Something Different Co-founder & Managing Partner
Patti McConnell started Something Different with her partner Tommy Henvey as an alternative to brands looking for new ways to create advertising and content. They spent the better part of the last twenty years guiding some very big brands at some very big agencies. Then it stopped being fun. Something Different was built with the belief that the model to create things was broken. They provide a different way to work, a different way to solve problems, a different way to make stuff.
My plan was to go into journalism. I wanted to be one of those reporters who could be dropped anywhere in the world to chase a story. That didn’t happen. And I didn’t get a job in a newsroom either. But I ended up working for a former newsroom director who created informative news bytes for Manhattan Cable. They were entertainment/Broadway-related and we captured stories and news updates. It gave me my first glimpse of what production looked like from behind the scenes.
From there, I got a producer job with a now closed advertising agency, D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. I loved it immediately. It was a roundabout way, but it involved the investigative aspect of journalism—the uncovering of details and solving sometimes difficult problems—that I was attracted to. And I applied these skills to my role as a producer and eventually as a business lead.
I’m seeing the emergence of smaller, non-traditional agencies and, with that, a more thoughtful way to work and serve clients. It’s creating opportunities for all types of talent and they’re finding they are happier and are doing better work. Strategic planners, for example, are working this way because their brains need to be fed by different types of projects. That doesn’t mean there won’t continue to be staff jobs, or that all the big agencies will close tomorrow. It’s rather that it’s no longer so risky to look for project work because, now, it’s often long-term and more fulfilling. People can move about, work in different industries, and with different agencies. It’s the new norm.
My partner, Tommy Henvey, and I love everything about this business. Not just advertising, but entertainment, marketing, storytelling…simply creating and making stuff. We’d worked in celebrated agencies, but back in 2008, the business started to change. The bottom fell out. The relationship between agencies and clients changed. There wasn’t a partnership any longer. After that, every year became a little more soul-sucking. In 2014, Tommy and I decided to do something. We were on location in Los Angeles, we had some downtime and we drew up a business plan. At that time, we didn’t know exactly what our model would be, but we knew we had to get back to what we loved about the business. That meant creating ideas, telling stories, working directly with clients, nurturing those relationships.
Two years later, the stars aligned, and we had the opportunity to launch Something Different. It was the perfect time for a new model to emerge. We were going to be lean and mean. We were going to work alongside clients, bring them behind the scenes and make them part of the process. We also curated our staff in a particular way. It took a year to hire our director of accounts, Meghan Linehan, because we felt we had to get it right. And you know what? It couldn’t be more right. Garrett Crabb, our special ops/agency oversight manager is also absolutely perfect. Nobody else could be Garrett. Everybody who works at Something Different is exactly who they should be.
We’re growing, but don’t want to grow so fast that we lose any bit of the sheer joy we get out of what we do.
When we launched, our roster consisted of traditional brands. We had a bank, a technology company and a cable company. We were doing different kinds of projects for each, but it was work that we knew. Now, we are leaning left and right, and going after different types of branding. We’re working with growing companies and developing brands from startup. We’re also taking part in different types of business relationships, beyond the traditional exchange of goods and services for payment. Equity deals are coming into play. That’s very exciting.
Coming from big agencies and having managed a department, I was used to looking at P&Ls and spreadsheets but running a service business involved a huge learning curve. Understanding the details of taxes and equity investments…my brain did not go there naturally. I remember our first meeting with our accountant and wondering how it was all going to work. We had a CFO, but, as founding partners, Tommy and I needed to understand how to manage our overhead and what it would take to set up 401(k) plans for employees. It was terrifying. We had to learn a whole new language. For me, the message was that we had to work past all that because the reward was huge.
We want our clients to thoroughly enjoy the process. Clients trust us. That’s because what you see is what you get. There is no agenda. No politics. We tell you what we think, even if it’s not so pretty. You may not like the answer, but it’s going to be real. We believe that authenticity is something every client deserves and has come to learn not to expect. They should expect nothing less. So, we’re genuinely engaged in client business. We have fun and we want our clients to have fun.
Hiring and mentoring talent has always been a favorite part of the job. I want people to take ownership of their jobs. That means they’re not always going to do their job the way I’d do it. Everyone at Something Different has a job title, but each person has other skills and talents that are just as important. Meghan Linehan is a fantastic account person, she gets digital and strategy, but she’s also an incredible artist. She wanted to work in a creative environment and do the job for which she is trained so well, but she also wanted to use her creative side. Garrett comes from an art background and is always infusing his work with his creative experience. Our people are happy and at ease. They don’t have to put on airs. They are honest and responsible for creating their roles. It doesn’t get any better than that. It makes me incredibly proud.
Be a sponge. Listen. Leave your ego at the door. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a strong personality or definitive opinions, but if you have to be the center of attention, it’s going to be bumpy. A lot of times, you have to step back, listen, learn the room and understand the dynamics. If you do that, trust and comfort develops. That’s when you can emerge and find your place. And, you gotta be who you are. If you’re faking it, it won’t be five minutes before someone sees through you. Lastly, remember that there’s never a “no.” There is always a way to figure it out and make it great. Our job is to do just that. There’s always a way. It may be hard, but it can be smart, calm, savvy and joyful too.