The Branding Process

It always amuses me to go to other agency websites and see how they “Brand” their branding process. Stupid names and frankly the names are the only real substance most of them have to offer. Some, of course find it clever. But in the end of the day it really is all about the really smart people you bring to the table to solve a strategic hiccup. Smart people who can look at a challenge, research it and come back with a strategic insight or two that will change the course of your business in a very good way. And an agency our size can only afford to have Branding Strategists with this “smart gene.”

There was a very nice and smart agency (Grace and Rothschild) not long ago that had a specific selling proposition of taking only ten clients. This was so the “smart thinkers” would be hands on and not meet you at the new business presentation and then go away. We have a very similar mantra…take on only the number of challenges that will allow us to expose our “smart” strategists in a comfortable manner. And make no mistake, REAL BRAND STRATEGISTS ARE NOT A DIME A DOZEN. And just in case there is any confusion, here is the definition of INSIGHT:” THE ABILITY TO IDENTIFY WHAT’S MISSING AND BRING IT TO LIFE”. Two of my favorite insights (aside from the ones Agency212 has uncovered over the years….see the “create your own category” section on our website) are: VOLVO (Quick, what core value did they own?…..SAFETY) Kudos to Ed McCabe from my alma mater for that insight (I was fortunate enough to work on this account) AND …”Got Milk” Brilliant discovery by the folks at Gooby Silverstein (In my opinion still the best LARGER creative agency in this country).
And let’s face it, if you are a really good CMO or CEO what you want from your agency is CHALLENGE. Because, in the end, what is the point to hiring an agency that exactly mirrors your skill sets. Give it some thought and call me 212 994 6601.

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Real Estate Advertising

In the past few years I have become more aware of  ”speciality” Advertising agencies out there. In fact we have one in our stable of companies called HOFSTETTER AND PARTNERS. They quite simply specialize in Broadway Plays and other forms of live entertainment. It is a very focused skill set. But we blend it with our strategic wisdom from other categories inside of Agency212 and the Hofstetter folks draw from that wisdom so they are not just delivering the “expected” and  sometimes boring solutions.

There are other speciality areas I am somewhat fascinated by. For example there is REAL ESTATE ADVERTISING. And there are some very nice agencies that specialize in nothing but that. The other category that has caught my attention is Publishing. Again there are a few firms that do nothing but that.

We, as an agency have many publishing accounts. They are great to work with. (It is one of the “Passion Categories” I refer to in a previous blog). And I truly believe we bring more to the table than the “Just Publishing” agencies because we spend every day looking at trends across all categories. We form strategic insights not just for the brand category but the demographics.  That leads us to WHO BUYS OUR CLIENT’S PRODUCTS and how do we find the emotional connect to him or her.

We have also been fortunate enough to be working in the Real Estate arena with a fairly new client. And I can tell you for sure that stepping outside the everyday “white noise” of (some) real estate advertising has been a challenge we relish. And it is FUN.

One last thing….if you are one of those “speciality” agencies out there…give me a call…we would love to have you join us.

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Innovations and your Advertising Agency

A few years ago our agency was integrated into the Innovations Department of an Automotive Aftermarket client.  I didn’t know it at the time but it was a unique situation and very smart. The client set up representation from both inside and outside the company. So for example, I was on the team representing our agency. There was also an outside member from a very large package design company. From the inside there was representation from the marketing department and legal. All of this was designed for a very quick turnaround as we were vetting ideas almost weekly. That meant lots of focus groups and late nights writing concept statements. But it worked better than any of us imagined. It certainly worked for us because all agencies know that the sooner they get involved in a product introduction the more “original” the work will feel.

Since then I have never understood why more companies don’t open up their innovations to outside stakeholders as well as very important functions internally to expedite  the incubation period.

Should anyone reading this want to chat about how best to set up an innovations department please feel free to contact me.

