, yes. But also, maybe not.

Let me get a couple of things out of the way: One, I am more than fortunate to work at TJA. I’m able (and encouraged) to bring my dog to work and we consistently employ people who love dogs. Two, my dog is the best dog. (HI, BAILEY!) Okay, the second point is debatable, but I need you to know that I am writing from an extremely biased viewpoint.

Bringing Bailey to work is fun. I like having her here. There are obvious benefits like the fact that I don’t have to rush home right after work to make sure she can go outside and I certainly don’t need to buy one of those treat-dispensing pet cameras. It gives me peace of mind that she isn’t sitting at home, bored out of her adorable mind. Which, in turn, prevents me from spiraling into an existential line of thinking. “Why do we even have dogs (or pets) if we just ignore them? Is she really bored or is she fine? What does she even want out of her life?” Selfishly, and a bit more realistic, I like looking at her face and petting her throughout the day. It also allows me to do things after work like dinners, meetups or happy hours.

However, what started as a selfish decision to bring my dog to work has turned into somewhat of an obligation. The thing is, I’m not the only one that benefits from bringing Bailey to work. After she came with me to work a few times, I started to get questioned about where she was when I didn’t bring her. I loved that my coworkers love my dog, so I kept bringing her. Soon enough, she was at work 3-4 times a week and became an installation in the office. If she’s missing on a day that isn’t Monday or Friday, I get questioned about her whereabouts almost immediately.

My coworkers don’t love Bailey because everyone here loves small, fluffy and somewhat grumpy dogs. It’s because she provides comfort for everyone. She greets everyone in the morning (and sometimes when they return after lunch) with a rooster-like series of barks (she carries a tiny tennis ball in her mouth and barks through it—it’s delightful) and then sits dutifully on my desk throughout the day where she waits for people to pass by and pet her. Most people need a little break from whatever worries are bouncing through their head. Bailey provides a smile and a fluffy body to pet. Baby and/or Muppet voices are optional, but appreciated. She has developed into the official TJA therapy dog over the years. It seems like my duty to bring her to work all the time, and it’s especially important during busy times at the agency.

Bringing your dog to work sounds great. So why am I even writing this blog? There’s more to the story. Bringing your dog to work requires even more work than what you get paid for and it can be very annoying if someone brings in a dog that disrupts the entire workday. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the past few years:

  1. Get to work early. Dogs will probably be amped/curious to be in a new place and generally don’t know what, “I have to work now” means.
  2. Keep track of them. Even if your dog is perfectly behaved at home, this is not your home. Even the best-trained dogs have accidents and it’s not a good look to have that happen at work.
  3. Bring treats and toys. Make your dog comfortable so they aren’t barking or disturbing everyone all day. If your dog likes to squeak toys until they break, maybe leave the squeaky ones at home.
  4. Take them outside often. Dogs are more active in an office, which means they drink more water and generally need to go outside more often than if they were at home sleeping the day away.
  5. If an accident happens, clean it immediately and teach your dog that it’s not okay. This shouldn’t need an explanation.
  6. Be ready to take them home if there’s an issue. Please take your dog home if they aren’t behaving.
  7. Expect to take care of your dog all day long. On the rare occasion you have to leave, you might have to ask someone to watch over your dog, but it should never be your coworker’s responsibility to take your dog outside or to watch it for an extended period of time. It’s a business, not a doggy daycare.
  8. You will probably need to stay later than usual. It’s not fair for you to take extra breaks to care for your dog and then leave exactly on time. Be fair to your coworkers and work for the entire time you are obligated to work.

Unfortunately, not all dogs are ready to come to work. Your dog is obviously a Good Dog, but might not be appropriate for your workplace. Here are some reasons to leave your furry friend at home:

  1. If they are aggressive. This is potentially dangerous and rude. If there are other dogs, there might be a fight, or worse, there could be an injury inflicted by your dog. At TJA, we have clients, vendors and delivery people coming and going pretty often which can cause a lot of disturbances.
  2. If they bark a lot. To be fair, my sweet baby angel face dog, Bailey, barks on occasion and doesn’t love children at the office. She can generally be consoled and I am always ready to take her home if she gets out of hand.
  3. If your dog is active when people are around. Eventually, your dog will need to settle in for the day and be quiet. If your dog isn’t able to do that, it’s best to leave them at home where they can get some rest.
  4. If they aren’t well-trained. Accidents happen, but are only forgiven if it is a rare occurrence. If your dog is known to mark everything or doesn’t know how to tell you they need to go outside, leave them home.
  5. If you are in meetings or off-site for a good portion of the day. If you aren’t going to be with your dog during the workday, they should stay at home.

