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At many ad agencies, the most creative work people do is composing their time sheets.

I once worked at at an agency that billed in six-minute increments. I was never good at math, or thinking in a linear manner, so my calculations were wild ass guesstimates. At best.

Sometimes ideas happen in a snap, and sometimes they require the gestation period of a wildebeest.

The more I worked in agencies, the more I saw they liked banging the ol’ billable hours. The worst thing you could do was doing your job too fast (not much profit in that).

And if you billed too many hours, the poor account person had to figure out how to bury them or slather the overage on to other jobs. More creativity!

It’s a shell game that became even worse when procurement departments began negotiating ad agency compensation. Blended hourly rates became critical for selecting agencies (it works when looking at per unit costs of pencils, right?). So naturally, agencies have experienced heavy hitters on pitch teams, and when they win, a crew of juniors man the oars to keep expenses down.

A profitable billing machine is launched–– high margins, ho!

A Fortune 100 client told me that at the end of every quarter, his big intergalatic agency would bring him large binders of time sheets demanding an increase in fees, as justified by all the extra hours worked. The client countered that the additional hours were because new agency people were constantly cycling on to his account, and some people just didn’t understand the business. The account head pointed to the thick tome of time sheets and cried his case.

It drove the client nuts, but his company eventually blinked and the agency ante was continually upped.

The founders of Ames Scullin O’Haire Advertising saw how the game was played and decided not to play. We thought clients would hire us for our thinking, our work, not the time it took us to do the voodoo we do.

So, we decided not to keep time sheets–– and we’ve never gotten into tussles over money. We talk openly with our clients and get an understanding of what’s needed. Then, we put a price on deliverables. It’s up to us how we get the job done. Inefficiency doesn’t work for our benefit, or our clients.

And we don’t have separate parasitic profit centers of different disciplines looking for a receptive host to feast upon. Clients get what they need, not what the holding company needs

We’re beholden to no one but our clients.

We believed that if communications are good, it’s in everyone’s best interest to be efficient. If our thinking is smart, if we deliver empathetic messages that motivate, clients becomes a heroes and we continue cashing checks (it’s a beautiful thing, capitalism).

No one argues a rising sales curve. Which beats the hell out of arguing over billable hours.

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I’m a reluctant entrepreneur.

When I worked for others, I collected paychecks at a slew of agencies across America–– everything from a two-person shop, to the world’s largest agency under one roof. I worked at industrial B2B shops, retail shops, creative hot shops and package good shops. Bureaucratic shops, dictatorial shops.

I was crappy at office politics. Too much the stubborn Irishman.

My agency travels taught me that our business attracts smart, talented people. But talent often comes with petty infighting, neurotic behavior and insecurity running amuck.

The enemy was us. But clients, clients I understood.

I empathized with them. Client issues with work were usually based on fear of failure. We creative people were potential land mines to CMO careers. If our thinking was self-serving, creative for creative’s sake, we were dangerous.

But if we created work that connected with a client’s audience–– work that worked, work that engaged, informed and entertained, sales would go up, clients would be heroes and we’d all live another day.

No one argues a sales curve going north.

Yes, clients were easily understood, but agency people? Not so much. There were too many psychologically damaged souls, Shakespearean characters ranting on the peat. Turf wars, petty battles, pin cushion backstabbing.

So, in 1997, I helped form a new agency. One where strategy, media, and creative people played together nicely, working directly with clients to solve real marketing challenges.

We kept drama low, passion high, and worked toward making good things happen. Beholden not to office politics, but to the client’s sales curve.

That was almost 18 years ago. This business has changed a lot since then. Now we do what we always did, plus a slew of new media and new tricks.

But one thing hasn’t changed. We’re still communicating with human beings. And until they change, we believe empathy and creativity will be the keys to any marketing success.

So that’s what we’re about–– connecting with people.

That, and not acting like an ad agency.

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You’d think social media would bring people together, and it does–– often as an angry mob.

Sadly, cyber-bullying is a rampant problem for teens. Trolls are common online, and rage spouts and spews ugliness everywhere.

What’s become of polite society? It’s usually there face to face, but in the digital world, many people sharpen daggers, drop their manners and let emotions fly. We unload, click, unload, click and unload some more.

Everyone’s a critic and we’re anxious to criticize. We insulate ourselves by traveling in the same political/religious/societal packs. We have our support network. Our crew. Our mob.

