May 25

Advertising’s early warning system

WynfordVaughn-ThomasbbAdweek is to ad agencies what radar was to the Royal Air Force in September, 1940: an early  warning system.

Adweek, and its peers, Advertising Age and The Delaney Report, never hesitate to warn agencies about badly behaving clients. Consider Adweek's April 25th column entitled, 'Is Heineken the Worst Client Ever?'

According to Adweek, nine agencies have represented the beer brand in just six years! Talk about a revolving door. And, get this, the $60 million account is once again up for review, and Publicis and Wieden are pitching it. Why are they wasting their time?

Adweek did some digging to better understand Heineken's heinous habits and cited churn in the leadership ranks (four CEOs and four CMOs since 2005). Yup. That'll do it. The new sheriff almost always boots out the incumbent, regardless of how good the team or how effective the work. That happened to us no fewer than three times in 2008 and '09. New sheriff. New agency. Sure as rain.

Now, as part of our due diligence in new business, we warily check the prospect's churn record. If it's anything like Heineken's, we run away faster than you can say pop top bottle.

Frequent agency churn not only damages the firms, it hurts the client's marketing efforts. As Ken Robinson of search consultancy Ark Advisors says of Heineken, “…how can you possibly put together a cohesive positioning when they switch agencies so often?” Amen, brother.

All of which prompts a question from this blogger: how comes PR trade journals don't provide a similar watchdog service? How come they can't (or won't) 'out' serial prospects as their advertising brethren do?

The client coverage I read in the PR trades is limited to:

– Case studies
– Personnel announcements
– Updates on the latest crisis du jour and accompanying statement (“Pigglesworth & Swine take these allegations very seriously,” said Jane Hare, VP of corporate communications)
– A fawning profile of the VP, Corporate Communications (“His peers at Toxic Chemical say Jim Electron is strategic, creative and positively unflappable; rare qualities indeed in a Fortune 500 executive.”)

PR trades could do a tremendous service to their tens of thousands of agency readers by tipping us off to a serial prospect on the prowl (akin to British radar's alerting the R.A.F. of yet another Luftwaffe sortie).

Radar saved Britain. The ad trades are aiding ad agencies. So, how come the PR journals aren't stepping up to the plate? If they did, I'd be the first to step forward, quote Churchill and proclaim, “This was their finest hour.”

May 02

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Or was it?

If two leading trade journals are any indication, the advertising industry is suffering from a Mood-swings1 severe case of manic depression.

On the one hand, there's The Delaney Report (TDR), which humbly bills itself as 'the international newsletter for marketing, advertising and media executives'. TDR just ran a lead story entitled, 'We'll Take It from Here.' The text provides a sobering report about inroads being made across the board by public relations. “No longer is it uncommon to have a PR agency compete for a client's services (PR, digital, advertising and direct) versus a traditional advertising agency.” TDR says, “PR is now in the sweet spot of a company's marketing plans.” Nice. Very nice.

Unfortunately, though, TDR then dives deep into PR's gains in social media and corroborates its thinking with observations from the heads of three PR holding companies: Harris Diamond of Weber, Gary Stockman of Porter and Ken Luce of H&K. Now, I could be wrong, but I'll bet an annual subscription to TDR (a damned pricey proposition, BTW), that none of these three, old white guys personally blogs, tweets, posts comments, podcasts or does anything else that would remotely resembles engaging in social media. Asking these three for their views on social media is akin to asking a couch potato what it's like to compete in a 230-mile cycling race. “Tough, dude. Very tough.” C'mon TDR, show some journalistic chops, dig a little deeper and interview PR executives who actually walk the talk.

And, now, for something completely different, take a gander at another ad industry trade: Michael Wolff's supercharged revamp of AdWeek, which calls itself 'The Voice of Media.' Methinks this particular voice suffers from laryngitis.

How else to explain its love fest with all things advertising? You'd never know traditional advertising is staggering like some drunken sailor on shore leave. Or, that other disciplines such as PR and interactive are stealing away market share faster than you can say land grab.

