Are Ad People Serious With Appearing This Serious?

An ad agency in San Francisco recently redesigned their site and I enjoyed it, except for the fact that all 33 members of their team for the most part were not smiling, laughing or even mustering a smirk. At all. Many weren’t even looking into the camera.

Are you serious with being this serious?

This is an industry that, at its best, can be a blast. We get to come up with creative ideas and unique strategies for a decent living. We joke, we laugh, we usually find ways to have a beer or two at the end of the day. We don’t have to often wear suits and ties. Many of us can even show up in a t-shirt and flip-flops, for crying out loud.

If you think this is just about how someone takes a photo, remember that impressions mean something. Especially the first ones.

Agency sites are opportunities to show personalities. Showing those personalities with a little more levity doesn’t mean we’re any less serious about furthering a client’s business. It actually is to the advantage of the client’s business because a fun and collaborative environment often increases the likelihood that better ideas will bubble to the surface.

And you know what? A lot of clients, whether they admit or not, are looking for that quality in a partner.  You have to spend every week, if not every day, dealing with someone helping your brand along. You’d like to be able to, well, like that person.

It’s great that people can spit out data and talk about their experiences with the other agencies/brands they’ve worked with and speak to the current clients they’ve helped. And while that’s truly terrific because it can often get them on the short list of businesses to consider in a pitch situation, sealing the deal may depend on showing they are human beings who have the ability to relate well to other human beings.

Like their clients. Like those clients’ target audiences.

Without this ability to form a rapport, the person most impressed with someone so serious will be the one looking back at them in the mirror.

Don’t be that guy or that lady. Loosen up a little. Have a little more fun. Show some personality with that bio photo. But don’t stop there. Inject several personal aspects into your bio that could create talking points and common ground. Put it right into your LinkedIn profile and don’t apologize for it. Show those pictures that capture your culture on your Pinterest page. Share some video of your next mockumentary on your agency’s YouTube channel.

Your ability to win some business may be counting on it.

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.

Advertising on Architecture? Now You’re Reaching, Rahmbo.

When I was a kid, I read Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” It was a funny little poem that imagined a place where there’s no more ground under our feet. I’ve often wondered the same about Advertising. When it comes to placement of media in the public domain, where do WE end? Where are our limits? Do we have any limits at all?

This is no place for a giant logo.

I believe I’ve found that limit, courtesy of Rahm Emanuel’s first real blunder of his administration. To help raise $25 million toward a $600 million budget deficit, the Mayor is now allowing the placement of ads on city property that includes Chicago’s landmark bridges. So cross the Wabash Avenue Bridge and you’ll see a giant Bank of America banner on the bridge’s iconic tender house.

Oh goodie. Can’t wait until Spring, when the bus and boat tours packing tourists go by. “On your right, Ladies and Gentlemen, where you see the ultra large Bank of America banner, is the site of Fort Dearborn.”

How I wish this was Photoshopped and not real.

I know Emanuel wants to leave his own mark on the city, but this is not the anti-Daley move I had in mind. I seriously doubt our former Mayor, with his continuous intent on beautification projects, would’ve followed this path.

City Spokeswoman Kathleen Strand insulted everyone in this city’s intelligence by suggesting putting an ad on an architectural landmark isn’t all that different than the CTA allowing ads on buses and El trains.

Oh, Kathy, Kathy, Kathy. Can we talk?

You see, dear, I feel silly pointing out the difference, but in your case, apparently I have to.

Placing an ad on a public domain that devalues the experience of looking at that property is in poor taste by all parties that put it there.

Here’s your litmus test:

Do we say things like…

“That garbage can would be so much more attractive without the ads on it.”

“That bus would be beautiful without the ads inside it.”

“The ad detracts from this gorgeous Red Line train.”

