Feb 03

Agencies look for rising stars, not waning ones

Repman

Advertising Age's cover story about 55-year-old creative director Dave Shea's trials and tribulations in finding full-time employment should be a cautionary tale to any reader of any age.

Shea was a successful copywriter and creative director at such blue-chip advertising agencies as the legendary Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, the equally legendary (and the original) Saatchi & Saatchi, Campbell-Mithun and, most recently, Geppetto, a small agency within the vast WPP network (where Ed and I once toiled).

Geppetto canned Shea (and refused to tell Ad Age why) about 15 months ago. He's been high and dry ever since.

Shea's epic odyssey to find full-time employment is a positively spell-binding story. According to Ad Age, no matter how hard he networked or how many cold calls he pursued, Shea simply couldn't get to first base. Every agency ignored him because, at the age of 55, Shea was untouchable. His gray hair was a red light.

Source after source told Ad Age that firms turned a blind eye to the eminently qualified Shea. One summed it up beautifully by saying, 'Agencies look for rising stars, not waning ones.' (Ouch. I hope you have a nice day as well).

The Ad Age article confirmed what I'd already suspected: advertising agencies are positively spellbound by the digital revolution, Mark Zuckerberg and the next, bright shiny object. As a result, they mistakenly believe Millennials are the ONLY ones who get the hottest trends, technologies and talk. As a result, experienced veterans like Shea have no chance whatsoever of landing a decent job.

The article was a show-stopper for me for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Ad agencies STILL don't get that social media, digital, Web 2.0, or whatever one chooses to call it, is nothing more than a communications channel. Guys: Hello! It's not about the technology. It's about the conversation and how best to engage in it. Happily, that's what PR firms do best. It's also why we're winning more and more of the client's overall marketing spend.
  • However gifted and uber cool they may be, Millennials lack the broad perspective and innate understanding that's fundamental to deciding what to say, when to say it and to whom. Sorry kids, but you don't get it. Not yet anyway.
  • Age discrimination is not limited to advertising agencies. There's no doubt in my mind that PR has just as many 55-year-old Dave Shea-types who have been shown the door by WPP, Interpublic, Omnicom or Publicis, and find themselves permanently unemployed. PR trade publications simply choose to ignore it:

Reporter: 'We really should do a Dave Shea-type story.'

Editor: 'Age discrimination in PR? No way, Jose.  So, how many new accounts did Edelman win this week?

Reporter: 'The usual. One every 13 seconds.'

Editor: 'Great. There's our headline!'

I count my blessings that, unlike Dave Shea, I decided to bid adieu to my holding company mother ship in 1995 and, along with Ed, build my own thing. If I hadn't, the odds are good I'd be just like Mr. Shea; mailing my resume, placing phone calls and sending e-mails to headhunters and holding company recruiters alike. And, there's no doubt I'd receive the same response as Shea: deafening silence.

A quick after word for my Millennial readers: you'll be dealing with your very own age-related issues faster than you can say Father Time. So, enjoy your time in the sun while you can.

As Sir Mick & The Boys once sang, 'Time waits for no one, and it won't wait for me.' Or, you either.

Nov 15

A funny thing happened on the way to the commercial

A recent Stuart Elliott column in The New York Times reported on a trend I’ve been aware of for some time: advertising agencies get the strategic advantage comedy can provide to a marketing campaign. For some reason, though, my humorless peers in public relations don’t.

Major advertisers such as Capital One, Cover Girl and Kellogg’s have retained the services of famous comedians such as Jimmy Kimmel, Jerry Stiller and Ellen DeGeneres to sell their wares.
And, National Public Radio has leveraged the white hot Alec Baldwin to launch a series of hilarious, counter-intuitive radio spots urging listeners not to make the financial contributions critical to NPR’s very survival. Click below to listen:  (Alec Baldwin Wants to Destroy Public Radio . . .).