Instead, AdWeek's pages are an unapologetic homage to the 30-second TV spot (ugh) and mainstream TV advertising in general (Yuck. What's become of one-on-one marketing and engaging in a conversation with customers?). There are even photographic retrospectives of Doyle Dane Bernbach's and McCann-Erickson's offices from the halcyon days of the 1960s (should PR Week retaliate with a photo essay of, say, the Lobsenz-Stevens offices of the mid-1980s featuring an adolescent wunderkind named Edward Aloysius Moed?).

Like just about everything else, I suspect the truth about advertising's massive struggle to reinvent itself lies somewhere in-between TDR's doom-and-gloom report and AdWeek’s sunshine-and-roses tome.

I'd suggest readers view the two the way I do The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and Fox News and MSNBC, respectively (absorb the extreme POVS of each, realizing the truth lies somewhere in the midst of the murkiness).

In the meantime, though, a quick note to the big agency PR guys: I'm happy to issue an apology if you fellas actually do engage in social media.

Aug 31

Try keeping them down on the farm after this

A recent Gallup survey finds most Americans think more highly of farmers than they do public Hollandtown -Holland-Farm -Corn-Harvest_00a relations people.

Now, I'm OK with a tinker, a tailor, a soldier or a spy finishing ahead of a PR executive in these annual rankings, but a farmer? Are you telling me Americans think more highly of someone who has just finished plowing the back 40 than a publicist who knows Hollywood's 40 hottest party spots? Say it ain't so.

The findings actually heartened a few AdWeek readers since advertising and PR rose a few points year-to-year. That's akin to a BP employee pumping his fist in the air because a few less Gulf pelicans died in August than July. C'mon.

I, for one, am a tad disappointed that Americans think more highly of Mr. Green Jeans than they do of Messrs. Burson, Golin and Edelman. How far has PR fallen if American Gothic trumps American Party Planner? (That would be a great name for a new, TV reality show.)

The Gallup findings are just the latest confirmation that our industry's image is being defined by Hollywood. For every 'seat at the table' earned, it seems to me the average American sees us wallowing ever further in the mud. Now, a certain licensing type who posts regularly on Repman, believes an industry's image and reputation really doesn't matter. I couldn't disagree more. Until, and unless, we do a better job of educating Americans about the serious, senior counseling being provided by top public relations officers, the more likely we are to be stuck recruiting talent from the bottom of the gene pool.

It's a serious problem that, for reasons known best to them, remains unaddressed by our various trade journals and industry associations. It's akin to fiddling while Rome burns. Or, in this case, reaping what Hollywood has sown.

May 26

When it comes to hard-hitting, investigative reporting, the ad trades have no peer

May 26
love reading Advertising Age and Adweek. They not only tell me the latest,
greatest thinking in the 'other' marketing disciplines, but they aren't afraid
take off the gloves and slam inappropriate behavior by client and agency alike.

current Ad Age provides a great example. In a front page article, Ad Age goes
behind the scenes to report on Chevy's reprehensible treatment of their
erstwhile agency of record Publicis. Readers learn about incoming CMO Joel
Ewanick's refusal to meet or even speak with the account managers from
Publicis. He didn't even return their repeated e-mails and voice mails.
Instead, he shifted the entire Chevy brand's $600 million account to his good
friend, Jeff Goodby of Goodby, Silverstein. That's the sort of atrocious
client-side behavior that deserves to be outed.

Chevy saga is one of many examples of the ad trades not being afraid to tackle
misbehaving clients. Earlier this year, Ad Age warned its agency readers of
'serial' clients such as 1-800-FLOWERS, Quiznos and BMW who chew up and spit
out agencies every few months.

PR trades are just the opposite. They'll whack agencies for underperforming or
not delivering on anticipated results but seldom, if ever, go after poor client
behavior. As an example, PR Week once gave us a 'thumbs down' because the
editor at the time said I hadn't been as vocal an advocate for independent
agencies as the publication's editorial staff had expected. So, they publicly
slammed my agency for an apparent personal shortcoming.

