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“Clients benefit from agency collective knowledge”

Portland, January 11th, 2018

With offices in Portland and San Francisco, FINE is a brand agency that connects brands with customers in the ways people connect today. It develops experiences with the brand gravity to pull customers in and making them feel like they are sticking around.

The agency has been named a top workplace on the last four years and has worked with a wide array of clients such as Symantec, XOJET, Cloudera, Ste Michelle Wine Estates, Apple, Anchor Brewing, Kimpton Hotels, Coppola Companies, Hitachi, Auberge du Soleil, and more.

In an interview with TIA, Lori Dunkin, Director of Operations at FINE, gives an inside look on the agency’s work, detailing how they work with customers and organize their work and explaining how they communicate with the team.

Could you describe your career path and what drove you to FINE?

My path to FINE was a bit serendipitous. It’s not the kind of occupation you specifically prep for in school, or find at the end of a resume-building trajectory. Instead, it’s been an organic progression from curiosity about how things work and a willingness to ask questions and begin improving parts of a business that aren’t in anyone else’s job description.

I was drawn to FINE for many of the likely reasons our clients are drawn to us. We have really great people who are genuinely interested in doing great work and making an impact for the clients who choose to partner with us. FINE’s leadership has a commitment to our team members, fostering a quality of life balance that can be rare in this industry. Our industry and size combined offer a continually evolving set of challenges and opportunities — meaning, we’re never bored or done.

What is the best way to earn trust from customers? What are the best practices to develop excellent customer relationship?

It’s hard to earn trust if you don’t deliver. So first and foremost, you have to add value at every interaction, and not just for the first couple weeks of a project. It has to be maintained proactively month after month, project after project.

At every major milestone, you want to be in the position where your customer still wants you as their teammate. The substance of what you deliver has to be there, and the way you deliver it needs to be inspire confidence and collaboration.

The other important practice is to be genuine and human. This means you need to be curious, ask questions, and take the time to understand their business needs and motivations so you’re in the best position to help.

How do you organize and prioritize your workload?

I’ve played with a lot of systems and form factors over the years to keep track of all of the tasks, initiatives, and ideas. But at the end of the day, I’ve learned to focus my time on where I can have the most impact — what’s at the center of my core skills and what’s blocking someone else from doing what they need to do.

I’ve learned to clear the first 30-45 minutes of the day to focus on the biggest task that’s been on my mind, and stay out of email or Slack until that’s done. I also try to focus on work that I need to do in the office that can’t be done if I (or my colleagues) are remote – that means an emphasis on interaction and collaboration.

Can you give me an example of when you have worked with multiple clients at the same time and how you managed?

I always have several clients I work directly with and many with whom I am indirectly helping to manage. One of the benefits for a client working with an agency is the collective knowledge. Clients know they’re not paying for all of our time, so we owe our commitment to keep their work moving forward, and our availability when we need to connect. They also can benefit from the ideas, influences, and parallels that emerge from other clients or industries we work with.

What is your communication style with your team?

I try to keep it casual and honest, when possible connecting face-to-face or Slack in real time. When working in an account management or project director function, a big part of my purpose is to provide context to the team and share how what we’re working on, solves a business need for our client. It’s important for the team to have access, whether direct or indirect, into why we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s not only better for the employee, but it’s better for the work and for the client.

What tools do you use as a manager to plan your activities?

I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all tool, but in a given week, I’ll span the spectrum of pencil and paper, face-to-face work sessions, spreadsheets, whiteboards, Google docs, standups, lists, and scheduling sets of activities in recurring calendar appointments.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Just one? Well, the obvious ones would be a private island caretaker, or the person who names paint colors (my front door is painted Obstinate Orange, which I think influenced our decision). Or perhaps something that connects back to hospitality, such as a shopkeeper or running an inn.

Are there online publications, professionals, industry leaders you follow?

I consume a pretty diverse spectrum of content and enjoy finding ties between seemingly unrelated publications and what we, or I, do at FINE. Some of my favorites are Harvard Business Review, Signal v. Noise, CIO, the Mission, Soda, Hacker Noon, The Drum, and podcasts such as Reply All, Startup, and Planet Money.

Thanks Lori!

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