Come on. You and I both know that nobody in their right mind says that. Because, let’s face it – buses, trains and garbage cans are not landmarks we’re going to put in a photo album. When my former college roommate Curtis was visiting this Summer from Indianapolis, what as the first thing he took a picture of? Our bridges. He wouldn’t snap that picture now. Not of the Wabash bridge. No way.

It’s tempting to pile on Bank of America for their role in this, but for once, this isn’t really their mistake. It’s the Mayor’s Office’s. Put yourself in the advertiser’s shoes if you will:

“Hi, this is Mayor Emanuel’s office. We’d like to offer you the opportunity to advertise on the landmark Wabash Avenue Bridge over the next month or so. You’ll have extraordinary visibility, obviously. Just give us $4,500.”

Seriously?

First of all, it’s an insult to the bridge you only asked for that much. More importantly, even if Bank of America didn’t think it was the best idea – they’re getting dibs on high visibility property for peanuts at a time when they had to pull back from a $5 monthly debit card fee fiasco. Could you really blame them for taking the Mayor’s offer?

There are more creative solutions to trimming a budget deficit. Personally, I thought trimming the City Council would be a good place to start and that would take care of a few million bucks right there. But I’ve also given the Mayor credit for his crowdsourcing effort through his budget site at ChicagoBudget.org. Yet, if the more than 10,000 ideas he got on that site, I just can’t believe that posting advertising on landmarks was one of the big ideas that rose to the top.

We’re so much better than this. There’s no doubt we need to close budget gaps and get creative in how we do it. I know $600 million isn’t going to go away. But that shouldn’t mean selling our soul by putting an ad on every available piece of real estate. And this is a veteran of the advertising world talking here, remember.

In reality, while B of A got a steal of a deal, it’s not even that great of a branding move. If you’re going to be this visible, send the audience to some place online where they can be part of a community or offer input. A web address? QR code? Anything? No. This is just a logo and tagline that obstructs what was there before and adds nothing. It’s so bad it’s basically a hair above littering, except the regular litter gets to blow away and not bother you too much.

Was it worth it? No. Is it worth ending the experiment in landmark advertising right now? You bet.

Because at the end of the day, a clear, unblocked view of the architecture is our city’s best advertising.

The Chicagoland Conversation with Free Green Can

In just three years, Free Green Can has taught thousands of Chicagoans to help the environment by doing what they already do – pitch their trash and recyclables into a dual purpose recycle/trash container. With the Park District and major sports teams in town on board, the company has some exciting plans in the works for 2012 – including building on the revenue sharing opportunities for potential advertisers and host companies.
I sat down with Dave Whorton from Free Green Can to discuss how his company is putting corporate profitability and environmental responsibility on the same page.

Dave Whorton of Free Green Can

How did the inspiration from Free Green Can come about? I hear it was from an unlikely source.

DW: That’s right. About 3 years ago, our founder, Steve Holland, was at a park where his son was playing baseball. After the game, his son wanted to recycle his plastic bottle, but couldn’t find anywhere to do it. So Steve wanted to champion that cause by helping the park out with some recycling bins. Before long, the concept grew to the point of where the can is now patented.

It’s great that the idea from a 13-year-old kid really spawned Free Green Can. When you say one person can make a difference, one person really did make an environmental difference – throughout Chicago.

To be clear, the Free Green Can isn’t just for recycling, right?

DW: Absolutely. We are a dual-purpose trash and recycling bin, with half the bin divided down the middle. What we believe is that if we offer a recycling solution everywhere there’s a trash problem, people will generally do the right thing. By having a trash and recycling option in one bin, it makes life a lot easier and people will always do the right thing when presented in that fashion.

What could one Free Green Can mean for the environment over the course of a year?

DW: One Free Green Can, in a year, will save 15 trees.* When you think about our impact in the Chicago Park District, we have 2500 Free Green Cans placed. That’s going to be a very exciting environmental impact for us. It’s one of the big motivations for us as to why we do what we do every day.

