Matt Hofherr | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Matt Hofherr


MUH-TAY-ZIK | HOF-FER is a full-service advertising agency, based in San Francisco. The company's clients include Netflix, Audi, Safeway and the Golden State Warriors.

The Mistake:

I sent an email when I should have used the phone.

About 15 years ago, I was running an agency with offices in New York, L.A. and San Francisco. I was the president of the San Francisco office. I actually had three titles: I was president, director of brand strategy and director of business development.

I was wearing many hats and when you wear many hats, you sometimes move quickly. What happened was a million, million, million-dollar mistake.

Sony PlayStation was interested in working with us, and Sony PlayStation is a dream account. It’s one of those accounts that if you win it, your agency becomes three times the size it was before.

So, I had a nice call with the client, hearing about the opportunity. Then I started doing my own fact finding. I learned that the incumbent agency was helping the client draft what things they should be looking for at their next agency.

And that struck me as odd. I wondered, “Wait a minute; why is the incumbent involved? Why are they helping draft what they’re looking for in an agency?” It didn’t feel right.

I emailed and my tone in my head was, “Hey, client, really super excited about this. I’m doing some fact finding and it’s my understanding that the incumbent is still involved in this process. Let me know what’s going on. I just want to make sure it’s a level playing field. Sincerely, Matt.”

I got a call back, and the client was ballistic. The client said, “How dare you! How dare you suggest I’m running a review that’s not ethical! How dare you suggest it’s not a level playing field! I’ve never gotten such an email!”

The client was just livid. And I asked, “What are you talking about?” But there was nothing I could say.

I knew that this was the perfect account, but to win it, I basically had to blow myself up. So, I told my partners to blow me up and I would stay behind the scenes.

They did win the account and they had the client for close to a decade and it was worth millions and million and millions of dollars. All because of an email, we might have not had that opportunity.

Email can be evil. If there’s any tone or emotion, you have to pick up the phone. 

The Lesson:

I learned a huge lesson: email can be evil. If there’s any tone or emotion, you have to pick up the phone. This is because email is just a horrible medium and in my career, that was the scariest moment I’ve had.

I learned that in the beginning of a new relationship, you have to see the best in the opportunity. What I was trying to do was protect my agency. So, I was looking at worst-case scenarios. It’s like a first date: I was suspicious on a first date, and you can’t be suspicious on a first date, especially in the business I’m in.

There should be a lot of optimism in the beginning of any new business opportunity. You need to be less cynical and more optimistic in the beginning. 


Follow Matt Hofherr on Twitter at @matthofherr

​Photo courtesy of Matt Hofherr