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How to be a great advertising client: 10 commandments for creative excellence

BEFORE YOU WORK WITH AN ADVERTISING AGENCY, READ THE 10 COMMANDMENTS FOR CREATIVE EXCELLENCE [SO YOU DON’T BLOW IT AND END UP POINTING FINGERS]A friend gave me a copy of Dick Wasserman’s 1988 book “That’s our new ad campaign…?” and I started digging in. Wasserman approaches the book as an effort to help everyone, from the CEO to a student understand how to tell a good ad from a bad one- via a system.

Inherent in this story is a look at “how the sausage is made” and he is very clear that clients need to bring their A game to the table if they want great advertising. He cites a CEO who made a conscious effort to get better advertising.

Reuben Mark was the CEO of Colgate Palmolive- who made waves by hiring agency folks to run his marketing efforts and to manage their agencies. He was involved, but trusted his people to do the creative. He also realized that his agencies had to make money and actually raised their compensation level.

Here are Reuben Mark’s ten commandments for creative excellence, as listed in Ad Age:

  • Be the best client they have.
  • We must really care.
  • True partnership/mutual trust.
  • Ask for excellence.
  • Clear, honest direction.
  • Look for the big idea.
  • Streamline approval procedure.
  • Personal involvement of top management of client/agency.
  • Ensure agency profitability.
  • Be human.

The chairman of every corporation with an ad budget would do well to make these ten commandments his guide for dealing with his ad agencies.

~pg 26 of “That’s our new ad campaign…?” by Dick Wasserman

Much of this amounts to respect of the ad agency by the client- and an understanding that the big ideas won’t come if the foundation of the relationship isn’t solid. When you look at brands that consistently do great advertising, year in year out, you usually see a long term client/agency relationship. This has gotten harder and harder as we’ve come to believe that hiring a star “chief marketing officer” with an average tenure around 2 years, is a good way to manage marketing.

Typically, the best relationships are directly between the CEO of a company and the Chief Creative Officer of the agency. Look at the relationship between Steve Jobs of Apple and Lee Clow of TBWA\Chiat\Day, or Dan Wieden of W+K and Phil Knight of Nike. Those are the kinds of relationships that have generated some of the greatest ad campaigns and concepts of all time.

Clients who think their agency shouldn’t be bothered by being involved in something as mundane as an email blast or the design of a welcome packet- often miss the bigger picture of a clear brand voice. Jobs was fanatical about reviewing every single campaign, every package design because he knew  brand voice was critical.

When it comes to the establishing of the relationship, clear contract terms are to be assumed; what is the client getting for their retainer or contract rates. If you approach an agency asking to pay less, don’t expect more, no matter how big you are  in comparison to their other peers. A communication system, be it an online project management portal, or something like #Slack should be included in the working agreement. Not only should the means of communication be clear, but also responsibilities for responses as well.

But most importantly, if you want creative excellence, look for passion in the voices of your agency. Hire what Crispin Porter + Bogusky callsad people” well, they used to hire ad people.

Screen grab from Crispin Porter + Bogusky about page- "We are not ad people- But we are engineers, rule breakers, artists, scientists, filmmakers, aspiring guitarists, technologists, adventure junkies, anthropologists, and everything in between. All working together in a modern global network to make the most written about, talked about, and outrageously successful work in the world.

Which isn’t what they used to say in their Employee Handbook from 2004.

AD PEOPLE.
These are the weird and wonderful people who are at the core of any great agency.
Just because you work at an ad agency doesn’’t make you an ad person.

First, ad people really love ads. They like to talk about them. They like to read about them. They like to see them. And they love being involved in their creation. Second, ad people are deeply interested in the advertising industry.They know which agencies have what accounts, they know which people are doing great things at other agencies.

They know what the trends are and they follow accounts on the move. They are emotionally involved in what they do. If you’re an ad person, you have a career here. If you’re not an ad person, you have a job. Whichever one you are, it’s worth taking the time to learn about the ad industry. It’s like the old saying goes: the worst day in an ad agency beats the best day a bank ever had.

Passion is what really separates good agencies from the great ones. Just never mistake winning industry awards as passion for the craft. Awards are nice, but results should always be more important.

In what I consider the seminal book on advertising, “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This” by Luke Sullivan, he has a section where he he describes the disconnect between many clients CMO career path, vs those on the agency side- typically, one comes up through sales, and the other- comes up through- well, the creative consulting side of things. Really awesome clients ask their agency what books on advertising to read, and great agencies ask the client what they should read about their business. We have a booklist, but are really happy if our clients just read Whipple.

We have our own theory of what makes client/agency relationships create synergy: think of it more like a marriage, and not a contractual relationship. Choose your partner wisely, and realize, that gestation of a great campaign usually takes slightly longer than that of a baby. W+K wasn’t Nike’s first agency- who came up with “there is no finish line” but it was a few years after Nike moved the business to W+K when “Just do it” was introduced.

There is a learning period, and it’s not something that can be sped up. Clients who invest in teaching their agency about their business, usually get much better creative solutions. In a data driven world, this also means sharing not only web logs and analytics, but actual sales figures, customer data, and costs involved in making a sale. This is how targeting and marketing automation tools get optimized.

