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Reprinted from the Chicago Tribune March 6, 2014

As founder of River West Brands, Paul Earle revived dead or dying products like Eagle Snacks and Underalls and created new ones. Now, as executive director of Farmhouse, the innovation and new venture center of advertising giant Leo Burnett, he uses that experience to help clients create products and services. He shares innovation lessons from beyond the brink.

Q: What does Farmhouse do for clients? PE: We’re creating new brands and businesses from scratch. We’re looking at brand equities we think are licensable, partnering strategies with other famous brands, and we’re looking at a couple of verticals like health and wellness and toys and games. Over time I see Farmhouse as a portfolio where we’ll have a number of client engagements and a number of our own products.

Q: You talk about telling brand stories in a new way. What does that mean? PE: We’re infusing the story and emotional piece into the product process right from the beginning. We think the future for how big ideas will be created and developed will require a multidisciplinary approach that brings together story design, experience design and product design. Those three things comprise the relationship between a person and a brand, and you have to develop all of them if you’re going to create innovation that is meaningful and lasting.

Q: What do you consider to be the biggest barrier to innovation? PE: Execution. An idea never implemented is almost worthless. The key to innovation is finding ways, come hell or high water, to get ideas produced, sold and made.

Q: Is there a common theme between being a founder and resuscitating brands? PE: I talk a lot of this notion of a leap of faith, moving forward despite rational objective data that says you probably shouldn’t. There has to be the right balance between vision and optimism and this irrational belief in what’s possible on one hand, and on the other a highly pragmatic approach to transfer that ambition to reality.

Looking back at River West Brands, we probably did fail about five times in the early days. I remember one call with an investor where we literally had $14 left in our checking account. That was a bad call. Through the combination of youthful exuberance, naïveté, hindsight and unrelenting belief in our ability to succeed, we made it. We survived all the near-death moments that early-stage enterprises encounter.

Q: What near-death moment did you learn the most from? PE: About two to three years into River West, we made an all-in bet to get this one retailer to partner with us to source and distribute products to go with a bunch of our trademarks. This was a make-or-break meeting. We presented 30 ideas to this retailer and they rejected all of them. I remember thinking, "My company just died."

The following day, I reconvened with my partners and realized that it wasn’t the ideas or us that were rejected. It was the method in which we presented them. So we recalibrated and tried a completely different approachand it worked. We ended up having some real success over the years. You just try something else. You keep trying until it works. If you don’t have a near-death experience, you’re not trying hard enough.

Follow all the action on Tumblr at euroshopelive.tumblr.com

Every three years, Düsseldorf, Germany, plays host to EuroShop, the world’s largest retail fair. This year nearly 110,000 visitors from 110 countries attended the fair while more than 2,200 exhibitors filled 17 buildings, showcasing everything from architecture, store design and lighting to visual merchandising, POS and retail technology.

In an agency first, the Reputation and Communications team from Chicago reported live from the event using the Tumblr platform. Looking to connect and educate our global agency community, the site shares the best new brand-activation ideas, innovations and trends featured at EuroShop. With more than 80 pieces of content, the site provides a comprehensive overview of all the important developments in retail. Feel free to share the site with clients, as this is a great way of demonstrating our thought leadership and efforts to stay on top of the latest trends.

The site has received excellent response. Tumblr was so pleased with the content that they ran a weeklong spotlight feature and covered it in their business and design trending sites, which generated over 1,200 followers in one week.

Coming soon, Nick Jones, Shawn Farrell, Tod Szewczyk, Scott Fry and Marie Roche will publish a presentation on the top innovations and trends of 2014, which will be available to share with clients.

The power of creativity.

Eye candy.

Leo Burnett/Arc U.S. returned to Texas in March for learning and brand building at South by Southwest Interactive. Among the delegation was our team of reporters who produced the third installment of #SXLB, a collection of conversations with some of the biggest influencers at the conference.

Over the course of five days, the team spoke with keynote speakers, authors, innovators and creators, and produced 36 films published as real-time coverage of SXSW in partnership with Huffington Post Live.

The #SXLB #HuffPostLive series was a first-of-its-kind, groundbreaking collaboration between an agency and media outlet, and drew more than 1.1 million viewers.

Favorites include a conversation with Dr. Leslie Saxon of the USC Center for Body Computing, who outlined a future vision of truly next-generation healthcare. Filmmaker Casey Neistat spoke about the “accessibility” of his style and how he approaches his work with brands.

And don't miss the delightful Bob Mankoff, legendary cartoonist for The New Yorker and inventor of the equally legendary caption contest. He was there to speak about crowdsourcing humor, though a few other subjects are covered too.

Beyond the big names, they also tracked down some of the most-buzzed-about companies changing the face of everything from e-commerce to design: Birchbox, Airbnb, GoldieBlox and Stitch Fix.

The entire collection lives on at sxlb2014.com where you can peruse the conversations or explore by subject.

Several of the show panels featured our people as well.

In “The Myth of the Mobile Mom,” VP and Creative Director Leyla Dailey and Digital Strategy Director Molly Garris shared tips on how to effectively engage a shopping mom on her mobile phone.

During "Full of Tomorrow: Brands, Technology + Miracles," Contagious magazine cofounder Paul Kemp-Robertson and Leo Burnett Global Head of Social and Mobile James Kirkham offered SXSW attendees a head start on the most significant technological innovations that will redefine how brands connect with people.

VP and Account Director Josh Raper and Associate Creative Director Jesse Dillow joined Esurance and Twitter leaders on stage during the session “#EsuranceSave30: Why Five Million Tweeted in 36 Hours” to give SXSW delegates an exclusive look at the most-tweeted-about brand in the Super Bowl.

Leo Burnett North America CCO Susan Credle joined music legend Melissa Etheridge on stage to discuss the branding of bands and the ins and outs of today’s new music industry during “The Shifting Brand-Scape: A Discussion with Melissa Etheridge.”

Bob Mankoff

Brian Wong

Clive Thompson

In an industry first, Leo Burnett Sydney and premium beverage business Diageo, a longtime client, have launched The Nest, a program offering ambitious and talented students and recent graduates a paid marketing and advertising internship spanning both businesses.

A joint initiative of one of the most awarded client-agency partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region, The Nest offers the first step on the career ladder, with access to invaluable experience and networking opportunities with some of the industry’s best creative, strategic and business minds.