Charles Torrey, vice president, marketing, for Minute Maid Pure Squeezed Orange Juice, explains why he’s opted for comedy in his commercials: “Humor is a way to differentiate our brand in a stodgy category,” he says, adding that it also humanizes the brand and makes it seem more relevant. Marc Mentry, senior vice president, advertising & creative at Capital One Financial Services, agrees, and added: “We’re very serious about your money, but we don’t take ourselves seriously.” (Hey, that’s been Peppercom’s mantra for 16 years. Do I smell an intellectual property lawsuit in the making?).

Elliot opines that comedy is hot right now because people need to laugh when times are bad. He cites the likes of Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy, Fred Allen and Jack Benny as three, top Depression-era comedians who did the exact same thing for brands way back when.
I don’t agree with Elliot. I think comedy is a universal and creates a distinct, strategic advantage in good times and bad.

Advertising people are using comedy solely because their market research tells them it will resonate with the 99%ers and others in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement. And they’re right. But most advertisers will also abandon comedy when happy days are here again. That is, except for the savvy ones who know that when people laugh, they fall in love with a product or service.
Comedy is incredibly effective in external and internal communications. It’s also a critical building block for creating better presentation skills as well as enhancing employee morale.
It’s nice to see the advertising guys finally getting comedy, if only as a short-term remedy during a recession.

As for my peers in public relations? Keep focusing on your dour, statistical-laden, off-the-shelf communications plans while we’re busy figuring out smart and subtle ways in which to inject ours with self-deprecating humor. Oh, and by the way, we also offer stand-up comedy experiences for Fortune 500 clients that are just now starting to take off. Talk about a non-traditional way in which to engage with a client that’s already listed Weber or Edelman as their AOR. Give it another year or so and we’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

 

Oct 07

Big agency think

As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, I recently had the opportunity to speak on a cable industry panel that addressed such subjects as client-agency relationships, social media and what's next.
100802.logobigger1 I was paired with a branding expert and a big agency guy. The former was somewhat out of his depth since the audience was far more interested in discussing media relations 101. The latter was all about basic blocking and tackling, so he was eating it up.

The big agency guy waxed poetic about his knowledge of the media, the intricacies of wire
service reporting and how best to construct a press release. I kid you not. It was all smart and on-target, if somewhat rudimentary,
 
But, then, the moderator asked a question about the Holy Grail of PR: measurement. She asked if we experts had found the right solution. I said if we had, everyone in the audience would already know about it and you, the moderator, wouldn't be asking the question.
 
That's when the big agency guy barged in and said, “We rely on advertising equivalency to validate our programs. For those of you unfamiliar with the approach, we determine the cost of a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal, for example, and tell our clients that's how they should measure an article of the same length.”
 
I was speechless (which is quite rare for this blogger). Anyone and everyone in strategic communications knows that equating advertising with editorial is an ersatz approach. And, using it to evaluate the ROI of a PR campaign is misguided and disingenuous. Here are the obvious reasons why:
 
– A company pays for advertising. As a result, it determines what it says as well as when and where it appears. The end result: zero credibility from a reader standpoint.
 
– An article written by a professional journalist contains no company bias whatsoever. The article is balanced, contains positive and negative commentary and appears when and where the media property's editors decide. As a result, the content is far more credible to a reader.
 
I'd like to think my fellow panelist's POV on measurement was an anomaly. But, something tells me it reflects the archaic, stultifying thinking that can infect many holding company cultures. The big leagues love to pitch their depth and breadth but, sadly, many of their top people seem stuck in the 1980s when it comes to thinking about what's next. And, that's fine with me. I've always thought the best ideas and smartest people work at the smaller firms. Wednesday's panel only reinforced that belief.

Oct 04

Prostate cancer needs a Susan G. Komen

Pink-pimp-3-20102One would have had to be color blind to miss the splashes of pink adorning every NFL player and stadium this past Sunday. The same goes for the bright pink worn by countless walkers, runners and cyclers participating in National Breast Cancer Awareness Month events. And, that is as it should be.

But, did you know that September was National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month? I sure didn't. And, I didn't see one NFL player or stadium sporting light blue, which is the initiative's official color. Nor did I see any walkers, runners or cyclists supporting the cause.