How many Free Green Cans are there in the Chicagoland area?

DW: There’s our crown jewel, the Chicago Park District, where we have 2500 cans placed on the Museum campus, in Grant Park and along 16.5 miles of lakefront trail – from 63rd Street Beach to Osterman Beach. Also, at U.S. Cellular Field, we have 375 Free Green Cans. We’ve got 35 cans surrounding Wrigley Field. We were just at Fiesta Del Sol, which is the largest Latin festival in the Midwest. Several Aldermen are working with us now to place Free Green Cans in their wards.

Besides the recycling advantages, speak to the revenue sharing opportunities for businesses that choose to use Free Green Can.

DW: We provide the cans for free. We can do this by the advertisers that have come on board to support us. Those advertisers have four panels to share their messages with a very captive audience that engages with the product.

We take 10% of the revenue earned and give it back to the venue that uses our cans.

Think how that affects municipalities, for example. Everyone’s struggling in these tough budget times. So when advertisers support us, we’re so excited to give back to these host locations in partnership with these companies.

How does a potential advertiser go about working with Free Green Can?

DW: You come to us and let us create a solution for your type of company. If we get the chance to know your brand, we have price points for everyone from small businesses to Fortune 100 companies.

We have companies coming to us with Quick Response (QR) Codes that link back to a website. Well, we can help create that QR Code for a small business or use it for large companies featuring it as part of their marketing plan.

What are your goals for the rest of 2011 and heading into 2012?

DW: What we’re so proud of is how we’ve been embraced by the city and the Chicagoland Chamber. We’re really re-inventing public recycling in the city of Chicago. At the end of this year, we’re going to be able to say we’ve helped the Park District, several wards, Cubs, White Sox and more.

We’re going to use that as springboard to help showcase Chicago to the rest of the country as we go into other cities and say, “Look what we’ve done for Chicago and we’re ready to do the same thing for you.”

That said, we want to make sure our backyard is taken care of, with small businesses here who never thought they could advertise in the out-of-home industry.

Your product is a help to the environment, but how can people make the business environment better for you to succeed as an entrepreneurial company?

DW: I’ve traveled a lot and believe this is one of the cleanest cities in the world. But it can always improve. Now it’s ingrained in people’s minds that recycling is what you should do and that throwing it in a garbage can is not enough.

We’re trying to preserve the awe that residents and visitors have for our city. So for us as a small business when considering where to base Free Green Can, the question was “why not Chicago?”

The Chicagoland Chamber has done a great job of helping us get the word out and offering support, advice, guidance and counsel. That’s one of those things as a small business that you rely upon – people who have a feel for the pulse of Chicago. The connections that the Chamber has made for us have been phenomenal. We want to start giving back to the Chamber with as much enthusiasm as they’ve given to us.

(This post originally ran as a piece for The Chicagoland Chamber.)

*Number is based on if Free Green Can is filled with 25% paper, 25% plastic, 25% aluminum and 25% glass.

What happens when your leader IS your brand?

Most of us have bosses. Some of us have great CEOs. And a very precious few of us have what can only be referred to as a legend – the kind of iconic visionary who is responsible for making the brand what it is today in the eyes of many.

Of course, nobody is immortal. Time ensures we all move on, whether it is due to a new job, retirement or (not to be morbid), expiring. The challenge Apple faces today in the wake of Steve Jobs’ resignation as CEO (but he is staying on as Chairman) is no different than what Chrysler had to face in the post-Iacocca era, Ogilvy had to face without David Ogilvy, Disney without Walt or what Virgin will face when Richard Branson steps away someday. These are imaginative, charismatic, exciting people who not only shaped the foundation of their companies but have had influence far beyond it for managers in all kinds of industries. They are not just people associated with the brand. They ARE the brand.

What do you tell the world when they aren’t around on a daily basis anymore? Do you regret having linked to one person so strongly? Do you pretend it’s business as usual and no big deal?

