McDonald’s golden opportunity in Russia

In Russia, wearing a rainbow flag pin will land you in jail.

In Russia, two men cannot hold hands because they could be beaten to death — not necessarily by neo-Nazi skinheads but by ordinary citizens. You can’t be caught talking about “nontraditional sexual relationships” in Russia for fear of being fined up to the equivalent of $31,000.

This is the very real climate of persecution in Russia as a result of President Vladimir Putin’s sweeping — and dangerous — anti-gay propaganda law.

Good thing there isn’t anything important happening there soon, like a worldwide convergence of athletic talent in Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Olympics. It’s safe to say that some of those athletes will be gays or lesbians. I can practically guarantee that several of them will not be silent about their orientation, either — nor should they.

It’s a toxic mixture of intolerance with extremely high visibility that must be hugely unsettling for a major sponsor of the Olympics, such as Oak Brook-based McDonald’s Corp. If that weren’t enough, McDonald’s will get a reminder of this challenge right outside its headquarters tomorrow afternoon, when an LGBT rights group protests the company’s involvement in the Olympics and urges it to pull its sponsorship.

Don’t tell me it’s business as usual at the Golden Arches. There’s no way it can be.

Yet, I see an enormous opportunity for McDonald’s: Tighten the screws on the Russian government to repeal a law that, in turn, might prevent a catastrophic incident at the Olympics. In doing so, McDonald’s takes a true leadership position that extends far beyond billions of hamburgers sold.

We’re talking about an iconic brand going on the offensive and using the platform of the Olympics to cause a bullying, oppressive government to back down. It makes a worldwide statement. And I don’t mean the kind of carefully worded statement put out by its company spokesperson.

A stretch, you say? McDonald’s may be the only company in the world with the leverage to make this happen. First, it’s sponsoring Sochi to the tune of $100 million. With that kind of backing, it could be called the McOlympics. Second, let’s remember how much money McDonald’s is spending in Russia to establish and maintain its restaurants, as well as the 150 stores it’s going to build in the country over the next few years.

Dealing with rights violations head-on with Mr. Putin isn’t just a moral imperative for McDonald’s — it’s a business imperative to protect its investments, and a brand imperative to protect its corporate image at an Olympics spinning out of control.

Nobody else is ramping up the intensity of conversation. Certainly not the International Olympic Committee, which seems perfectly happy to accept statements from the Russian government that the anti-LGBT law will not affect athletes or attendees in Sochi.

Oh. Well, as long as they said they’d be good, we should believe them. Look, Russians are not going to suddenly play nice. According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center, almost 75 percent of respondents in Russia believe homosexuality should not be accepted.

It doesn’t appear likely that the Olympics would move to Vancouver, British Columbia, as a replacement host city. A U.S. boycott of the Olympics feels even less likely.

So at the end of the day, they’ll probably be in Sochi. But here again is the opportunity for McDonald’s to tell international audiences that it fully supports equality and tolerance. Loud and clear, through traditional and electronic media. It should be educational, bold and inspiring.

In other words, go big or go home.

Will the Russian government tear down ads or block electronic activity from the Olympics’ biggest sponsor and one of its country’s larger investors? Will the IOC oppose this effort (and the very spirit of the Olympics) and ignore the fact that more states and countries are legalizing gay marriage?

They might. It’s still a risk worth taking. And if it does happen, Russia and the IOC look like the bad guys, not McDonald’s.

More than ever, corporations are influencing government policies and — if some have enough of a say about it — who gets elected. But there’s another side of influence, in which the brand does something important to improve the way of life of its community beyond the product or service it manufactures and sells.

For some brands, that community is right around the corner. For McDonald’s, that community is unquestionably global.

It’s easy for brands to slap a logo on everything, issue a statement expressing support for everyone and say how they’re going to stay out of politics. But in the age of social media, when the event you are sponsoring invites deep international scrutiny, you are a part of that uncomfortable conversation whether you like it or not. It lives and grows by your audience on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and more.

Anyone can run the standard marketing playbook by issuing a company press release or reciting a mission statement that hangs in the conference room as proof of its core values.

But a global giant flexing its muscle to enact positive social change that gets talked about for years to come after the Olympics is over and its brand consequently seen in a brave new light?

I’m lovin’ it.

Original post by Dan Gershenson in Crain’s Chicago Business:

The Future Favors The Nimble Agency

Big or small, traditionally focused or digitally focused, only one kind of agency will be left standing in the future:

The nimble one.

There is a grim future for agencies that have a process that looks like so:

Writer and designer team get Creative Brief.

Writer and designer concept, concept, concept, concept, concept…

Eureka! They stumble across an idea they love. Brilliant.

