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Austin, TX
United States

The branding studio of Brian Thompson. Freelance copywriter and creative director.

I write in hope that my thoughts become clear.

BrandWriter is the studio of Brian Thompson. Freelance Copywriter and Creative Director.


Brian Thompson

First Round (presented by underconsideration) is “a one-day showcase of original presentations made to clients showing initial design explorations for logo, identity, and branding projects.”

Each speaker shared the actual PDF, keynote, or PowerPoint file they presenting to their clients (or a condensed version for the sake of time.)

Here’s a transcription of my notes:

Opening remarks by Bryony Gomez-Palacio and Armin Vit of underconsideration:

• Start every presentation by repeating what the client told us in the previous meeting.

• Name your options to make them easier to discuss. Saying “option A, option B” becomes too clinical.

• Keep the presentation itself as undersigned as possible.

• Built it so that it can present itself, without us in the room.

• Use real-life actual images of the client’s signage, building or space for mockups.

• Treat your options equally – present apples to apples.

• End with a summary slide of all the options together to begin the conversation. And print out a cheat sheet of them to hand out.

• Practice what you want to say. Run through the presentation for time.

Marty Butler of The Butler Brothers presenting Taco Deli:

• Practice Radical Collaboration. Base their process on the Think Wrong model.

• Start with your objective. Then state what’s important about their brand and culture.

• True stories are worth celebrating.

• Start close in and go further out with your range of options.

• Retain the best of what was working before.

• Give logical reasons for a change.

Jose Canales of Canales & Co presenting Heeet Vodka:

• “If we leave a trail of breadcrumbs, it gets the client nodding which makes selling easier.”

• Even if you’re not hired for strategy, do your own discovery phrase. And then create/recap the brand pillars.

• Create a “word bank” slide to get the clients head nod on vocabulary.

• Let the client see how you arrived at each creative solution.

• Share your inspiration.

• Presenting over the phone or video is awkward. Just get used to it.

Alana Louise Lyons presenting Tap Root Soda:

• Give your new clients a questionnaire to capture basic details.

• “Adjust till you’re dust.”

• Recap the strategy to set up what they’re about to see. Help the client connect the dots.

• Give context for future applications, even it’s just a logo slapped on a shirt.

• Make sure all questions are answered within the deck so when it passed around it makes sense.

• Sketch loosely. Get your thoughts on paper before finessing on screen.

• When making subtle logo changes, show a build with the new version appearing over top of the previous version.

Christian Helms of Helms Workshop presenting Blackberry Farm Brewery:

• “If you’re not reading the strategy at the beginning, you’re not doing strategy right.” Review the complete strategy then distill and recap = Head, Heart & Gut.

• Present your work on two tracks: the creative and the business case.

• Make the business argument to sell the idea.

• Clients need to see how the numbers move but you also need to make them feel it.

• “A meal is more delicious if you’re eating it in good company.”

• Brand language: include slides between options to set the tone. Example, big, bold line over beautiful imagery that represents the client’s location and history.

• Make it real. Mock up your design in real life and photograph it to make the idea real. Looks like the work could walk right up into the real world. Not just a comp on a stock image of a wine bottle, instead print the label and stage a photograph of a real bottle.

• Show each option next to the competitive set.

• Once you’re getting approval up the chain, it’s not about the presentation, it’s the meeting before the presentation. Collaborate with your immediate client.

• “How do you decide your presentation style? You don’t. It’s like those Mad Max cars. You bolt stuff on. If it works, keep it. If it doesn’t chuck it.”

Michu Benaim Steiner of In-House International presenting Latinos In Tech:

• Passion projects are seen by potential clients. So make the things you want to make whenever you can.

• Recap what you’ve talked about before and show that you have digested it to inform your concepts.

• Define the brand keywords. “Vibrant” can mean different things to different people.

• Set expectations on what you will deliver: sketches or not? How developed will each direction be? How many options?

• Plan for “the second life of the deck.” Once you leave the room, your presentation has another life as it gets passed around.

• Present a variation to highlight an important detail.

• Make a selection of things that is wide enough in variety but contained enough to make a decision. “It is my job to cut it down to three.”

• Have the discipline to bring your number of options down to three or fewer. It makes it easier on the client.

• End every presentation by laying out the next steps

• First rounds are like that show House Hunters – which one will they pick?

• If you want to try a color pallet from another option, OK. But Frankenlogos are forbidden.

• Trust is of the essence. It is a vulnerable situation to let someone else tell your story.

• Make the whole.

Herman Dyal & Jason Wilkins of Page/Dyal presenting The University of Texas at Austin:

• Recap the problem you have been asked to solve and reframe what the real challenge is. (What else is happening behind the ask?)

• Eliminate the obvious directions

• Make people feel heard, so they know they can trust you.

DJ Stout of Pentagram presenting Loyola Marymount University:

• Love the clients that believe in you and trust you.

• I show like a million logos. Most people show three, I’m the opposite.

• Logo design is not rocket science. It’s a symbol.

• Avoid exploring colors until the end if you can. It’s too weird (subjective). People are weird about color.

Carmen Garza presenting Born and Raised:

• I told the client, “You are awesome at what you do. I’m pretty good at what I do. Really good actually. So let’s leave the design to me, so you can focus on being awesome.”

