What Managers Can Learn From Creative Leaders

At Fortress, we have a range of creative teams contributing on all of our projects. These teams, with their unique, creative skill-sets also require a leadership style that fosters growth and creativity rather than simply management. We have a highly collaborative and learning-friendly environment that runs the gamut from interns to industry experts.

Each team, whether it’s sales, design, web development, marketing, or copywriting has its own leaders and different creative elements. But, we all work together to produce a final product and a satisfied client. As new people join our team, we have realized that everyone has something to learn and something to teach. Because of this, we have all taken on a leadership role at one time or another. But, a leader of a creative team must approach management with a non-traditional attitude. By incorporating some of the tactics creative leaders use, any manager will be able to foster a more productive and communicative environment within their own team.


“Coming from a big corporate background with multiple companies, I got to see what I liked and disliked as far as management styles go. I was then able to craft a company culture around that vision where everyone’s input is valued and everyone is a part of the team with a greater goal. This basic concept helped boost creativity immediately. We even have one of our Fortress Foundations, which is a list of the values that we stand by, that says to think outside of the box and that wild ideas are always welcome.”

Joel Mathew, Fortress President 


When evaluating your own leadership, ask, “Am I acting like a boss or a captain?” You are still a part of a team and leading is not the only hat you wear. The term “boss” can evoke somewhat dictatorial images – controlling, delegating, and not well-liked. To effectively lead a team, leaders need to place themselves at the center rather than above everyone else.

All channels of communication can lead back to you and, ultimately, you are making the team function. But, everyone needs equal access to you and to be on a level playing field when it comes to idea generation and proposal. The newest team member could have the best idea for a new project but, if your team is organized using a top-down approach, their idea may never be heard.

Traditional managerial styles at larger corporations are often top down, limiting communication among the different “levels” of the hierarchy. It is important to remember that just because one has risen through the ranks and earned a title, their ideas aren’t necessarily more valuable than other team members. Veteran employees in an industry will be able to generate ideas based on previous experiences, but newer team members are also likely to supply valid ideas based on research and personal experiences. Brainstorming sessions where everyone’s voice is heard will allow fresh, new ideas to add to the old standbys.

At Fortress, we tell everyone that we want to learn from them, not just have them learn from us, which helps create new ideas that are valued by all. For a business to succeed, every voice must be heard. That means listening to every member and giving all ideas equal consideration before landing on the one that is right for the project.


“Design is a subject where there is always more than one right solution to a problem. It’s simply about finding which solution is the best one. As soon as one person thinks they have all the answers it becomes a toxic and limiting creative environment which will likely cause ideas to become stagnant.”

Aubin Dyer, Lead Graphic Designer


As leaders, our main task is to set an example of how to do the job efficiently and effectively while trusting that our team members can handle the work that is given to them. While leaders need to act as part of the team, you are still responsible for ensuring that each project is completed before the deadline. So, offer timely praise and constructive feedback. This is especially important on highly creative teams, like graphic design or writing that depend on client feedback and multiple rounds of revision. Establishing timelines, guidelines, and boundaries that allow space for creativity, while also fitting into a professional schedule, will help keep your team on task.

For creative leaders, this takes the managerial job description to a new level. Ensuring that we are organized enough to assign work with a long enough timeline can be demanding. But, when a team is given a longer timeline, they may begin to produce higher quality work that leaves them feeling more satisfied. In turn, this will keep everyone motivated to continue producing content of the highest degree. Satisfaction in their own work can inspire employees in any industry to be more productive and inspired with each new project.


“It is my firm belief that a team will run more efficiently and create the highest level of work if they have a personal relationship with other team members. I always take the time to get to know each individual on my team on a personal level, their likes, dislikes, family, and environment preferences. It allows a trust to be formed that goes beyond being coworkers. They trust you to lead them, trust you to make creative decisions, and trust your constructive criticism.”

Linda Hanlon, Digital Project Manager


With the center-out approach to leadership, leaders won’t need to be involved in every aspect of every project. We must encourage collaboration that doesn’t involve us. This will give teams more room for creativity and keep them from feeling stifled by authority. It also will show that you trust them to get the job done right — maybe even better than you could.

Leadership is a learning process. Be open to learning new things from your team. Regularly asking for feedback and cultivating an environment in which your team feels comfortable giving honest feedback will help you improve every day. And ultimately, make the workplace the best that it can be. So, lead by letting creativity flourish and being a team player, and you will start to see a more productive and inspired team.

What is Google’s New Marketing Platform and What can it Do for You?