A quick check of Zero: The Project to End Prostate Cancer (insert link) revealed these sobering facts:
– One in eight American women is diagnosed with breast cancer. But, ONE IN SIX American men is diagnosed with prostate cancer.
– Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed disease among men and is the second leading cause of men's cancer.
– 240,000 men contract prostate cancer every year.
– Sixty percent of men who contract prostate cancer are African-Americans.

According to Zero, '…Significantly more federal dollars, more attention and more support are being afforded breast cancer.' They don't say why, but I can hazard a guess: the Susan G. Komen Foundation. It has to be one of the most powerful marketing and fundraising machines of our time. Sadly, though, there is no male version of Komen; no prominent, well-healed victim who can strike a chord and rally a cause.

I think the NFL has bowed to political correctness and wrapped itself in pink for two reasons:

– Perhaps one simply doesn't say no the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

– It's smart marketing. The NFL already has the full attention of every red-blooded American male. By embracing breast cancer, the NFL is doing some very smart target marketing towards women. It's a no brainer.

I should note that, unlike the NFL, Major League Baseball hasn't ignored prostate cancer. Indeed, MLB has declared Father's Day, June 18th, as prostate cancer awareness day.

So, why can't the NFL launch its season with a prostate cancer awareness month and adorn its players and stadiums with light blue wristbands, socks and bunting? There must be a reason. While it's probably not the case, perhaps the Komen folks demanded exclusivity with the NFL?

It's high time the NFL lend a helping hand to its core male audience. It's also clear that prostate cancer desperately needs its own Susan G. Komen to jump start a long overdue need.

 I'd love to help. I'm a big supporter of the Young Survival Coalition and would gladly lend my support to Zero or any other organization that, unlike the NFL, won't turn its back on half the American population. Besides, powder blue has always been my favorite color.

 

Sep 26

There’s nothing gray about this name

Grey Healthy People is the horrendous name chosen for the new, combined healthcare unit of Grey Group, one of hundreds of agencies within WPP (insert link). 

Abc_blue_man_080731_mnThe global division will specialize in advertising for health-related products and services. But, let me ask you something, would you retain the services of a communications company that so badly bungles the naming of its own health care unit?

When I hear Grey Healthy People, I think of any number of things:

– happy-go-lucky octogenarians frolicking at a Del Boca Vista poolside.
– a group of people who, despite their sickly skin color, are somehow healthy.
– albino exercise and nutrition nuts who refuse to set foot outside.

This naming disaster wouldn't be so bad if Grey weren't an advertising agency that specializes in image and reputation. I mean, if it were Grey Healthy Squirrels, I'd nod my head and think, “I'm happy for you rodents. It's about time you started marketing yourselves.” Or, if it were Grey Healthy Bathtubs, I'd think, “Well, I'd probably still opt for the classic white model but, maybe, there's something special about this particular tub?”

But, Grey Healthy People? Good night nurse. This name is DOA which, as healthy and unhealthy people alike know, is a bad thing. A really, really bad thing.

Aug 04

I wouldn’t pitch ‘The Pitch’ either

Looking to cash in on its breakout hit, 'Mad Men', AMC is scrambling to create a new reality show called 'The Pitch'. It's intended to be a behind-the-scenes look at real ad agencies pitching real   pieces of new business.

No pitch There's only one problem: AMC can't find ANY agencies to participate in the reality show. Securing marketers hasn't been a problem though. Two tarnished brands, Yahoo! and Kodak are champing at the bit to get some positive exposure.

But, Madison Avenue's top players have shown no interest in becoming a real life Don Draper. To date, BBDO, TBWA, DDB, GSD&M, Mullen, DraftFCB, Carmichael Lynch, Gotham and Hill Holiday among others have all turned thumbs down.

Agencies say they're worried about having their creative ideas stolen or an existing client catching them pitching a larger, conflict brand (yes, Virginia, these things do happen).  Then, of course, there's the issue of allowing the entire business world to witness the utter chaos that is a new business pitch.

The latter would be my greatest concern. While most advertising and PR firms would like clients to think they have a definitive, proprietary, state-of-the-art new business creative process, the facts are quite the opposite.

