Is there such a thing as a Chicago ad person?

Lately when I’ve thought of what sort of people Advertising produces, for some reason my mind turns to clothing styles to spot this species in its native habitat. For example, you have the Creative Director, he of the thin glasses, goatee, jeans and blazer. Tends to refer to many things as “crap” and how we don’t do ads like we used to.

Kidding aside (kind of), I went below the surface and got to thinking a lot deeper in asking this question in relation to our environment: How deeply are Advertising people influenced by the city we inhabit and can the work we do be impacted as a result (good or bad)?

It’s an interesting theory. I suppose if cities took on the personas of, well, people, I think this is kind of what it might sound like if they got together for drinks to discuss this very thing. So New York, Miami, L.A. and San Francisco walk into a bar with Chicago in, well, Chicago.

New York: Hey, Chicago. Nice town ya got here. A little version of me.

Chicago: Easy there, NYC. We’ve got some things that top you too. You don’t want to start that pizza debate with me again.

Miami: Do they serve cosmopolitans at this place?

Chicago: No, Miami. They serve really great beer. It’s about time you learned what that tasted like.

New York: So you wanna talk shop here or what?

Chicago: Let’s do it.

L.A.: You know, Chicago, I just can’t figure you out.

Chicago: What do you mean?

L.A.: Well, what are you Advertising-wise? What kind of advertising people do you produce? Like, are you a creative town?

Chicago: Of course I am. Leo Burnett hung his hat here, after all.

San Fran: Yeah, it’s just hard to wrap our arms around you in a neat little succinct way. I mean, I’m a tech client haven in my corner of the map.

L.A.: I’m a whole lot of retail.

New York: You could say I’m the Granddaddy with still the most agencies anywhere so there’s always good stuff cookin’. So I never lack press coverage.

Chicago: Look, fellas. I know I’m kind of hard as an ad town to decipher sometimes. Yes, you guys get a lot of press and sometimes more than me. But if you really want to know what kind of ad people I produce, think about it this way. You can produce one of two kinds of people:

1)   The ones who complain or give up. They complain about how they don’t work on something cool. Or they just give up and use “Well, that’s the industry they’re in” as an excuse for doing shoddy work because that’s what they know the client will like. They’re safe. And boring.

2)   The ones who love being in a box and actually crave the challenge of producing something awesome when given boundaries. An ad in a trade publication? No problem. A financial client that’s full of restrictions? Bring it. Insurance? Let’s do this.

You know what? Sometimes I produce people who fall into Category #1. But I believe at my very best, I produce even more of Category #2 – Chicago produces some of the toughest Ad people around. We’re tough because we have to be.

New York: Get outta here. Tougher than New York? Ya gotta be kidding.

Chicago: Think about it, NYC. Stay with me on this. We’ve got some industries here that don’t always fit into high glamour. Like CPG. Pharma. Manufacturing. Health Care. These are not industries that are known for being particularly…well…

Miami: Sexy?

Chicago: Sure, Miami. Sexy. They can be more regimented and speak their own language. But nonetheless, they’re awfully important to the American economy, right? Somebody’s got to serve them – and in reality, not just serve them but do great work.

Miami: He’s got a point.

Chicago: It’s just that some people see great work defined by whether it gets a Gold Lions at Cannes or a Clio. No doubt that’s very creative, but I don’t believe it’s the only way you define great work.

San Francisco: Surely you’re not suggesting creativity doesn’t matter.

Chicago: Oh, hell no. If you’re not trying to be creative, you should pack it in and go do something else. What I’m saying is we need to have many different measurements of creativity beyond the “who has the most awards” measurement.

Let me give you an example. I think as a town, I’m as good as anyone when it comes to doing work within a very challenged space. For example, let’s take an industrial client needing a campaign within a trade publication. Not everyone in the world is going to see that campaign, so it doesn’t answer the cute cocktail party question, “Have I seen your work recently?”

Yet there’s a huge opportunity to stand out within the publication.

Why? Because, let’s face it – a lot of the stuff in that pub is going to dry, ordinary and matter-of-fact. Which means all the more of a chance to do some really great brand development.

Some might turn their nose up at that and think they’re above that kind of work. But in Chicago, we don’t do that. And we don’t want to be seen as that.

San Francisco: But doesn’t it frustrate you knowing that some of the industries you mentioned aren’t necessarily in a rush to embrace new directions like social media wholeheartedly?