Now that you are wiser about office dog etiquette, bring your fuzzy friend to work! Or don’t. Be considerate to your coworkers and remember that work comes first. If all else fails, you can always stop by and visit Bailey.

Technological Disadvantages: 9 Experiences My Children Will Never Have

One night as my family was watching a Netfllix movie, the TV froze and my four-year-old said to his younger sister: “Cora don’t worry, it’s just buffering.” This coming from a kid who can’t tie his own shoes.

Whether we like it or not, our children’s upbringing is, and will continue to be, very different from our own. Information is everywhere, privacy has become non-existent, and everyday it feels like we’re moving closer and closer to a real-life Skynet.

I’m no luddite. I’m a Senior digital strategist here at TJA. My job literally entails adopting new technologies and applying them to our clients’ marketing needs. But as much as I enjoy how technology has enhanced our lives (iPads, Netflix, the cotton gin?), I’m still sad my children won’t share some of the same experiences that sparked so much joy in my childhood.

1. Going to Blockbuster
I can still smell Blockbuster if I close my eyes: worn carpet, plastic and packaged candy. I could walk around Blockbuster for hours. There was no IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes to help decide which movie to choose. You judged a movie’s worth by A) How many copies of the movie were on the shelf, and B) How many of those copies had been already rented. In a zero-copy scenario, finding a copy at the return counter felt like winning the lottery.

2. Getting Lost
Until very recently, humans relied on a large piece of paper to help them navigate the world. Although there was always a slight panic when it dawned on us we were lost, for me, there was also a tinge of excitement. Will I get back on track? Will I cave and ask for directions? Will I take a wrong turn and get stuck near an old nuclear site that gave rise to a group of mutant monsters who have developed a taste for human flesh? We’ll just have to keep driving and find out.

3. Dial tone of modem
When dial-up internet was still in use, the internet was in its infancy. That unmistakable tone of the world wide web downloading itself through a landline conjured a wide range of emotions, from excitement to sheer confusion. Pavlovian conditioning at its finest!

4. Driving a car
This one might be a stretch, but in 2029 when my kids are learning how to drive, I’m hypothesizing that self-driving cars will have been fully adopted. Unless there’s a “just drive nowhere specific so I can clear my head” button on their self-driving car, they’ll be missing out bigtime.

5. Privacy
As great as social media can be, I’m so thankful that it wasn’t around when I was a child. When it came to your social life, you only knew what you knew. There was no feeling left out because you saw pictures that Tommy’s GF posted on VSCO from Janey’s party that she purposefully didn’t invite you to.

6. Making a mix tape
Sure, this is something my kids will be able to do digitally with playlists, but there was something extra special about giving a tape to someone that you worked hard on and spent hours perfecting. The timing had to be meticulous, and the presentation had to match. The effort was what made it a great way to show someone you cared.

7. Being off the grid
“Be home by 11!” Being out of touch was liberating. There was no changing plans, or constant checking in. Life was just better off the grid. I’m pretty sure Stranger Things would have been a horrible TV show if those kids had cellphones. Where’s Will? Launch Find My Friends!

8. Using a camera with film
Growing up, there was a limited amount of shots in a roll of film. The perfect picture was almost non-existent. We didn’t constantly have cameras in our hands and we certainly didn’t take 15 pictures of our eggs Benedict. It was a total crapshoot. The anticipation of waiting for the film to be developed was worth the unexpected surprise of the perfect shot.

9. Talking on the house phone
It’s crazy to think how quickly house phones became a thing of the past. There were no cell phones growing up (which means there was no texting, duh). Those 6th grade late-night phone conversations have been replaced with abbreviated shorthand text. SMH, man. SMH.

Maybe my feelings about technology and my offspring will be passed down from generation to generation. I just had Siri make a reminder for 2049 to have my son to write a follow up. Oh the irony.

