OLD+DOG
Good boy!

Sigh. One of the tough things about working at a relatively young agency with a B2B/technology pedigree is the persistent opinion that such a group is not capable of creating big ideas at the brand level. It has been a fairly high hurdle in our quest for new business. Recently we did not make the cut with a client we coveted because they felt we were experts in a different part of the “funnel.”

We are that… but we are so much more. My company is filled with expert thinkers and creators from the general side who’ve migrated into B2B precisely because we know businesses (big and small) need and want to communicate and sell to each other as human beings. Our mission is not only accommodating them, by creating “humanly relevant” work, but to excel at it.

Once the big idea is hatched we know how to deliver campaigns up and down the funnel, including digital and demand gen. I think that makes us, and other like-minded agencies, perfectly poised to address the needs of any and all comers in the modern world.

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Thar she blows…

Like many of you reading this, and certainly the majority of my colleagues, I was trained to find the “organizing principle” or “creative business idea” for each and every entity clamoring for one. Not only is our process for doing so honed in best practices I believe it to be as good as any I’ve ever divined upon. Most who experience it come away with the same opinion.

If only we are given the chance.

I “grew up” at Leo Burnett as well as worked at DDB and Havas. In my long career I’ve been a part of creating countless ‘big’ ideas for many clients, including Altoids, Heinz, McDonalds and Anheuser Busch, to name a few. I had two spots run on the Superbowl. Won four Lions at Cannes, two of them Gold. I learned from the best. For my second act I began developing campaigns for ecommerce, software manufacturers, electronics and data driven organizations. In fact, I helped Leo Burnett develop its B2B/Technology capability, co-founding an agency within that venerable agency, called LBWorks.

At gyro, many clients appreciate our hybrid approach and other agencies are definitely on to it. They know the future is more about software and data than, say, selling canned peaches on television. That is one reason why holding companies have been buying and merging with digital agencies, social media specialists and, yes, hybrid shops like ours. But teaching old dogs new tricks is tough. Holding company agencies hold on to old ideas.

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Be careful what you wish for…

Though few big agencies will admit it, even today they struggle. Caste systems form internally, struggling for ownership of the client relationship as well as where the ideas come from. Sometimes even what those ideas look like are a puzzle. I’ve seen it. And so have many of you.

My agency began in the new economy. Many of us acclimated to this new way of thinking along with it. The only old idea I/we hold onto is that the big idea is paramount. That we have a history of executing tactics in tricky spaces should be seen as a bonus.

Time will tell, right? But it can be frustrating when you fervently believe, as I do, that now is our time!

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Just add hot water…

Time for a true and funny story and, as it happens, the learning of one my new favorite phrases: Chocolate Teapot. What the hell is a chocolate teapot you ask? I’ll get to that. But first the story…

Partly because of my agency’s history and also our Bay Area location, at gyro we handle a lot of technology clients. On our roster we have some of the biggest tech firms in the world and just as many small. All of them are dear to us. The big ones keep us honest. The small ones keep us sharp. Or is it the other way around? Suffice to say, we are fortunate for having all of them.

Like any agency, when a RFI (Request for Information) and/or RFP (Request for Proposal) comes over the transom we quickly assemble the management team to see if the company would be a good fit –for both parties. Like any agency, we are reluctant to pass on new business. It happens. But usually we at least opt to meet the prospect.

A while back a query arrived from the new CMO of a technology company based in New Zealand. The fellow was planning on expanding operations in the US and was looking for an agency to help him to it. Without naming names, his company did have credibility as a going concern in its country of origin. The business model intrigued us. We scheduled a meeting.

So the guy comes in. He’s a nice enough person and the senior members of the agency carved out two hours for credentials and conversation. We had coffee service and bagels and everybody was up for the meeting. After going through our “creds” we got into the man’s business, talked strategy and outlined various scenarios we thought might be of interest to him. A spirited and fun discussion followed.