 

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Chief Marketing Officers

A few years ago I was asked by the CEO of a fortune 500 client company to help find a CMO. Nothing that unusual about that for an agency Principal. What was unusual was that when I told him how I would get on it right away he stopped me and said…”what about you?”

Huh? Turns out since I was a member of the innovations team at the client and the CEO promised the Board he would get the approved new products into the pipeline within 6 months he needed me to do it.

I won’t bore you with the legal issues that needed to be dealt with since we were also outside suppliers but suffice it to say my agency life was put on hold for about 18 months.

This is where my respect for CMO’s (had it already) went way high. What a great job! As an agency guy I kept thinking I needed to get a “sign-off” on everything I did. Took me about three meetings with the CEO where he simply said;” You don’t need me to say okay to each step, you know what end result I am looking for so just do it.”

Holy crap! What a great rush. The absolute power to succeed (or fail) was under my control. It is an awesome task.

And there was so much to do. Every day. Hundreds of emails to sort through, meetings with suppliers and DECISIONS to be made. No question in my mind that you need to be super smart to hold down one of these jobs. I, of course went back to my agency job but truly missed the additive responsibility  to make the decision and throw the switch.  My hat is off to all of you CMO’s out there.

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Passion Categories

I was talking to someone yesterday about all the different categories our agency has worked on and how drawing from the learnings in each category can benefit all of our clients. And somehow we made it to “Passion Categories.”
These, for me, are categories where both agency and client have a real emotional connect. Now I am not saying that this isn’t possible in any category but after forty years of observing clients and agency staff I can tell you there is a definite nuance. For example we have a number of Publishing clients and I must say the level of enthusiasm for books, authors and reading among them is inspiring. Other categories I feel belong in this elite circle are Wine, Automotive Travel and Electronics . I am sure you have one or two to add to this list.
It is just an absolute pleasure to work in these “passion” categories.

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Seeking Your Strategic Rosetta Stone

The biggest change I have seen with most new client prospects in the past ten years is the scope of work doesn’t always mention something as specific as “find us a USP (Unique Selling Proposition).” But it does include “upfront Branding” as an assignment. I think this is kept so general because of the absolute clutter out there and how hard it is to stand out in your category (unless you created the category, of course). That’s why we take a very hard look outside client categories to find a place where they can stand alone instead of looking in the rear view mirror. There are a number of very good examples of this out there (and on our website). But since I don’t intend to use this blog as a propaganda tool I can give you at least one older example that I was vaguely involved in: Volvo was an somewhat ugly Automobile manufactured by the Swedes. Yet it became known for one thing (Core Value): SAFETY (Yes, that became a “category” for them). Volvo was successfully separated from the rest of the  Automotive category and for years they walked the walk. And  it was extremely successful. There are modern day versions of this success story and you must admit just knowing that is  true is both inspirational and empowering. I believe uncovering this category Rosetta Stone  is the most important thing an agency can do for a client today. And believe me that does not mean the creative product is not important. It certainly is but just think what a great creative team can do with a whole new category. It places absolute BREAKTHROUGH CREATIVE within reach. And name me a creative team that wouldn’t want to be a part of that.

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Blog?

We have been talking about an Agency Blog for what seems like a lifetime (in internet years). I always thought we would be really good at it and even if it was only read by our employees it would be a great way to help people understand our culture.  And, of course time passes and  finally my pals in our Digital Division (iFuel Interactive) made it easy for me (Read: all I have to do is type).

But here’s the thing; I did a bit of research before I sat down to write this. It scared the CRAP out of me because a majority of  my findings said blogging was dead (“Sooo 2008″). And so I thought that by trying to be a bit more “digital forward” I was actually going to unwittingly mark the Agency as backward. Obviously I got over it. I researched a number of agency sites that still include blogs and some are very well done and informative. And, in the end I decided that the agencies that dropped out were doing so simply because they were too lazy to keep their blogsite updated. That being said, we’ll see how we do to stay ahead of that “lazy gene.”  Stay tuned.

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