We curate perfect digital lives on Facebook for our friends. “Amber scored the winning goal, we’re so proud of her incredible achievements. We’re going to have to build supports for her trophy shelf–– she’s collecting awards so fast and it’s just a matter of time until she wins a Pulitzer and Nobel Peace Prize…”

What’s this behavior show? It shows each of us is the hero of our own movies. It shows that given a megaphone, we demand to be heard. It demonstrates that many of us are sharks and will attack at a whiff of blood. It shows that pettiness is easy, and resisting the urge to pass judgment is difficult.

Sorry, that was judgmental. Forgive me. Or slam me.

For marketers, online behavior means this: the conversation is not yours. You can try initiating it, but you cannot control it. And trying to control it is brand suicide.

Social media is a bitch because for some reason, digital people often lose their empathy with technology. Social media can become a toxic caustic battlefield.

Be advised, marketers, and be careful out there.

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This ad is the reason I’m in advertising.

As a kid, the Doyle Dane Bernbach Volkswagen campaign was a sensation. People talked about VW ads like they were beloved children. The funny looking German cars began popping up everywhere. Kids played “punch-bug” for kicks. Hey, we were easily amused and video games were a long way off–– thanks technology for failing our generation.

What caused the VW ad sensation?

Honesty, pure and simple.

In an age of overblown bullshit advertising, the Volkswagen campaign was surprisingly different. It had a human voice–– not some bombastic bore spouting superlatives while thumping his chest, like all other car ads.

VW was humble, contrite and told its story about why it did what it did building its funny-looking cars, and why that might possibly be of interest to people in the market for reliable, sensible transportation.

To bastardize a favorite Raymond Chandler line, VW’s ads stood out “like a tarantula on a wedding cake.”

Does truth still work? Yes. Witness Dominos re-launch of its brand a couple years back, the current Arby’s work and Newcastle Brown Ale.

There’s drama in truth. We connect with those who admit flaws. It’s human to like underdogs.

Truth is like listening to vinyl, it has warmth because of its imperfections. Regular ads are like CDs, there is a shrill harshness to their perfection.

The truth may not always set you free, but it usually warrants attention.

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Millennials are now the largest generation, 75 million strong, and people seem miffed by them.

They’re curious as to what makes them tick. Or tick differently than other generations.

Are millennials more self-obsessed, apathetic, rambunctious, immature, egocentric, politically inactive, ambitious, unrealistic, liberal, socially inept, adventurous, spoiled, disrespectful, techno savvy, delusional, naive, angry, intelligent, narcissistic, conservative, creative, depressed, industrious, sexually active, relationship adverse, and so on and so on and so on?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Depends.

Millennials are human beings, and like all humans, they seek attention and acceptance. They want to be recognized. And heard. And understood. And appreciated.

They fear loneliness, they seek connection, they crave love.

They can never get enough love–– who can?

In other words, millennials are like the humans who made them, and the ones that made them, and those who made them, and so on and so on and so on.

So, what’s the trick for successfully marketing to millennials? Shhh–– here it is: respecting them and their time, and giving them something of value in return for it.

Remember when you were millennial-age? Isn’t that what you wanted?

(Isn’t it what you still want?)

It’s not a mystery. They are not an alien life force. Understand and empathize with millennials. Realize and appreciate that they have more distractions than ever, and more ways of being distracted.

They’re doing their job. You do yours.

Respect your audience and reward them.

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These days you can’t swing a dead cat without reading about someone proclaiming the death of traditional advertising. Which makes me wonder, why are you swinging a dead cat–– and what exactly are these doomsayers talking about?

Name a brand that became famous without using traditional media channels?

ADWEEK reported that yesterday at the Association of National Advertisers’ Masters of Marketing event, Brad Jakeman, the president of PepsiCo’s global beverage group, lambasted ad agencies for not changing with the times. He thinks we’re stuck in the thirty second TV commercial business (this is a tired saw many CMOs recite when they’re slapping their evil step children).

Jakeman said the age of agencies delivering only big budget TV spots and a couple print ads is over. He thinks the new agency model needs to be pushing out 400 to 4,000 pieces of content a year on a $20,000 budget.