Somewhere along the way the man uttered the expression “chocolate teapot” as in ‘the website was as useful as a chocolate teapot.’ I’d never heard the expression and neither had my colleagues. We all appreciated the poetry of it. Pour hot water into a chocolate teapot. Useless!

Two hours go by and the man is completely engaged –a good thing- so we all silently agreed to go over our allotted time. About three hours in our Managing Director steered the conversation to the sensitive topic of budget. We rightly assumed we had a willing prospect and besides, at that point, what else are we going to discuss?

This charming, bespectacled New Zealander replied, “I have five or six thousand dollars to play with.”

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You should have seen our faces. Our smiles looked like they had been carved out by a plastic surgeon. Not to be crass but if one added up the salaries in the room and multiplied them by three hours we’d already eclipsed that number. With politeness we resolutely ended our meeting.

Afterward, one of us joked: “Well, that was about as useful as a chocolate teapot.” Though thankfully seldom used, the phrase became part of our vocabulary. Which, I guess, is the icing on the teapot.

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Like a Cat 5 in NY…

I’m writing this on a malfunctioning computer attached to a malfunctioning human being on the long flight to San Francisco from New York. Regarding my computer: Upon pulling a wad of printouts off a table in the “war room” my laptop fell to the hard, wooden floor. I thought it had survived but now I’m not so sure. All my web pages keep opening up in extreme grandpa close-up. And while this does make my tired eyes happy it is also causing pandemonium on my desktop. I highlight this banal fact primarily to segue into my postmortem post on my pitch in NY, or PMPMP.

Quite a week. Or was it two? Without naming the client, three of gyro’s offices (including mine in San Francisco) participated in a whirlwind global pitch in New York. Hardly my first rodeo but by any standard this pitch was a doozy, replete with all-nighters and lost weekends on both coasts -pretty much everything you’d expect from just such an activity.

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“I’ll kick your ass for putting down my work!”

Except, remarkably, for fighting. Given how many sleep-deprived Type-A’s were involved I’d have expected more clashing and scheming. I’m not saying we were saints but I’ve seen these pressure cookers go off like dynamite in a microwave. Didn’t happen. Not to be a homer, but maybe there is something to this “Uno” culture we talk about at gyro.

Cut to Friday, when we delivered a big, careening hurricane of people and ideas. Prior to that, the pressure had been building all week and as the first bands rippled through our offices the energy became palpable: people running around, printing docs, yelling into phones. Then when the client finally came off that elevator: total quiet. In the eye now. Hush. The adrenaline crackling like electricity… kaboom! 90 minutes of full-on energy. The pitch.

And then, just like that, it’s over…

A bit later, sitting in the cab to JFK, I find myself feeling depressed. Not because we did a bad job. Frankly, I think we killed it. So why? Did I miss the crazy camaraderie? The caffeinated late night writing sessions? The crap take-out? My colleagues?

That’s part of it. One can’t help but develop a corps d’esprit. But there’s also a strange sadness that isn’t so easy to describe. My business partner calls it “post pitch depression.” It’s a perfect name for it. After all, we’d gone through a protracted labor and given birth to three ideas (triplets!) in front of parents who may or may not even want them!! Intense!!!

Understandably, I am spent and a little shell-shocked. I don’t drink alcohol anymore but I most certainly would if I could.

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She liked her captors, too.

A pitch is a force of nature. For all of the stress and pain it causes, they also create a Stockholm Syndrome among the participants (me anyway).

I don’t want it to end even though I desperately want it to end. I love my teammates even though I want to kill them. Weird shit like that. Post pitch depression. I’ll get over it. And there will always be another.

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I like to think I’m a good writer. I like to think I’m a good presenter. Alas, I still haven’t figured out how to sell a client a piece of work they do not want to do. Has anyone… really? Precious few clients are predisposed to do breakthrough work. For most, advertising (regardless of platform) is just a line item. An ever-smaller box to be checked. That these clients don’t behave more bullishly or even see the virtue of truly creative marketing is their part of the problem.