Chicago: Sure. But they’ll get there. Some industries are slower moving than others, but as a city, I’m producing people who are gently shepherding them into it. And trust me, they’ll get there out of necessity. Take manufacturing, for example. You have some people questioning the viability of social media in upper management, but that’s not necessarily the feeling of those coming up through the ranks. They’re comfortable with these tools. So change is coming in these industries too, even if it’s a bit slower pace.

Again, we can be an “aw shucks, that’s the industry we’re dealing with” kind of town or we can seize the challenge and lead them into technologies that make sense. We can do great work in any category and we’re tough enough to do great stuff anytime.

New York: You know, Chicago, when you put it that way, I’ve got a new respect for the kind of Ad people you produce.

Chicago: Thanks, NYC. Bottom line – if you want to know what makes this town tick, it’s our ability to turn the traditionally “unglamorous” into the appealing and captivating. We’ve got the thicker skin for that kind of challenge.

Or maybe it’s due to the windchill temperatures. Probably a little of both.

What do you guys think? Is there a Chicago kind of ad person? Can the city influence the ad people working in it? Let’s hear from you.

(Special thanks to Steve Congdon, agency new business guru at Thunderclap Consulting Group for letting me re-post this guest post I did for him here)

You’ll Never Have Enough Time. Thank Goodness.

This blog post would be better if only I had more time to write it. But the window I have to write it is now. And I like that. Because it mirrors the nature of a crazy, fun and manic business we chose to be a part of. The “Hurry Up and Wait” state of advertising agencies and marketing firms is something I’ve had to deal with in every culture I’ve been a part of, including my own.

Agency people like to imagine a perfect scenario like so:

Agency creates product. Client approves product. Product goes out into the world. Everything is on time. On to the next project.

Gosh, that was a fun daydream. Now let’s see what happens in the real world.

Rounds and rounds and rounds of tweeking and honing the creative product in the eyes of the Creative Directors, Account Executives, Executive Creative Director, Head Account person, etc.

The creative product gets beaten up more than Rocky Balboa before it even goes out the door.

Then it goes to the client. Client has to take it to their boss. Product sits on boss’ desk for a while. It’s a priority, but there are even bigger priorities to attend to. Agency waits and gets antsy – “Why haven’t we heard from them?”

Hours pass. Days pass. Then…BOOM! Client gets feedback back from their boss and tells agency to change A, B and C before the end of the day.

It’s here that the measure of a creative person is taken. They’ll complain right off the bat with a “What? Now? Before what time? You’ve got to be #$@*ing kidding me with this.”

But then, they’ll settle down, realize that the impossible is actually possible, come together and come back with, lo and behold, a better product than last time.

I’ve seen it happen over and over and over again. It does no good to complain about the pattern or try to wish for a more efficient production path. Instead, we have to embrace the beast, not fight it. And realize that yes, things don’t hit our desks exactly when we’d like them to, but it also gives us an opportunity to shine in the eyes of our client once more. Many of them do realize that the time they have to give us what’s required can be somewhere between tight and insane. They’re not clueless. But they’re also looking for partners who can make them look good in the eyes of their bosses, their peers, their board. The last thing they need is a group of whiners who lecture them by saying, “We could that better if only we had more time.”

We all wish we had more time in business and in life to do the things we want to do on our terms. But the funny thing is, when we are given more boundaries, we find ways to excel within those boundaries.

I truly empathize with any creative person who has to be suddenly brilliant on the spot. It’s not ideal and there’s a great deal of pressure involved with that. I suppose that’s why I’ve always favored teams brainstorming concepts rather than forcing one person or one partnership into their corners and telling them to bring me their deliverables like I’m the king of the throne. When we can be fighting the clock together instead of individuals, we can beat the clock, create a smart solution and go with the flow as our clients need us to be.

There will never be enough time. But we have to accept that fact and consequently set the table for an environment where one writer or one designer can have the reinforcements they need to take on Father Time. This kind of efficiency is good for the individual, it’s good for the agency from a business perspective (hello, we do have to bill sometime!) and it’s good for the client.

When it comes to prioritizing what to do, my friend and colleague Rob Jager from Hedgehog Consulting looks at it this way – “There are 6 things that can be done in a day. List them out in advance and put the least important thing 6th. That way, you don’t feel so bad if you have to kick it to the next day, but make that thing #1 the following day.”

Time’s up. Gotta run.

Maybe You Don’t Need a “Tricked-Out” Office.

I’m writing this post from a Starbucks, where I just had a meeting. Tomorrow, I’m having a one-on-one at a Panera. When not at either of those, I can be seen at Caribou Coffee or Einstein Bagels.

Seriously, I should just replace my regular office address with those 4 logos.

