Last week, I had the pleasure and privilege of addressing the Federation of European Publicity Exterior (FEPE) on out of home (OOH) marketing. In case you couldn’t tell from their name, FEPE is the association for outdoor advertising in Europe. It is because of my lengthy experience with Altoids, and the resulting affiliation with the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), that I found myself in Spain. I am passionate about outdoor advertising. Unlike the other mass media, I feel OOH is becoming more relevant in the 21st century, not less. And not just because of the obvious reasons, i.e. innovative technology and synergies with mobile. Below is a bit from my discussion, which I hope you find interesting. Bear in mind it was excerpted from an oral presentation. I was pointing to pictures while I spoke and I can’t include all of them here.

Along with social media, the new, new thing in outdoor advertising has been the explosion of digital technology. DOOH media spending will increase almost 60% from 2009 projections to 2013. We’ve all seen creative examples, tons of them already at this convention. Digital innovation has reinvented the medium. Yet, rather than feature more of these in my presentation, let’s look instead at some seemingly low-tech executions that, in my view, are as modern as anything out there.


Live roaches in plexi-glass!


Making the Chicago river Shamrock Shake green…

With these example we see the real power of outdoor advertising: an ages-old ability to generate ideas without QR codes, new technology or even electricity. Because of its old-fashioned pedigree, I think many of us try way too hard to prove how contemporary outdoor advertising is. We hasten to pimp the newest technology, arguing that it makes OOH competitive with all the other screens out there.

In the 70’s, digital watches were all the rage. So sleek, modern and cool, we all had to have one! And then we didn’t. We quickly rediscovered the timeless beauty of time. Now digital watches are just a curiosity. The ultimate irony: they are nostalgic!


Digital: far out and groovy!

I’m not suggesting digital formats are trite. Far from it. Its possibilities are endless and evolving. I’m just suggesting there’s something to be said for the old school as well. after all, the first sign one sees driving into Las Vegas says what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas as well as anything in the 21st century, maybe even more so.

I bracketed the above portion of my presentation with sections about signage, propaganda and popular culture. Signs comprised the very first ads on earth and will never become obsolete. I’ve shared some of these ideas on Gods of advertising before. If you are interested in my entire presentation to FEPE, please feel free to contact me.


Outdoor ads are old as man…


What’s it gonna be?

I’m working with an art director/partner on some pretty terrific projects. It’s good to be thinking and writing about clients again. More on that later…

Meantime, my partner suggested our goal be building relationships with clients, not just doing “projects” for them. Relationships, he reminded me, are longer term, healthier and just plain better.

That’s the theory anyway. And it used to be the practice. But not anymore. Not for a long time. When clients hire and fire agencies willy-nilly; those aren’t relationships they’re hook-ups or, worse, prostitution.

Which begs the question: Are we agencies “johns,” and dumb johns at that? We eagerly get into bed with each new client thinking this is “the one.” We will grow old and happy together. In order to insure that we staff up, open a regional office, promote the members of the pitch team. Ha. Within seven months the client is indifferent to us or even mad. Maybe we’ve done a campaign they don’t like. Maybe they’ve been hit on by another agency. Probably both. After nine months they put us on notice. The next quarter we’re fired. Few agencies and clients are exempt from this contempt. It’s more than merely a trend. It’s the way it is.

On the other hand, maybe we agencies are more like reluctant prostitutes; after all we are getting paid…sort of. But even then we want to be loved for our personality and willingness to commit. But the client wants it fast, cheap and AWESOME! Against our instincts, we try to accommodate. We are good girls. We don’t want to be dumped. If we fail the client will find another eager beaver willing to turn a trick.

And so the idea of projects becomes evermore desirable. Projects have a beginning, middle and end. They can be accounted. Unfortunately, it begs the question of why agencies need half their staff. Planners? What pray tell, are we planning for –to get fired? Grooming an account executive to hold a brand manager’s hand seems silly given they don’t want to fall in love. As for the rest of us, it seems the wisest course –better said, the only course- is to put as small a team as possible on the business and swing for the fences. Hit a homerun and maybe we’ll keep the account. If we’re let go we’ve got minimal overhead to “reorganize.”

As someone who grew up at a long-term idea factory, I bristle at the ‘wham, bam, thank you Ma’am’ approach but what’s a girl to do? Oh, I know: show your cleavage in social media and whip out the digital.


Adweek: Under New Management.

They still post an occasional story about ads, under the category of “Agency.” They still have that little rascal, Ad Freak, God bless him.

But mostly Adweek is no longer about advertising. According to the new man in charge, Michael Wolff, it’s all about media. In his words, the media industry is “undergoing one of the greatest examples of modern industrial transformation… This is the opportunity we have (with Adweek) to not only be great for the media business, (but also) put ourselves in the sweet spot of what we’re covering.”

And so the edgy alternative to Advertising Age has now become an online magazine primarily serving the media. That means stories about “up-fronts” and “cable contracts;” companies like Viacom and Comcast; people like Glenn Beck and Rupert Murdoch.

It also means I will no longer be reading it. And I suspect most of you won’t be either. The fact of the matter is I just don’t care about that stuff. And neither do you.

Wolff’s no idiot, however. He’s not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. He’s just putting Advertising in its place, which is somewhere in the corner, ironically where media used to be. Wolff’s as aware of the all the “death of advertising” talk as we are. And he’s acting on it. Of course I hope he’s wrong. It’s certainly possible. After all the name of the show is Mad Men not Media Men. Yet, we already know his rebuttal: Mad Men is about then. This is about now.