Holmes Report, Bulldog and others are quick to jump on agency account wins and
losses (and love to send an e-mail to the effect, 'Hey, we just heard ABC
Widgets is putting your account up for review. Any comment?'). But, their
heart-warming profiles of CMOs, VPs of corporate communications and PR
directors read like 'The Lives of the Saints.'

high time PR industry trades began publishing in-depth, investigative pieces
like the Ad Age/Chevy piece. I'm not sure why there's such a reluctance to do
so, but it results in readers only getting half of what's really happening. So,
note to Steve, Paul and others: provide a real service to your agency readers
and let us know about the Joel Ewanek's and the 1-800-FLOWERS of PR. Trust me,
there are enough horror stories to fill multiple editions. 

Apr 08

Could you imagine Edelman, Weber, Burson and others collaborating to make each other better?

April 8 I was fascinated to read about the Society of Digital Agencies in a recent Adweek. Founded by BBH, the ''society' is a collection of 30 worldwide 'competitors' who get together to talk about how they could collaborate and innovate together in an effort to not only reinvent the future but, as Edward Boches, chief creative officer of Mullen put it, 'blow up the now.'

Some of the proposed outcomes of this remarkable collaboration include:

– funding an organization the group called a cloud. Instead of working for one digital agency, a person would work for the cloud, take on assignments from the 30 agencies and capture collective best practices that would, in turn, be fed back to the group.
– adopt a start-up in exchange for equity so the group could agree on best practices for how digital can establish, launch and build a brand.
– there were lots of other ideas, but no other game-changers, according to Boches.

We helped create something similar to the society by partnering with like-minded midsized PR firms such as CRT/Tanaka, PSB and Dix & Eaton. We call it the Lumin Collaborative. It's been in place for five or so years and has evolved into an internal management development program in which we share best practices for everything from social media and crisis to sales and IR. I don't think it's revolutionized anyone's go-to-market strategy, but it has made us better firms.

A PR version of the Society of Digital Agencies is exactly what our industry needs right now. But, it will never happen because there's far too much internecine warfare with agencies poaching talent and clients from one another. The big PR firms in particular are so driven to generate profits for their holding company owners that the mere suggestion of collaborating with another competitor would likely make a WPP-owned CEO gag.

And, that's a shame. Because while the PR industry collectively fiddles, Rome burns. And, while Rome burns, the digital agencies are not only helping one another to extinguish the flames but also how to build something new and even better.

For all of his faults, Jack O'Dwyer has been spot-on about one observation: the PR industry lacks leadership. We don't have a BBH or Mullen who is willing to lead by example, call together our best minds and figure out, as Boches says, how to reinvent the future and blow up the now. Since our individual leaders won't do it, maybe The Council of PR Firms could step into the breach? Just a thought, Kathy.

Mar 08

Telling it like it is

March 8 The legendary ABC sportscaster Howard Cosell was famous for an oft-repeated, self-congratulatory description of his coverage. 'I'm just telling like it is,' he'd brag. And, he did just that.

Cosell's signature line comes to mind each week as I scour the various advertising and PR trade publications for the latest news, trends and happenings. As a Cosell devotee, I gravitate toward those media I believe are actually telling it like it is.

Advertising Age is the best in the business when it comes to balanced reporting. Their journalists aren't afraid of shining a glaring spotlight on the industry's good, bad and ugly. In the past few issues alone, they've outed serial marketers such as 1-800-Flowers and Chipotle while positively skewering DDB for clinging to an outdated business model that hasn't kept pace with the times. I admire the fact that Ad Age doesn't mince words. I trust the editorial content.

Adweek has done the best job of reporting the murkiness that is marketing communications in 2010. They've repeatedly covered the rise of PR, decline of traditional advertising and free-for-all melee every type of agency is embroiled in as we grapple for 'owning the idea' and the lion's share of the client's budget. Adweek even named Edelman as its PR agency of the year. That's never happened before (and is an awesome thing for Edelman in particular and PR in general).

