Advertising Age

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Sorry for the serious drop in the frequency of our agency blog of late. However, it can be a not-enough-hours-in-the day challenge to generate content for yourself when you are also generating content for others. The old shoemaker’s kids going shoeless dilemma.

Several stories this week resonated in an intertwining way to touch nerves for me as someone in the creative business. The problem is that too many creatives don’t run their businesses as businesses (emporiums of wit and awesome graphics, maybe) and too many businesspeople who purchase creative services realize that and take advantage accordingly.

This Advertising Age article about a panel from a Mirren New Business Conference on agency compensation contained an all-too-familiar anecdote from one of the panelists, Christine Fruechte, CEO of the Colle & McVoy agency. She recounted about having gotten to the last round of a pitch, but losing to another agency because Colle & McVoy elected not to lower their fees in a race to the bottom. The winner of that race went out of business within a year of getting the business. Ironically, the client approached Colle & McVoy again and Ms. Fruechte got the account (and in a rare turnaround for this industry) plus even higher fees than what cost her the nod in the original pitch process.

That story made me feel smug about the agency side of the business for all of a few hours until reading an amusing interview with the Black Keys by Danny McBride in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly. In an especially ironic turnabout, it seems agencies have been blacklisting the Black Keys when it comes to licensing of their music. The reason is appalling — once the Black Keys and their infectiously memorable hook-loaded music became omnipresent on radio and music services, they had to go to court on multiple occasions to stop brands, agencies, and jingle houses from using obvious knockoff versions of their songs.

So, this is an especially galling case of pot, kettle, black. Creative shops have no business whining about clients not wanting to pay them for original creative when they turn around and borrow a popular sound or look from other creative artists but conveniently don’t pay them for it.

Fortunately, some brands are thinking in different ways. It was refreshing this week to see Adweek report on how Chipolte has figured out a new way to attract business by featuring original content from Real McCoy big name writers like Toni Morrison and Jonathan Safran Foer on the restaurant’s cups under the theme “Cultivating Thought.” Hell, I might even pay a little extra for something pithy or witty from a favorite writer while enjoying a taco meal. And that little extra multiplied by the business it brings in might more than compensate Chipolte, Toni Morrison and other featured writers, while building brand loyalty for the chain (and new readers for those writers). Hallelujah. A rare win-win in the creative compensation department.

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Seaside's Casino Pier, post Sandy.

Seaside's Casino Pier, post Sandy.

Hurricanes have a way of disrupting your normal routine even when they barely affect you personally. I am one of the many blessed losing only power (for a half day) and a few shingles vs. losing an entire roof overhead and a warm place to live and a lifetime of memories. Words fail when you see the devastation caused by Sandy last week.  Boardwalk businesses and memories snapped like so many matchsticks. Entire communities in densely populated North Jersey and  the NY and CT portions of the metropolitan NYC area. All of us have our work cut out to offer relief to those who have been devastated by Sandy.

But being at a loss for words over this horrific situation led me to take note that on a very different subject, some writers are absolutely inspired to get their thoughts and feelings across on paper.

Inspiration is in your hands (brain cells?)

Inspiration is in your hands (brain cells?)

The late Linds Redding, author of a remarkable take on creativity.

The late Linds Redding, author of a remarkable take on creativity.

Ad Age’s Matthew Creamer captured my attention first with this lead — “The Best Piece of Advertising Writing You’ve Never Read.  Irresistible, yes, and when you read it, unforgettable, especially if you have worked in the creative services industry.  Creamer’s blog links to the late Linds Redding’s essay online, which captures the drive to produce work that causes others to say things like “Whoa” and “Wow.” It also nails how others easily exploit that drive to get writers (and artists) in advertising to sell their blood, sweat, and tears for pennies on the dollar.

Defender of liberty, Mark Levin.

Defender of liberty, Mark Levin.