Earlier this week, Google hosted a live web broadcast announcing their new ad service rebrand. AdWords has become Google Ads, DoubleClick has become Google Analytics 360 and they all fall under Google Marketing Platform. A lot seems to have changed but, being a copywriter, I don’t interact much with the backend of advertising and most of the broadcast went right over my head. I sat down with our Director of Digital Strategy, Eric Lucas, for a simplified breakdown of Google’s new services.

What exactly is the update?

Google’s new “Google Marketing Platform” will act as an umbrella service to house: Google Ads, Google Analytics 360, and Google Ad Manager. This is a one-stop-shop for all the front-end and back-end marketing services that Google already had in place including: the research, setup, measurement and optimization of a campaign. Now, marketers won’t have to integrate the separate features to make them work together, but, instead, Google Marketing Platform will allow them to easily toggle between features and allow the features to “talk to each other.” In addition to the bundling of their services, Google Ads will now have “smart campaigns” which use machine learning to optimize ad headlines and descriptions (which are getting a character boost too).

What does this mean for marketers?

Marketers like Eric will now be able to do their job better and faster. With all of Google’s suite of marketing tools in one place, the research, set up, measurement, and optimization will all be in one place. Google Marketing Platform will cut down on set-up time so that marketers can start delivering reports faster and be able to see how effectively your ad budget is being used. There will be better visibility of where the budget is going and what returns on investment are coming back to you.

What does this mean for brands?

Ad campaigns will be much more effective. The new platform will cut down on set up time which and reduce errors that could have occurred before from integrating separate platforms. Measuring and attribution will be easier because the services are better connected. The clarity of results will also improve significantly. For smaller businesses who don’t have a huge ad budget, they may require less long-term professional help. If you don’t have a marketing background, you still might want to consult an agency like Fortress. Business owners will be able to more clearly see what the results are saying about the success of their campaign. The responsive ads that use machine learning will help you to optimize your budget by more quickly assessing which campaigns are working and which ones aren’t. While the platform is more streamlined, if you don’t have a marketing background, you still might want to consult an agency like Fortress.

Will consumers see any change in their ad experience?

The biggest change will be the ability to turn targeted ads on and off. Google will still show you ads, but your data won’t be used to decide which ones you see. Eventually, search ads will become more relevant to you (if you allow targeted ads). Google is allowing marketers to use more characters in the headlines and descriptions which will give you a clearer idea of what the ad will lead you to. This may result in search ads giving you more relevant results than before.


Overall, Google’s marketing rebrand will make life much easier for marketers by integrating all their services into one platform. And, although Google has streamlined the process of paid ad marketing, you should still consult an agency. We’ve taken over several campaigns where the client started it themselves and couldn’t clearly see their results or wasted their budget trying to figure it out. In either scenario, we could quickly overhaul and revamp the campaigns to run more efficiently and maximize their budgets. Google has been the leader in paid digital advertising for a long time and is only getting stronger. Check out the recording of the broadcast here if you want to learn more in-depth about the changes happening in the world of Google Ads.

Interview With Joel Mathew



Fortress Consulting Group President Joel Mathew always knew he wanted to start a business from a very early age. With a degree in operations management and information systems and years of advertising experience in radio and television with Comcast and CBS, Joel saw the need in the market for an agency that bridged the gap between digital and traditional media. He knew starting a firm with the technical expertise of a web services company and the creativity of an advertising agency would have a great impact on his clients.


What is your background?

“I went to school as a computer science major at Northern, and when I took my first programming class, I realized I didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk coding all day. As much as I didn’t want to be a career programmer, I always valued it and this experience proved to be very useful in the early days of FCG when I had to develop some of the first projects myself. Where my passion truly lies is in creating new ideas and strategies for our clients and interacting with them on a daily basis. When I started the company, it was really the advertising and marketing side that carried us the first year. The second year was search engine optimization and other digital services. The third year it was web design and development. In our fourth year of business, it was app design. Every year we’ve gotten stronger in a new area and adapted really well to the needs of the market.”


Who is the Fortress team?

“We’ve had some good growth over the past few years and that’s all due to the team that we have in place. I’m really proud of the people I work with, and I’m inspired daily by their creativity and perseverance through any problem. I really wanted to create a team atmosphere where each person is accountable and valued, and I feel like we’ve done a good job establishing that. I love the competitive nature of sports, and I take that same approach with work where we’re all on a team together striving for a common goal that’s achieved by hard work and passion.”


What are Fortress’ specialties?