What may be the most overlooked aspect of the agency/client relationship however is what are the clients real objectives. Is it to get big and get bought, to maximize profits, to build the company, to be a leader in their field? While it may seem obvious, it’s not always clear to both parties and sometimes this is where the disconnect is. Steve Jobs was building “bicycles for our minds” when he launched Apple Computer.  Watch him explain how he came up with that expression, and then figure out what does success look like for your agency/client relationship?

Apple computer may have grown to be the most valuable company in the world, but, since Jobs has left the planet, Apple has also seemed to lose his idealism. Apple doesn’t seem to remember its roots of being a company that helped you evolve and move the human race forward and that’s too bad.

The final word of advice in being a great client, and getting the most out of your relationship is to hire people who believe in what you do. We won’t take vape stores or manufacturers as clients, just like we won’t take on tobacco companies. We’re also not interested in your micro or macro beer brew operation, your distillery or your gun store. It’s not because we don’t think you deserve great advertising, it’s just that we aren’t going to be passionate about working on those types of accounts.

If you found this helpful, please take a moment to add any advice you may have for being a great client. Thank you.

 

Writing the best “please hire me at your ad agency” cover letter (internship applications 101)

Actual screen shot from search of advertising agency cover letters on Google. Only one image stands out.

In the land of ad agency cover letters, what stands out?

You are selling yourself to people who sell things for a living.

Make every word count.

Leave out all the stuff about being a team player, or motivated. Actions speak louder than words. Show us that you not only want to work for us, but that you actually took the time to learn about us.

Some actual cover letters (painful examples):

“To the Next Wave Team,

As a (Insert your majors) Studies major, I have taken it upon myself to seek out opportunities that aim to integrate my knowledge into practical application. With that, I feel that your open internship position would be a worthwhile endeavor to expand my skills and tailor them to the objectives that best serve the The Next Wave.”

Rule #1 – Make it Personal

Find out names of the people you are approaching. This isn’t an ad to the masses, it’s an ad to a real live person at a unique firm. Do your research.

“Hello, my name is (your name) and I believe that I could be a huge asset to your team. I am a graduate of (Insert Favorite) University with a degree in (some related field) and extensive experience in (skill 1) and (skill 2).”

Rule #2 – Know your Audience

What you think is great, sure, but what I think is all that matters. Talking about your school or your experience might be great, but there are legions of people who can say the exact same thing.

“As a confident, articulate and goal-driven production professional with (X)+ years of experience, I am an ideal candidate for this role with The Next Wave. I am a creative problem solver with a demonstrable record of helping organizations meet their goals. My positive attitude, world-class work ethic, and attention to detail have helped me succeed in a variety of operational projects. I take my work seriously and approach every undertaking with enthusiasm, diligence, and positivity.”

Rule #3 – Show, Don’t Tell

This one is important. Instead of talking about skills you think you have, demonstrate them. Your cover letter is an introduction, your resume the reference guide, and your portfolio should be the shizzle/sex appeal/show.

Not that we love to have our ego stroked, but, demonstrating a knowledge of the firm you are applying to says more about how you approach a client than how you get a job. If you want to sell BMW that you are the person who has the skills necessary increase BMW motorcycle sales, the cover letter is where it starts. Same thing with selling yourself to us, or anyone.

Make it easy for us to see that you know something about our firm, our culture, our clients, and how you will be an asset.

This example is overkill, but, when Chase Zreet, who was trying to get a job at Wieden+Kennedy to work on the Sprite account he did a whole video, with real production values. This is what your competition looks like:

Of course he got the job. Even the client noticed.

Getting noticed in this business is our business. Lawson Clarke may or may not be a great copywriter, but he got a lot of attention as the “Naked Copywriter”– and his site, www.malecopywriter.com

Go visit. You decide, is this the guy you would want coming up with your next campaign? Should you be hiring him to help you get the job you think you’re worthy of?

His campaign for a job came out in 2009. I still remember it.

AdWeek magazine has a helpful post: 9 Tips for landing your first job at an advertising agency. Hint, a lot of it applies to your second and third jobs at an agency as well. Other than Lee Clow (2 agencies) and Alex Bogusky (1 agency) most of you will do some job hopping.

So, key takeaways: The cover letter shows you know something about your target market (the agency you are applying to), you have some unique or interesting insight or skills, that will help them make money if they hire you, and it’s memorable. Some people think this means delivering your message like a stunt- wrapping it around a sandwich, which may be attention getting, but, I’m more inclined to be impressed with something that can spread, cost effectively, like both of the job pitches above. You aren’t going to buy the masses sandwiches to buy your product.

Your portfolio, speaks for itself. Including a client brief summaries , as well as Key Performance Indicators Met are the only additions to the work.  The work should speak for itself. Clearly state what your part was in the project. Don’t show work others did without giving proper credit.

Resume: Clean and simple. Where you worked, what you did, what you learned. Include hobbies, interests, because, well, interesting people work in advertising. Even working at Burger King can be valuable, if the agency is working on a fast food account- if you can share insight you gained while working there.

