How to not hire an imaginary ad agency

There are a lot of choices these days in picking an ad agency. Back in the pre-Macintosh days, an agency had to have a whole lot of moving parts to make it work. Sure, you could present your ideas on a napkin, over the three martini lunch back then, but, the process of crafting an actual ad required keyliners, typesetters, color separators- shooting a commercial often involved film, lights, sound studios. Now you can shoot a commercial on your cell phone, edit it there, upload it and run it. An Instagram post can be billed as an ad. The lure of the one-person agency, jack of all trades, digital magician is great. You could even have that person on staff! It could be your kid- at least if your company is privately held and your gross revenues are less than 5-10 million a year (and you’re ok with them staying there).

Real offices, a listing in the Yellow Pages, membership in the “Four A’s” were considered credibility builders when The Next Wave was founded. Now, we produce a more up to date directory of ad agencies in Dayton, Columbus and Cincinnati than you can find anywhere else, including the dreadful “Book of Lists” published by the Business Journal network. We update it almost weekly. We leave the agencies that come and go- so people can find the wreckage (especially of the imaginary agencies that seem to pop up like flies- mostly, the one person, between jobs type, who thinks they are the next David Ogilvy- until they realize that doing the invite for their sisters wedding didn’t really impress anyone except the AAF Addy awards judges last year).

We do a lot of competitive analysis. You know like JC Penney follows what Kohl’s and Target do (or tries to at least). We look at these imaginary agencies and try to figure out who really is the next wave in advertising- and most of the time, we just shake our heads and hope no one gets hurt.

The first clue is almost always a focus on vision and mission statements. It will be prominently displayed front and center. I remember going to a Cincinnati Ad Club meeting where the presenter, a former new business guru for the Martin Agency, spent an hour comparing these pompous, long, statements of bullshit- and showcasing the similarities.

Here’s two (and we’re not citing them- to protect the guilty):

“The most effective branding goes deeper than just designing the active components of a marketing campaign; it requires building a relationship. Clients look to us for creative branding solutions because we don’t just design campaigns, we create engagement opportunities that build lifelong customers.”

and:

What we do
Agency X™ (yes, trademarked- ooh.) is a think tank; a collection of brilliant minds, inspired souls, and sizzling creativity.

In this chaotic world of relentless change, it takes a tremendous amount of effort and insight for a brand to clearly articulate a meaningful message through all the noise and confusion of a global marketplace. As seasoned branding consultants, we believe the answer is to create a rigorous learning organization. An organization of life-long students fascinated by business, strategy, design, and branding… students fascinated by life.

From Fortune 500 companies to the frenzy of dot-com startups, we have the invaluable experience of working with and for some of the world’s most recognized and respected brands. In the some of the world’s most recognized and respected branding agencies. In the wake of this unfortunate economic apocalypse, we were… well, inspired, to take our collective experience, all our hopes and dreams, and begin our own branding company.

And you know what? We’re having the time of our lives!

It’s a collection of sizzle alright, on the personnel page, only the founder, an adjunct college instructor, bothered to update his LinkedIn account as actually working there. He includes people who still work at other places, including an “SEO expert” (who shares his last name and is probably his daughter) who is a bank teller, and even his wife- listed as a “Creative Director” is listed in Linkedin as working somewhere else. Just because Don Draper fabricated his backstory back in the make-believe version of Madison Avenue in the sixties, it’s a little harder to do it now.

It’s always been a problem to tell what was really done in an ad agency by the current staff at the current agency. So many startups are showing work that they did at other agencies, with other senior people handling the clients, the strategy, the concept. Sure, you “wrote the ad” but, the real question is who wrote the brief, who sold the client the strategy, and did it work?

Agencies are supposed to grow your business, improve the bottom line, help guide your strategic direction. “Sizzling creativity” is wonderful, but if it’s fueled by burning your budget on the wrong things, your life expectancy will decrease to the length of time that this agency will be around- usually until the next job offer with a steady pay check comes along.