It’s not a catastrophe as long as you remember a few key fundamentals before, during and after that transition for the good of your brand.

1. You don’t replace genius.
The world knows that. You’re not fooling anyone when you pretend that the person no longer involved in your company is no big deal. “Oh, yeah, he left but we’re humming along.” Give me a break. It’s about saying, “You don’t replace someone like him. He was remarkable. Fortunately, we’re a better positioned company today because of everything he’s done.” You don’t have to say you’re devastated and don’t know how you’re going to go on either. Which leads us to #2.

2. Show what the legacy has brought to your business and culture.
The Chicago Bulls couldn’t replace Michael Jordan. Hockey itself couldn’t replace Wayne Gretzky. But as a testament to their influence, they had disciples and students of their genius and skill. Steve Jobs has had the same and I’m sure Apple will take great steps to show how Jobs’ principles are alive and well even as he pulls back from responsibilities at the company. For example, Jobs was a master of stripping away technical elements that the consumer didn’t necessarily need – I doubt that Apple will suddenly become a company of unwieldy designed products now. They’ll keep this legacy strong if they can continue to show how they produce not just great products but magical feelings that make people salivate over what’s next. Great leaders have great influence and great respect long after they’re gone – how often do we hear architects and city planners in Chicago invoke the name of early 1900’s architect Daniel Burnham in an effort to stay true to his vision of the city today?

But again you ask, “isn’t Steve Jobs the primary person who triggers the emotion behind Apple with every introduction?” Yes. But that leads us to point #3.

3. Terrific leaders don’t leave the skill set cupboard bare when they leave.
If you believe Steve Jobs is a great leader – which I do – you know that he has been preparing his internal team for a moment when he was going to step away for some time now. And if you have ever studied the succession plans of companies that tend to do well in transition, fortune tends to favor those who select leaders from within who have understood the culture for quite some time – not a hard and fast rule, but a trend. In that context, can you imagine anyone better prepared to take on this responsibility than Tim Cook, a man who has been at Apple for over a decade and has already had to step in for Jobs once before? What about the talented people who have an eye not just for technological greatness but artistic beauty in what they create for Apple? Steve Jobs is a great thinker but to say he was the one and only visionary behind the iPad, iPhone or iCloud is doing his team a disservice.

4. Perception is reality. Think about experiences and emotions, not just dollars and cents.
You can talk about dollars, cents and profitability until the cows come home. But there’s an immeasurable quality of captivating customers like the past leader did that should be your goal just as much as earning revenue. People who take their eye off that function of branding and try to say that the company is in an even better place are fooling themselves. And I’m not just speaking externally – what’s the chemistry of your culture post-iconic leader? Is it just as fun of a place to be? If you used to be a magical place to work and have become just a profitable place to work, something is lost. Sure, technology must evolve and ways of doing business must evolve. But the spirit and vision that is the company’s reason for being must be just as inspiring to its people from one leader to the next. If you don’t have that, the promise of what your brand is all about rings a bit more hollow. I don’t think Mr. Cook will make the mistake at the next big Apple event of presenting just about profit and loss instead of trying to excite people for what’s next. I sure hope not.

5. With consistency and focus, you ensure the iconic leader leaves his mark on the brand forever.
None of us may live forever, but the more our successors can use our principles as a guiding force for why they do what they do, the more they honor us. More importantly, they keep the brand strong. If those principles fade because some new CEO from the outside wants to put his own stamp on things and forget all the good things done in the past, well, chances are the company probably loses its shine as well.

Most of us may never know what it’s like to work for a person so iconic that they become synonymous with the brand. But their leaving isn’t the tragedy – forgetting how they made the company great in the first place is.

Can you think of instances of where greatness transpired from one leader to the next? What about stumbles that could have been avoided? Of course, if you have a bold prediction for Apple’s future in the wake of Steve Jobs stepping back, I’d love to hear that too.