Me, as technology continues to advance:

The Evolution of a “Millennial” From The Power of Leadership

Here’s what’s been on my mind.

In April, I will have been at TJA for two years. It feels like I walked in for the first time yesterday. Throughout the interactions, conversations, multiple failures and learning opportunities, there has been a recurring peeve of mine that I didn’t realize I had until it surfaced. Millennials.

*Insert stereotypical remark here.*

One day, I asked myself why that term had even started to grind my gears. My answer, in short: because I took it to heart. I am part of the cohort born in a certain time frame and am now subjected to the stigma and reputation that comes with it. For the longest time, I refused to accept that I even was a millennial. I consider myself an old soul and I don’t entirely resonate with all the characteristics that define a millennial today. But it wasn’t until I stumbled across Simon Sinek’s video Millennials In The Workplace, did it click.

Queue the thought provocation.

Sinek explained four pillars (as I call them) that are hallmarks of my generation: parenting, technology, impatience and environment. As he spoke, I had an ah-ha moment, which got me thinking: I wonder what my peers’ environmental setting is like, their roles in the business realm and how they feel? So, as a millennial does, I posted on my Instagram story and asked the question: “What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced transitioning from academia to corporate America?”

From the responses I received, I saw a theme around lack of confidence, fear of capability, and, to my surprise, bias and prejudice due to being a novice. So I dug deeper; I wanted to know more.

How is your management structure at your job?
Do you feel like you’re being lead or managed?
Does your direct manager help build social skills and confidence, and do they make an effort to care about your overall investment in the company?

I only received one positive response from someone who works at a company that has been named Best Places to Work for six years straight. All the other responses were dismal. So I uncovered a common theme around lack of quality in leadership. Queue the self-reflection.

I empathized with all the responses, because I am all too familiar with the same trials and tribulations that came with entering the workforce at an entry level. I too was “victim” to the impatience, the technology addiction and a multitude of environmental settings (such as being led by fear and the feeling of being another workhorse to pump out profit for the business) that played a role in shaping me into the millennial I am was. I’ve evolved from the typical millennial Sinek described and I have outstanding leadership to thank for it.

Ultimately, this is what I learned.

To be frank, I’m not sure 80% of millennials have been able to experience effective leadership. So, to my millennial friends, I leave you with wise words that one of my leaders shared with me, which brought me peace when I felt anxious: You don’t know what you don’t know. But now that you know the importance of effective leadership and the appropriate questions to ask, use this knowledge during your journey through the corporate world.

And to those in a position of leadership, who may be experiencing pain points with millennials in your company, take a step back and ask yourself the following:

How am I leading? By fear or by example?
Do I encourage people to ask for help? Or are people afraid?
Do I openly share my experiences as a way to teach others?
How do I handle situations when someone makes a mistake?
Have I built trust with my team members?
Do I make an effort to create trust-building interactions?

Arizona Foothills Magazine’s Best of Our Valley 2019

Voting is now open for Arizona Foothills Magazine’s Best of Our Valley 2019, and we need your help to win! To vote, simply log in using either your Facebook or Google+ account and click on the links below to cast your vote for team TJA. You can vote once a day per category until voting closes on Friday, November 30. We are grateful for your support. May the voting begin!

Agency Nominations:

TJA Team Member Nominations:

Don't Say No to PTO

As the sole proprietor of a growing agency and mom to a four year old and an almost-three-year-old, I’m always trying to achieve the magic work/life balance ratio. I also know that it is not always realistic to effectively achieve this balance, especially in our industry of tight deadlines, childcare unknowns and last minute fire drills.

Years ago [before I started my own business], I worked for an agency that had a fairly strict vacation policy. You were required to accrue your days, and requests made by senior team members would take precedence over my own. As a 20-something designer with zero responsibilities other than my dog – no dependents, no mortgage, no yard to manage – I wanted to get out of dodge as much as I possibly could. I promised myself that when I controlled my own destiny, I’d rewrite the game of PTO.