We’ve watched the horrific impact of bad advertising advice, like the local salmon smokers who spent a ton of money on a very tame branding package, and advice to spend their Saturdays trying to peddle their lox at the local farmers market, instead of working to find distribution channels for super premium seafood, carefully smoked to perfection. Or even a client of ours, who was ready to sell his business the morning it was set to open, because he had hired his marketing consultant after signing a ridiculous lease at a local shopping mall, instead of finding a low rent private location and investing his money in advertising his new product (what worked for Asda, WalMart in the UK, isn’t the model for a small startup here).

We’re working on updating our site, because, well, we keep doing new things, have new stories to tell and the way we approach advertising now is different than we did 5 years ago, or even three. Of course, the first thing we do is study our competition- just like we do for our clients. We try to find the sweet spot, the positioning that clearly makes us different. As to new mission statements, or taglines- nope, we don’t need to change them, update them, add more to them, because after 25 years in the business, we’re still The Next Wave and we still know what’s really important and can say it succinctly.

We Create Lust • Evoke Trust. And our job is to make you more money than you pay us. And, no, we don’t have to meet you in a coffee shop- we have a real office that people come to everyday- even without appointments. It has our tools of our trade- computers, printers, video and photo gear, and most importantly, our library. Come visit.

Don Draper, Coke and the fundamentals of advertising in just a few words

The hint of what was to come in the ending was summed up in this very short exchange in the episode before the finale. Don is asked to fix the coke machine

His response: “Don’t they do that”

Coca-Cola is one of the top brands of all time, and they, for the most part, outsource the “fixing” of their brand to guys like Don. They make the Coke- but, the few, the proud, the brave, come up with the ideas to sell it, which Don proceeds to do in the last scene of Mad Men, sitting on a hilltop, meditating, Ommmmmmm…… ding!

Clients often their ad agenices “to give me a new one” when what they really need is a new way to connect emotionally with their customers.

We have a favorite quote from Guy Kawasaki that fits: “advertising is the plastic surgery of business,: a procedure to make ugly and old products look good” from his book Selling the Dream,  and that’s what Don does.

How the big ideas come, is still the magical part of advertising. The really big ideas, almost always fit on a cocktail napkin.

 

The Pitch Episode 3 reviewed FKM v The Hive for Clockwork Home Services

We’re giving up on the drama and the editing of “The Pitch” in our discussions now. It’s pretty obvious to us that the editors are more interested in using a formula to build a 42 minute show that builds to a crescendo to “you’re hired” in the style of “The Apprentice,” It’s not the way advertising agencies should or would be picked, because clients can always say, sorry, none of the above and continue their search. That’s probably what Clockwork Home Services should have done here, but didn’t.

In the real world, the client would pick agencies to invite a lot better. They might even hire an “Agency Search Consultant” to help bring a semblance of order to the process and add an outsiders unbiased opinion to the discussions and evaluations of the presentations. That way, the agencies might actually have experience that brings value to the table. In this case- neither agency would make the long list- never mind the short one.

The assignment was the hardest to date. The only people who would think of combining three brands under one umbrella like this and think it would work are MBAs. YUM brands owns Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut and while they may put together franchises in a location- they wouldn’t tie the brand message together in advertising (at least I don’t remember anyone being that stupid- I can see it now, the Col. walking a Chihuahua into a pizza shop…) The three brands: Mr Sparky, Benjamin Franklin and One Hour Heating have about as much in common as the various members of the Village People- and that was supposed to be a joke.

fkm had a secret weapon- the “new girl” – Philippa Campbell, was a ringer they brought in for the show on a short term contract. She’d worked for Goodby and had the right insight to begin with: customers don’t really like calling for service companies when it comes to plumbing, electrical or HVAC repair. How happy are you when your AC doesn’t work, or the toilet’s overflowing. She was probably the only bright spot in this show. Unfortunately, her advice was lost on the sleep deprived minions of fkm when they decided to create “Help +” as the strategy- costing the client extra money for the 30 extra minutes of “free service”- and making that plumber who just showed you his butt crack stick around and try to cut the customers hair… uh-huh.

