Q&A with Will & Grail co-founder Mark O'Renick

We sat down with Will & Grail co-founder and president, Mark O’Renick, to get his perspective on the progress of the company since it officially launched on April 1, 2016.  

So before we start, Will & Grail is an interesting name. How did that come about?

We decided in late 2015 to bring two agencies together, Salva O’Renick which was launched 20 years previous, and Salient, a boutique brand agency founded by Brad Lang. The three of us, Dan Salva, myself and Brad, knew that if we were going to work, we wanted to do work that mattered. We saw the incredible opportunity that core purpose had in driving brand connections - from employee recruitment, retention and performance, to customer acquisition and loyalty, community engagement and more. With this in mind we formed a new company and went through a strategic branding process. What came out was Will & Grail, which reflected the both the ideal - or grail - that we can balance profitability and purpose in organizations and the fact that it takes determination - or will - to get there.  

The television series Will & Grace is making a comeback. Has anyone connected that?

We’ve had a few folks comment on that. One funny story is we were receiving a proclamation from an economic development organization for our investment in promoting entrepreneurship. It was chock full of “whereas Will & Grail” statements, and near the end the gentleman reading it said, “whereas Will & Grace” which he quickly corrected and everyone got a good laugh. When I was asked to say a few words, I did a fake news mention that Debra Messing was an investor. We should probably follow through and ask.

So Will & Grail is driven by purpose. How does this manifest itself in what you do?

First, we’ve defined it deeper by stating that we want to be a catalyst for intentional change that makes a profound, positive impact on lives, communities and the world.  In all of our research, we haven’t found a standard definition of what organizational purpose looks like. So we developed it and adopted it to define the impact we want to have. Purpose is defined as both your reason for existing and your reason for doing.  If we exist to be a catalyst for change, we have to do things to make that happen. We’ve modeled a research mechanism called Brand Believability® to help organizations understand how people view their brand with respect to being purpose-driven. We’ve taken our brand development processes and evolved those into a Brand Innovation Process to help organizations transform how they define themselves and build brand experiences to bring it to life. We also launched Conquer for Good to promote conversation, connectivity and build community around the idea that we can balance profitability and purpose. Plus, we’ve continued to research and build a foundation to educate people on the potential and process for bringing purpose into their organizations. Being we’re less than 18 months into this transformation, we’re making great progress.

What are the biggest surprises you’ve encountered in this journey?

For starters we’ve learned how deeply this is engrained in who we are as human beings. People are intrigued and inspired and looking for how they can make work more meaningful - recognizing that money drives the impact they can have if it’s used for good purposes. We’ve also been surprised at how receptive people are to engaging in conversation about how we can come together to drive creative collaborative change. And speaking of change, we’ve seen how powerful a methodology like design thinking can be to help organizations understand and visualize how they can transform what they’re doing. Change comes with risk, and design thinking helps people iterate through a process of making change happen. It also starts with empathy - really understanding the people that will be impacted by the change you’re designing so you see things through their perspective. There’s a great organization, The Arbinger Institute, that provides great perspective on this in their book, The Outward Mindset.  That mindset is key to changing behavior in a way that sticks - and aligns with our view that purpose is having a profound, positive impact on lives, communities and the world.

What’s next for Will & Grail?

We have to tell the story of the potential that a purposeful mindset has to make organizations better, more relevant and more successful. In doing that, those organizations will make the world better.  We’ll work with the right organizations with our brand innovation process. It really does make the process of building impactful brand experiences easier.  We launched Conquer for Good in April of this year with an annual event. In August we added a monthly Connect series to keep the community connected. We’re looking to expand this to other cities, hopefully two more in 2017 and more in 2018. There are people doing innovative things - entrepreneurial things - in every city.  We want to help people engage with those stories and hopefully inspire them to do something to make a difference.  

Thank you for your time.  Is there anything else people should know?

I’m really inspired by the movement of people looking to create change for the better.  It’s not easy, because society paints a picture of success that focuses a lot on monetary things. We see three forces that can change this - entrepreneurial innovation, enterprise scale and an egalitarian sense of good. This is happening, and we’re really knew at this on a grand social scale. But we’ll get there, and hopefully we’ll play a role in making that happen.