It’s not like Adweek never covered the media. Back when the magazine was made of paper they ran a story or two about new TV shows and rating points. But we never read them. We looked for news about agencies and ad campaigns. We wondered what Barbara Lippert had in store. My favorite items were those dealing with agency pitches, often detailed like a sporting page, with favorites and dark horses. I loved that. Many of us rifled through the pages looking (hopefully and fearfully) for coverage about our agency and our work. If something we did was written about that meant something for the scrapbooks, something to send to Mom. It also meant our stars were rising or, God forbid, falling. Either way, Adweek was a must-read, one of the first things we did upon entering our offices on Monday morning.

But like the ‘agency memo’ or TV reels and BETA, it’s now history. For advertising news, we scroll through our favorite blogs, check Tweetdeck or Facebook. Maybe some of us don’t even bother at all.

There is still the venerable Advertising Age. One assumes Wolff’s vision of Adweek brings tears of joy to the editors of AdAge. But also apprehension. Any good editor will tell you a competitive publication is good for both parties. But then that’s J-school talk and last I checked newspapers were getting thinner and thinner, with even online versions struggling in the face of social media. Most schools don’t even call it Journalism anymore, favoring terms like “Integrated Media Training.” A fitting way to end this story, eh?

From this...


...to this!

Now that I’ve been outside agency walls a short spell, I’ve had time to reflect on some things that challenged me most when it came to true integration and moving from good to great. Oddly, the following observations are seldom discussed. I’m not sure why. They’re true, more or less, for all advertising agencies. Solving for them strikes me as critical in terms of which agencies compete and win.

1. The myth of good work at all costs. Unfortunately, that simply is not possible. First of all, “good” is entirely subjective. The agency’s most successful campaign may be a dog at award shows and vice versa. In addition, as we all know, some clients are less willing to take risks with creative than others. Forcing them to drink from the well never works. You might get one “good” piece of creative but the client will most likely hold a resentment and eventually move their business elsewhere. Few agencies are flush enough to call their own shots, especially now, during times of economic instability and seismic changes in media. None of this is new. But when agencies rhapsodize about doing brilliant work and then don’t the disconnect hurts inside the agency as much as out. For example, an account that does so-so work but generates millions develops a dysfunctional personality within the agency.

2. The myth of 360 campaigns. Rare is the client that wants all its marketing from one agency. Despite our much pimped credentials to do it, we have precious few clients that want 360 marketing campaigns from us and us alone. This is a bigger deal than one might first think, impacting the people, the place and the work. For example, if an agency has a sizable client that only does work below the line, say direct marketing, catalogue and digital, then the agency has to staff accordingly. Those employees tend to be specialists, whether they like it or not. I say that because though the employees may be virtuosos at creating direct mail campaigns chances are they want to expand their skill sets, doing TVC’s for example. Because the agency has allocated them primarily for doing this work on that client, these individuals can feel pigeonholed, which frankly they are. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had my hand slapped trying to use some of these people on other projects. “They are not paid by that client. You have to look elsewhere for help.” Your staff becomes resentful and demoralized. “I thought this was an integrated shop,” one might say. “But this is all I ever work on.” In the long run nobody is happy with this arrangement. Employees complain and/or defect. If they stay their work becomes rote.

3. The myth of digital nirvana. The proverbial elephant in the room, so-called digital shops have begun to recognize that even their best and brightest people want to do something other than online campaigns. If these staffers perceive their shop to be digital-only they get antsy. This is why so many of those shops are exploring ways to build out their advertising capability. They want to make fabled 360 marketing campaigns just like everyone else, and not just because of increasing revenue streams but because their people want it, too. The creative staff craves the permanence of print and the notoriety of TV. Ask any headhunter. Despite all the talk of digital platforms killing TV, TV is precisely what many so-called digital specialists want to be making!

I’m reminded of the Dr. Seuss fable, The Sneetches, whereby the plain-bellied Sneetches (traditional creative) desperately want stars on their bellies like the star-bellied Sneetches (digital creative). Midway through the story the tables turn and, well, everyone feels slighted.

Many people, including me, have written about future creative departments containing hybrid personnel, capable of working all channels. However, we won’t get there if agencies keep holding onto old ideas about who works on what. Caste systems have always existed in agencies and now the matter is exasperated. Breaking down barriers in creative, production, and account services is the only way to true integration. And not just on our beloved, bloated agency credentials but in our hallways as well.


Where’s my Effie?

Cynical me. I thought for sure Valentine’s Day was invented by Hallmark to sell greeting cards, which would absolutely make it one of the bigger, better integrated marketing ideas ever. Not only does it have a fabulous social component –it’s “social” by definition- the target is essentially everyone: old, young, gay and straight, black and white…everyone with a pulse, or should I say heart? Synergies with restaurants, hotels, jewelers, dating websites, florists and confectioners abound. The iconography (hearts, cupid, roses, etc) is worldwide and always relevant. They own the color red. Such marketing firepower! Valentine’s Day would win the Titanium Lion at Cannes any year it was entered.

Alas, I cannot give credit to Hallmark or any other modern marketer for this lovely campaign. According to Wikipedia, the day is named after one or more early Christian martyrs, probably Saint Valentine, and was established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD.

In 1969, Pope Paul VI deleted the holiday from the Roman Calendar of Saints (not feeling the Summer of Love I guess), but Cupid’s arrow was not to be denied. Whether we like it or not (and I don’t) Valentine’s Day forces consumerism like Christmas but without segregation. Muslims, Jews and all manner of miscellaneous “others” had better not forget their significant others.

So, while I begrudgingly fight for suitable dinner reservations and order tickets to some odious Rom Com, I have to give it up to St. Valentine. A man of God, he would have made a hell of a CMO.

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