They present to their Creative Director.

Revise, revise, revise, revise, revise, revise, revise, revise, revise.

Think he’ll like it now? Hopefully so.

Re-present to Creative Director.

Looks good. Except just change this, this, this, this and this.

Writer and designer change all that stuff.

Cool. Now they present it to Executive Creative Director.

Nope. Won’t fly. Start over.

Writer and designer utter 500 curse words under breath toward ECD.

Concept, concept, concept, concept.

Present again to Creative Director.

Present to ECD.

Present to account person.

Present to account person over that account person.

Revise, revise, revise, revise…doesn’t the client hate blue? We should change that.  Well, even though this is technically something the audience will never care about, we should probably put that in too. But let’s ask 3 other people to make sure. Joe sent Mary an e-mail on this to confirm and he’s waiting to hear back since she talked to that client in the initial meeting and he wasn’t there.

In the meantime, more changes.

Revise, revise, revise, revise.

Rehearse presentation to client many times over.

(Wow. And this is just to get out the door of the agency, huh? Sure as hell hope it’s stellar work by now.)

Present to client.

She pretty much likes it. Just a few changes to make and it’s good to go.

Back to the agency.

Revise, revise, revise, revise, revise.

Back to the client.

Almost there, just a few more things to tweak.

Revise, revise, revise, revise, revise, revise, revise.

Photo shoot. Who do we know? Him? Her? Them? Let’s take a look at a few different options. Better yet, let’s have 3 meetings on it before we decide.

Locations – where are we going to go based on the budget?

Meet, meet, meet, meet, meet.

Choose photographer.

Wow, so many options. I’m sure this won’t take long at all for us to settle on just one.

Color corrections. Tweak, tweak, tweak, tweak. Can we get this yellow more yellow? Can we get this red less purple and more red?

Oh, it’s not a print ad we’re talking about? A radio spot then?

Let’s listen to a bunch of demos.

Choose the talent.

Schedule the session.

Can you put a little more smile in your voice?

Edit, edit, edit, edit.

What’s that? It’s a video, you say? OK then. Edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit.

How’s the sound quality?
How’s the video quality?
Let’s go through several rounds of back and forth internally.

Who saw it? Did Jim see it? Did Lisa see it? Did Bill see it? Did Ann see it? What did she think? On the email, did you CC her and him and everyone but their dogs and cats? What did he think? I heard he liked it for the most part but had just a few tweaks. Oh crap. You know what that means.

Tweak, tweak, tweak, tweak, tweak.

Eventual client approval.

Media placement. Negotiations. Phone calls and emails fly back and forth.

One ad produced.

So how long did that take?

Two months?

Three months?

Maybe more?

This process of production doesn’t work anymore. It literally doesn’t fit with the actual living world around it. It is the comet that is going to kill certain agency dinosaurs. Some of these slow-moving, methodical brontosauruses are dead already.

The rest of us in touch with Planet Earth will find a way to speak on behalf of clients in a way that balances creativity with a more timely approach. Put another way, we are able to say a lot more messages of relevance in the time you take to generate one message. One very expensive message.

Sure, it’s going to run many times over the next several months. OK. Congratulations. It’s still one message.

Meanwhile, once the dinosaur finally presents the completed ad to the world and it gets written up in trade publications and the creative team dreams of awards and the Executive Creative Director takes a picture with the client, one simple fact will remain:

That one ad, no matter how good or how bad, will have a very limited shelf life.

People may very well like it. But it still will have a definitive expiration date that may not justify the amount of work gone into creating it. It won’t run for years. If it’s like most, it will run for months. Heck, some even run just one or two times! It is a home-run-or-strike-out proposition. And nobody hits a home run every time out. But they can hit a lot of singles, doubles and triples.

Yet, I still believe there is very much a place in the world for traditional media. There is great power and beauty in a print ad done well, a radio spot said compellingly, a TV spot that captivates our senses and a direct mail piece that delights when we open it.

But the inefficient, long and winding production process that goes into creating it will be its undoing. Its process can’t compete with the fluidity of digital media and the immediacy of what we demand from brands.

Its only hope is an agency that breaks down the internal walls of approval and can get out of its own damn way so that great work can get out the door of the agency more frequently.

We have always strived for this in agencies. But now, more than ever in our fast moving world, quality will mean the life or death of an agency. We don’t need factories that churn out crap work more frequently either because that’s not a solution. Unless your solution includes miserable creative people who are continually looking for a job.

