5 Ways to Turn Brand Ambition into Brand Eureka

Mark Addicks and Ultra Creative Talk Client Partnerships for Start-Up Brand Success

How does brand ambition become brand eureka? As an entrepreneur, marketer, or brand manager, who do you enlist as a partner to visualize and verbalize the vision you have in your mind? It's a leap of faith despite a tight brief, a trusted recommendation or a credible client roster. We've partnered with companies from one-person start-ups to Fortune 100s and the fragility and trust formed between agency and brand is one of the most precious aspects of our industry. What do you look for, expect and engage in when going through this process?

Mark Addicks, former CMO of General Mills and one of the founders of Manova Health Summit, is no stranger to the advertising, design and creative industry. A former CMO and SVP of General Mills, Mark has a 26-year career leading iconic brands like Cheerios, Betty Crocker and Big G.

“Building brands is a process – there’s no “one-right-way” to getting to an end product you’re proud of. It takes an agency partner who will go deep and long with you to materialize the vision you have for the brand.”

--Mark Addicks


Sharon Gorney, President of Ultra Creative, is a 30+ year veteran in the creative design industry and has spent many years in her career collaborating with Mark.

“Sometimes going deep and long means just getting started and talking out loud, before there is a brief. Some of my best collaboration with Mark started with the sentence ‘just float with me.’ Being too buttoned up early on can stifle creativity.”

--Sharon Gorney

A highly regarded thought leader in modern global brand­ building, there's a specific lens Mark uses to identify the right partner for the right project. Ultra Creative has partnered with him on a variety of projects spanning two decades and did again last year. This project was a big one, to develop the name and brand identity of his start-up Manova, that sought to make Minnesota the center of health care innovation by bringing global thought leaders in the health industry to Minneapolis.

With its second year announced for this October 14-16, Ultra continues the brand's evolution and extends its materials to meet the needs of a health care industry striving for innovative ideas, inspiration from industry disrupters, and thought leadership from a community with expert resources.

In reflecting upon the Manova-Ultra partnership, Mark Addicks and Sharon Gorney spoke to the best practices they see in aiding agency and start-up partnerships.


1. Find a Nimble and Agile Partner. Getting your idea out into the world requires someone that can work with you. The creative idea – the design, the language – is what helps sell the idea to future partners and allies. To get that kind of work, you have to have a partner that will “iterate to great.” It’s a saying Mark used often at Mills when working through projects. “Especially with start ups, there’s going to be changes and an agency that will be flexible and even anticipate the energy of a start-up project is key,” Mark said.


2. Be All In. Treat the partnership as a partnership and your partner as a partner. Trust them, be transparent, share information as it evolves, and communicate. Start with the goal of being the Agency’s best partner. The chances of success are higher when everyone is truly on the same team with the same, timely information so that you can pivot quickly. And, it will excite the team and create buy-in about the business and brand proposition. “This is especially true of creatives,” said Sharon. “They push creative work further when they are excited by the project.”


3. Use Creative as a Conversation Starter. Let’s face it: seeing creative ideas and design is the most fun part of a business-agency partnership. But remember that those design and creative outputs can be subjective, so use the creative as a vehicle to talk through the objectives of the project. Design projects by nature involve a lot of changes because there are so many components, and ideas build on each other. So, prepare for thoughtful conversations about what’s working and what’s not.


4. Propel Positivity. Everyone loves to be cheered on. Mark commented, “Start first with the positives…what you like in the work you are seeing. You can add creative improvements or ask strategic questions but do so only if they are truly helpful.  Remember you are supposed to be inspiring great work through your strategic and consumer insights about your customers. Then, and only then, you can ask questions about how the work could be better towards the objective.”  Mark cautions about starting out with a critique and setting a judgmental, disciplining tone to the creative review.  “Who wants to do take creative risks, and show a broader range of work in that type of environment?” 


5. Be a Part of the Process. For how much creative partners want to be an extension of the marketing team, marketing should see themselves as an extension of the creative team. Everyone in the room should get creative, share ideas, and integrate into one creative team. And creatives need to recognize that great ideas can come from both sides.


Mark Addicks
CEO, Partner Manova Summit

A former CMO and SVP of General Mills, Mark has a 26-year career leading iconic brands like Cheerios, Betty Crocker and Big G. A highly regarded thought leader in modern global brand­building, including advertising, promotions, content marketing, and digital marketing, Mark was named one of Advertising Age’s Top 100 marketers and Top 25 power brokers. He is now one of the founders and partners of The Manova Global Summit on the Future of Health which returns to Minneapolis this Fall on October 14-16, 2019.


Sharon Gorney
Vice President Ultra Creative

A former Peace Corps Volunteer turned brand advocate, Sharon has been building brands alongside some of the top marketers in the country for more than 30 years. Currently the President of Ultra Creative, Sharon feels lucky that she gets to collaborate on exciting creative projects with some pretty amazing marketers.

Ultra is a creative agency in Minneapolis with 30+ years of experience in branding, campaign development, and package design, working with Fortune 500 companies and start-ups. You can find them at ultracreative.com, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.