I know it’s a cool talking point to have an office with a basketball court, foosball tables, tiki bars (I’ve had that one before) and more. But do we really need it to be creative? I’m not suggesting everything has to be steel and grey in our workspaces. Far from it. I’m just wondering if we need so much excess in order to 1) impress clients and 2) come up with good ideas.

More often than not, I find myself going to their turf, not mine. Or I find us meeting on a neutral turf, like the aforementioned coffee/bagel places. And the more I’m going to their place or a neutral place, the more I’m wondering about the importance of having an office that’s “sick,” “tricked out” or whatever else you want to describe an office beyond belief. It may not matter as much because lately, I’ve noticed business is really becoming an Away Game, not a Home Game.

All of which leads me to put some things in perspective. Seems to me that when they do come to our place, they should see the work, the work, the work. In all its splendor. First and foremost. Yet some agencies are hiding behind it in their toys.

I don’t doubt that fun items aren’t good conversation pieces either. But consider this: If you had to pick one thing they talk about later, do you want them telling their peers about the ultra cool and swanky (whatever item here) in the lobby or the cool campaign/ideas/brainstorming session the agency had with that client?

The former is nice, but the latter is killer.

It’s entirely possible I’m just in a Monday sort of mood but sometimes it feels a little too fluffy for our own good. I’m not talking about small items that show personality here and there. I’m talking about items worth thousands and thousands that are more distracting. A conference table that used to be the wing of a jet plane is cool to look at, but again, do we need it to be successful? I like seeing and sharing pictures of fun office environments as much as the next person because it’s not my money on that overhead and in the back of my mind I’m wondering – what if that money was used on something more practical that people could benefit/learn from?

The ideas we come up with are worth far more. All I’m saying is let’s make those the star more often. That’s what helps build trust. Not the 50 foot lava lamp.

Agree? Disagree? Looking forward to your thoughts either way.

6 Cultural Changes Inspired by Theo Epstein (pt. 2)

Continued from the previous post, here are 3 more changes you can consider for a stagnant culture that Theo Epstein might think about in instilling a winning Cubs culture.

4) Losing becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Essentially, if you believe you’re a bad team, you’re going to perform like one even though in reality you aren’t. Look, I don’t believe for 2 seconds that a curse has anything to do with the Cubs perpetual losing. It’s the same way in organizational cultures. Everything happens – or doesn’t happen – for a reason. If the management believes the team is as good as anybody or even better, yet the rest of the team doesn’t appear to believe it, where’s the disconnect and why is that happening? It could be lack of clarity or distant leadership. Lack of metrics that everyone understands. Lack of everyone in the organization understanding what’s valued most. Or lack of talent that just isn’t there and has been permitted to stay for far too long. And more.

“(In Boston), it wasn’t a curse. It was just the fact we hadn’t gotten the job done, and we identified several things the franchise had done historically that probably got in the way of winning a World Series, and we went about trying to eradicate those. That’ll be part of the process here.” 

Epstein talked about “a Cubs way of playing the game.” We’ve come to think of that as a bad thing. But his definition included better baseball fundamentals for better play.

5) Identify quality metrics for smarter decision-making.

In baseball terms, General Managers like Billy Beane, Epstein and others are part of a new breed that ties sabermetrics (objective statistics) to measure on-field contributions. I’m not sure that will translate into a signing of Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, but if it does happen, it won’t be merely because of home runs, RBIs and the common statistics we read about in the papers.

In a cultural situation, the more that metrics are locked away so that the rest of the team won’t know what they are, the more they’ll be unclear on vision and goals. I recently read a book entitled “Employees First, Customers Second,” in which the CEO of an Indian I.T. company opened up a company of thousands to be able to see performance reviews of one another, even management. You’d think it would cause a major company revolt, but instead, it brought the employees together to work even harder – particularly managers who had no idea they were perceived that way. Everyone knew each other’s areas for improvement. If this notion scares you, what does that really say deep down about confronting your weaknesses? We all have them.

6) A winning culture needs to be continuously fed.

Epstein clearly believes that this involves the development of a strong minor league farm system that feeds talent to the big leagues regularly for lasting results. A business may not have a minor league farm system, but it does need to grow talent and brand ambassadors by giving them the opportunity to be the face of the organization – like engaging in social media on behalf of the company, for example. And it means feeding contributors regularly with rewards that they value for their own life, not just what management thinks they should value.

The thought of cultural change busting 103 years of losing is mighty exciting. But cultural change that creates quite the dynasty of your own? That might be even more thrilling.

What kinds of things are you doing to shift a stagnant culture? Share them with us! We could all use a little push out of our comfort zone.

