Advertising Is a Team Sport: Morgan Thompson & Lauryn Alvarez, RPA

We’ve gotten into the habit of starting most of our conversations with some sort of mental health check-in instead of just diving straight into whatever we have to do that day.

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How did you meet and how long have you worked together?

LA: Last spring, my previous partner left the agency. Soon after, I was told a few interns were being considered as her replacement, and that they were going to start pairing us up on smaller projects. Morgan was the first one they tried out.


MT: I was asked to jump in on one of their briefs. We ended up working together on another project after that. And I guess it went well because a couple months later they hired me as Lauryn’s new partner.


How would you describe the relationship between you two? In what ways has the dynamic changed since you first began working together?

MT: When we first started working together, I was pretty intimidated. Lauryn had years of experience and I hadn’t even finished portfolio school. I thought I was doing it wrong and that all my ideas were stupid, and she would wonder why they hired me. But she never shot down my ideas or made me feel inadequate. She created space for me to share all my ideas, no matter how stupid I thought they were. And I did the same for her. That’s the thing about advertising – and all creative endeavors for that matter. You have to get all the stupid out before you can get to the good stuff. Not much has changed since we first started working together. Except I spend more time making puns and Lauryn spends more time rolling her eyes.


LA:   It’s so funny to hear Morgan talk about thinking all her ideas were stupid because I definitely was thinking the exact same thing! Before they hired her, all I heard from the CDs who had worked with her as an intern was how great she is, so I wanted her to like working with me too. Despite the fact that I’ve got these few years of experience (both in age and in the industry), I have always tried my best not to be the old, wizened one of the partnership. Instead, I sort of adopted a “big sister” persona because I remembered feeling easily intimidated as a junior and wanting desperately to impress everyone I worked with. I was conscious early on about encouraging her to speak up, not only when we were concepting together, but also when we were presenting.

Almost immediately after she got hired, we signed up for an improv class together, and I feel like that had a huge contribution to our working dynamic. Being thrown into this situation where we both were a little self-conscious helped us be more open with one another. It also taught us to think quickly and to listen to the other person. These are things we’ve carried into our brainstorming sessions to this day.

Tell us about the first campaign you’ve worked on as a duo.

LA:  Our first project together was building out a digital/social component for the latest iteration of Farmers Insurance’s “We Know From Experience” campaign that my old partner and I had worked on. I felt a little bad because the broader concept had already been presented and selected by the client; we just had to apply the idea across all of the insurance claims. Morgan dove in and did it like a champ, though.


MT: I hadn’t done much concepting (outside of a few portfolio school classes), so I was terrified. I desperately wanted Lauryn to think I was smart, and I remember having an idea and rehearsing in my head the right way to say it. I expected her to shoot it down or make a face, but instead, she was incredibly receptive and encouraging. I instantly felt better and safe to share more. It was the beginning of a great partnership.


Do you have a favorite campaign you’ve worked on together? What makes it special?

MT:  We did a campaign for Southwest Airlines to promote their new flights to Cozumel, Mexico. The timeline was incredibly short and we were also working on something for another client with a similar timeline. So that meant a lot of late nights and weekends in the office. But those few weeks were the most fun I’ve had since I started my advertising career. We locked ourselves in conference rooms and “Beautiful Minded” some whiteboards. Things got weird. But it pushed us as creatives and brought us closer as a team. And I’m very proud of the work we were able to make!


LA:  My favorite campaign we’ve worked on is actually one that was never made. (I’ll try to describe it as best I can without using too much detail, just in case we ever get the chance to revive it.) We collaborated with Facebook’s Creative Shop and came up with a really fun, innovative Instagram campaign for one of our clients. I loved working on it because it was one of those “perfect storm” moments for collaboration. At every step of the process – from the creative reviews, to working alongside the team at Facebook, to our internal reviews – it felt like someone would make a comment that would spark another idea that would help Morgan and me elevate the campaign.


What has been the hardest part of working together? How do you resolve creative conflicts?

MT:  Shortly after I was hired as Lauryn’s new partner, we took an improv class together. We spent three hours a week for six weeks learning how to make absolute fools of ourselves and to be comfortable doing so. We got to know each other better and, by the end of it, had formed a strong relationship. And relationship is the foundation for dialogue. So, I wouldn’t say there has been a “hard” or “easy” part about working together. We respect each other, communicate openly, and try to have as much fun as possible. At the end of the day, that’s all you can ask for in a creative partner.


LA:  Something that was tricky to navigate at first was timing; Morgan and I have different times of day when we are at our most productive since I’m a night owl and she’s one of those psychotic morning people. We’ve never butted heads about it, but figuring out the best schedule for us to work and complete our projects took a little time.


Is there any advice you’d give to young creatives looking for a partner, or a duo just getting their start?

LA:  The best advice I can give is actually something I discovered while in portfolio school, and that is to find someone who thinks differently than you do. It may be tempting to pick someone who you would be best friends with because you know you’ll work together well, but I’ve found that that makes it difficult to elevate one another’s ideas. Everything becomes “yes” instead of “yes, and...”


MT:  For copywriters, make sure your art director stays hydrated and eats. When Lauryn is working on revisions, I start to feel a bit helpless just sitting there watching her. So, I basically become her mom. I fill up her water bottle, make her tea, and grab her some food. I’ve even given her my jacket when the AC is too high. Advertising is a team sport. Always think in terms of “we,” not “I.”


Do you have a dream account that you haven’t had the opportunity to work on?

MT: I’d love an opportunity to work on anything sports-related. I grew up playing just about every sport you can think of and attended the University of California, Berkeley, on an athletic scholarship. Plus, I’m from Portland, Oregon, which has Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, and Columbia Sportswear. It would be a dream come true to work on a sports brand and with athletes. 


LA:  At RPA, I’d love to work on our pro-bono clients. The work the agency has done in the past – Imaginary Friend Society for PBTF, Los Angeles LGBT Center, and #VaccinesWork for Unicef– is a little weird, imaginative, and full of whimsy, and that type of creative is my favorite. Outside of RPA, I don’t know that I necessarily have a dream brand, but I’d love to work on an arts/entertainment account. I was a theatre-kid in a past life and combining that world with what I do now would be so fun for me.



How has the pandemic impacted working with your partner? Do you have any creative tips on how to collaborate when you’re working from home?

LA:  The biggest change we’ve adopted because of the pandemic is that we’ve replaced our “hole-up-in-a-conference-room-until-we-have-an-idea” sessions to “stare-at-one-another-on-video-chat-until-we-have-an-idea” ones. We have threads on basically every channel you can imagine – text messages, Teams, email, Twitter, Instagram – and we’ve somehow managed to keep track of all of them! Maintaining those levels of communication has become our way of sharing ideas and thoughts back and forth without sitting next to one another for 8 hours every day.


We’ve also gotten into the habit of starting most of our conversations with some sort of mental health check-in instead of just diving straight into whatever we have to do that day, something I’ve found helpful for my productivity.


MT:  We do a lot of video calls. And we’re constantly chatting on Microsoft Teams and sending each other tweets and memes. My best tip would be to overcommunicate. Now that we’re all working from home, you lose the organic conversations and sparks of ideas that happen when you’re sitting 3 feet apart. It’s important to try and keep a semblance of that spontaneity. And, who knows, maybe your next idea will spark from a conversation about a banana-bread meme.