The Best of 2015

UnknownWhat is it about life that keeps us coming back for more? Since Genesis in the Garden of Eden, man is doomed to living by the sweat of his brow. We are gluttons for punishment. Still, in the face of a meaningless existence, “we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”  

Why? Because it is both a sad and beautiful world at the same time. It’s incumbent upon us to extract the beauty. Our duty is to seek out and savor satisfaction. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yes. For some, a liverwurst sandwich is repulsive. To others, like me, it is an art form accompanied by raw onion, rye bread and Düsseldorf mustard.

So here is my take on the best and wurst of 2015. These are the reasons I’ll be coming back for more:

Best Campaigns:

  1. Arby’simages-2
  2. DirecTV ( Rob Lowe)
  3. DirecTV (Cable World)
  4. Geico
  5. Honest Tea

Wurst Campaign: Obviously, Volkswagen

Best Agencies:

  1. BBDO/NYUnknown-1
  2. David&Goliath/Santa Monica
  3. 22squared Atlanta/Tampa
  4. Made Boulder, CO
  5. Droga5 NY

Wurst Agency: CP+B for the way they whacked Andrew Keller

People of the Year:242243bb59ac0c2e71897dd0db1cfdf4

  1. Pope Francis
  2. Jimmy Fallon
  3. Amy Schumer
  4. Raul Castro
  5. Lorne Michaels

Wurst Person of the Year: Donald Trump

Best Tech Toys:

  1. VisiblUnknown
  2. Sprinklr
  3. Zoove
  4. Uber app
  5. MLB At Bat app

Wurst Tech Toy: The Apple Watch

Best Comebacks:

  1. Arby’simages-3
  2. Sinatra
  3. Springsteen
  4. Sarge’s Deli
  5. ARod

Wurst comeback: Tiger Woods

Best Restaurants:

  1. Marcel Atlantaimages-1
  2. Eventide Portland, ME
  3. Nebo Boston
  4. Milo’s Birmingham
  5. Kimball House Atlanta

Wurst restaurant: Village Tavern, Winston-Salem, NC

Best Bars:

  1. Manuel’s Tavern Atlantaimages-4
  2. The Pittsford Pub Rochester, NY
  3. Fanelli Cafe NYC
  4. Carnegie Club NYC
  5. Jimmy’s Corner  NYC

Wurst Bar: Ink & Elm Atlanta (closed)

Best Albums:

  1. Ryan Adams 19891401x788-d'angelo-121514
  2. Taylor Swift 1989
  3. D’Angelo Black Messiah
  4. Bob Dylan Bootleg Series #12
  5. Adele 25

Wurst Album: The Ties That Bind: The River Collection  Bruce Springsteen

Best Cigars:

  1. Ramon Allones 2014 Specially SelectedHUP_Monarcas_TUB_OUT
  2. Juan Lopez Selección #2
  3. H. Upmann Sir Winston
  4. Cohiba Behike 52
  5. Herera Esteli Piramide

Wurst Cigar: Any fake Cuban your golf buddy hands you

Best Wines:

  1. Sea Smoke Ten 2013Unknown-2
  2. Produttori del Barbaresco 2010
  3. Melville Pinot Noir 2012
  4. Cornerstone “The Cornerstone” 2009
  5. Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2010

Wurst Wine: Most Chiantis and Cabernets

Best Fried Chicken:

  1. Publixthe-colonnade-restaurant
  2. Church’s Chicken
  3. The Colonnade Atlanta
  4. Mary Mac’s Tea Room Atlanta
  5. K&W Cafeteria NC

Wurst Fried Chicken: KFC

Best Sandwiches:

  1. “The Stack”  Marcel AtlantaUnknown-3
  2. Lobster Roll Eventide Portland, ME
  3. Roast Beef  The General Muir Atlanta
  4. Double Filet-o-Fish McDonalds
  5. Smokehouse Brisket  Arby’s

Wurst Sandwich: Corned Beef The General Muir (too fatty)

May the Schwartz be with you in 2016





2015 Review: Agencies of the Year, MVP’s, etc.

That was the year that was

Another year over. Another year gone. So what have we learned? Nobody asked me, but I’ve learned there is nothing more valuable in our industry than the impeccable execution of brilliant creative ideas.

