After a financial crisis turned her dream job at a boutique advertising agency into a nightmare, Lili Hall found herself unemployed with a two-year-old at home and a non-compete that prevented her from working in the advertising industry for a year. To get her thinking juices started, she made a list of every job she had ever had, starting with her very first job working in a Chinese restaurant in high school. She wrote down all of her experiences, good and bad, and all the people she respected and why. Through this process she realized that she should start her own advertising agency. “I finally got to a place in that process where I realized that I have great experiences; I have great experience.”
Once Hall decided to take the plunge, the journey was not a smooth one. She opened KNOCK two months after 9/11 and was quickly hit by her first recession in 2002. “I didn’t sleep for a year and a half from the time I started the company.” She considered quitting and starting over due to bad timing. However, since she self-funded her business, failure was not an option. She gave herself a period of time and a budget for working through this early rough patch in order to make it work.
Hall recruited a team of talented and experienced individuals to start KNOCK. Their combined years of experiences attracted their first client which was a small startup that needed help with a branding project. A few weeks into her new life as the CEO of an agency, someone in her network gave her name to Target and they gave her a call. They needed help and soon KNOCK. had a partnership with a huge brand that has lasted to this day. Almost two decades later, KNOCK. still takes on a mixture of big brands and startups as ode to their early clients.
What helped set KNOCK. apart from other agencies according to Hall is their ability to be good collaborators and listeners. In the advertising industry, there tends to be tension between clients and agencies because the agencies think they know more than the client does. At KNOCK, they know that the client knows more than the agency does about their business and that it’s the agency job to listen and bring new ideas to the table. As an experience-driven agency, KNOCK strive to not just deliver what is asked for, but to push their clients to do things they have never done before.
Sixteen years later, KNOCK. has become one of the most powerful independent agencies in Minneapolis and the Midwest. In 2016, KNOCK. was made the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in America for the sixth year in a row. This year alone, KNOCK won an outstanding nine awards from the Minnesota Advertising Federation. As one of the few female CEOs in advertising, Lili Hall has set the example that with the right values and enough grit, women can achieve anything.