All posts in TWIST people

Playing Offense: Building an Advertising Agency from the Ground Up


For 15 years, I have run TWIST, a design firm, then brand firm and now a brand agency. When we started, my wife, Connie, was the sole designer and I was the sole writer. I managed clients and developed strategies and concepts, while Connie built the visual vocabulary. We presented together and split the duties of account services – based on their more emotional (Connie as account executive) or logical (me as account executive) leanings. Starting an agency with one room, a beige Mac and a one page-per-minute inkjet printer, then growing it through back-to-back recessions taught us a lot of business lessons, life lessons and patience.

The thing to understand about any agency is that in the world of business-to-business services, we are an oddity. Do you equate us to your law firm or your accounting firm? Well, I say “yes” and I say “no.” Yes, we are as essential to your business as those professionals, but no, we are nothing like them.

Here’s the difference: lawyers and accountants play defense. As your agency, we play offense. Culturally, this idea dictates a lot about how I think about TWIST. This “all-offense” style of thinking has generated a lot of breakthroughs and plenty of challenges.

Here is how I deal with some of those challenges:

1. Think inside the box too.

While we think intensely about bold moves, vision and innovation, we (creative service professionals) always need to filter ideas through business objectives and what we, at TWIST, call “in-the-box thinking.”

Every other day, I am in a meeting where someone says they are looking for “out-of- the-box” ideas. I am a writer first and everything else (professionally) second, so I take words seriously. What does “out-of-the-box” mean? To me, it seems like a ridiculous request. We create ideas that advance business objectives and in vision those things are sometimes outrageous, but they should never be uncontained, unmeasured and ultimately unusable (by professional advertising standards).

At TWIST, we are problem solvers and all problem solvers work inside a box. In the agency world, the box is defined by the parameters of time, budget, staff capacity and risk tolerance. The best, most creative and certainly most effective work lives inside that box.

2. Don’t get any on you; they hired you to do what they can’t.

I try to insulate our team from external politics, committees and corporate think. We exist as an agency to move a business, a cause or a conversation forward. If the company that hired us was able to do that themselves, then they would.

They can’t. That is why I remind our team “don’t get any on you;” meaning yes listen, yes observe but remain an outsider. This is the best vantage point to innovate. It’s our job to ask, “Why?” We are contrarians and that’s good.

3. Candor is what makes creativity go faster, better and smarter.

Wake up. Creativity compromised is not going to get the job done.

Ours is not a contemplative age. It is the age of right now. Business is aggressive; those of us who remain are the wolves. We are the survivors of one of the most challenging times for American capitalism and for advertising. The work we do leaves our caress and enters into a harsh world of digital clutter where the human attention span has been whittled down to less than ten seconds (and ticking away with every smartphone upgrade).

Before I lose your attention, when it comes to your business dealings I recommend you be direct, concise and candid. None of us have the capacity for anything more (or is it less?).

4. Most of your value cannot be seen on a spreadsheet. Never let a number dictate your worth.

Abilities like intuition, interpretation and emotional intelligence are assets that make my accountant cock his head in confusion. They don’t show up on the spreadsheet.

Back-to-back recessions taught me how and when to say “fuck it.” Our business is about doing what others say cannot be done. It’s about new, it’s about change and it’s about knowing it when you see it. If you are good at that, then get a great accountant and remember the bad numbers tell you to quit. Never quit. The good numbers tell you to rest. Never rest.

5. Embrace the silence.

In a time of instant gratification we all feel compelled to answer now—don’t. Instead wait, pause, withhold. If you are in a meeting, especially in a negotiation of any kind, be quiet. Allow the other party to speak. If you are patient they will reveal themselves and the answers you need. Quiet is powerful. It’s an important aspect of creativity. Groupthink doesn’t necessarily make for great think.

6. Professionalism still matters. Conduct business ethically, even if others do not.

When we started TWIST, I set out to do everything right – every client, every idea, every time. I had a moral compass and was rigid. Experience, time or the world wants to take that away from you, but hold on to it because it really does matter. There is the way business is and the way it should be. Hold people to what it should be.

Your professionalism is what clients pay for. Uncompromising values or morals are what talent sticks with. I do what I can to remind myself of the ideal vision for our culture and the client experience. It is the one thing we got right, right off the bat.

7. Pick up the phone already.

A conversation is worth a thousand emails.