Fast forward almost 12 years later, I own a business made of uber-creative, free-spirited employees. The creative environment is a tender environment, one which drafts large amounts of energy from these folks daily. My creative director once said that “working in advertising is like being an actor. You are expected to perform on demand, but if you are tired, burnt out or not creatively turned on, it’s really difficult to do your ‘job’ well.” This is so true for our line of work. Agency life is fast paced and requires you to be “on” all the time. There isn’t a moment that doesn’t demand you to keep your thinking cap on. Most importantly, you have to stay refreshed and inspired to provide the best work possible for the client. All of this sums up why I don’t say no to PTO.

At TJA, we have 10 business days of personal time off for each employee. It doesn’t matter whether you are fresh off the schoolyard block or you are a tenured team member, you get two weeks! It’s not accrued so they are able to use it when they want, as soon as they want, and however much they want at one time. We also close for two weeks during the holiday season and give the team those days paid as well, which totals up to an average of 27 paid days off annually. It’s more than a business month off!

I cautiously warn them however, TJA does not offer a separate ‘bank’ of sick days. I remind them that if they are prone to catching whatever annual catastrophic ailment is going around during flu season, they should plan ahead and not blow through all of their days. You can clearly draw a line in the sand between those employees who savor their days and others who have spent them all before first quarter’s end.

Because we are a smaller agency, I also ask them to have respect for their fellow peers. If half the creative department has already requested days off for approval, I tell them to be conscientious that they may be putting the firm into a bandwidth predicament. I am very fortunate to have a group of people under my roof who genuinely respect and admire each other, so this has never happened.

As an employer, I see the effects of a flexible PTO policy return to the company ten-fold. Team members get to spend quality time with their family, take off on an adventure they likely would not have had the ability to do at their last position, or just rest at home. However they decide to use their time out of the office, they always return refreshed, rejuvenated and re-inspired. I’ve heard some often say that they were excited to come back to work after being away.

That’s music to Boss Lady’s ears.

Veronique James | Boss Lady

How the TJA Summer Recharge made me a better creative.

For those of you who don’t know, 2017 marked TJA’s first annual Summer Recharge: a week in July where our team can top off their batteries and come back with renewed stores of creative inspiration. As we approach the 2018 edition (happening July 3–July 6), we’d like to share why this practice was put in place.

There’s a reason we don’t call this vacation. It isn’t time spent lounging on the couch or frittering days away. Last year, members of our crew experienced truly life-changing moments. A couple people moved into their first house, others explored the streets of new cities while gaining hospitality insights, some explored international locales to seek out new perspectives—and then there’s me.

I (probably somewhat stupidly) took one of our Boss Lady’s favorite credos to heart: “If you’re not doing something that makes you uncomfortable, you’re doing something wrong.” I put that philosophy into action by buying a new-to-me motorcycle on Sunday, outfitting it on Thursday and taking off for a 3,500-mile solo road trip on Saturday.

This is something I’d wanted to do since college, but had never had the proper bike nor the time off. Lucky for me, TJA’s unique company culture encourages such foolish decisions. Throughout my first few days on the road, I met very nice desert juggalos, saw California’s wine country for the first time, explored the place where Star Wars was shot, watched morning mist roll through a pristine redwood forest and stayed in some cheap motels with plenty of “character”—and that was all before my layover in Portland.

After eating some of the city’s best food and reconnecting with wonderful friends for two days, my road trip kicked back into gear—starting with a ride across the entirety of Oregon. My first day back in the saddle included a dead battery, some helpful locals and beers at a hotel bar with a legit biker that had “seen some shit.” Day two immersed me in all things Idaho and Utah, from rolling hills to soaring peaks. The final day treated me to views of Arches and Canyon Lands National Parks, Arizona’s iconic Monument Valley and Flagstaff thunderstorms. It all culminated in a rain-soaked ride down tight curves while battling mechanical failures and rolling smoke from forest fires—right before a kind woman selling dog food out of her car jumpstarted my battery.

All in all, it was the trip of a lifetime for more than a couple reasons. Yes, it was a chance to explore a side of the country I was only faintly familiar with. But it also opened me up to new sources of creative inspiration. I met true characters, heard insane stories and flexed some different writing muscles by keeping a loose travel journal. It was my first chance to take on a personal project since forever.

It’s experiences like these that make our summer break a recharge instead of a vacation. Our time in 2018 is sure to include even more inspiring adventures for our team, from time in Japan, Singapore and Mexico to reflective moments with family. I anticipate our weekly “one word” exercise on the first Monday back will come with some pretty interesting responses—and translate into even more interesting client work. We can’t wait to share it with you.