New business presentations are almost always an 11th hour, all hands on deck fire drill that sometimes come together beautifully at the last second, or completely crash and burn. We've had classic examples of each:

– For a large technology company, we were scrambling right up until the last moment, changing creative strategies, arguing with one another about approaches and even disagreeing about who should be on the presentation team. I still recall Ed saying, “This is going to be a disaster.” But, it wasn't. We rallied, came up with a great idea, made a superb presentation and won the huge account.

– For a leading retail brokerage company, we were heading to the Midwest for the final presentation knowing we'd totally impressed the prospect through the early stages (a fact later confirmed by the CMO, who said we were “the firm to beat”). But, we were beaten because the final presentation was completely overhauled during the flight and was so jumbled that we ran out of time during the pitch. We lost.

I love the thrill of the chase. And, there's nothing more satisfying than beating an Edelman or Weber for a significant piece of new business. But, there's no way I'd ever open Peppercom's doors to a behind-the-scenes reality TV show. I know I speak for most PR firms (and ad agencies) when I say the process for arriving at a final presentation is a steaming pile of sh*t that is best kept under the covers.

Jul 26

Baggage carousels. The final frontier.

As if we weren’t already being bombarded by endless advertising every single second of our day, Waiting for luggage a company called DoubleTake Marketing has found a brand new venue: airport baggage carousels (insert link). That’s right: baggage  carousels. Now, there’s a brilliant idea.

According to DoubleTake, more than 70 percent of travelers check luggage every year. (Not this blogger. I need to be physically forced to check my bags.) Furthermore, DoubleTake says the average time for a bag to arrive from a plane to the carousel is 17 minutes. I’d say 45 minutes is more like it. (Note: that doesn’t include the time spent by TSA agents and baggage handlers rifling through your valuables and taking what they please or, as was the case with some disgruntled union workers at one airline, actually urinating on checked luggage).

DoubleTake says “…brands are finding baggage carousel advertising (allows) them to tell a story in a unique and captivating way.” Ha! That’s laugh out loud funny. I buy the captivating part since passengers are literally being held hostage by the airlines as they endlessly wait for their luggage to come cartwheeling down one of those chutes. But, c’mon, there’s no friggin’ way passengers want to see advertisements at, say, baggage carousel #2. Just think back to the emotions you felt the last time you were at baggage claim. I can tell you how I felt: frazzled, angry, tired, grungy and anxious. The latter emotion, of course, was being caused by a steady stream of everyone’s bag but mine barreling out of that black hole at the top of the carousel.
What type of advertiser honestly thinks a pissed off, beaten up, tired as hell passenger will spy their ad and think to themselves, “Hey yeah. I do need to buy that right now!” To wit:

-    It’s been 30 minutes since you arrived at baggage carousel #3 when you suddenly spy an ad, slap yourself in the head and exclaim, “Man, I could have had a V-8!”
-    Some 45 minutes after landing, you notice an ad for Cialis circling around and around baggage carousel #1. You stop worrying about your bag and, instead, think, “You know what? I really was in the mood back at gate 13A. If only I’d popped one of those 72-hour Cialis pills, I’d have been good to go.”
-    You’re at Newark’s baggage carousel #7 when you spot an ad for the New York State Lottery and take note of its signature tagline, “Hey, you never know.” The irony is rich as you think to yourself, “The same could be said for my bag. It could be in Houston, Boise or Phoenix. With Continental, hey, you never know.”

There are bad business ideas. Then, there are stupid business ideas. But, DoubleTake’s belief that advertisers can “…reach both the business and leisure traveler” using baggage carousels plumbs new depths of depravity.

I would never, ever consider purchasing a product or service when I’m in the foulest mood possible. And, I cannot believe any other victim of our nation’s horrific air system would feel any differently. But, that won’t deter DoubleTake from collecting some unsuspecting advertiser’s money.

What’s next for DoubleTake? Advertising along death row in a state prison? Now, that would qualify as unique and captivating (oh baby, would it ever).