“We love the clients that come to us with an idea but aren’t sure how to execute it. One example that I love to showcase that really tells a good story of what we do is one of our real estate clients. This client came to us with an idea for creating an upscale real estate brand in Chicago that would help generate more leads, put him on the map, and help sell more property. We started off creating the company name and doing all of the branding work. From there we built a really beautiful, engaging website where we then did SEO on. Within 4 months, we had him on page 1 in Google and, within the first year and a half, he sold more than 4 million dollars in property through leads coming from his site. This started off as just an idea, evolved into more and more responsibility for us, and ultimately new ways to help grow a business. We love the partnerships that start off as one seemingly simple task and then grow into larger projects that include services on both the advertising / marketing end and also the digital side of our company. Ultimately, our specialty is in building brands for our clients through our diverse areas of expertise.”


How is Fortress funded?

“When I started the business, I challenged myself to not put a dollar of my own money into it and not accept any outside funding. I wanted it to grow on it’s own organically from the very first project. I wanted everything to be generated by the company and stay in the company. That’s why we try to keep our overhead as low as possible—we don’t have too much expense other than office, payroll and marketing, and everything we do goes back into the business.”


What are Fortress’ goals?

“I want Fortress to be known for doing amazing work with amazing people all over the world.”


Where does the name “Fortress” come from? 

“The Fortress name came from a verse in the Bible that I like a lot. It’s from Psalms 62:6 and it says ‘God is our rock and our fortress. I will never be shaken.’ This verse means a lot to me in that I’m not doing this alone or for myself. I feel that the Fortress name really represents strength and stability and the values that our company stands on.”


What lessons have you learned from starting your own company?

“It’s hard to just say one, but there is something that stands out. Every day is a learning process and that is an exciting thing about being an entrepreneur and running a company. Even when you feel like you’ve figured something out or you’ve had a good week or month or quarter or year, there’s always some curve ball you’re trying to work through. But the biggest lesson I learned from very early on is to respect and appreciate money. Working for someone else or working for a big corporation and getting paid every two weeks, you just take it for granted. You think it’s this never ending fountain of funds, and you can go out and do whatever you want because you know you’ll get more money in two weeks. Starting a business showed me just how hard it is to make money and not take it for granted. At the same time though, I don’t put making money as the number one goal. The goal is to do great work for our clients and money is just a byproduct of doing great work that you love.”


Any advice for future entrepreneurs? 

“I still consider myself new after four years in business, but my advice would be to just do it. Jump into it. Put your all into it and don’t half ass it. Because you will surprise yourself—how resilient you are and what you are capable of. Don’t worry about five years from now or 10 years from now. You don’t have to have it all figured out right now, but you do have to get started.”

Five Benefits to Working With FCG

We often hear “bigger” and “better” in the same sentence. Dream for bigger and better things. Every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation. Bigger is always better.

But when it comes to finding the right integrated marketing company for you, smaller definitely has its advantages.

If you’re on the fence about what type of digital or integrated marketing firm to choose—corporate or boutique—here are five reasons why choosing a boutique firm could mean bigger returns for you in the long run.While the ideologies are geared toward us, the same principles apply to other independent digital marketing firms.

Partnerships — If you partner up with a boutique agency like FCG, it will not only happen at a faster rate than corporate (mainly due to the fact big companies require several sign-off processes), but consider the SEO advantages you could have. Being able to start a new campaign more quickly means that we’re able to start helping your rankings increase more quickly as well. We create cost-effective ways to advertise your business, we give lasting results in your competitive niche market and reach new ones, and we uphold a steady flow of leads to your cyber doorway.

No Middleman — Working with an independent company means more direct and clear communication between you and us. Without a middleman, you not only save money, but the ideas and messages you want to communicate won’t get lost through a game of telephone.

Personalized Attention — We are a growing company, but we believe that specializing in a few things thoroughly is more important than spreading ourselves too thin. We work hard for our clients and, through our expertise in digital media, advertising and web services, we build and support brands that are made to last.

Creativity — Large corporations are naturally risk-management-minded because they have far too many stakeholders to consider. On the other hand, boutique agencies like ours have the advantage to create original and compelling ideas. We embrace our individuality and look for clients who are open to new ideas and fresh ways to develop their businesses. We believe that making our clients shine will help us shine as a byproduct.

Customized Quality — We assess your wants and needs and provide you with high quality work, constructing unique plans to further your business instead of having a couple of standardized strategies to get by. And it’s within an affordable budget.

We bring decades of experience to the table. Above are just five of the many insights we’ve witnessed as an independent integrated marketing company. What are some other benefits? We’d love to see your comments!



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