Pride in the Workplace

Happy June! When most of us think of Pride month, glitter bombs, rainbows, men in crop tops and larger-than-life drag queens come to mind. Although true, and freakin’ fabulous, Pride and its past are rooted in so much more.

The 50s and 60s showed us many of America’s very first human rights movements. These political reactions and lots of gung-ho gay activism following the Manhattan Stonewall riots led the country towards a huge cultural shift. And in June of 1969, Pride month was born; 30 days dedicated to publicly wearing your self satisfaction on your sleeve. We have come a long way since then, but as a sexual minority, our work is never done.

I recently learned that a third of all employed LGBTQ people in the US have hid their sexuality from coworkers and employers. This led me to reflect on my personal experiences and how very lucky I have been to work for companies that embrace my individuality. Coming out to family members and friends is one thing, but being open and honest in the workplace is a hurdle of its own. Chances are your besties and brothers already love you. However, your coworkers don’t owe you any allegiance. We all want to be accepted and respected, that much is universal. We are living in an exciting time where our ally numbers are trending upwards, and many thanks can be given to companies who are proud to represent, encourage and welcome a diverse range of employees.

Every year it seems as though more and more brands are commercializing their support and using their soapbox to make a difference. The Super Bowl, Olympics, award shows and other major televised events have all played host to some of our favorite household brands showcasing their LGBTQ support through innovative and heartfelt advertising. If this blog is able to reach at least one person who is struggling to be proud in their own workplace, I thought I’d share some worldwide companies that have a place for you. These guys have done it beautifully:

  • Coca-Cola
  • Verizon
  • Converse
  • Harry’s
  • Under Armor
  • Disney
  • Soul Cycle
  • Nike
  • Speedo
  • Target
  • Apple
  • Milk Makeup
  • Warby Parker
  • Ben & Jerry’s
  • Tide
  • Absolut Vodka
  • Doritos
  • Amazon
  • Chobani
  • Uber

Don’t worry, I didn’t forget my own fantastic example of inclusion here in Scottsdale, The James Agency. It’s been nothing but open arms and open minds since I started here a year ago, a freshie on the Arizona scene. Coming from San Francisco, perhaps one of the most accepting city cultures in America, I had hoped to find the same feeling of freedom when I landed in the Valley. Landing = successful. Keep tabs on our careers page, we want you too!

How to Build A Positive Workplace Culture

It’s no secret to any professional that we spend the best hours of our life (at least Monday through Friday) at our place of business. Your colleagues often see you more than your family does, and your office, desk or cube could be considered your primary residence. As a business owner and leader, I never take that for granted. I’m a mother and wife myself, and there are some weeks when I see my kids a total combined seven hours in a five day span. The math can be heartbreaking, but it is a reality in today’s fast-paced business age. 

16 years ago, I started my career as a junior designer. I was at the bottom of the totem pole, and I had very little experience to compare what a positive workplace should be. I’d worked in the restaurant industry in college and managed a few hair salons, which taught me how to work with dynamic personalities and disgruntled clients…but for the most part I was naive. Fast forward a few years and a couple “big girl” jobs later, something was telling me there had to be a better way. Either I was loving the client work but hating the vibe of the culture, or I was loving the culture but wasn’t feeling fulfilled with the work. My young 20 something mindset was starting to challenge the status quo, and I was dead set on cracking the code to finding a positive workplace that also flourished in super juicy creative work. Thus, The James Agency (TJA) was born.

Selfishly, I created TJA to be the embodiment of all the things I wanted and craved when I started my professional journey. Some of my most precious relationships have cultivated from this business, and the energy that fuels this place is addicting. Want to know the secret to how we got here? Here are seven tips for building a positive workplace:

Start with gratitude.

I always tell our team members, clients and partners that it is a privilege, not a right, to work together. It sounds like something my dad would say, but it is true. At TJA, we love to open every Monday morning with a 15 minute all-hands team hustle, and the first thing on the agenda is team kudos. Why, you may ask? Giving people a vehicle to express their appreciation for one another in a public forum raises the morale of the group as a whole, sets a positive standard for the week and frankly makes people feel pretty darn awesome when they are acknowledged. Starting with gratitude in any professional situation, whether it’s responding with a thank you to someone who took time out of their busy day to send you an email or handwriting a thank you first thing in the morning to one of your teammates, sets the intention of appreciation. This will elevate how you show up and will also permeate within your organization.