While some agencies can spend months coming up with one grand message, I will take a walk in a city full of millions of people who expect to access a website, view a Facebook page, connect with a colleague on LinkedIn, read a blog post, watch a video, share a photo, hold a Google+ Hangout or listen to a podcast on their smartphone or tablet – within only a few seconds.

Our demand for higher quality content from brands sooner rather than later isn’t a phase or describing some select group of people. It is the way of our world.

Quality in an agency system that lets better work rise to the top without overthinking, internal politics and logjams is the only hope. That takes three T’s: Talent, Trust and Technology:

Talent: You can’t fake talent at the Creative Director level. It comes from someone who knows a great idea when they see one. They don’t let logistics and technicalities bounce that idea off the table too soon. They don’t need to show it around the agency and collect a million opinions to know if it’s great. It requires the talent to write a Creative Brief that isn’t comprised of two sentences but gives the team real guidance (without confining them by telling them exactly what to create). And it takes the talent to understand that you’re not only in the business of serving the client but representing a hard-working team back at the agency that is counting on you to present brilliantly. It takes a special person to be creative, clear and captivating. You’ve either got it or you don’t.

By the way, you need talented vendors too. Not all printers, for example, are created equal. If you go with a trade printer who can get you a too-good-to-be-true deal, you probably shouldn’t be surprised when they screw up your business card that calls for rounded corners, unique textures and fancy die cuts.

Trust: You can’t fake trust. If you have the talent in the form of the best people in the right roles, how much second guessing and back-and-forth should there really be? Or if you have talented people who also have egos the size of Mt. Rushmore, there can be a lack of trust (and humility) there too.

Technology: The first two above are hard. They’re human elements. This one is much easier. When you have project management software like Basecamp (we use this at Caliber and love it – as do our clients), you are literally putting the team on the same page. Everyone can see the latest files, discussions, timelines, etc. It’s a beautiful thing. Assuming everyone actually uses it, it virtually eliminates the “Did you send me that latest version?” question that comes so often with conventional e-mail. This and other tools like it only make internal and external agency communication easier and faster.

When talent, trust and technology are humming along, you not only eliminate unnecessary steps in a cumbersome production workflow. You have a better culture and better relationships.

It’s not a big agency thing. It’s not a small agency thing. It’s not a traditional agency thing. It’s not a digital agency thing.

It’s an intelligent agency thing.

Because whether you realize it or not, life is happening while your ad is in production.

The future favors the nimble.

The REAL Winners and Losers of Super Bowl Ads

There will be enough posts today about the winners and losers of the Super Bowl adfest. I won’t bother you with one more but instead give you something to think about in terms of the true winners and losers beyond the actual ads themselves.


Winner: Television Media and the Advertising Industry

“We don’t want to be advertised to.” I hear that a lot throughout the year and there’s certainly some truth to that. But that has nothing to do with the fact that we have social media now. People have never wanted to be advertised to. That was true when Caveman A was trying to sell a rock to Caveman B. It has always, always been about treating our audience with respect for what they need to help in their everyday lives and conveying that in a sophisticated way that compels, entertains and delights. Rather than, say, barge into their faces and say, “You’ve got to have this now, Now, NOW!”

At its best, the Super Bowl reminds us that there is still very much room for the kind of magical television advertising that excites us and gets us talking.

Think about it. Here we are, camped out around the television and some of us are actually going to get a refill on hot wings during the game because we don’t want to miss…the ads.

I know. Maybe it’s an anomaly. But obviously, what’s undeniable here is that TV advertising still matters. And while this is the day of the year where it gets the highest profile, let’s not pretend that this is the only day we pay attention or take action based on something we watched. Hard as it is to believe, we have to put down our smartphones, tablets and laptops sometime.

This doesn’t mean that TV can exist the same as it ever was and coast on the status quo. I still think far too many advertisers, including some during the Super Bowl, are missing the opportunity to leverage the eyeballs focused on the TV screen and convert them to the web. What if our TV spots drove more people to videos to see the rest of the story? Or landing pages? Or – gasp – Google Plus Hangouts? Is that so far-fetched of an idea knowing that TV can push people online extremely well in the right circumstances? No.


Loser: Every social mediaite who proclaims traditional media “dead.”

I live, breathe and work in the social media realm every day but where some find it chic to call traditional media “dead,” I give you Exhibit A: Super Bowl ads. We do ourselves a disservice when we ignore what’s in front of us, which is the potential power of television to drive business to, of all places, online. Hell, it just makes us look dumb. You’re tuning in. I’m tuning in. Everybody and their Grandmother is tuning in. And this isn’t the only day of the year we do, even if it’s less than we used to. If you’re saying that this medium still doesn’t have relevance, don’t forget to outfit yourself with a pair of blinders.