The best use of email for complex business correspondence is simply to set a time for a call or a face-to-face conversation. Email is great for quick, get-it-done correspondence, but I have seen misinterpreted emails explode into devastating, business-killing moments.

It’s important to leverage telephone communication for day-to-day and face-to-face for conflict resolution. My father, himself a retired CEO, has always told me not to put anything in an email that I would not want read in court. Every time I have strayed from this tenet, I have found myself in trouble and saying I could have avoided it with a two-and-a-half minute call.

8. There will be fat times and lean times, learn to manage them.

When you are working impossible hours without rest, something magical happens, you complete a lot of work. Suddenly, everyone looks up at you and says what’s next? Don’t panic, business has natural cycles. Whatever your business, it would behoove you to do some pattern recognition and slot in some self-care during those less hectic times. Take the opportunity to retool, sharpen your sword or whatever in order to get prepped for what’s next.

9. Take risks to grow as long as you cannot classify them as foolish

It’s exciting and frustrating. Entrepreneurs have vision and can see the business one year from today and ten years from today. Sometimes the vision is clear, but just because the destination is in view doesn’t mean you have arrived. Take great leaps, make great hires, pursue big opportunities, but find your filter. Mine is—don’t be foolish.

10. Only show your best!

If you are going for an agency position or securing a new account, only show your best work. Less is absolutely more. We won’t miss what you don’t show us. Separate what you like from what clearly communicates your capabilities—no renderings, no incompletes. This business is a show, it’s a song and dance reel, a case study. Amazing photography, design and breakthrough copy. That’s what sells.

Two Masters Degrees, One Internship


Amy Howell is one of our ace design interns. With a Master’s Degree in Textile Art from Kent State University and another in progress in Graphic Design, Amy looks like she’s out to conquer the world. She specializes in screen and hand printed fabrics and has done a knock-up job creating patterns and other design work for us at TWIST. We’re lucky to have her.

Hi, my name is Amy. When I’m not working at TWIST or studying, I teach fashion and textile design at Kent State University. I love creating interesting, eye-catching patterns and am inspired by textile design brands and artists like Marimekko, Sonia Delaunay and Andy Warhol.

Working at TWIST is my first experience designing at an agency. I’m pleased to discover that a design internship at TWIST doesn’t mean pushing papers and running coffee. You’re involved in the actual work of bringing ideas to life through design. So far, I’ve worked on a variety projects, including product photography, website design and brand identity. I’ve been able to use my textile design skills on a few projects. It’s been exciting to explore ways patterns can combine with graphic design elements, like typography and identity build-out.

I’ve had fun being a part of the team here and am grateful for the chance to work at such a noteworthy advertising agency.

Thanks for having me, TWIST team!


AAF Selects TWIST Account Director as VP of Membership

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The American Advertising Federation of Cleveland has selected Charlene Coughlin, TWIST Account Director, as its new Vice President of Membership.

All of us at TWIST are proud of her accomplishment and excited about her continued involvement in Cleveland’s advertising community.

Charlene also serves as the ADDYs Co-Chair, a position she has held for the past two years. Her selection to vice president of membership will include promotions to vice president of programming during her second year and to president the following year.

“I’m thrilled Charlene will be joining the executive leadership of AAF-Cleveland as Vice President, Membership,” said Jean Gianfagna, President of AAF-Cleveland. “Charlene is a smart, creative, energetic marketer who has already demonstrated her commitment to the organization and our mission,” she added. “She will be a great future president and I look forward to working with her.”

Meet Our Summer Interns


Interns have more fun! Meet the friendly and smiling faces we’ve been working with the last few months. Want to apply? Click here.

Amy Beth Howell – Design
One wasn’t enough. After earning her first masters in Textile Art from Kent University, Amy decided to pursue her second masters – this time in Graphic Design. For the last five years, she’s also taught at her alma mater, first in textile design and now in fashion. She specializes in screen and hand printed fabrics and has done a knock-up job creating patterns and other design work for us at TWIST.

In her spare time she enjoys watching Netflix, discovering craft beers and listening to live music with her boyfriend, who just happens to be a classically-trained flautist.

As a fourth grader, she ran for student body president on the campaign, “Howl for Amy Howell.”

Peter Shenk – Design
A few years ago, this guy was a competitive snowboarder with hair down to his shoulders and a mean 180-degree spin. After high school, Peter traded in his board for a sketchbook and is now studying graphic design at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) where he’ll be a junior this fall.