But what is my part? I believe in options. I like to show clients several campaigns for any given assignment. Of these we of course make a recommendation. Sometimes they go with it. Many times they don’t. We still consider it a victory (for both sides) if a client gloms on to one of the other campaigns. If none of them are runts then we have nothing to worry about. Right? Wrong?

Either way, that’s been my policy. But I do wonder. Should we/I have pressed harder for our recommendation? Certainly my creative team would want as much. Yet, if a client desires a hamburger you can sell the steak all you want the client will only get frustrated and maybe even to the point where they balk at the goddamn hamburger. Then what have we got? That’s right: a pissed off client and no sale.

south-park-chef

So, we ask: What do you want on your burger?

Yet, when I look back at some of these outcomes I second-guess what might have been had we gotten our way. In order for an agency –any agency- to get to the next level it has to demonstrate extraordinary creative and have at least one iconic campaign to its name. Iconic work rarely comes from compromise or committee. So, I wrestle with the vogue notion of collaboration. Tissue sessions are practical as they vest client participants in the eventual outcome but they also corrupt the outcome, playing to a common denominator.

We all know this but what’s a girl to do? If we force a piece of work down a client’s throat they will most likely spit it back out and usually in our face. Produced ideas –bad, good or great- often don’t reveal themselves in the first weeks of communications, let alone a creative presentation. If a CEO questions the CMO about newly approved work it rarely ends well for all parties, including the agency. Therefore, the CMO is risk averse. Questions turn to concerns, which quickly become issues and then the kill switch is pulled. Second chances are rare. Therefore, doing work that instantly appeals to the many tends to be the safest bet. Rare is the CMO who stays fast with a seemingly risky bet, or makes one in the first place.

Do not assume strategy plays a decisive role in choosing creative. Filet and hamburger are on strategy for meat dishes. Alas, hamburger is a crowd pleaser. Adding to that, it is faster and cheaper.

I’ve worked at enough places to know there are plenty of creative chefs in the kitchen. Dissing agencies for dishing out burgers is easy but perhaps unfair. Not when precious few customers appreciate the cuisine.

It’s maddening. What I can control is putting out a good menu and pitching the top items to the best of my ability. After that I can use all the help I can get. And divine intervention from the Gods of Advertising.

cannes-lions-2014
Are you ready for some ads!

Now that the Superbowl is over (one can argue it was over after 12 seconds), Adland has already begun planning for the Mongolian Cluster F**k that is Cannes. Festival officials have started naming its 2014 jury presidents. The list contains the usual high profile suspects, a collection of CEO’s and Chief Creative Officers from the world’s largest holding company agencies: David Sable (Y&R), Susan Credle (Leo Burnett) and Amir Kassaei (DDB).

Obvious, elitist and conspicuous… Like a surgically enhanced, rich socialite traipsing along the Croisette, Cannes has always been top heavy. I’ve been to my share so I know of what I speak. Of course, by comparison, I was but a sand fly caught upon the sticky, oily boob of any one these big shots. But so what? I was in the South of France. Whether one is A-list or D-list the pink rose is the same.

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“Wanna go look at some ads?”

Over the years, I’ve attended a bunch of these fetes and I’d do so again, if invited. Which I won’t be. My whistle-blowing hijinks at the Dubai Lynx a while back probably ended those dreams. More on that here.

Or did it? The fellow selected as head juror of film (still the penultimate category at Cannes, Cyber Titanium be damned!), only last year called out the festival (see above linked post) for rampant corruption at the highest levels. And yet there he is. Back for more.

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“How much for ze bronze?”

More what, I wonder? Methinks it has a lot to do with prestige and big agency politics. You gotta represent! That, and spend another lost week with one’s peers in the French Mediterranean!

For the record, I’ve actually won Gold at Cannes. And ze bronze. Corruption aside, it’s not an easy thing to do. I’ve also given speeches there. Made presentations. Met all manner of marketing legends. Lee Clow. Steve Zuckerberg. One time I literally bumped into Nike’s Phil Knight while jogging! I even had a chance to visit the street address where my grandmother lived after World War II. Goes without saying, it’s a beautiful place. Even when full of people like us.

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