Those of us in social media should remember that TV can be an excellent tool for driving the consumer online to continue them down the sales funnel (I spoke to this changing role of TV in an earlier post). Because when the message is spectacularly motivating to the right audience at the right time and the next steps to take are clear, TV and the web can work together as effectively as peanut butter and jelly.

Do I think we are living in a world where digital media is largely unavoidable in most, if not all media plans? You bet. I’ll go one better – if you are not involved in social media, you are less of a relevant business to your audience because chances are excellent that they are utilizing at least one social media channel right now. We’ve evolved from the traditional vs. digital conversation. It’s usually not an either/or. It’s often a true integration of the two more than ever, not throwing a few TV and print ads together in a campaign and calling it “integrated.”

This doesn’t obligate us to always choose traditional media but it does obligate us on more occasions than not to at least consider it as a potential tool in the brand strategy toolbox. Nothing to me is an automatic “given” in what tactics one should choose, whether that’s Facebook or TV. But even if we don’t ultimately have a single shred of traditional media in our plans, we’ll be doing right by our clients to at least look at all our options. Calling any potentially viable ones “dead” is only hurting ourselves and the brands we’re trying to build.

How about we kickoff the first day after the Super Bowl with that approach?

Is Your Business Ready To Be A Social Business?

A new IBM study shows social media is being integrated into business processes beyond channels – to learn more about the insights, I had a fascinating conversation with Eric Lesser,Research Director of the IBM Institute of Business Value. 

Generally speaking, I don’t have to convince too many entrepreneurs that this social media thing is here to stay. By now, the conversation has largely shifted from “is this viable?” to “what should our presence on social media look like and how does this fit into the overall brand?”

Don’t look now but the conversation about social media’s about to change once again. Not merely about this or that new channel. Not about what Facebook is adding or restricting.

No, I’m talking about something deeper – the growth of social business

Social business is about integrating the technology of social media into your business practices. It involves social tools to encourage greater team collaboration, productivity, new idea generation, better customer communication, streamlined processes and more.

If this concept a leaves your company feeling a bit behind the times in its progress, don’t panic. A new study can help reveal how organizations like yours can use social approaches to create meaningful business value.

I had the opportunity to speak with Eric Lesser, Research Director of the IBM Institute of Business Value, who recently spearheaded a new study on social business.  Through surveys and in-depth interviews of nearly 1200 individuals from leading organizations, Lesser and his team uncovered powerful insights on how companies are facing the prospect of not only adding on social media channels but becoming a true social business.

Dan Gershenson: How does social business change the landscape for business?

Eric Lesser: Throughout IBM’s Institute for Business Value study, we talked to people in industries from telecom to restaurants, from business-to-business to business-to-consumer. What do they have in common? They recognize that if they’re going to truly integrate social media in their businesses, they can’t just port over the tools they use in their personal lives. They have to learn how to use social media in ways specific to their business. Take training for example. What if you were able to use social approaches to create a community of learners that tapped into new content? Rather than instruction books, what about creating an instructional video that people could comment on? What opportunities can social create to allow you to listen better to customers and vendors for great ideas?

DG: How are companies beginning to recognize its importance?

EL: Through our study we found that social business is an area garnering significant attention and investment – almost half of the companies we spoke with in the study increased their investment in 2012. Interestingly, while Marketing and PR are the top two investments of these companies, they’re not the areas with the largest jumps in expected growth. That actually belongs to the areas of Customer Service, Sales, IT and HR.

DG: Why the biggest growth in those areas?

EL: Managing the brand and perception is as crucial as ever. There’s no doubt about that. But there’s also a need to apply social media to how internal work is actually going to get accomplished. Do these companies have all the answers to that yet? No. In fact, we see that more than 2/3 of the companies we talked to are underprepared for cultural changes as a result of social business. They felt their internal cultures were not social business oriented and they aren’t working enough on the applications of social business inside and outside the organization.

They’re not sure about the endgame.

DG: What can they do to prepare better for a shift like this?

EL: The question is not merely about getting more ideas but setting up more opportunities for ideas to come from anywhere.

As companies grow, the knowledge around the organization becomes more distributed, so making connections in the most productive ways becomes increasingly important.

Customers are expecting companies to know much more about them. That means companies can’t just rely on manufacturing and product knowledge. They need to deliver customer-driven content more effectively. Don’t just provide me a manual, but provide me with experts who understand my challenges and can show me how to fix my issues on a customized level. Some companies will struggle with this but customers are expecting this kind of service in their environment. They don’t want to have difficulty spelling out a challenge or they’ll move on.