As the youngest of five children, Peter learned the value of hard work early on and now spends five days a week valeting close to 400 vehicles around downtown Cleveland. He has crazy stories about things people leave in their backseats, and has no extra time.

Brendan Gallagher – Social Media / Media Relations / Marketing
Although he grew up also playing basketball and football, Brendan’s true love was always lacrosse. Now, he coaches for the traveling youth team Burning River Lacrosse of Lakewood, Ohio and plays lacrosse for Emmanuel College in Boston. He’ll be a sophomore this fall and is studying Business Management.

When he’s not at TWIST, our favorite all-around sports intern has been busy catching up on his summer movie list, hanging out at the gym and wishing he had a dog.

Happy Holidays from TWIST!


Thanks to Downie Photography for agreeing to allow us to have a little fun during our Holiday Card photo shoot. Enjoy some of our favorite shots below.

As we close out 2013, we wish you and yours a happy holiday and a very prosperous 2014!

Wearer of Many Hats

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Our Director of Design Operations, Chris Oldham, wears many hats around the office. Outside the office, he sometimes finds himself acting as a model as we prep for photo shoots. Take a look at some of the places and situations where we’ve placed Chris.



Work + Family + Joy


Working at TWIST is like working with family. Actually, TWIST is family. I find no greater joy in my professional life than spending the day with such an amazing group of talented people – Mike (my husband), Chris, Joel, Josh, Todd, Stacey, Kim and Liz.

Together, our team can achieve amazing things – the writing, designing, sorting, coordinating, strategizing, planning, building, shopping, managing and even an occasional healthy debate. All of this, to me, is a recipe for success. The work comes from the heart.

Thursday January 17th proved to be one of those magical days. With a quick deadline ahead, we had the honor of working on promotional video for one of our clients, Creativity for Kids/ Faber Castell. This was an “all hands on deck” effort, which also meant we needed kids. So of course, we called on the school-aged TWIST kids.

Having your children spend a day at work with you can be a special treat for everyone! It also creates lifetime memories for both parents and children. The kids really enjoy having more “insight” to what Mom and Dad do all day and especially helping out. The day was full of wonder, curiosity, color and laughter as the children participated in a creative workshop and crafted some really cool creations.

What a wonderful way to start 2013.

Take a look…
























































From Intern To Full-Time


2013 is starting off with growth at TWIST Creative, Inc. We’re happy to announce that one of our interns, Liz Bermea, has been hired full-time.

Before coming to TWIST, Liz held other internships and freelance positions at a number of businesses and organizations. She’s a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art with a degree in Communication Design.

“A passion for visual design is important at TWIST Creative. We saw that quality in Liz’s design work and during our initial interviews with her,” said Connie Ozan, founder & design director.  “Not only is she an aspiring young designer, but she brings a mature work ethic (beyond her years) to the TWIST team.  As a young designer, Liz has a great eye for color and is current with design trends. I look forward to seeing what she can do.”

“Liz brings her fresh design approach and enthusiasm to TWIST Creative,” said Mike Ozan, president and chief creative officer. “During her internship, Liz quickly impressed us with her abilities as a designer and team member. We knew she would make a great addition to our growing staff.”

With Liz’s promotion, TWIST Creative is actively searching for design and public relations/marketing intern candidates for the spring and summer semesters, please contact us and include a cover letter, resume and portfolio site, if applicable. If you think you’re good enough to work with us, we want to talk to you.

Josh Taylor named VP of Brand Strategy & Development


TWIST Creative Announces New Hire Josh Taylor, Formerly of Downtown Cleveland Alliance, New VP of Brand Strategy & Development

(Cleveland, OH) – The Ohio City-based creative shop is proud to announce the hiring of Josh Taylor as the Vice President of Brand Strategy and Development. Mr. Taylor was most recently the Public Relations Manager at Downtown Cleveland Alliance. He comes to TWIST Creative with over 8 years of experience in marketing and communications, with previous roles at Thunder::tech and Cleveland Leadership Center’s iCleveland.

A lifelong Clevelander, Josh Taylor has endeavored to change the conversation about Downtown Cleveland and showcase the dynamic growth happening in the heart of the city.

“The acquisition of Josh Taylor’s talent, experience and leadership capabilities is a powerful step towards TWIST fully realizing its vision of becoming Cleveland’s own international brand design practice. With Josh at the table we can further assist our Cleveland clients on building an international reputation of their own,” said TWIST Creative President and Chief Creative Officer Michael Ozan.