• Show black and white in the first round.

• I love a story. Don’t just do things because they look pretty. Give it a meaning.

• Tell them the next steps and set a schedule. Spell out what you need from them and when. Don’t be afraid to shift due dates if they don’t.

• I show one logo. One approach. And why.

Jett Butler of FÖDA presenting The Preacher’s Son:

• Lay a foundation. Set up their story.

• The options should all be different but share a common DNA or root.

• Have a reason or underlying philosophy to guide the small choices.

• Looking backward to a space’s history is a good way to arrive on an honest solution.

Trina Bentley of Make & Matter presenting Muir Glen:

• List design goals before diving into visuals: how it functions & how it feels

• Show logo with usage on packaging

• Needs of the system dictate the design.

• Variations within a direction keeps exploration organized.

• I am really big on variations. I like to pick 5 directions and then push and pull each one. Try inversing colors or swapping type. Usually land on 1 or 2 variations worth including.

• Have an option that tries a different approach but in an appropriate way.

• I want a client to feel like I have exhausted all the options.

• Create a wallpaper of elements of each direction broken out.

• Show packaging rendered on the shelf space.

Ryan Hamrick presenting Russell Stover:

• Client sometimes provides a concept they want to see executed. Do it well and then try to bring something fresh to it.

• Depending on the project, might share early sketches as a checkin.

• Instead of a PDF or keynote, create a password protected web page to present the work. The client can still pass it around. You can also make small tweaks to the set up copy, if something comes up during the presentation, i.e. if you say something a better way during the call or if something wasn’t clear enough.

• If I have extra stuff that just came up during the creative process, I’ll throw it in just to bring the client into the exploration.

• Mock up using actual photos to make it as real as possible.

• Accept that sometimes the project doesn’t go anywhere.

Lauren Dickens presenting Wondercide:

• When a bigger project comes in, I bring in collaborators.

• Go on field trips to competitors.

• Show keywords and moodboards.

• Distill their story.

• Packaging is the most intimate form of a brand. People will leave it out on their countertop if you do a good job.

• Sometimes big ideas have to start small. And responsible growth takes patience.

• Don’t let your excitement for an idea carry you past the client’s reality.

Closing remarks by Bryony Gomez-Palacio and Armin Vit of underconsideration:

• If you only show one direction, it’s OK, others are doing that. If you want to show 14, do it. Others are finding success doing that.

• Find what works best for you.

• Use any of these little tricks that work for you to help move the world away from shitty graphic design.

Find out when and where the next First Round is taking place at Well worth attending if you can.

The nagging, little voice

Brian Thompson

As a freelance copywriter, I enjoy working with different teams. There’s always new faces and new ways of solving problems. But most of the time, most of those faces look a lot like mine. So how similar are our perspectives and biases?

When I was let go from my last full-time job, I made an appointment with my financial advisor to roll over my 401K into my trusty IRA. (He’s figured out that the only time I visit is right after I’ve been laid off.) This time, between signing the usual forms, he pulled up a site that calculates what age you can retire. After punching in a few assumptions about my savings, he turned his screen around to show my magic number: 56. As I walked out to my car, a question nagged at me. How many 56-year-olds do I know in advertising? 

It’s no secret that this business is a young person’s game. The never-ending hours and ever-shrinking budgets makes relying on junior talent an attractive choice. So whenever freelancing hits a lull, the nagging, little voice of self-doubt in my head taunts me with this phrase… advertising doesn’t need another old, white guy.

And it’s true. As I sit in yet another kick-off meeting, looking around the conference table at all the other white, male faces, I can’t ignore that this homogeny is not good for our work, our industry and our country.

Talking about age, race and gender is uncomfortable. But not talking about them is unconscionable. Thankfully, there are organizations making a difference. The 3% Movement champions the increased creativity and profitability that diversity brings. And in Austin, E4 Youth runs programs that bridge the gap between underserved youth and creative careers.

But we aren’t having these conversations often enough. So to face my fears, I’ve set what feels like an audacious goal; raise $4,500 for E4 Youth before my 45th birthday on October 25th. To do it, I’m turning my self-doubt into a rally cry…

Advertising doesn’t need another old, white guy. But it does need you to give a damn. 

Please donate to help diverse talent thrive at

Still not sure if printing posters of my giant head was a good idea. But if you don’t push yourself outside your comfort zone, what’s the point of growing older?

Still not sure if printing posters of my giant head was a good idea. But if you don’t push yourself outside your comfort zone, what’s the point of growing older?

And I'd like to thank AgencySpy for calling me middle-aged instead old in  this article . 

And I'd like to thank AgencySpy for calling me middle-aged instead old in this article

UPDATE: Thank you to everyone who contributed. And everyone who had open, frank conversations with me about the state of our industry and our careers. I urge you to remember how hard you worked to break into this business -- and help others on their journey. If you'd like to support the good work of E4 Youth, please go to

I'm pleased to report that I delivered a check for $1,280 to Carl Settles, the founder of E4 Youth. I may not have hit my goal, but you do what you can. And life is more fun when you make good things happen with good people.  

This photo op would've been more dramatic if I had printed one of those giant, fake checks.

This photo op would've been more dramatic if I had printed one of those giant, fake checks.