I can envision DoubleTake’s trade advertisement now: “Death Row advertising. Why wait? With the rise of DNA evidence overturning so many death penalties of late, there’s a very real possibility some of today’s death row inmates may be tomorrow’s customers. Act now while there’s still plenty of institutional white space available at the Big House. DoubleTake: advertising where you least want to see it.”

Jul 08

Ignorance is gender neutral

Dumb-and-DumberEver take note of the steady drumbeat of male bashing in print ads, TV commercials, sitcoms and  movies? It's not overt but, like death and taxes, it's something you can count on.

Here's a quick case in point. Doubleclick on this current State Farm commercial and tell me what you see. What I see are three separate examples of absurdly stupid men who spend the savings from their low-cost State Farm policies on such idiotic items as falcons. Note how the clever, level-headed wife uncovers the mystery of the missing money, who spent it (her hubby) and on what (the bird).

I wouldn't be writing this blog if the State Farm spot had included even one dopey woman. But, it doesn't. All three morons are men. In fact, if Madison Avenue creative directors and Hollywood screenwriters were asked to describe the average American male, they'd use adjectives such as: clueless, idiotic, helpless, befuddled and overwhelmed. Ask the same influencers to describe the average American female and you'd hear such superlatives as: bright, engaged, sensitive and multi-tasking (re: the latter, journeyman comic Darryl Salerno likes to ask, “If women are such great multi-taskers, how come they can't have sex and a headache at the same time?” His words. Not mine).

Want another insurance sector example of subliminal male bashing? Look no further than Geico's brilliant caveman campaign. How come the tagline doesn't state, “Insurance made so simple even a cavewoman could understand it”? The answer is obvious: we've been programmed to just accept the fact that men are stupid. So, ipso facto, cavewomen were smarter than cavemen.

I've been around long enough to know there are just as many ignorant women as men. But, our entertainment gurus have decided otherwise.

It doesn't bother me. But, it SHOULD bother you if you're a mom or dad of impressionable boys and young men because it's reinforcing a negative stereotype in their minds. And, conversely, girls and young women are being told they're superior to boys and, aside from procreation, really don't need them for much of anything.

Feminists might argue that men have no one to blame but themselves for the negative stereotyping. But, for every Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer and Tiger Woods, there's a Casey Anthony, Tonya Harding and the former governor of Alaska. Ignorance is gender neutral. But, the perceptions of our nation's future leaders are being shaped to believe otherwise.

Too much of anything is bad. It's high time for some responsible (and balanced) marketing and entertainment content from what Ad Age used to refer to as the 'intersection of Madison and Vine.' Let's call for a cease-fire on male-bashing.

Jul 05

Evil spirits

I perform stand-up comedy as a hobby.

Every time I sit in the green room awaiting my turn on stage, I listen as my fellow comedians struggle to maintain the fine line between the irreverent and the obnoxious. Some succeed. Some bomb. And, those that do bomb are not only greeted by boos but, even worse, by dead silence. And, trust me, the latter is far worse. Silence tells a comedian, an actor or a brand for that matter, that they’re not worth the time of day.

And, frankly, the new Spirit Airline campaign isn’t worth the time of day either except that it serves as a textbook example of how not to use humor in marketing.  In case you’ve somehow dodged the endless barrage of unsolicited spam from the low-fare discount airline, their sleazy promotions have run the gamut from scantily-clad, pole dancing ‘flight attendants’ who strut their stuff in flatbed trucks going from market to market to frat boy, promotional riffs on the latest political scandal.

For example, during the endless Anthony Weiner scandal, Spirit blasted this very unfunny e-mail:Weinerone And, when the Governator’s reckless ways with his house maid generated front-page news, Spirit jumped on the bandwagon with an ad entitled, ‘Hasta la vista to high fares!’ The text was predictably accompanied by a photo of an attractive young lady in a French Maid’s costume.

Spirit supplements these breaking news one-offs with an endless barrage of daily e-mails sporting such witty titles as: ‘The Red Light Special’ (a trashy tome that trumpets $9 one-way and $17 round-trip fares).

