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From this…
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To this…

I first wrote this draft while I was between jobs, reflecting on some things that had challenged me most when it came to true integration and moving our agency from good to great. Revisiting them now, the following observations are still seldom discussed, let alone acted upon. 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. Let me know what you think.

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 good revenue fosters 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 mostly hybrid personnel, capable of working in 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. Breaking down barriers in creative, production, and media is the only way to establish true integration. And not just for our beloved, bloated agency credentials but in our cliquey hallways as well.

“Say hello to my little paint chips!”
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I really dig this tumblr blog by graphic designer Roxy Radulescu, featuring stills from films and their corresponding color palettes. It’s a creative idea that seemingly has everything. Not only is moviesincolor inspiring from an aesthetic point of view but the concept emanates directly from popular culture so it’ll get talked about and shared.

And not just by movie buffs and art directors. There’s potential utility here as well. I totally see homeowners and designers being inspired by the irresistible source material of their favorite movies. I mean who wouldn’t want a man cave designed around the colors of Scarface or Goodfellas? For chicks, how adorkable to have your bedroom done up a la Moonrise Kingdom?

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The possibilities are endless. As are the applications. The only thing missing, frankly, is the big time paint advertiser. Not long ago I worked on the product launch for Valspar paint. We did some pretty cool stuff for them in the digital space. Moviesincolor would have fit perfectly.

Judging from her other blog (RoxyMakesThings), moviesincolor is just one of many concepts percolating in this young designer’s head. Since moving to LA from the “corn field’s of Illinois” Roxy, in her own words, “has managed to be a part of a handful of L.A. bands, work on videos, hold several graphic design jobs, sell my prints, and help friends bring their projects to life.”

Nicely done, Roxy. Here’s hoping moviesincolor brings you some well-deserved attention and many more chances to shine.

Shout out to The Denver Egoist for discovering Roxy’s boss tumblr.

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.


Think he’s too old to create?

Derek Walker, who is “the janitor, secretary and mailroom person for his tiny agency, brown and browner advertising based in Columbia, S.C.,” wrote an entertaining essay this week in AdAge entitled, Ad Agency Dinosaurs Are Not Extinct; We Are Adapting.

Being four decades and change myself, I can appreciate Derek’s take on the Logan’s Run mentality permeating our business. (In the movie everyone turning 30 is killed to preserve society. Or some shit. I forget the details.) Derek paints a picture whereby a “digital asteroid” supposedly kills off all the oldsters in Adland, leaving just twenty-something’s in control. I say ‘supposedly’ because Derek refutes that perception. To the under-thirty, who claim digital superiority, he writes:

“You just can’t see it now. You misjudge how deep our talents and abilities run. You’re too busy laughing and ridiculing us. But understand — please take a moment to grasp — that for my fellow dinosaurs and myself this digital age is no killer asteroid. It is like a new hunting ground has opened up. And the prey is so unaware of how dangerous we are. They don’t even run away anymore. Digital has not destroyed us. It has exposed a whole new hunting ground.”

Like I said, it’s a fun piece. And it’s about time someone wrote it. Save for one or two brave rogues (God bless Bob Greenberg and yes, God bless George Parker), most ad industry folks really do obsess over the topic. Call it Youth in Advertising.

Or, better yet, call it bullshit. This idea that only kids understand –really get- digital is just fucking lame. Look at Hollywood…from behind the cameras. Since the beginning, rich, old fucks have been making films for punk-ass kids and the kids eat it up. Yet, only the actors belong in their peer group. Chances are the creators are 50 plus. No one calls James Cameron a dinosaur. He seems to get the technology thing. And putting aside Sanctum, he knows how to tell a story. Something too many kids in Adland can’t do, or even more unnervingly, won’t.

So, why is ageism so rampant in advertising? My theory: we’ve coveted the 18 to 34 demographic for so long we’ve subconsciously accepted them as our superiors. I myself have romanced the child-like wonder of creation, gleefully calling the creative department Romper Room. But staying in touch with your inner child does not mean you have to be one. They are not our superiors. In fact, in many cases they are vastly inferior. Consider the following:

People under 30 get Asian tattoos on their arms and think it makes them look badass. People under 30 think paying money to see dopes spin records is a concert. People under 30 pay money to see dopes spin records. People under 30 grow beards. Inexplicably. People under 30 make fun of ironic tee shirts yet they wear them anyway. People under 30 think making fun of shit they do makes doing it less stupid. Like wearing ironic tee shirts. Like growing beards. Like getting Asian letters tattooed on their arms. They think comic books are books. They think video games are important. They think that they think. And yes, these same people think they know how to make creative better than we do.


Chinese for douchebag

Well, on behalf of every creative director old enough to remember the Avid (let alone cutting film with a blade), I say Bravo Derek Walker. 40 isn’t the new 30. It just might be better. Um, except for having to get a colonoscopy. That sucks.

Finally, I know people under 30 like to hate anonymously (Man, do I ever), so have at it, boys and girls! Next post back to acting my age. That means less cussing and I can’t use the word “badass.”


I want to be like you! Me too!

I remember when companies (ad agencies among them) used to frown on their employees using work hours to “play” on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. Cursory emails were sent out regularly reminding staff of their obligations to the company. HR constantly admonished workers about rules and regulations, both inside the company and out. Disciplinary actions were often implied. If employees saw fit to dawdle on line they risked being let go. Given the very recent history of social media this is not ancient history. We’re talking one or two years ago. In many cases one or two months.

But the times they are a changing. Now corporations (especially ad agencies) are scrambling for competency in the very same social media platforms they used to shun. Classes are being offered. Intensive and expensive classes like Hyper Island, which I recently attended. As headlines about Facebook and Twitter dominate the media, senior managers everywhere are scrambling to get with the program as opposed to get rid of it. We are putting “digital at the core.” We are “getting social.” The great, wonderful irony is that the twenty-somethings who grew up with this stuff are now the ones being looked to for driving company growth. The hipster CEO has replaced the once prevalent stereotype of the geeky IT guy. Remember those hilarious SNL skits? Not so funny anymore.

Or is it? The ongoing frenetic transformation reminds me of that Doctor Seuss story where the Sneetches keep placing stars on their bellies and then removing them, based on the fear of being deemed out of place, out of touch and just plain uncool. In real life the moral is not so ambiguous: the star-bellied Sneetches are cool. The rest of us can only line up to “follow” them and be their “friends.”

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