The Hive did the unthinkable right off the bat, ignored the clients wishes- before they’d earned the respect of the client. It probably killed them, long before the pitch. How the bowling ball toilet ad managed to make it out of concept to presentation was a major suspension of belief, but also, the starting out with the “America’s On Time Hero’s” video with a Canadian flag was epic #fail. It’s never about the agency- it’s about the customers and the client.

We’re afraid that this show is doing more damage to the perception of what an ad agency does than Darrin Stephens did on “Bewitched”- we’re not bumbling fools who strut our ideas like mindless peacocks (at least not the professionals I know), we’re serious business consultants who pull off the magic of advertising- to quote Guy Kawasaki, we’re the plastic surgeons of marketing that take the old and tired products and services and make them appear young, new and attractive.

While we’re pretty sure that the producers and the editors think this formula for presenting “the pitch” as drama is good television, we’re pretty convinced that the only people watching are others advertising pros. Not a bad audience, but one that AMC will alienate pretty quickly if they don’t stop making our craft look like a playground for egomaniacs and children. We’re all hoping they change directions, turning it into more of a documentary, without the added drama, in the style of the brilliant Art & Copy: Inside Advertising’s Creative Revolutionor even Exit Through the Gift Shop

Most reviews we’ve found have slammed the first three episodes, and  if you want to read some scathing, foul mouthed commentary, head over to the Denver Egoist for Felix’s rants about the show.

Here is our three minute video review about episode 3- and a 40 minute podcast of the conversation. Note, the podcast will have you in on us guiding our production and trying to make the whole thing come across a little better in the video. We’re still learning how to produce these docu-drama reviews.

Here’s the full podcast of our discussion

[podcast]https://thenextwave.biz/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/TNW-The-Pitch-Episode-3-Podcast.mp3[/podcast]

Emotional responses or straight selling?

The Next Wave mission statement if you will is “Create Lust • Evoke Trust”- not some long corporate-speak, buzzword laden promise of advertising done scientifically or even better than the other guy. It’s been that way since around 2000- because it took us that long to really figure out what we do in four words or less. Yes, Nike beats us with “Just do it” – one less word, but, it took them years as well.

For the most part- advertising is intrusive. If most of it went away tomorrow, few of us would miss it. Now a days if we’re interested in buying something we’re a Google search away from finding out everything we want to know about a product or service- as long as we’re aware it’s available. That’s why more and more, advertising is more about branding and awareness than hard selling. We want you to “like” our brand on Facebook, or become a “friend” or “follower” so that we can hopefully be top-of-mind when the decision comes to buy our product or service.

The Internet is an amazing tool for marketers because it gives measurable results via stats, clickthroughs and metrics that no other advertising medium has before (except maybe direct mail which could be personalized and tracked). The creativity that’s required now is to evoke some kind of emotional connection to your brand- to inspire action, if it’s only to click a link or join a group.

Here’s a portion of a discussion on APR Marketplace- which talks about how we’re now more focused on generating brand evangelists to sell our products to their friends instead of making advertising do the heavy lifting:

Boone says he hopes efforts like these will help advertisers see new possibilities for interactive ads.

Boone: By combining technology with creativity, we’ll get transformative advertising that is of a higher utility to consumers.

But even with all of the new possibilities for ads, some lessons from the old school still apply says Stewart Alter, executive vice president at McCann. Alter says the ability to create an emotional response to a product is more important than ever. He points to a well-known scene in “Mad Men” when Don Draper pitches his ad campaign for Kodak’s new slide projector.

“Mad Men” clip: It’s a time machine. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again.

Stewart Alter: The way he transforms what the product benefit is into this emotional benefit for buyers of the product — that’s what is most fundamental about advertising.

