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Dream Teams: The Power of Invisible Trust with Kaitlin Doherty and Matt Litzinger



The Local Collective founders Kaitlin Doherty and Matt Litzinger on replicating Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoomaker, and why arguing “the right way” powers their partnership, writes LBB’s Josh Neufeldt

Dream Teams: The Power of Invisible Trust with Kaitlin Doherty and Matt Litzinger

A 3,000-year friendship. That’s what Kaitlin Doherty and Matt Litzinger have. 

While Matt admits that the number is actually closer to 12, the shared sentiment is that their partnership has felt timeless - as they’ve grown together to become some of the most respected names in the Canadian scene. 

But where did it all begin? As it turns out, it all started at Cossette, which, as Kaitlin describes, was a really exciting time for both of their professional careers. “I liked Matt’s working style, and just liked him as a human right away,” she recalls. “Before I really knew him, I loved the passion he had for the work. It was infectious.” 

Matt shares Kaitlin’s enthusiasm and respect, adding that one of the things which impressed him most was her smarts and creative mind. “As an account person, often the ‘business’ of the role overshadows the creative passion for great work,” he says. “With Kaitlin that wasn’t the case. Immediately I noticed someone who not only championed great work, but recognised it and, frankly, demanded it.” 

Nowhere were both these observations more apparent than when the two collaborated on a piece for McDonald’s - their very first project together. While the passage of time has seen Matt forget much of the experience, what he hasn’t forgotten was Kaitlin’s incredible ability to stay, as he puts it, “calm amongst the storm.” This was so noticeable that it entirely shook up the creative process. Where it was geared to be a traditional affair of account and creative persons interacting, Kaitlin’s level of creative ownership was off the charts. “It was so inspiring! It instantly created trust. She could recognise great work, help make work great, and most importantly… protect it.” 

Kaitlin’s memories, on the other hand, are a tad sharper. She can even remember their first meeting. “I had to walk through a brief with Matt, and he came in his leather jacket and toque and I was thinking, ‘Man this guy is smart!’. We for sure clicked right away, and I don’t think we’ve ever lost that. The process is always collaborative and great.”

This assertion seems to have been proven true. Their connection, combined with much passion, and their desire to champion great work proved fruitful when, in 2018, the duo founded The Local Collective - a Toronto-based independent agency which has since gone on to receive global recognition, and has done work for the likes of Food Banks Canada, Mastermind Toys and the Luminato Festival. 
Of the founding experience, Matt believes it served as a good opportunity for their inner entrepreneurs to make an appearance. While he points out that Kaitlin comes from an entrepreneurial family - which made her more “at ease” with the leap - for him, this opportunity proved a moment of key realisation, wherein he discovered (after 20-odd years) that perhaps he had always been an entrepreneur at heart. 

“The process was probably like most things,” he says. “We had a vision of something we thought made sense, and we wanted to build something different then the places we had worked at in our careers. From looking around the industry we noticed that most of the agencies were focused on big, universal insights. So, we realised, going through that process, that there was another way to approach things. It’s about that personal connection that consumers feel. The one you feel when you are a local somewhere.”

Although Kaitlin wholeheartedly agrees with Matt’s recollection, she adds that he may have overexaggerated just how calm she was throughout the whole process. “Stepping out in the industry and starting your own shop is, well, terrifying,” she says. “But when we actually did it, and actually leaped, it really fit with the way we work so seamlessly. You have no idea what you can create when you suddenly take the limitation of ‘no’ off.”

This freedom has undeniably benefitted the agency’s work. When forced to consider projects they’re really proud of, both Kaitlin and Matt agree that their recently completed campaign for Food Banks Canada is up there. While exceptionally difficult from an execution standpoint - due to the tricky nature of including heavy visual effects and every second of detail being critical - Kaitlin notes that every challenge proved thrilling, and the work helped by the fact that their production partners were “what dreams are made of,” which ultimately led to a worthwhile and satisfying result.

However, there’s something to be said for nostalgia too. Equally memorable for the pair is a spot they worked on together for a McDonald’s Super Bowl campaign. According to Matt, it was made in a bygone era before social experiments were even considered, and the days of social media had yet to really mature. For this reason, the amount of navigating it took from an account stewardship standpoint to not only lead the client through the execution, but to also maintain its integrity throughout, is something that will always impress him. 