PR Week's new approach is a vast improvement. The editorial dives deep into the world of corporate and marketing communications, and really tells me what's keeping my clients and prospects up at night. They've also started to attack shoddy corporate campaigns such as Ann Taylor. But, unlike its advertising brethren, PR Week is loathe to really take off the gloves. Their cover story profiles remind me of my old Catholic school days spent reading 'The Lives of the Saints.' PR Week also overlooks what's new in advertising and digital, which is unfortunate. I'd love a sole source that focuses on my profession, but tells me what I need to know about sister disciplines.

That said, PR Week has no competitors in our industry. Some, like PR News, fill a nice niche with their 'how to' content. Others, like Bulldog Reporter, add lots of valuable insight through webinars. I also turn to Bulldog for my daily news brief and a snapshot of what other PR bloggers are writing.

Public relations deserves a go-to journal that mixes the hard-hitting, damn the torpedoes approach of Ad Age and the diversity of Adweek. It's time our industry had its own Howard Cosell that tells it like it is.

Feb 02

Everyday products to everyday people in not so everyday ways

February 2 I’m always fascinated to see how organizations, large and small, attempt to differentiate themselves while delivering on a brand promise. As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, I once worked for an integrated agency whose tagline was: ‘Sales overnight and image over time.’ Sadly, the firm couldn’t deliver on either and has subsequently gone the way of all flesh. Richmond, Va. based Martin Agency, however, is the polar opposite of my erstwhile alma mater.

Adweek just named Martin its U.S. agency of the year. In addition to growing by 12 percent and winning such big accounts such as Pizza Hut and Microsoft, Martin won an amazing 14 of the 18 competitive reviews in which it competed. Wow.

Martin does an extraordinarily good job of differentiating itself and delivering on its brand promise in simple, direct words. Mike Hughes, the agency’s creative director, says his firm fosters work that, ‘sells everyday products to everyday people in not so everyday ways.’ Is that sweet, or what?

I hate it when businesspeople use the word ‘elegant’ to describe their product or service, but that line is, quite simply, elegant. And simple. It tells me exactly who the agency targets (brands such as Pizza Hut). It tells me which target audience they know best (the everyday people who buy products from Wal-Mart and Expedia). And, critically, it tells me that Martin executes in unexpected ways (and that’s the brand promise).

Too many professional services sector firms try too hard to say too much in their taglines and positioning statements. Most end up saying exactly the same thing in more or less the same unintelligible mishmash of words. So, when a Martin comes along with a crisp, compelling statement that it actually delivers on, well, that calls for an old-fashioned shout out.

Feb 12

Another reason why advertising is Yin to PR’s Yang

Nina DiSesa, chairman of McCann Erickson, has written a new book entitled, ‘Seducing the boys club.’Boysclub
Summarized in a recent Adweek column, DiSesa’s book makes the point that advertising, like most industries, is still dominated by a boys club mentality. Women, says DiSesa, need to use the arts of seduction and manipulation ‘…to earn men’s affection and even their respect…’

Many industries may, indeed, still have the glass ceiling DiSesa complains about. But, PR isn’t one of them. Today, PR has many powerful women running agencies of all size. They range from Marcia Silverman and Helen Ostrowski at Ogilvy and Porter Novelli, respectively, to Margi Booth and Marina Maher at the midsized agency level. And god knows how many gifted female PR solo practitioners and small agency owners are out there.

I’m not sure exactly why women have done so well in PR, but it’s probably a combination of people skills, being more consensus oriented and a host of other attributes.

Unlike the ossified business model that’s hampering advertising’s ability to adapt to our quicksilver Web 2.0 world, public relations provides a level playing field for men and women. It’s one of many reasons why PR is growing in importance while the S.S. Advertising continues taking on water and listing to port.