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)

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.

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.

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.

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.

Dan is speaking at the Chicagoland Chamber Nov. 3rd!

What are you doing on the morning of Thursday, November 3rd before 9:00am? If you’re free and near downtown Chicago, I think you’ll walk into work energized and with a fresh perspective on how what you build internally can do a world of good externally in terms of your customer relationships.

I’ll be speaking at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce along with my colleague, management consultant Rob Jager, on:

Building The Brand Within:
How To Deliver Unexpected Surprises For Your Customers 

It’s a look at how content marketing can help you position your company as a thought leader in its industry, how to logistically put your people in a position to be better aligned with the company’s true mission, how to identify the best content providers within and what turning employees into brand ambassadors means for team loyalty and a healthier culture. If you’re a small business owner or department leader, I think you’ll get a lot out of our hour spent together.

7:45a.m.: Registration & Networking 
8:00a.m.: Presentation 
9:00a.m.: Q&A 

Location: Chicagoland Chamber, 200 E. Randolph, Suite 2200

Pre-registration for this FREE event is required on the Chicagoland Chamber’s website here:
http://www.chicagolandchamber.org/wdk_cc/events/eventDetails.jsp?cc_event_id=8afbc90d-a2de-473a-9ebc-8a026cd3e6b5

Is There A “Chicago Style” of Business Development?

Note from Dan: Today’s Chicago Brander post is from guest blogger Steve Congdon of Thunderclap Consulting Group. Drawing on the experience of over 200 pitches, Thunderclap helps marketing communications agencies and other professional service firms win more new business. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Steve and find his blog a must-read for anyone seeking a better way to get into more pitches and improve their close ratio. Call him at 773.637.5203. You’ll thank me after a conversation with Steve.

Steve Congdon, Thunderclap Consulting Group

When you think Chicago and personalities, what comes to mind?
A what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of mentality? Da Bears? An Everyman quality? 
Is there a Chicago style of prospecting and salesmanship?
And, if there is, how might be it applied?

Here are three quick thoughts:

Get belly-to-belly.
No matter what is being sold, conversations lead to understanding, which can lead to sales. In my world, ad agency new business development, going belly to belly could mean exchanging a phone call with an in-person meeting. Or, adding a social event to the pitch process that augments your understanding of “your prospect.” The more you know you know about these people, the more you can understand if you want them as a client and how to make that happen.

Work a bit harder.
For brand stewards, this can mean offering up something free.  For business development professionals, it could suggest doing something unexpected, but helpful for your prospect. Like, for instance, writing up an analysis on some competitive activity. Or sending an email past 9p with a relevant link to a cool online story.

Be real.
Another Midwestern trait. For now, let’s define this as being yourself. Can you imagine George Wendt making a stiff, formal presentation – using huge words that tie him up, making both him and his audience uncomfortable?! Nah. It’s just not his brand.

While I honestly think there may be some positive qualities that prospects might be willing to apply to you when you associate yourself with a “Midwest” or Chicago label, these are more likely to affect business success early in the sales game. By that, I mean the label creates perceptions before you even meet someone. Not a bad thing. Certainly nothing “second” about it, (he wrote proudly).

And, of course, you don’t have to be from these here parts to try any of the above. I happen to know people from both coasts who are very nice, despite wanting ketchup on their hot dog.

So what do you think? Is there a “Chicago Style” of business development? And if so, what are those traits?