There was a lot of noise. But, in the end it’s all just a whimper. It’s advertising. There are only two guarantees: accounts and people will come and go. What seems to matter most is that the line coming in the front door is longer than the one leaving out the back. Here’s a recap off the top of my head:

10 big wins & losses:

  • Subway boots MMB in Boston and signs on BBDO/NY
  • Olive Garden relieves Grey/NY and signs on McGarryBowen
  • Applebee’s departs CP+B and signs on Barkley
  • Bank of America abandons the Holding Company formula; ditches WPP for Hill Holliday
  • Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines bumps JWT for Mullen Lowe
  • Norwegian Cruise Lines ousts The Martin Agency for BBDO/Atlanta
  • Jack in the Box relinquishes Secret Weapon for David&Goliath
  • Priceline bumps Butler Shine for BBDO/NY
  • Bud Light whacks BBDO/NY for Wieden+Kennedy
  • Weight Watchers sheds Wieden+Kennedy for Havas

6 big hires:

  • Tor Myhren leaves Grey Global for Apple
  • Joe Tripodi lands at Subway
  • Wendy Clark blows off Coca-Cola for DDB
  • Simon Bond ditches BBDO for IPG
  • Susan Credle leaves Leo Burnett, joins FCB as Global CCO
  • Brad Brinegar named as Cheil CEO

The Palma Awards

Okay, you don’t need me to tell you what you already know. Sure, Wieden, Martin, Crispin and Fallon are hot stuff. BFG9000, Butler Shine and 72 & Sunny are the rising rockets (I already told you that 3 years ago). But who made the biggest breakthroughs in 2015?

Agency of the Year: 22squared (Atlanta & Tampa)

Eight account wins in 18 months, including Mizuno, The Home Depot, Krystal & SunTrust. Also named Ad Age’s Top 50 Places to Work. They are no longer the best-kept secret in advertising.

Small agency of the year: Made Movement (Boulder)

Bogusky investment pays off with the Made Men on a mission…this is the best story in advertising. When someone tries to guilt you about our industry, send them here:

Big agency of the year: BBDO/NY

Hard to call BBDO a breakthrough agency. But what John Osborn did out of NY this year was heroic. These are the NY Yankees of advertising.

FullSizeRenderMVP: Joe Alexander, The Martin Agency

Tough call with Gerry Graf and Ted Royer in the mix. Joe gets the nod. Amazing reel from what
was once known as a regional print agency.

Rookie of the Year: Perry Fair, J. Walter Thompson (Atlanta, Dallas, Houston)

Only one guy in the Southeast was named to Ad Age’s Top 40 Under 40: Mr. Fair. He’s the Andrew Wiggens of advertising. Watch out for great things to come in 2016.


The All-Video RFP…it’s about time

So your agency just spent about 200 hours frantically copying & pasting a written RFP response which you submitted a few minutes before the deadline. We all know the drill: assign sections of the response to a handful of senior managers and pour the ingredients into your RFP template. Then package it in a nifty custom binder and Fedex it off to the search consultant or client.

Then what happens?

Unfortunately, not much. I was quite surprised when I started running agency reviews 5 years ago how little of the written responses were actually read in the initial stage of the process. What I learned was that the voluminous agency tomes (many exceeding 100 pages) were perfunctorily glanced at, thumbed through or ignored entirely.

A video component has been a part of the RFP process for about 15 years. The first one I ever saw came from Boston-based Pile & Company around 2001 and it asked for a short agency “culture video.” Then a few years later, it evolved into a request for a 5-10 minute video of the agency team that would work on the account having a roundtable discussion about the opportunity. I always incorporated the latter into my RFP’s when managing a review.

But, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. My clients were ONLY watching the
Picture17videos and when impressed, they requested to ONLY look at the creative work. They ignored the written responses. Instead, they would simply ask me some of the key questions like, “how many employees?” and “where are they based?” and “do they have experience in our category?” And, of course, “where did they come out on their cost proposal?” They didn’t read the written response until we boarded a plane to visit a semi-finalist agency!

Which got me thinking…the video format allowed for breakthrough creativity and opportunities to make emotional connections with the client. It gave challenger agencies the chance to out-hustle the big boys. The best ones entertained, educated and inspired. AND they saved everybody a ton of time. What if the RFP called for video response entirely?