Four Social Business Trends for 2013
Here are the next big movements Lesser expects companies to make in the coming year as they adapt further to being social businesses.

#1 Innovative Listening Methods More In Demand

On one hand, Lesser found companies were using social business methods to communicate 1-on-1 but also to communicate to crowds. That puts better monitoring tools at a premium while paying attention to sentiment analysis of your organization. “Some of this is going to be reactive, such as customer service through Facebook or Twitter,” he says. “But some of this will be proactive. This involves finding influencers and mavens connecting them to the organization and embracing their networks.”

#2 Customer Communities Continue To Rise

With people having a passion for virtually everything and anything, there’s no shortage of opportunities for community building. But how do companies set up those communities?

“Communities are built by bringing together individuals with a passion for your product or service, and engaging in an ongoing dialogue with them,” Lesser says. “For example, LEGO provides members of its communities the chance to submit an idea for a product and if it’s accepted, they get a cut of the royalties.”

You don’t have to be a large corporation for this idea to take shape – how can you involve your audience in product development or reward them for feedback?


#3 Shift from Brand Management to Greater Sales/Post-Sales Service

I started to panic a little when Lesser mentioned this development – what’s that? No more branding? To my relief, branding isn’t going away anytime soon. But it’s far more than establishing a presence, as Lesser explained.

“What’s going to be big in the next 2-3 years in using leads to drive sales is, how do we make sure the experiences across our social platforms aren’t completely disjointed? How is the overall look and feel seamless? That’s one of the opportunities for a much closer CMO-CIO partnership. There seems to be a recognition of a need to work together more effectively on areas like customer data and mobile. It’s going to be harder for a CMO to be successful without a CIO and vice versa.”

#4 Greater Shared Governance of Social

Less than 1/3 of the companies Lesser and his team spoke with have a shared governance when it comes to this concept of social business. “But the ones that do recognize that it doesn’t just belong to marketing and media relations. You’ve got to have sponsorships from multiple functions within the company, from HR to legal to risk management. They’re not just reacting to potential problems, but looking for opportunities.”

“Social business has far-reaching implications throughout the organization because when you’re asking employees to be ambassadors of your brand, everyone needs to better understand what customers demand.

Social business comes from recognizing that great ideas can come from anywhere in the organization, vendors and customers if you provide enough opportunities for it to happen.”

10 Endangered Species Leaving Your Office by 2017

Dinosaurs are fun to look at in The Field Museum. It’s not actually fun to look like a dinosaur in an entrepreneurial setting.

“Oh, that’s not our company,” you scoff. Well, put down the phone in your cubicle and stop sending that fax because depending on the tools and practices you’re using, you might not be quite as progressive as you think. Especially if you witness the opinions of more than 7,000 professionals surveyed by LinkedIn as part of its “Office Endangered Species” study released yesterday.

Here’s the top 10 list of tools and cultural practices that professionals worldwide see as becoming potential relics by the year 2017:

1.    Tape recorders (79%)

2.    Fax machines (71%)

3.    The Rolodex (58%)

4.    Standard working hours (57%)

5.    Desk phones (35%)

6.    Desktop computers (34%)

7.    Formal business attire like suits, ties, pantyhose, etc. (27%)

8.    The corner office for managers/executives (21%)

9.    Cubicles (19%)

10.  USB thumb drives (17%)

The Dream Office

What would these same professionals like to see in the future?

  • Having a clone or assistant to help them through the day’s tasks (practically speaking, I’m thinking more Siri-like technology than literal clones of people)
  • A place in the office that provides natural sunlight
  • A quiet place where employees are allowed to take a nap
  • Amusingly, almost 1 in 5 people surveyed said they’d like a mute button for their co-workers, so they didn’t have to hear them talk.

With the global rise of tablets, cloud storage and smartphone usage, along with flexible work hours and social networks, it’s not surprising that we’re becoming more untethered to our desks, to our offices and to traditional business practices. I see entrepreneurs leading this charge more than ever, but it’s not limited anymore to the up-and-coming startups. The trend here is clear and has implications for future employee recruiting, particularly to the Millennial set – if you’re doing business as usual, it may be time to re-evaluate how you want to be positioned internally and externally.

It begins with asking the question – how truly essential is this tool or practice to our success? Do we really need corner offices and cubicles to appropriately establish a hierarchy or can the CEO sit next to the entry-level person? Do we really need everybody to be at their desks in order to feel connected or can some work virtually, communicate via Skype and accomplish the same goals? Does everyone really need to be there at 9am and leave at 5pm every day or can adjustments be made to accommodate special work / life balances?

I wouldn’t wait until 2017 to figure it out.