That emotional benefit is especially crucial in the age of social media says Matt Donovan, a managing partner at McCann.

Matt Donovan: I think the old “trying to sell things” is actually not what we’re focused on now.

Wait, advertisers are no longer focused on selling things? Donovan says, no. Instead, they’re focused on inspiring consumers enough that they sell things to each other, by “liking” a company on Facebook, tweeting about an ad campaign, or Yelping a review.

Donovan: I could see a world in 10 years, where people proactively take on the responsibility of creating branded content on behalf of their favorite brand or product that they’re passionate about.

For most of us, recommendations from friends are more powerful than an ad, says Horizon Media analyst Brad Adgate. He says social media has turned us all into little advertising megaphones.

Brad Adgate: It’s no longer a top down approach where the advertiser will send a message down to consumers. We all have bully pulpits and there’s more of a give and take.

Adgate says more and more, we are using our bully pulpits to promote products to our friends. So really, the new Don Draper… is you.

via Madison Avenue’s new advertising lords | Marketplace from American Public Media.

We’ve been working at creating ads that people want to hang up on their walls, menus that people want to take home with them and proudly hang on their refrigerator and most of all- instill trust in our clients brands through consistent messaging about what’s really important- the customers sense of success or personal well being created by doing business with our clients.

People don’t buy because of an ad- they buy because they think their life will be better if they own this product or use this service- without that emotional reinforcement, you’re not really creating a valuable business relationship- you’re just having a one night stand.

The Wankel marketing engine

There is a secret in advertising that everybody knows, but few will admit to: there is never a quick fix.

In fact there is a cycle that works like clockwork in this business, it looks like this:

Sales are declining, flat or not rising as fast as someone wants.

A decision is made to shake up marketing. Someone wants a grand slam home run- without bothering to plan how to get the bases loaded first.

A new CMO, agency, or plan is put into play. They may or may not come up with some deep new understanding of the marketplace. The plan is wildly cheered and latched on to. Yet, after too short a time- the results don’t match the enthusiasm when the new journey was plotted. A course correction is ordered.

This is the proverbial fork in the road. Do we deeply, truly believe this is the right strategy? Or, are we scared- and reach for reassurance? So often, the reassurance comes with the line “this has worked before” or this is “tried and true.” The safe option is on the table. Probably 90% of the time- it’s implemented.

The original strategy is either abandoned, or diluted. The course is reset. All the metrics are thrown off and no lesson is learned. before long, the process begins again. It’s a circle- a rotary engine- it goes round and round.

The funny thing is- despite witnessing this over and over with marketers- the place where it became painfully obvious was made clearly watching network TV dramas- good shows, that didn’t get the early ratings they deserved. An “expert” was called in- adjustments are made, and new characters are introduced. The good show- just became a mediocre one- because the initial creative brief- the storyline- wasn’t being given time to grow.

Everyone wants a grand slam- they want a viral video like “I’m on a horse”- or Subservient Chicken- but, aren’t willing to understand that these are the few and far between. They are also not true engines of marketing- just a one time spark. Sometimes the spark is all that’s needed. Altoids got a jump start with a small successful revamped campaign- focusing on mints so strong they come in a metal box and some nice visual puns “Nice Altoids.” Instant hit- for a sleepy old brand- but then, brand extension nearly killed the initial success.

“Just do it” has been a strategy that Nike hasn’t been able to leave. They’ve tried- several times to move away from what is probably the strongest marketing positioning ever- only to realize that those three words are more valuable than the swoosh. The thing for marketers to remember is that it took years before Wieden + Kennedy came up with those three words. There is never a quick fix.

The Wankel engine is different from all other engines in that it is a rotary design- with a three sided rotor. The three faces are much like the three phases of marketing- they can change phases- but the amount of power derived just depends on the amount of pressure (interest) put on on the three faces. Which brings us to your goals as a marketer-

First is to make sure the motor is spinning and generating enough power to make your company run.

