For 20+ years Sean O'Connor has provided clients with actionable ideas to help them achieve their goals. He has a passion for brands, and believes in the strategic power of creativity, concise language and great design as tools to build them.
This is an excerpt of an interview conducted by Mark Tindall, CEO of Longshot Apparel.*
Why do you think 3-Hour Think Tank works?
I’ve seen research that says innovative solutions to problems often come from people with no direct expertise on the topic. And while I realize, “no expertise” isn’t the strongest credential to take to the bank, the notion that it’s an asset to be unencumbered by entrenched patterns, processes and politics makes a ton of sense to me.
The 3-Hour Think Tank concept is essentially a distillation of my decades of experience working mostly as an outsider, both as an employee and with my own company, Creative Leverage. 3HTT is a platform to deliver new concepts, new products and entirely new business ideas. I think my outsider status is a definite asset, but my professional experience matters just as much.
What is it in your background that enables you to deliver value to your clients in the context of 3HTT?
As I said, my resume matters. I’ve worked for some amazingly talented and creative people, who have taught me about brand marketing and design. I’ve worked on Madison Avenue; I’ve sold hard goods and soda pop; I've been a consultant and sold invisible professional services; I’ve helped launch magazines and small businesses; hell, I've sold advertising on the back of K-Mart register tape. None of it can be discounted. At the same time, I’ve built on my inherent instincts, interests and passions. The 3HTT format is designed to exploit my strengths.
Is there any one role or experience you would point to and say, “That’s the most important thing”?
When I look closely, I can see how each aspect of my background and current interests contribute to my ability to be effective and deliver what my clients need.
The combination of my marketing & sales career, my skill as a writer, my voiceover work, my experience as a performer and even my training as a yoga instructor, all of these roles come into play with 3-Hour Think Tank.
Speak to your formal resume. I know you spent years doing business development for a couple of corporate design firms. What was that like?
I met with hundreds of clients and listened as they tried to explain their company or product – this was mostly at Girvin and Werkhaus (now defunct). I would then sift through that pile of informational sand in search of the few grains that could become the core of a brand.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this was excellent training. It taught me how to listen. It taught me what questions to ask, and it also helped hone my intuition and develop what many people call that “sixth sense.” Following up on those meetings, my job was to develop a coherent narrative, or situation analysis, meant to set the design team up for success.
Similarly, I’ve listened to hundreds of investment presentations by entrepreneurs in search of funding. In these situations, my listening often takes on what I would describe as an on-the-fly translation process. I find myself paraphrasing what I'm hearing, or creating metaphors, all in an effort to capture the essence of their pitch, and make what I’m hearing more meaningful and memorable.
You talk about helping your clients tell their brand stories – and I know you’re a writer. Is this the key to creating these stories?
Yes, but there’s more to it. Being a writer, whether copywriting or publishing essays in magazines or for the radio, is an essential skill I rely on. Especially if the client asks me to write the actual final content for their website or brochure. Also, I always describe myself as a writer with “broad peripheral vision.” What I mean is that much of the value I bring comes from my decades of experience doing things other than writing. It also refers to my ongoing curiosity and awareness of contemporary culture – be it business, fashion, pop culture or politics.
But there’s more at play than just being an effective writer. I have a theory that my ability to construct a coherent brand story is partly attributable to my years of humor writing. Writing funny, be it literal jokes or mildly amusing essays, entails working within a confined space. Both in terms of time, in the case of standup, and in inches, in the case of published work.
You wouldn’t know it from this interview, but I’m very good at getting the point across – telegraphing the message – with an economy of words. And given the short attention span of most people, this is an important skill in the sales and marketing world, too.
One more thing: My voiceover and radio work has trained my ear. Statistically, people say and hear a company or product name far more than they read it. So having an affinity for the rhythm and cadence of language – the way words form in the mouth and land in the ear – absolutely contributes to the power of the deliverables I create for clients.
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*Longshot Apparel is a Seattle-based menswear brand dedicated to "taking the big out of big and tall."