How many guys does it take to do a studio tour? The Mutt Industries Interview

By The Portland Egotist / /

Take 3 guys and throw them under a bridge in Portland, Oregon and what do you get? A new collective of writers, designers, filmmakers, artists and strategists. That’s what. It doesn’t get any more basic than that.

What follows is their studio tour and interview…


How did you guys start?
We met at Wieden 7 years ago, fell in love, did some great work together, got promoted and reassigned, never saw each other and then got fed up and reunited the band. It truly is a love story. Well, most of the time.

How long have you been doing this profession?
Scott for roughly 10 years. Mike for 18 years. Steve, since the dawn of man.

What is it that you love most about the work?
Being paid to solve problems and come up with weird, quirky and sometimes inspiring ideas. Camaraderie is also pretty awesome, as are our clients. It feels good to work hard with and for really nice people.

What is more important? Awards? Money? Work? The people? The client?
That’s an easy one—the people. Followed closely by the work, of course. If you get these two things right, everything else (money, awards and clients) will follow.

What is the secret for Mutt’s success?
We haven’t exactly reached the mountaintop yet. But one thing that has done wonders for us, in new biz and so on, is just being ourselves, i.e., honest, sometimes inappropriate, transparent. People always comment on this after they meet Mutt; for some reason it seems to be rare in our industry.

What’s the biggest failure that Mutt has gone through?
Having to terminate a client relationship because we didn’t have our shit together from an organizational standpoint. Our disappointment had less to do with losing a client and lots of money, and more to do with knowing we could and should have addressed our weaknesses earlier.

Where do you see Mutt going in the next 10 years? 20 years? 50 years? 100 years?
10 years: Being at the top of game, kicking ass and taking no prisoners.
20 years: Retiring in Kauai and continuing to argue with each other (this time on the beach).
50 years: Playing shuffleboard together at the local retirement home.
100 years: Returning to earth reincarnate as a pack of dogs.

What do you see as the most serious issue threatening/weakening advertising today?
Probably what it’s always been—a lack of honesty or transparency in how agencies and
companies communicate their story or offering to the general public. There is just so much hyperbole and distortion today; and it tends to give us all a really bad name. Even those who are trying to approach their jobs with more integrity and honesty. As for a specific example I don’t really care to bash on anyone in particular; but it’s fair to say that some industries (especially pharma) are more inclined towards this than others.

What do you see as the greatest strength that you guys bring?
We have a motto here at Mutt: Beauty. Truth. Simplicity. We bring these values or qualities to everything we do. Probably the most important is truth. We want every concept or idea we have to be grounded in some truth (about the product or consumer or whatever). Otherwise we’re just creating contrived bullshit that, frankly, anyone could do for their clients.

Do you guys want to get big or smaller?
We want to grow, but slowly and organically. We are in no hurry to become the next massive, generic ad agency. In fact, one of our biggest fears is getting so big that it starts to create a wedge between us and the work and, more importantly, between us and our peeps.

From where (or what) do you draw your energy?
We definitely draw a lot of energy and inspiration from each other. As a small company you have to. And there is very little time or patience for people who go-it-alone. In terms of inspiration, that probably comes mostly from life experiences, i.e., traveling, building/creating things outside of work, just generally challenging yourself to get better/smarter at the things you love.

Does your faith or religion (or lack thereof) influence your work? If so, how?
That’s an interesting question, but a pretty personal one as well. I can’t speak for others, but religion or faith has very little influence on my work (at least not that I’m aware of). I will say that the principles most religions try to teach—kindness, humility, honesty and so on—are things that we value as well.

Have you had any funny or humorous experiences while working in your profession?
The lion’s share of my life in advertising has been humorous. My best story is too long and inappropriate to share with a stranger. But let’s just say it involved me being sternly reprimanded by Tony the Tiger.

How has Portland’s creative community influenced Mutt and vice versa?
We are attached at the hip with Portland’s creative community. Most of our creative partners—photographers, directors, printers, designers, and so on—live and reside in our neighborhood. And many of us participate directly in the community, i.e., we are in bands, we do photo shoots, we generally try to raise hell in Portland.

  1. David Burn May 5, 2011

    Mutt sounds like a great company. Thanks for the interview. Love the agency motto: Beauty. Truth. Simplicity.

  2. ZB May 8, 2011

    Truth. Beauty. Mona.