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Meet Brian Powell of Matchfire in Downtown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Brian Powell.

Brian, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
From an early age, I was interested in art and creativity. And was blessed to be influenced by strong women. My grandmother Doris was a guiding force in my life in so many ways, ultimately leading me to my career in marketing by accident. When I’d go stay with her for a week every summer, we would watch Bob Ross on PBS and she’d teach me how to draw these incredible trees with elaborate branches and how to sketch still lifes and do woodburning. Years later, my high school art teacher, Mrs. Harwood, introduced me to branding and design and for the first time, I experienced the “in the zone” feeling of expression when you lose track of time and your surroundings. From then on, I was hooked.

I studied, worked hard, and did the necessary extracurricular activities to earn a scholarship to the school I always wanted to attend, The University of Texas. I knew I wanted to study advertising and at first planned to become a copywriter or art director. I was a straight A student all my life and 1/4 way through my first creative course I was carrying a D and realized that my combination of left and right brain was better suited for the business and strategy side — but still firmly in the creative field.

I eventually added a minor in business to my Advertising major and learned a lot from the city and people that still “keep Austin weird.” After graduating in 1996, I began my career in Dallas at the integrated marketing division of The Richards Group, the largest independently owned ad agency in the country. There I gained a firm foundation in agency operations and the freedom to try new things including the creation of Dr Pepper’s first promotional website for a campaign called the “Angst Chronicles.” That entrepreneurial spirit eventually led me to leave with a Creative Director and friend and start our own little shop in early 1999 –we also wrote a screenplay (still unfinished by the way) and developed a dot com business plan based on entertainment reviews. Ultimately, we both met our eventual wives and decided more predictable work was more ideal at our stage of life.

So in late 2000, I started at TracyLocke where I planned to stay for a year or so until I figured out my next move. Little did I know I’d be there for ten years because of so many great people giving me opportunities to do something new (whether it be a role or a different client) every couple of years to keep things fresh and engaging. I have always enjoyed the challenge of building new things. In my time there, I led or contributed to different accounts including Caesars Entertainment, Flexjet, Pizza Hut, Nokia, TXU Energy and more. I was a member of the senior leadership team and at one point, I was running the new business group across the agency’s six offices. Eventually, it was “time to move on, time to get going” as one of my favorite Tom Petty songs says. I really wanted to pursue my passion for cause marketing, and fatefully through a combination of Twitter and a conference — of all things — I met my two business partners in Matchfire. That was over nine years ago.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I often say things often don’t work out as planned, but tend to work out for the best. Said another way, Lance Armstrong has a great podcast called “The Forward” based on his hard learned philosophy of “never straight but always forward.” In 2006 my wife was seven months into her pregnancy when I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. I caught it early thanks to an awareness of my body and some great guidance from a doctor years earlier. But nonetheless, we were shaken. And determined.

We had our son in August and a week later, I went in for a major and complicated surgery that was both diagnostic and curative. In the true meaning of blessing in disguise, in the months of testing and recovery that followed, I was able to spend more time with our baby than I normally would have and my TracyLocke work family was incredibly supportive. It was on this health sabbatical where my calling to do more purposeful work really took hold. When I tell this story, I’m always careful to say that I didn’t have a “Road to Damascus” moment — it wasn’t like I was leading a horrible life or miserable at my job. Conversely, I was really hearing a calling to use my gift and talents in marketing for a greater good. While I had done some pro bono work for a cause here and there, I was really seeking a way to do good work that works more and more fully. So when I returned to TracyLocke, I sought more opportunities and doors opened. For example, my Nokia client was on the national board of Make-A-Wish and asked us to work on a campaign for them. And shortly after, I launched a cause marketing division of the agency to provide insights, best practices and consult on creative campaigns that leveraged a social cause or issue to stand out and up.

A few years later, after joining Matchfire, we lost our largest client that accounted for almost half of our revenue. It forced us to both diversify our number of clients and double-down on our specialty and passion — purpose-driven marketing. And so the journey goes, bumps and curveballs and all the mixed metaphors occasionally happen, but more times than not, instead of deflection and resignation they lead to reflection and determination.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Matchfire – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Matchfire is a design and digital agency that specializes in purpose-driven marketing. We believe every brand in every category should know their purpose, their reason for being in addition to (not in place of) revenue and profits. Moreover, we’ve been doing brand purpose, cause marketing and social impact work for over ten years so for us it’s not a new tool, it’s our philosophical and proven approach that we bring vast experience doing on both the corporate and non-profit sides. What’s most gratifying for us is that there no trade-offs for doing some good in the world and financial performance; while in the early years we had to really explain and sell-in the notion of business and social impact, today you see the triple bottom line of people, planet, profits talked about by almost every leader in every company. So now the real fun begins. How do we guide our clients to the next level and ensure that there’s relevancy and transparency in brand purpose throughout an entire organization and in its products and services? Activating in a way that’s not just a marketing message but a way of doing business with the meaning that employees and consumers don’t just crave but demand.

While brand purpose sets us apart, our people make us unique. We constantly hear clients say they really appreciate that we’re not order takers. I believe marketing agencies are as much in the business of opinions as ideas. At Matchfire, we always have a point of view, always shared respectfully and collaboratively, but a strong opinion based on insights and experience. We’re not for everyone and we’re okay with that. One of my sayings to our team is “I’d rather you speak-up boldly and be potentially wrong, then sit there quietly and be confidently right.”

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
I plan to continue a focus on purpose-driven marketing, and in more and different ways. For example, I’m currently serving on the Board of Directors of an education non-profit called Heart House. We serve refugee children in Dallas with afterschool and summer programming using social emotional learning methods to help get them from chaos to calm. Students can perform better at school and be better prepared for a new life outside of the trauma their families have fled. I also advise several start-ups that are social enterprises: businesses with purpose core to the DNA of the company and its offering. I’m also pursuing guest lecturing at both SMU and University of Texas to inspire and guide the next generation on ways to market with meaning and make a difference. I’m fully aware that advertising and marketing aren’t always held in high regard, and as an industry we’re to blame for some of that. But if I can do even a little to help shape future leaders to use their craft purposefully, then everybody wins.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Katie Powell Photography, David Loi Studios, Brian Powell

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