The next question is are you aiming to make what you have go faster, more efficiently or stronger?

Or, do you want to trade in the whole motor for a new one- bigger, better different? You may believe this is what you want- but, most of the time you only make en effort to do the faster, more efficient stronger. And that’s why you are in a rut.

Switching engines, despite one being a better design, doesn’t happen quickly, and requires lots of adaptive learning.

Most companies fail to realize that switching engines is a complete transformation- not an adaptive one and that’s why the new plans almost always fail- or the agency gets blamed.

In order to hit the grand slam home run, you must realize that loading the bases is a series of singles- and that Grand Slams might not be the goal at all- runs are.

So despite all these mixed metaphors and stories in this post- if you are looking for a new marketing mechanic- first figure out what you want to fix- then make sure you are ready to fix what’s broken.

It may not be the engine at all.

What they aren't teaching advertising students

Had a lovely meeting with a student to review her portfolio today. She’s a few months away from graduation and the el-crapo job market and I’m afraid the years of honing her skills haven’t given her a sharp knife to cut her way through.

Yes, knowing how to use tools like the Adobe Creative Suite is important, but knowing how to use ones brain is why someone wants to hire you.

So, here it it is, in real simple words: your job is to make me more money than I pay you as your boss. And my job is to make my clients more money from the money they spend on advertising/marketing/design/development etc.

Because, advertising only costs if it doesn’t work.

Yep, there you have it. The essentials of business, all in one nice, easy to digest post.

You’ll see those words all over this site (unlike other ad agencies) who talk about all kinds of other things that sound good to MBAs, but, when we get right down to it- we do things to help sell stuff. If it doesn’t sell, it’s not creative, good or worth a dime to anyone.

How does a student need to prepare for that moment of terror when they walk in with their book and ask for someone to hire them, instead of all their other classmates?

Here’s a secret: you are the product. If you can’t sell you- how can you sell other peoples sugar water, netbooks or feminine hygiene products?

Just like any other creative brief, you better have done the research: what’s the industry, who are the leaders, what’s their claim to fame, what did they do better than their competition? If I get one more student through these doors who hasn’t heard of Bernbach, Ogilvy, Chiat, Clow, Fallon, Wieden, Bogusky, Rand, Pentagram, Duffy, etc. I should start cutting off ears and sending them back to their schools. How can you teach this business and not talk about those who’ve changed the industry?

And as much as we like to think it’s all pretty pictures with snappy words, you better understand something about how money is made. What’s a business model, what’s the distribution channel, how does your client make their money? Is it the razors or the blades? How can you make your client money if you don’t know what makes them money? Being able to focus on the right thing, is the first step in making them more money than they pay you. Read a few business books- get cozy with Peter Drucker or Tom Peters. Know what’s made to stick and who is a linchpin. (I should be putting in links galore here- but, I’m already giving you the secret tools to your success, you should have  to work a bit).

Last but not least, the job market you are preparing yourself for isn’t the one that’s there today, but the one for when you graduate and beyond. You better be tapped into what’s the next big thing- not what’s the big thing right now. Hint: Web 2.0 is already well established- start thinking about what happens when your phone has the bandwidth and speed of a desktop machine and is always on and connected. If you don’t know how to run a content management system, optimize for search, build community or produce video don’t even think of graduating yet.

And when you do go in to interview for that job, and you’re sitting across from an old guy like me (face it, men still rule in advertising) it shouldn’t be me interviewing you as much as it should be you interviewing me- because the first job you take will have a lot to do with how much you get to grow. Make sure the passion is still burning in your future boss as brightly as it’s burning within you, because it’s going to a take a super hot fire under your butt to add your name to the list of those who’ve come before and changed this business.

That’s what makes me get up every morning and love what I do. Because, as the saying goes, even a bad day in advertising beats a great day in anything else.

And that’s why you went to ad school in the first place? Isn’t it?