Despite their success, even Matt and Kaitlin are not immune to creative disagreement. Putting it lightly, Kaitlin describes it happening as “All. The. Time,” while Matt states that the way they’ve always worked together has been by embracing the frustration and then responding back. “It’s almost like a healthy, supportive competition,” he continues. “In general, our vision for outcomes has always been the same. We have worked together at two different companies before launching our own. So, we kind of know that whatever frustrations we are feeling towards each other, ultimately, are good for business!”

This sentiment is reflected in the way they approach resolution. While the duo check in so frequently that massive disagreements rarely happen, this shared understanding of work styles has helped instil a mutually understood sense of trust in judgement. Both Matt and Kaitlin also want to respect each other’s passions and beliefs, and try to make a habit of backing off if the topic of disagreement lies closely to the other’s heart. 

“There is so much trust there for me, even in moments where I maybe can’t see it,” Kaitlin says. “I know I can trust him, and Matt is so respectful. He knows if I feel really strongly about something, and he really listens to the concerns and considers them in the solutions. We’ve been through too much; we don’t always have to ‘get it’ to trust it.”

Because of this, Matt would even go so far as to suggest that their arguing “the right way” with each other is what makes the partnership so complimentary. “Kaitlin has an incredible creative instinct - easily the best I’ve come across in a person whose background is account service,” he adds. “How we argue over the work we produce, the direction of the business, the culture… it’s always a fun dialogue. Even when it’s bad, it’s never really that bad.” 

Continuing this idea, Kaitlin says this synergy allows them to build off each other in a fantastic way - even in spite of the fact that the two share a few common weaknesses. “I think going into any conversation, neither one of us feels like we have a fully baked idea unless the other one builds on it,” she says. “That is something that makes for a great partnership, and we hope helps to contribute to a great culture within the agency.” 

In equal measure, this also appears to create great culture outside the industry, as the two frequently find themselves chatting about anything and everything - making the workday fun for themselves and (they hope) everyone in the same orbit. 

“We are great friends, have been for many years, and spend a fair amount of time together away from work,” Kaitlin says. “Outside of work, we have similar interests and are both always up to get together and have a laugh and some fun, and I think it’s helped the partnership, especially in times when there has been struggle or disagreements. Without that deeper level of the relationship, we would never be here today.” 

This time together has also allowed the pair to learn from each other. According to Matt, the biggest thing he’s learned from Kaitlin is that account people should be creative, and creative people should be accountable, followed closely by a myriad of lessons including the fact that “empathy matters more than deadlines,” “the ability to say no is never as powerful as the freedom to say yes,” “it’s easier to smile,” and that for some reason, people in the office tell her things way before they tell him… or seemingly forget to tell him entirely. 

On the flipside, Kaitlin says she’s learned a lot about the creative process and why things have to happen in a certain way from Matt - all of which she’s loved. “I think I learn from him constantly actually, which is probably my favourite part of our partnership,” she says. “There’s never a stagnant moment. We are in a constant state of growth and learning, and it’s really fun.”
The pair want to be inspired at all times as part of their growth. Even when they’re not directly inspiring each other, Kaitlin and Matt can often be seen introducing each other to things that provide moments of inspiration. Striving to replicate the relationship between Martin Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoomaker, Kaitlin adds that this opportunity to continually learn and grow beside each other is one of the best parts of the partnership. 
And yet, through this growth, some things just never change. In Kaitlin’s eyes, Matt will always have that same eagerness at heart. “He still gets as excited now [as he did back then] when working through ideas he loves with teams. It’s fun to watch and I love it about him,” she says. 

Meanwhile, Matt maintains that his initial perception of Kaitlin never proved false, stating that even to this day, she’s one of the best he’s ever seen. To this end, he’s so appreciative of the friend and partner he found all those years ago at Cossette, that he believes everyone in the industry deserves to have a relationship like his and Kaitlin’s. 

“Everyone needs someone they can trust to help shape and protect ideas. All of us need sounding boards: collaborators. The benefits are the same as the benefits of a great friendship. You support and push each other in ways you cannot yourself. No one should ‘walk’ alone.”

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The Local Collective, Fri, 02 Dec 2022 14:29:17 GMT