How Technology & Artificial Intelligence Are Changing the Workforce

Ad Agencies in The Age of Automation

“Hey Siri, can man replace himself.”   Siri: “Ask Watson.”

“Alexa, what is the meaning of life?”  Alexa: “The meaning of life depends on the life in question.”

Unknown-4For most boomers like me, our first exposure to automation was
at a NYC-based restaurant named Horn & Hardart. I remember well how cool it felt to put a coin in a machine, open the window and pull out a slice of real New York cheesecake. Horn & Hardart called their restaurants Automats and they changed the way we ate and drank forever.


Well, a similar revolution is adrift in the business world today and it’s built upon algorithms that improve company productivity, and therefore, profitability. These automated systems are most influential on the workforce: human resources, employees, talent.

If you haven’t begun the process of automating your business, it’s probably already too late. Somebody else in your category already has. You can laugh, but taxi companies also laughed when a technology-based livery company with a goofy name took the cash and hassle out of the personal transportation industry. This isn’t some futuristic bullshit. This is real and this is now.

How does this apply to creative agencies? Let’s begin with our only commodity/inventory: people. With all the hubbub over a commitment to training & learning — how do we know what’s really working? Most agencies throw money at seminars, conferences and “summits” (Really? That’s a pompous name for a money-making boondoggle) and assume they’ve done their part. But the keys to the kingdom rely on:

  • Measuring company impact of increased investments in Learning & Development.
  • Understanding emotional drivers of the people within your company vs. job responsibilities.
  • Connecting company performance and employee performance

How do agencies do that? Well, I’m excited to introduce LiiRN, a company Unknown-2revolutionizing today’s workforce. LiiRN is the brainchild of brain child George Swisher, one of the few men I have referred to as a “partner” in my 28 years in the advertising business. George and I have worked with dozens of agencies, helping them grow and get smarter.

This Fall, LiiRN is coming to a General Assembly near you. George will be hosting free Lunch & LiiRNs in NYC, Atlanta and LA in the next few weeks to educate you on  how technology and AI  are changing the workforce. What you don’t know can kill you. This hour with George will change your life. Here is the Eventbrite. Don’t miss it.





10 Regional Agencies That Sell Things

Remember selling? It’s gotten a bad reputation in the creative community

UnknownExcuse me, but I thought the purpose of advertising was to sell things. There’s a rumor out there that “people don’t want to be sold.” Don’t believe it. People want to buy. They want to be sold. Just ask any good salesperson.

That’s why people spend so much time online researching stuff: hotels, airfares, automobiles, clothing, food, beer, booze. And that’s just the essentials, I haven’t even mentioned the special interests: sports equipment, musical instruments, cigars, Bibles…people want to buy what they need and what they want. That’s why advertising exists.

In the rush to create content that “doesn’t sell,” we’ve lost our reason for being. When I 663id_146_044_w1600look at agencies for my reviews, the first question I ask is, “What do they sell?” When I look at creative people to recruit for a job, I ask the same question. And I’ve learned not to entirely trust the case studies and the portfolios.

As children, when asked what we wanted to be when we grew up — we likely answered “astronaut,” “baseball player,” “teacher,” “nurse.” As we grew up, the answers often changed to, “lawyer” or “doctor,” etc.. NOBODY said “I want to be a salesman!” But, almost everyone winds up being one; even if you are a lawyer or a doctor.

You don’t need me to tell you BBDO or Ogilvy sell things. But, if you’re an underdog/challenger brand requiring priority attention and service — please allow me to identify 10 regional agencies that actually sell things. These are the sleepers, the needles in the haystack:

SANTY  Scottsdale, AZ  Arizona was once the place where ad people went to die. Not so anymore. These guys are change-driven and help you manage change but they never lose sight of the prize — they sell.  What they sell: Snacks, Pizza, Ice Cream

BLUE SKY AGENCY  Atlanta, GA  This 25 year-old shop prides itself on being the go-to agency for growing Southern brands. But, they are all about the sale. What they sell: Hams, Braves tickets, Hotel rooms, Natural Gas

TOMBRAS GROUP  Knoxville, TN  No longer a “sleeper,” but I could not omit them. True, they connect data and creativity for business results, but if they didn’t sell things very well, that would just be another hollow agency tagline. What they sell: Beer, Baked Beans, Health club memberships, Cake, Insurance (Did I tell you I have the utmost respect for insurance salesmen?)