6 Cultural Changes Inspired by Theo Epstein (pt. 1)

When you’ve had a bad year for 103 years, what would you do to turn things around?

It’s practically incomprehensible for us to relate to a question like this because while a business can have a bad month, bad quarter or – in this economy – a bad year, we usually don’t know what it’s like to have consecutive bad decades.

It was something I couldn’t help but wonder as I was speaking at the Chicagoland Chamber about vision, brand strategy, culture, and how to keep that culture thriving. Maybe because, long before Theo Epstein ever came aboard as President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs, we’ve often heard of the need for the North Siders to instill a “culture of winning.”

“The goal is to win a World Series, but it’s about how we get there. We need to build a foundation for sustained success, including player development, for something that’s going to last. We don’t want to be the type of club that gets there and then disappears for 4 or 5 years. We want to be playing baseball every October someday.”

– Theo Epstein, Cubs President of Baseball Operations

How does one find this elusive culture of winning? Well, I think organizations searching for that may be able to learn a few things from Epstein based on his past stop and already what he’s doing here. And if you’re a Cubs fan, you should be encouraged by this too. Let me explain with 6 key observations.


1) Visions have to be clear, concrete and more specific, not broad core values nobody can understand.

What I find refreshing about Epstein is that, when he announced the search for a new manager, he let everyone know exactly who he was looking for in a candidate – one of those aspects being that the manager had to be someone with major league experience. For better or worse, that immediately ruled out hometown favorite and popular choice Ryne Sandberg.

But when you leave no doubt as to what you’re looking for in an organization as far as the kind of talent that belongs (and doesn’t belong), then you set a strong tone that people can get behind. The same holds true for your customers – you can’t be for anybody with a buck. So who are you for? And not for? Do your people get that too?


2) Locate the cancers in the environment as quickly as possible. Then remove them.

You can give someone with a poor attitude the chance to turn that attitude around (warnings, probation). But if they don’t, they should be removed before the cancer spreads.

I have seen environments where some people had become so jaded with “that’s the way it always is” and “we’ve always done it this way” and that’ll never work” statements that it permeates throughout the rest of the culture. You can’t build a winning culture with people that way and it doesn’t take many of them. And the more you make excuses for people who don’t deserve a free pass, the more others will be impacted. In relation to the Cubs, this is why Carlos Zambrano will probably never pitch at Wrigley again, unless in an opposing team’s uniform.


3) Winning cultures have to be accountable.

My colleague, friend and co-presenter Rob Jager of Hedgehog Consulting often speaks of this. Managers can speak all they want about how employees should do this or that, but if they don’t follow the same practices, the words coming out of their mouth have significantly less meaning. If someone is a nice person who doesn’t produce (and assuming they’re in the role they’re supposed to be in), they too should be removed. Mike Quade is probably a nice enough fellow, but the team’s fundamentals on defense were horrible. That points to poor management and is a big reason why Epstein wiped the slate clean by deciding, in order to have a winning environment, a change needed to be made.


In the next post, I’ll provide 3 more cultural changes you can make based on how Theo might run your organization.

What a Shoplifter Taught Me About Branding

Today’s post is brought to you by guest blogger Rob Jager of Hedgehog Consulting. Rob is an incredibly gifted management consultant and I’ve personally used his services to help channel my agency’s vision into tangible results. I’ll be co-presenting with him on how you can do the same next Thursday the 3rd at the Chicagoland Chamber at 7:45am. The event is free.

I used to work in retail. In retail, it’s no secret people steal. Sometimes it’s the employees; sometimes it’s the customer. It really doesn’t matter, they both taught me something I didn’t know before.

First, most shoplifters have a look or habits they have. Talk to any Asset or Loss Prevention department and they’ll give you a name or a description of each specific person they’re watching for. In fact, they’ll tell you that the thief behaves the same way every time.

Second, I found out that if you approach a shoplifter, greet them, ask if you can help them with anything at all, they will usually dump what they’ve taken because they know you know…and once they’re found out, they want out (the only exceptions being the absolute pros, who will lie to your face and then take some more).

So what does that have to do with branding?

Well, every business attempts to brand itself in some way of another – through logos, slogans, and other visible things. What you don’t see are the things that are internal as well. This is the part we refer to as culture. How the company behaves in varying situations. This is just as much a part of brand as any message a business puts out. When I think of shoplifters, I think of how consistent their habits are between visits to different locations and how it’s their brand. Their style. Their culture.