And, lastly, make sure your resume has your name in the file name. Make sure it’s a PDF. If you have links in it- make sure they work. There is nothing worse than saying, “i want to look at that Bogusky kid’s portfolio again” and you search your computer for a file with his name attached that was named “My 1989 ad portfolio.” Sorry Alex,

Now, go get ’em killer.

note: I’d asked Alex Bogusky to review this post in an earlier form, and it went tangential, and the post got a re-write. But, here is the advice the Creative Director of the Decades gives:

The advice I give kids is pick three place that you would die to work at. Learn everything you can and do everything you can to weasel in from every angle.

1 place is okay too.

When you are talking top of the world beating agencies the weasel factor is key, because it’s you against everyone else who thinks they’ve got the next big thing in them.

 

 

Our soul won’t be sold

Soul stabbinbg logo. It's not a principle until it costs you moneyThe email came from another local agency. Can you please give us all the access to the client site, passwords, login info, account data etc. The client was copied on the email.

It wasn’t just any client, it was one of our oldest. One who we helped them birth their business, outgrow a location, move, go through many management changes. Dropped everything to make things happen for them- without rush fees. Their business was like a second home, comfortable, inviting. We know the staff by name and they know us.

Getting the dear john email hurt. The conversation that followed hurt more. The client was crying.

Our activism had collided with their politics.

For almost 20 years we’d been their champions, and they’d been ours. But, now that was all coming to an end. Because we won’t sell our soul to the machine, and they became a part of it.

The loss of their account won’t damage us at all financially. They may find out that they will pay a lot more to work with the competition. They may find out that the drop everything and get this done costs a lot more. It might not get done as quickly. They may pay for the learning curve of a new agency- or, they may just listen a little more, and do things outside what their comfort zone allowed before and feel absolved. These things happen.

But, when it comes to our soul, if anything, we’ve hardened our resolve to continue to fight the machine, to make things better in our community.

Because as the legendary ad man Bill Bernbach of DDB said “it’s not a principle until it costs you money.”

 

Understanding borrowed interest in advertising

How did Michael Jordan meet Mars Blackmon (aka Spike Lee)? Borrowed interest. Did Nike or MJ have a hand in the movie “Do the right thing”– the breakthrough film for Spike Lee? Nope. Did their ad agency, Wieden + Kennedy create  the character for the movie- nope. They saw a cultural phenomena and tied the two together. That’s using borrowed interest successfully. Two things that seem to go together- but, wouldn’t happen without help.

The king of borrowed interest may be Weird Al Yankovic, who borrows the familiarity of famous songs and just re-writes the lyrics, turning Michael Jackson’s mega-hit “Beat it” into “Eat it.” Familiarity opens doors for your message to get through.

Almost any and every celebrity endorser for a product is borrowed interest. Do we pay more attention to Lincoln ads because Matthew McConaughey is in them. Is Lincoln really his brand- or was he bought? Bets are the big paycheck makes the difference.

Remember the annoying guy for Verizon- “Can you hear me now?” Why do you think he’s now pitching Sprint? Borrowed interest.

And while Google’s new Snippets feature places this definition on top:

Borrowed interest is the intentional association of an unrelated theme, event or image with a product, service or subject being presented, to attract attention otherwise not anticipated.

which it pulled from some previously unknown self-proclaimed guru Susan Finch, borrowed interest is a key tool for brands that aren’t that well known and looking for some connection to something bigger than them. Which brings us to our little fun experiment.

Youtube Vlogger Peter McKinnon has hit the photography/videography community like a lightening bolt, going from zero to a million and a half (and counting) subscribers in a little over a year. We enjoy his tutorials, even though almost every single one could be shorter by about a third. Do I need to know about his favorite coffee to make a better video, of course not- but, it’s his thing and he almost uses it as a prop- as in let’s meet over coffee- but, I digress.

Everyone wants to know what McKinnon’s secret is to growing a community so quickly. We even watched an annoying video explainer (with the writing hand) that got over 287,000 views, by a guy that only has a few over 20,000 subscribers.

He’s making money on the pre-roll ad, using shared interest. His analysis isn’t rocket science, but, it’s quickly become one of his most popular videos, and all that in 2 months.

So, we thought, what could we do to attract Peter McKinnon’s fan base to take a look at a video we made? How can we introduce our agency to people who may need help with advertising, marketing, building a better website- or are interested in creating a borrowed interest campaign of their own. And, how can we have fun?

We think the main reason we watch Peter is because, well, all those crazy noises he makes. Remember all those late night infomercials trying to sell you hits of some past generation? Well, we decided to make an infomercial to sell the fictional “Peter McKinnon SFX library” guaranteed to get your video channel to grow subscribers like a rocket- and to introduce his viewers to us. We’ve also bid a large contract that we’re hoping to win and collaborate with Pete on, but we have to win it first.

So, order yours before midnight tonight, the complete, completely fake, Peter McKinnon SFX library, yours for only four easy payments of $24.95, get it before these custom, exclusive, McKinnon SFX become as tired and old as the old standbys of breaking glass, doors slamming and sirens wailing- all served up with a heaping portion of good old borrowed interest.

 

 

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