&DONOVAN  Greenville, SC  This agency takes hard-core sales to an art form (and a science experiment). They combine sales content with technology to form a method they call Contology. Sounds good, but “Can you sell me this pen?” as the Wolf of Wall Street said. The answer is yes. What they sell: Tacos, Beer, Cars (Did I tell you I also respect car salesmen?)

BRIGHT RED/TBWA  Tallahassee, FL  Speaking of “sell me this pen,” these folks actually do sell pens. Hey, if you can build a 160-person agency in Tallahassee and sell it to Omnicom, you can sell anything.  What they sell: Pens, Hotel rooms, Vacations, Burgers, Socks

FIZZ  Atlanta, GA  A real wildcard, they do Word-of-Mouth marketing. This is not to be confused with idle chatter. Their conversations sell. One-of-a-kind solution. When your advertising is not working, try this and count the money. Triple-digit ROI. What they sell: Beer, Milk, Energy drinks

quench  Harrisburg, PA  Nestled (or maybe Hersheyed) in the heart of America’s “snack belt,” these guys move food and beverages by the SKU off the shelf. You want to sell packaged goods? Check out this joint. What they sell: Tunafish, Beer, Iced Tea, Vegetables

SCOUT  Atlanta, GA  Recently acquired themselves, these guys put the “human” in humanizing your brand. And they get real humans to spend with brevity. No dog whistles here. What they sell: Bread, Carpet, Shrimp, Frozen seafood

ADMIRABLE DEVIL   Washington, DC  Some startups are more compelling than others. This one really grabbed my attention. What’s in a name? Everything. What does their name mean? That’s for you to figure out; but when you do it could change your life. What they sell: Apparel, Fishing tackle, Accessories

CUSTOM NYC  The only NYC agency to make the list. Why? They are different from any other agency I know. Why? They focus on complicated technology platform offerings and simplify the messages so businesses understand the value and benefit. The result? Companies buy.  What they sell:  Technology platforms

So, sell me this pen…








The Conversation: Palma featured on The Perception Channel

Adman grants rare interview to one of the world’s leading tech design firms; sounds off on ad agency biz dev, headhunting & golf

It’s been a long time coming. I’ve always been a little leery of spilling the beans on my personal life. I’ve been even more reluctant to divulge trade secrets. But, I was honored to do this video feature for  Jeremy Lasky and Danny Gonzalez of PERCEPTION and The Perception Channel. They are the best in the world at what they do, and at being nice guys.




2016 Review: Agencies of the Year, MVP’s, etc.

That was the year that was

unknown-1 “Father Christmas, give us some money 
Don’t mess around with those silly toys   
We’ll beat you up if you don’t hand it over
We want your bread so don’t make us annoyed
Give all the toys to the little rich boys.”Ray Davies  

War is over…the war on Christmas, that is. We enter the era of bullies and reverse Robin Hoods that steal from the poor and give to the rich. The advertising industry should feel right at home.

9 big wins:

  1. AT&T consolidating its billion-dollar business with Omnicom
  2. Sprint goes to Droga5
  3. Grey hooks Pfizer
  4. Goodby Silverstein snags Chrysler
  5. Wieden + Kennedy adds Chobani
  6. W+K also adds Duracell
  7. Chik-fil-A fires Richards Group after 20 years; hires McCann
  8. Nationwide Insurance hits up Oglivy
  9. McDonald’s signs up with We Are Unlimited — a pop-up agency fronted by Wendy Clark

5 impact hires:  


  1. Spence Kramer, W+K alum, named CEO at JWT Atlanta
  2. The peripatetic Bobby Pearce named CCO at David & Goliath
  3. Wade Alger goes to TBWA/NY
  4. Beats by Dr. Dre hires Perry Fair as SVP/Brand
  5. Mike Lear leaves Martin Agency for Erwin-Penland

Scandal of the Year

The bombshell allegations made against JWT Global CEO, Gustavo Martinez — doubtlessly the juiciest story of the year.


Okay, you don’t need me to tell you what you already know. Sure, Wieden, Martin, Crispin, Droga and BFG9000 are hot stuff. But who made the biggest breakthroughs in 2016?