I just finished my second ALL-video RFP review. We asked the basic 12 or so questions be addressed up front (employees, mission, process, etc.). And then we asked to meet the team. And then we gave them creative license to riff however they wanted: “Show us what you’re all about…”

Most of the videos came in at 10-12 minutes in duration, and were shot with a GoPro camera. The good ones made us laugh or cry or get goosebumps (the best ones, all three). With two courageous and innovative marketing clients, I think we revolutionized the Agency Review process.

It’s not about saving trees…it’s about saving time.

Interested in learning more? Click here.


Palma Portfolios…it’s about time

imagesOften I’m asked by creative people for advice & assistance in constructing their portfolio and digital presence. In 27 years, I’ve placed more than 1,000 creative people at some of the best agencies in the business: CP+BBBDO, GSD&M, C-K and 22squared, to name just a few. I’ve reviewed tens of thousands of creative portfolios and have learned what kind of book gets agency interviews, and what kind gets ignored.

While the format has evolved from hard-shell cases to online portfolios, the basic question remains the same: How can you best showcase your experience and work?images-1

Due to popular demand on all levels — from Juniors to ECD’s, I’ve decided to launch a new offering for creative candidates seeking to upgrade their portfolios and careers:

It’s called Palma Portfolios and it works like this:

  • Thorough online portfolio and resume review
  • Complete online profile review (LinkedIn, etc.)
  • 30-minute telephone consultation
  • Written summary with critique and recommendations
  • Placement in the active Palma database
  • Nominal fee
  • Buddies for life

For more information click here.

Why Most Restaurants Need a Better Creative Agency


We all know the importance of breakthrough creative advertising for any brand or category. In the sea of sameness that is the restaurant category, an effective ad campaign is what often separates the industry leaders from the pack.

Today, the restaurant landscape consists of a handful of “haves” and then, hundreds of “have-nots.” The haves are killing the competition: maintaining significant margins, reporting consistent growth and sales increases, attracting strong franchisees and of course, building brand preference and driving volume simultaneously. The have-nots are giving away food (“2 for $20,” etc.), reporting consecutive quarters in the red and struggling to keep their franchisees and/or investment partners at bay.

Millward Brown recently ran a study on award-winning creative work and determined that it is 2,000 times more likely to be effective. I know that marketers generally tend to be leery of creative awards; but, strong creative works.

You can pretty much tell who the haves and have-nots are just by watching TV. Chipotle, Panera, Taco Bell, Subway and Popeye’s are a few restaurant brands killing the competition with breakthrough creative. Particularly impressive are the effects of recent strong creative on formerly stale, struggling brands like Arby’s and Church’s Chicken.

And, the have-nots? Just look at the new McDonald’s work, or Wendy’s, or Burger King’s or Olive Garden’s or Golden Corral’s. Is it bad? No, it’s worse — it’s mediocre. And it all looks the same.

7 tell-tale signs you need a better creative agency:

  • Your ads look and sound like everyone else in the category (wet meat, steaming vegetables, price/item, LTO-message only) and lack strong, memorable creative concepts
  • Your agency has stopped constantly bringing fresh ideas to you; they’ve lost enthusiasm for your business
  • Your agency has continuing employee turnover on your account, particularly in the creative department
  • Your Social Media/Digital Content/Community Management marketing doesn’t translate or connect to sales increases
  • And, of course, you are struggling to maintain strong margins because you are giving food away
  • You system’s unit growth has ceased
  • Same-store sales are flat

Sometimes, even great creative agencies like Wieden + Kennedy and CP+B drop the ball — as they have recently with KFC and Applebee’s respectively. The reason? It’s hard (really hard) to cram a memorable creative concept into the restaurant commercial “formula.” You’ve got to show the food, you’ve got to show the deal…that only gives you a few precious seconds to execute a strong concept as well. I believe this makes the restaurant category the most challenging creatively.

The New Agency Website: What’s working now?

So this is the digital age. You are not just an ad agency anymore. You are now a hybrid, tradigital, Unknown-2
media agnostic, nimble, agile, curating creator of commercial content
. Good for you. Why does your website still look like an ad agency’s?