Said Mr. Taylor, “It’s exciting for me to be part of the TWIST team, not only because they are one of the region’s top brand development and design firms, but because they are intentional about how their creative culture can grow the fabric of the community around them. It’s more than just “being at the table” or “getting involved”, Michael and Connie Ozan have built a culture at TWIST that is intentional about getting results when it comes to community involvement. It’s the type of results-oriented community involvement that not only helps grow the city, but helps TWIST provide a much richer perspective to the clients they work with. It’s the type of culture that I’m excited to help grow.”

Josh Taylor will help TWIST build alignments and strategic partnerships towards the end of growing the internationally recognized brand design practice. His role will ameliorate TWIST’s relationships with clients and partners to create strategies that advance their business or cause. In addition, there has been a restructuring of titles at the executive level at TWIST Creative; Michael Ozan to President & Chief Creative Officer, Chris Oldham to Vice President of Brand Experience, and Brittyn DeWerth to Art Director.

TWIST Creative recently impressed judges at the District 5 ADDY Awards, winning more gold awards than any other Cleveland firm especially exciting is the attention their campaign Downtown Cleveland Alliance received.

TWIST Creative’s results-oriented impact was seen in the nearly 10% increase in attendance at the Cleveland International Film Festival this year with their designs for the “Be Part of the Story” image campaign.

“Since engaging TWIST Creative to develop the design and strategy for the Cleveland International Film Festival, we have witnessed an increase in attendance of nearly 105%. In addition to contributing to this unprecedented growth of our organization, TWIST has provided us with expert counsel and creativity that have helped to elevate the overall value of our brand locally, nationally and internationally” said Marcie Goodman, Executive Director, Cleveland International Film Festival.

About TWIST Creative:
Founded in 2000, TWIST Creative is an internationally recognized brand design practice located in Cleveland’s historic artisan Ohio City neighborhood. The firm specializes in the creation of branding campaigns, print advertising campaigns, identity systems, collateral materials, packaging and interactive development for corporate, retail and non-profit clients.

A three-time Weatherhead 100 Upstart Award Winner, TWIST Creative is owned and operated by Michael & Connie Ozan, a husband and wife team. TWIST has been honored with over 250 awards for design and creativity by organizations such as: the ADDY’s, PRINT Magazine, HOW Magazine, Graphic DesignUSA, AIGA Cleveland and International AIGA 365.

AIGA Cleveland: 2009 Annual Cleveland AIGA Show

2009 judge choice

CLEVELAND (May 8, 2009) – Twist takes 12 awards, including: Judge’s Choice at 2009 AIGA Cleveland Design Competition

TWIST is honored to have received powerful recognition for our work at this year’s Cleveland AIGA design competition. Congratulations and thank you to all of our client partners.

Judge’s Choice Award: The Oliver Printing Sales Kit

Print: 2008 Cleveland International Film Festival Campaign

Print: Oliver Printing Holiday Wine Package

Print: Twist Creative 2008 Holiday Card

Print: Sisters of Charity Health System Holiday Card

Print: Sisters of Charity 2007 Annual Report

Identity: William N. Skirball Writer’s Center Stage Logo

Identity: Sisters of Charity Health System Identity

Identity: Oliver Printing Company Identity System

Interactive: Twist Film Festival Retrospective Web site Feature

Interactive: William N. Skirball Writer’s Center Stage Web site


GD USA Taps our president as “One to Watch” 2009


National design magazine Graphic Design USA has selected TWIST President & Creative Director Michael Ozan as one of their people to watch for 2009.

Michael is profiled along with 29 other creative professionals from across the nation in the magazine’s January issue. With no other creative professionals from Cleveland or Ohio, Michael represents the region and received praise from Crain’s Cleveland Business’ marketing editor John Booth for his devotion to Cleveland.

For decades Graphic Design USA has chosen a group of People to Watch “who embody the spirit of the creative community.” The criteria, for selection, according to GD USA’s Publisher Gordon Kaye is: “individuals who we have come to know and respect for a combination of talent, leadership, success, insight, business savvy, community service and newsworthiness.”

Upon hearing of his selection Michael commented that the biggest thrill is to be representing the city, state and region in a group that is packed with design leaders from New York City and San Francisco.