There is a certain amount of hubris, however, that allows advertising creatives to falsely believe that we have cornered the market on creativity and ideas. During my drive home one night, I had the pleasure of hearing the impassioned patriot (and Cheltenham graduate) Mark Levin read this remarkable essay from the late Leonard Read on his radio program. It explores what makes production of the humble pencil possible. It is an eloquent case for the free enterprise system as a means of creating commerce, jobs, and work for so many. Those who want to limit use of the world’s many resources, the operation of factories that too many believe are just pollution mills, and the pursuit of entrepreneurial opportunities might reconsider their obstructionism. If we ever want to see a vibrant economy again, we need to allow people to pursue dreams and to use creativity to develop new products and make good products better.

Those who were devastated by Hurricane Sandy need help to rebuild their lives. Creativity and free enterprise make great foundations to get that process moving successfully.

 

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"Bill Gates, did you or did you not build intrusive little user prompts into ever square inch of Word?"

"Bill Gates, did you or did you not build intrusive little user prompts into every square inch of Word?"

My business partner, Gerry Giambattista, and I both want to be named hanging judges if there is ever an international war crimes tribunal assembled to consider the cumulative havoc that Microsoft has unleashed on the world since its inception. We have a long list of questions for Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, which we will present as intrusive yellow pop-up panels, not unlike those that used to populate a Word document whenever the masters in Redmond, WA wanted to anticipate which word you were attempting to type, so they could replace it with another. Forget all the people Microsoft employs in all its divisions. Forget all the good that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done around the globe. Forget the excellent X-Box gaming platform. This is personal.

Admittedly, we are long-time Apple products users, so we should probably recuse ourselves. However, we have both harbored long-time grudges against the software industry, Microsoft specifically, and would like a chance to settle the score in a Hague-like setting.

We know of no other industry that is allowed to operate so capriciously, integrating itself into the daily operations of essentially every business on the planet, then forcing users to routinely jump through crazy hoop after crazy hoop, because of software incompatibility (often between different versions of the same product), security issues, constant debilitating updates and key feature changes with little logic behind them, all with few other options for workarounds.

My teeth are set grinding every time I hear a commercial on my car radio for the Business Software Alliance targeting employers who run unlicensed copies of software or who pirate programs. How about if the software industry starts policing its own myriad of customer and tech service issues before spending millions to get employees to rat out employers for possible violations. Normally, I appreciate the bravery of whistle blowers — here I envision an entire accusatory industry dressed as Captain Hook. Pot, kettle, black.

This is also an industry that devours its own. Competitors are routinely driven out of business or marginalized, not because they are lackluster, but because they make a better product that is harming the product that the bigger company makes (usually Microsoft). Case in point is Word Perfect, which many eons ago was the preferred word processing software for virtually everyone operating a business. Then, along came Word, which Microsoft bundled as an enticement with Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage or Outlook as an Office suite. It took many years for Word to resist its urge to interrupt users every other keystroke with “innovative” efficiency-enhancing features. We all had to endure years of that nonsense. Today, Word Perfect is still available from Corel, but it appears to be a niche product for legal professionals.

Anyone remember Netscape Navigator? It was the preferred web browser of many users during the 1990s until Microsoft did everything possible to torpedo it with Internet Explorer.

That brings me to a moment of great personal satisfaction that will have to suffice until that international tribunal is assembled. Advertising Age was good enough to spotlight a parody last week of Microsoft’s self-congratulatory Internet Explorer TV spot. In this case, the parody does a better job of delivering truth.

 

 

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Conan turns to blimps and digital and tv to build his brand.

Conan turns to blimps and digital and tv to build his brand.

No wonder advertisers get confused about how to allocate media dollars. It is an absolute free-for-all. A day does not go by without another news item suggesting how one medium or platform is overtaking or supplanting another. I routinely remind myself of the progression that TV did not kill radio when it came on the scene, and likewise, the Internet did not replace TV. Every form of media is still in active use (papyrus scrolls and carrier pigeons excepted). I see latest Conan TV ads feature blimp advertising blended with mobile platforms. As a big fan of Team Coco, I am hoping for Goodyear associations, not Hindenberg.

A quick sampling of recent stories should give everyone pause about claiming superiority over another medium or about writing a competing medium’s obituary.