It’s no great insight that your company’s single most important piece of identity is your website. It’s where you send prospects, clients, search consultants, headhunters and potential employees to learn more about you and what you do. It’s where Google sends anyone who searches your name. It’s probably the most important piece of communications you will ever create. I spend most of my waking life looking at these things. Why am I mostly underwhelmed?

Recently, an old friend called to say he was re-doing his agency’s site and asked if I had any tips. This man, mind you, has one of the most startling imaginations of any creative I have worked with in my 27 years in advertising. In short, a great new site takes a great imagination. So he’s off to a good start. Make sure you appoint your most imaginative minds to your new site. The old site was a “business tool.” The new site is much more than that. It’s your digital persona.

UnknownThe trap is to talk to yourselves. Don’t fall in it. I’ve looked at agency sites from every possible angle: with clients, as a search consultant, as a headhunter, as a recruit and as a biz dev person. I’ve observed what causes your targets to keep clicking (the new site) or opt out (the old site).

Old site:

  • Themeless — No connection of your positioning to any mission, purpose or specialty
  • Words — “About us”…riddled with clichés and pompous agency-speak
  • Pictures — Ads, head shots, office space, ping-pong tables, posers posing for “candid” photos
  • Case studies — “When Acme Corporation came to us, boy were they up shit’s creek. We saved the day with our trademarked processes, brilliant insights and (mediocre) creative, and here’s how…”
  • Bios — “Joe has won every imaginable award on the planet. He loves dogs and look how handsome he is.”
  • TV spots — usually the only moving thing on the site besides that unsettling download onto the landing page
  • CTA — “What are you waiting for? Fill out this generic form below”

New Site:

  • Theme — The site makes an immediate statement and emotional connection to what the agency brand stands for
  • Video — The connection is made through a short agency video that connects the agency’s positioning with the core values of your targets. This is the first thing that comes up front & center on your landing page.
  • Infographics — The most effective way to explain who, you are, what you do and why you do it. “The agency in 60 seconds” is a better link to these than “About us”
  • Creative showcase — don’t “let the work speak for itself”
  • Case studies — 1 minute videos or infographic, beautifully designed
  • Bios — 30-second videos. A great creative opportunity
  • CTA — Again, a video. Close me; in a brilliantly unique & entertaining way.

Now they want to learn more about you. People don’t read websites until they want to buy. They look. They watch. They share. This is the digital age, lest we forget.








The New Agency Credentials Meeting: What’s working now?

So you got a meeting. A prospect has agreed to meet with you or your agency has advanced in a pitch process. Great. Now what? piranha_bites_heart_on_hook_anti_valentines_day_card-r6ca99ffe1882408089e3162ce57ef6b5_xvua8_8byvr_324

The trap is to plan the agenda around your agency’s credentials. Don’t fall in it. I’ve been on both sides of the table: as an agency search consultant for brand marketers and as a business development consultant for agencies. I’ve observed what entices clients to bite (the new meeting) and what causes them to fishtail away (the old way).

Old Way:

  • This is who we are — riddled with clichés and pompous agency-speak
  • This is what we do —  puffed-up agency capabilities and service offerings
  • This is how we work — trademarks, proprietary processes, secret sauces
  • This is the proof (work & case studies) — eyes begin to glaze over by the second case study
  • “Ok, enough about us, let’s talk about you…” — the client is checking their watch and smart phone by now

The best and most effective meetings I’ve been a part of in the past few years (on both sides of the table) begin something like this: The agency leader puts a jump drive on the conference table in front of the client and says, “Here are our credentials, if we have time and you are interested, we can take you through them. But, we’re here to discuss your brand and your business and learn more about your challenges.” Then the meeting proceeds something like this:

New Way:

  • This is who you are (brand video, brand book or manifesto) — the best meetings begin by making an emotional connection with the client. They think, “Wow, they get us.”
  • This is why we like you (missions aligned) — Demonstrate passion, don’t talk about it.
  • This is your customer (and they are us) — Don’t pitch prospects you don’t believe in
  • These are your challenges (truthful) — Address the toughest challenges, the brutal facts
  • These are our ideas for you — Business ideas, marketing ideas not necessarily spec creative
  • “Oh, you want to know more about us? Sure…” — Now you’ve got their attention as they fumble around for the jump drive.

Now they want to see your case studies to see if you have experience in successfully executing similar business/marketing ideas for other clients. Now you have a chance to win their business.