I have three fundamental marketing problems with the Spirit campaign. The first two are obvious:
1.)    Sophomoric humor isn’t funny (unless you’re a sophomore in high school).
2.)    Since they’re neither clever nor witty, the ads end up being nothing more than offensive and stupid. The latter may work for Godaddy.com and Howard Stern, but not for an airline.
3.)    Airlines are a very serious business. Each day they transport thousands of people to and fro in their planes. If, God forbid, something tragic should occur on a Spirit Airline, these ads will be dredged up by the media and used against them (remember how the media savaged BP with its own advertising after the oil spill?).

Reputation management is fundamentally critical because it helps build a reservoir of trust and credibility in the minds of end users. That’s why, despite endless product recalls, J&J continues to finish at, or near, the top of the Fortune and Reputation Institute lists for most admired organizations. The company spent decades making itself synonymous with trust. BP, on the other hand, changed the meaning of its initials (from British Petroleum to Beyond Petroleum) before it had built a reservoir of trust. Then, adding insult to injury, BP didn’t back up the change with quality assurance programs. Hence, when the oil hit the fan, as it were, pundits and comedians had a field day (‘i.e. Did you hear what BP stands for? Beyond Pathetic.’).

I’m not sure what the polar opposite of reputation management is, but Spirit Airlines is pioneering the craft.

Smart, insightful humor can be a powerful weapon in any organization’s marketing arsenal. And, it can work very well in serious industries too. Just look at Geico (life insurance) and Southwest (airlines). But, crass, offensive junk like the kind being served up by Spirit is akin to whistling past the graveyard. They know they’re over-stepping the boundaries of common decency in an attempt to sell tickets. What they don’t know is how the media will use these very same ads to destroy Spirit’s reputation if, and when, something goes south.

I think the new motto for Spirit Airlines should be: ‘An accident waiting to happen.’”

Jun 02

The death of an agency

Modernista just died. Rip

For those of you unfamiliar with the firm, Modernista was founded in 1999 and within a very brief period of time, became a white hot advertising agency that, at its peak, boasted 130 employees and clients such as Gap, Hummer, TIAA-Cref, Converse and Cadillac.

I remember reading and hearing all about Modernista, their daring creative and sterling reputation from clients and prospects alike.

And, then something changed in 2006. That's the year Modernista's Gary Koepke said, "We felt like we arrived." But, for Koepke & Company, arrival signaled departure because they stopped doing all the little things that had made them successful in the first place. He says Modernista lost its mojo after 2006 and simply became too comfortable.

They tried to stay abreast of change, particularly social media, but nothing worked. Koepke says the 2008 recession and client bankruptcies made managing the business tougher and tougher. Tensions grew and, somehow, they found themselves being labeled as '…that old stuff.' (Read: a traditional advertising agency).

You can scan the rest of Koepke's sad tale in the attached article, but he does pass along eight warning signs that are worth reading whether you toil for an impersonal, global holding company or a hip, Modernista-type start-up:

1.) Nobody wants to admit things are bad.
2.) Staff begins to depart for other agencies.
3.) Your eight-year-old daughter asks, 'What's wrong?' every night.
4.) Projections aren't met and overhead is tipping greater than revenue.
5.) In pitches, other agencies tell the client you're going out of business (note: I couldn't imagine a sleazier thing to say or do to another firm).
6.) When you do win the business, it's often only the smaller fish, not the big ones.
7.) You start having conversations about M&A or bank loans.
8.) You have this nagging feeling things aren't getting better and it doesn't go away.

I feel really bad for Koepke and Modernista. I can't pinpoint exactly why they failed. But, I do know why we've survived and why we're on track to post our best results in at least five years. We keep changing. We keep asking what's new and what's next. And, if we don't have the core competency to meet client needs, we strike strategic partnerships, acquire other firms or hire non-traditional talent.

Business success is all about staying one step ahead of change. It's also about NOT sipping your own Kool-Aid, reading your own press clippings or, as Koepke admits, growing too comfortable.

Modernista: 1999-2011. R.I.P.