Really? Get 100 monkeys at 100 keyboards stat! Steaming piles of content coming up right away, Mr. Jakeman. (Until procurement comes along and demands that the 400 to 4,000 pieces of content be created for $18,000. Then $17K… $15,000…)

Mr. Jakeman, if you honestly believe it’s about the number of pieces of content created, if you delude yourself into thinking people are eager “to join the conversation” with Pepsi, then you’ll get the crappy thinking you deserve.

Ad agencies have changed, Mr. PepsiCo. We’ve scrambled to keep up with the latest fads and media sensations. Much of it has proven to be fool’s gold, but we’ve learned this together with our clients.

You can bitch about old fashioned ad agency business model, Mr. Jakeman, but frankly, if you’re not getting great thinking on your brand–– thinking that is empathetic to your audience and makes a connection–– well, that’s your fault.

Go hire a team of monkeys and create your ocean of content. That should do it.

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Phubbing is all the rage. It’s the rude behavior people have as they are consumed by their smartphone screens rather than the person or people they’re with.

Researchers at Baylor University just released a study in which 46.3% of people said they’d been ‘phubbed’ by a significant other, and 22.6% said that this phubbing has caused problems in their relationships. Naturally, the more someone is phubbed, the less significant he/she feels.

The same study shows that Phubbing leads to depression. Of course it would. Is there anything sadder than seeing a couple at a restaurant and one of them is consumed by his/her smartphone?

Or, a business meeting where people are glancing at their phones, or texting while another is presenting or speaking?

This is rude behavior demonstrating a lack of empathy for the person or people we’re with. We don’t like being phubbed. We don’t tolerate this behavior in our kids, and it’s even less excusable in adults who should know better.

Technology is changing human behavior, but we cannot allow it to deplete us of our humanity for one another.

As a marketer, you need to be aware of this and empathetic enough to realize you can be part of the problem.
Practice safe and smart marketing. Respect your audience, and never, ever, ever phub unto others (lest they phub unto you). Here’s a cool site to help.

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You go to visit your new neighbors, and their dog is very happy to greet you. VERY happy. He shows this by attaching himself to your leg.

The owners are embarrassed. You’re embarrassed. “Bad boy, down! Down!!!” the owners command their pet.

You’ve just experienced how consumers feel. They walk innocently into an environment, and anxious marketers are on them like an excited dog. There’s no consideration for the audience, no respect, no empathy for how they are approached.

Just marketing assault. Full frontal assault.

Is it any wonder ad blockers are so popular? It’s marketing kevlar.

Please practice marketing responsibly. Just because you can reach people in a certain environment, doesn’t mean you should. Just because you have a marketing strategy you think is brilliant and compelling, don’t think that’s enough.

Consider people and their mindset. Is your message in context? Are you rewarding people for their time and attention? Are you giving something of value to them?

Or, are you just seeing a leg?

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The drumbeat of the death of traditional advertising sounds loudly as more CMOs chase analytics and logarithms in search of proven returns on investments.

They want marketing to be a science–– a repeatable, dependable, secure ROI machine.

And why not? Science is irrefutable. If we treat marketing like science, we can predict outcomes. It doesn’t take a Wharton MBA to know that a certain ROI is a great thing (until the law of diminishing returns takes effect).

But throughout history, sales sensations are not the products of predictable, ordinary campaigns, they’re the result of surprising and extraordinary campaigns. Magical work that catches a wave of Zeitgeist and rides it, becoming a buzz, a meme, a movement.

The VW Beetle campaign. Got Milk? The Old Spice campaign. Apple’s “1984” spot. ESPN’s SportsCenter work. The Most Interesting Man In The World, The Bartles & Jaymes campaign. These are products of art, demonstrating an empathy and understanding of human nature, and respect for people. Campaigns that are relevant to their products and give something back to the audience.

The scientific approach leads to formulaic advertising–– doing the limbo under the low bar you set.

The artful approach may lead to failure and humiliating embarrassment. Then again, the artful approach sometimes leads to glory.

The choice is yours marketer–– will you try and make your mark, or will you be driven by fear?

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Probably.

Why? It’s human nature.

We all view the world through our eyes, filtered through the prism of our own self interest. But just because something’s important to you, don’t assume it’s important (or even of interest) to others.

They have their own selfish perspectives. And it’s only getting worse.

Selfie sticks, anyone?

Before you create your content, before you commit to it, ask yourself one simple question: “Why should the person on the other end care?”

If you don’t have a good answer, an honest answer, rethink it.

Because content is king only if it serves its subjects.

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