This intriguing story from Advertising Age suggests Facebook is voraciously eating the lunch of major magazine brands. It left me scratching my head about how Burberry, frozen in my own brain as a conservative British purveyor of fine raincoats, has attracted over 8 million followers on Facebook. I visited their pages and came away still scratching my head. This Google search revealed a few clues — fashion launches via Facebook and iPads, free samples of a new fragrance, interactive videos, and easy-to-follow followers like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Still, that is a staggering number of followers, but more power to them. Whatever Burberry is doing, it’s working.

Next up, two stories from Digiday. One reveals how Google is preparing a full frontal assault on newspapers’ biggest cash cow — Sunday circulars. Imagine a digital version of a circular that gives a retailer all kinds of local control to customize content by store, pricing, and product category. Also from Digiday is a rather depressing, confusing  picture of the landscape of digital advertising tech companies. The bar is low for entrants. The result is a mixed bag of options and results for advertisers. Not sure who is being served by this.

This week, New York magazine devotes an extended article to Twitter and whether it is becoming too big for its 140-character britches, er tweets.

If you’re not completely boggled yet, here is video reporting by the print-based Wall Street Journal delivered online from their web site to explain how tv ad spending can be rising as viewership is dropping. Got that?

My next media recommendation? Burma-shave style billboards but delivered with a twist — constantly changing messaging on a series of digital billboards. The product? Attention-deficit disorder drugs.

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Nerf arsenal in Red Tettemer's interactive department.

Nerf arsenal in Red Tettemer's interactive department.

Today, something very exciting happened. Advertising Age gave national exposure to a Philadelphia shop for the first time in a long time and in a very big way. Not since Gyro tilted the Philadelphia advertising world off its axis has an agency in this town captured national exposure in the long shadows of Madison Avenue. Advertising Age’s new Agency Digs video feature visited Red Tettemer’s awesomely creative workspace. I encourage you to do the same. Not because I like to give exposure to competing agencies in the same metropolitan area, but because you’ll get a fascinating tour of a truly unique and creative enterprise.

Red Tettemer has come a long way from an old house in Narberth to the top two floors of the PNB ( former Philadelphia National Bank) building, complete with rooftop access. On those two floors is an agency workspace that is part Dave and Busters, part CBGB’s, part South Street head shop, part pet shop, and part Las Vegas lounge — in other words, every square inch seems to be conceived to spark the imagination, the funny bone, and the creative drive. It’s the coolest agency workspace I’ve ever seen.

From large to small, most of the agencies, I’ve visited over the years would not find themselves featured in Architectural Digest. Ours included. But these days especially, when great work is being produced on iPads in crowded Starbucks, the digital landscape and end results are what clients care about. Most clients never set foot in an agency anymore. The agency’s web site is as close as they travel.

I remember an early interview at Lewis & Gilman (the mega-shop that later became a unit of Foote Cone and Belding and later Brian Tierney’s firm). There was an air of importance to the place as I sat in the waiting area with my portfolio. Early episodes of Mad Men brought back the exclusive Old Boys Network air of the place.

Later, Philadelphia advertising captured national attention again through the TV show “thirtysomething” where the main characters Michael and Elliot had their own agency and later worked for DAA. The firm’s open workspace and the indoor basketball court were patterned after the offices of California based Chiat Day.

Some of the more interesting spaces I’ve visited in recent years have been creative firms that combine video production and all things digital. Howard McCabe’s firm Blue turned a former Fairmount residence into stylish editing and animation suites and workrooms. JPL in Harrisburg took over an editing facility from Tyco and converted it into one of the Best Places to Work in PA. The other week I sat in on a social media strategy session for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society at Think Brownstone’s great open space dominated by couches and a white board, in a Conshohocken brownstone.

But as exceptional as each of these offices are, none are as mind-bending and fun-filled as Red Tettemer’s featured space. It’s a theme park for left-brained types. Congratulations to Steve Red and everyone at Red Tettemer for creating a great environment for creative to thrive.

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