The Earth Science of Agency Work

When I was in 3rd grade I got an assignment from my Earth Science teacher, Mrs. Kendall. She gave every student a cup of dirt and three small seeds. Each student carefully planted their seeds and placed them all neatly on top of a shelf in the back of the room by the window. Each morning, myself and the 20-odd some other students would rush to the back of the room to see how our seedlings were doing.

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We all cared for these cups of dirt like they were made of pure gold. Watering them and making sure they got enough sunlight, bit by bit, they began to peek out of the dirt and sprout into bright green little baby plants. This was a life changing event… I had actually made something. Something that lived. Something that grew. One day, Mrs Kendall let all the students take their plants home. I remember setting mine proudly on the kitchen table and feeling truly accomplished. “Look at this great thing I made!”, I thought to myself. “It’s perfect!”. After about a week, I noticed my plant had lost its chlorophyllic luster and was beginning to look a little sad. Within days it dried up, turned brown, and called it a day. It was only then I realized this thing had to be constantly cared for and tended to. That this wasn’t just something you bring to life and then leave to merely exist. This was something that requires constant attention and care. It’s an investment into building something that reflects our own goals and values.

I don’t usually make metaphors between small plants and digital products… but when I do, I do it on the Z-blog.

The more I think about it, that plant isn’t so much different than the products we build in the digital universe today. They aren’t built to sit in a room like a piece of cheap furniture and collect dust. They are pets that we watch grow from fuzzy little balls of fury into full grown beasts of the wild. They are small children developing into full fledged adult members of society. They start out as something small, but with a unlimited potential. As they grow, the learn who they truly are and focus on utilizing and leveraging their strengths with hopes of standing out in the crowd and achieving greatness. Maybe we’re not so different after all, man and machine.

Here at Zemoga, we’ve built an organization that not only services great clients, but also builds great products. Over the past few years, we’ve had the good fortune of partnering with several small startup teams with a golden idea. Together, our teams have worked through the exciting, extensive and sometimes exasperating process that is product development. The detail. The timelines. The unknowns. Love it. However, servicing clients (I like to think of them more as partners here) with whom you are building a product has some interesting nuances that typical agency project work doesn’t prepare one for. For starters, the money typically isn’t coming from big corporate marketing budgets. This means finding creative and efficient ways to make the most of what is available, and – at times – being a little scrappy about it (for this lesson, we’ll refer to this as “swag”). When you’re handling cash from family and friends and hunting for investors, the utmost swag is required.

But the largest factor in building products for these partners (aka clients), is the fact that this is someone’s baby you’re caring for. This isn’t a throwaway banner campaign (no offense IAB) or social media stunt. This is something that your partners have poured countless hours and immeasurable amounts of energy into. This is someone’s idea. One of the most precious, and delicate possessions someone can have. And if it’s not managed with care, it could lead to disappointment for partners on both sides. Setting expectations upfront, double-checking, and ensuring that all parties are aligned, and then continuing this care post-launch is the one surefire way to ensure that products are built and live on after they first sprout from the dirt.