Create a safe environment.

There isn’t room for toxicity in a professional environment. It’s a cancer that can spread quickly and can be harder to recover from than you may realize. I believe that creating a safe work environment means eliminating those negative personalities or breaking bad habits that seem to send a business into a downward spiral quickly. There are the HR terms of safety, and there are the psychological terms of safety. At TJA, we respect every idea, whether it is derived from a junior team member or a tenured senior member. We also practice humility daily, because we all know that an ego the size of an elephant can cannibalize all the cool work you are trying to accomplish together. In the advertising industry, there are so many unknowns that we can’t control (like fire drill phone calls from clients, quick deadlines and rush jobs). So let’s control what we can and show up with respect for everyone we work with. Honesty, integrity and vulnerability is how we roll.

Don’t pee on the toilet seat.

You are probably reading and thinking “what the heck does this have to do with creating a positive workplace?” Actually, it’s a saying we use at TJA that means, don’t leave a mess for someone else and respect everyone’s time. Nowadays, most professional environments are comprised of a multi-department structure or virtual teams. There is nothing more frustrating than when you go to pick up where someone left off and the files are missing, the work is a mess or someone has saved that crucial document on their desktop and now they’re on a flight to Paris for a two-week vacation. Drats! They’ve peed on the toilet seat! Not leaving a mess for someone is the functional meaning of this, but the emotional definition means “respect everyone’s time.” If someone has to duplicate your efforts and take time out of their daily duties to recreate work or go on a hunt for that missing document, you are basically saying you don’t care about their time. To me, time is our most valuable currency; and if we aren’t respecting our colleagues’ time, we are creating a negative workplace environment.

There should never be problems in business, there should only be opportunities.

Look, there is a reason why work is a four letter word. It’s HARD! Deadlines, client expectations, flub-bubs, it can all get pretty hectic and stressful. And most of the time when it rains, it really seems to pour. When emotions are high and stress is even higher, issues in business can seem like GIANT boulders. Whenever someone rushes in to my office with that “holy sh*t” look we all know too well, I ask them to take a different perspective. I ask them a couple questions:

  • What is the learning opportunity that we can glean from this experience? I always tell my team that a problem isn’t a problem, it’s an opportunity for us to reflect and evaluate so we can do better the next time around.
  • What is funny about this situation? Finding the irony or humor in a stressful circumstance can quickly lighten a very emotionally charged room.

Be consistent.

There are so many new trends and influences on how to derive a positive workplace or culture. Flex hours, team builds and open work environments have all seemed to be tactics that business owners are testing. What we have found consistency is what works for us, and not being influenced by the newest professional culture craze. It’s easy to get caught up in what might seem like the newest positive workplace habits or maybe you caught a glimpse of what your competitors are doing…however a left turn in workplace rhythms can actually do more harm than good. Although change can be healthy, disrupting a good thing can be detrimental and affect the cultural balance of your organization.

Encourage positive thinking.

Our yard stick of life is short, and there are only so many inch marks left. Why waste that time on disruptive or toxic behaviors that don’t align with your business’ moral compass? I proactively encourage my team to think positive – all. the. time. Even when things seem to be going nowhere or the result didn’t pan out as we had hoped, positive thinking eventually cultivates positive outcomes. Setting yearly, monthly and weekly positive intentions as a group can also align your team and ensure everyone is facing the same North Star.

Don’t sacrifice the important for the urgent.

All too often, I see fellow business leaders punt team huddles or one-on-ones for that urgent client call or meeting. That connection with your team is crucial to maintaining your positive workplace environment. As the leader, you are the cheerleader of the company and the glue of your organization. Without that regular connection to your people, the mission, vision and energy of the business can quickly dilute and affect your cultural fiber. Rescheduling is fine, just don’t let those conversations get replaced with urgent client demands and deadlines.

Dependability, structure, clarity and meaningful work are all ingredients that, when combined, can culminate in a solid foundation for a positive workplace. Add some awesome sauce and voila…you have the magic recipe!

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