So I would ask you, what is your brand? Your culture? Your style? If you have employees, as many do, will they behave in as consistent a manner as you? If not, it’s time to give them some stories to help them better understand you. And that’s what a shoplifter taught me about branding.

About The Author:

Rob Jager started Hedgehog Consulting to help business owners get the tools they need to make more money. He has worked in the retail industry for 14 years and three years in the Quick Serve Restaurant industry. His experience in retail and restaurant operations taught him techniques in management, profit and loss accountability, logistics, budgeting and planning, increasing sales, creating consistency in operations, and maximizing profitability.

His accomplishments include turning a losing business into a profitable business within 1 year; a significant feat considering the loss was $1M per year.  Other accomplishments include improving work environments, fixing broken systems, assisting in leadership development, and improving overall clarity of business.

Using his MBA, Rob has both the experience and the academic knowledge to understand how to make things happen. Rob is currently working on his PhD to further his knowledge in the area of Leadership and Organizational Change.

Preventing The Negative Effects of High Employee Turnover

In today’s post, guest blogger Melonie Boone, Co-CEO and Owner of Complete Concepts Consulting (an HR consultancy focused on compliance and management) takes a look at how strong employee retention can have a positive impact on your culture and overall brand strategy. 


You may be thinking that your employees are happy and even if they do leave, it’s an employer’s market out there so I won’t really be affected, right?

If your organization is a revolving door, frequently churning employees it makes a negative impact on your reputation, current customers, prospective clients and business partners.

Your company brand goes further than your logo, company colors, and website. Your employees are your brand. Who you are and what you do is encompassed by who you employ. Moreover, the cost associated with high turnover can break the bank.

Nearly 70% of organizations report that staff turnover has a negative financial impact due to the cost of recruiting, hiring, and training a replacement employee and the overtime work of current employees that’s required until the organization can fill the vacant position.

So what can you do to retain your employees to maintain a dominant brand and minimize the costs of high turnover?

It all starts with hiring the right person.

  • Making sure the candidate is a good fit before the first day of work is critical.
    It all starts with sourcing candidates from the right place. While Monster and CareerBuilder have always been the staple go to, branch out and explore LinkedIn, niche job boards that pertain specifically to the job function you are recruiting for and don’t under estimate the power of your network. A quick email to your network could result in a referral that is a perfect match.
  • Use the interview as your opportunity to get to know the “real” candidate.
    Every time you sit down with a candidate, they put on their interview face. When the candidate with the interview face tells you everything you want to hear. They have memorized the job posting, researched good answers to common questions and smile the entire time with great eye contact. To get beyond the interview face, combine a structured interview process with behavioral based questions. Set clear company expectations and position requirements. Incorporate more than one hiring manager and don’t hesitate to have follow up interviews to clarify any concerns.
  • Don’t rush the hire and neglect conducting proper due diligence.
    We encourage companies to conduct background screenings, always check references and verify the candidates background. Use findings from this step combined with all the information obtained through the interview process to aid you in making the hiring decision.
  • Make it a great start.
    Once the position has been offered and the first day has been set, start the new hire off on the right foot. A new employee orientation can go a long way in setting the tone for your new employee.  Make them feel welcomed and a part of the team. Training from Day One helps build the foundation for a successful relationship.

So you have a great team – now, how do you keep them?

  • Make employees feel valued.  Create a culture that embraces and celebrates your employees and their accomplishments.  Train, mentor and develop your team from top down. Reinforce your employee’s value through recognition and make your organization the place your employees enjoy coming every day.
  • Provide feedback and opportunity for growth. Incorporate a performance management process that hold employees accountable, provides feedback and promote from within giving opportunity for growth.
  • Build trust and confidence in the leadership team.  Live and breathe your mission, vision and brand!  Employees have to trust their leaders and believe that they have the competence and passion to grow the business.  Inspire your employees to be the best they can be and follow that mantra in everything that you do.

It is no secret that happy employees are one of the most important components of your brand strategy.  Remember, if you recruit the best person for the job and nurture them as employees. they will stay – creating a powerful brand statement for your organization.

About the Author:

Melonie Boone MBA, MJ, PHR is Co-CEO and Owner of Complete Concepts Consulting;  a HR Consultancy specializing in Human Resources Compliance and Management for small to mid-sized businesses. With over 12 years of experience in Human Resources, Mrs. Boone has held varying positions from administrative to executive leadership. Mrs. Boone possesses advanced education in business management, human resources as well as business and employment law. She is a native of Chicago, HR enthusiast, novice runner and enjoys spending time with her family. To learn more email Mrs. Boone at mboone@completeconceptsconsulting.com.