Agency of the Year (Network division): Bright Red\TBWA

curtis   The Southeast outpost of global creative powerhouse TBWA, Florida-based Bright Red killed it in 2016. New business wins included:  Cayman Islands, Krystal Burgers, Youfit Health Clubs, and Gold Toe Socks. Significant hires paid off the likes of Jason Hatfield, EVP, Director of Client Services,  Jenn Kennedy, VP, Director of Digital, Suzanne Flowers, Director of Social Media, also moving up was Andy Jorishie to EVP, Strategy Director. Curtis & Carrie Zimmerman have built a winning team and culture.

Agency of the Year (Independent division): Tombras Group

It’s a family affair in Knoxville, TN at this 60 year-old legacy shop that has completely transformed into the agency that connects data and creativity for business results. Dooley Tombras, the third generation heir leads the charge (more on him in a bit). 2016 wins include Drakes Cakes, Coca-Cola Journey, Clayton Homes and Suntex. Key hires included Nigel Carr as Chief Strategy Officer, Rusty Howard, SVP Director of Social; Al Moffatt, SVP Special Projects and Ty Thornhill, SVP Group Account Director.

MVPGerry Graf, BFG9000

The work is sick good. It’s the place every creative in America wants to work. And the Notre Dame alum is a great guy.

unknown    Rookie of the Year: Dooley Tombras, Tombras Group

Don’t let the “aw shucks” persona fool you, this kid is a killer. Miami Ad School grad via Vanderbilt undergrad, look for this guy to build the next great Southeast agency.

Ad of the Year (heavyweight division): “Got No Strings” Beats by Dr. Dre

Have you seen it? What a spot!

Campaign of the Year (middleweight division): Duluth Trading Company  Men’s Cartoons

I love this stuff. This is what great retail advertising looks like.

Worst Ad of the Year: Duluth Trading Company   Woman’s apparel

Somehow, Duluth Trading Company won the double-whammy: Best and Worst of 2016. This is what pandering to the female outdoor demo looks like.







How to Retain Top Talent: 5 Tips

Doesn’t it seem that our world has become one big talent show? Turn on the TV (painful, I know)…The Voice, Dancing With the Stars, American Idol, X Factor, You’re a Star, The Glee Project, America’s Got Talent are just a handful of wannabe-celebrity talent shows. Or just log on to Facebook for daily videos of kids and cats performing stupid tricks. We can’t escape the exhibitionist mentality so pervasive in today’s society. In a winner-take-all world, everybody seems to want their fifteen minutes of fame.


The creative advertising industry has its own version of talent shows…we call them Awards Shows. Cannes Lions, One Show Pencils, Effies and Addys have replaced the erstwhile Clios that crashed due to its inherent overindulgence of egomania. But, our industry has never been exempt from “Hey look at me, I’m a star” syndrome. This is not a criticism but a commentary. My core business is delivering talent. Like the pizza man, I am part of the food chain, a ghost in this machine and my comments reflect 27 dreadful years of experience. Every time I try to get out, they keep pulling me back in.

Creative agencies are purely the sum total of their collective talent base. Without talent, there is no point of differentiation. Without talent, there is no value proposition; just boring processes. It’s funny how clients and search consultants insist on a certain critical mass of total employees yet they only want to pay for a few. But, that’s another post. This one is about keeping the talent you have recruited intact. Recognizing top talent is relatively easy. Identifying top talent is, as well. Recruiting the talent is tricky, but do-able. Delivering talent? Tough. Maximizing top talent? Very difficult. Retaining it — the toughest challenge of all. And if you lose it, it’s wasted on YOU.

So how do you do it? Nobody asked me, but here are a few tips:

  1. Program the hire for success from the start. Most unsuccessful hires can be traced to the early days of the employee’s tenure. Do you have an onboarding process? An agency orientation? A mentor program? Everybody needs a mentor. Have you prepared your current employees for an impact hire? It amazes me when an agency hires top talent and the candidate shows up unannounced for their first day of work. Or worse, when they have to supervise folks that have no idea who they are. Too often, an introductory email is sent out weeks following the hire and there is little definition of the candidate’s role.
  2. The 100 day review. When things break down, they break down fast. It’s critical to conduct reviews early and often. Simple questions like, “how does the actual job compare to the job description?” And, “are you more excited or less excited about the opportunity than when you accepted the offer?” At 200 days, the questions become more personal and specific, “are you challenged?” “Are you still having fun?”
  3. Everybody has an opinion. On operational issues, on creative issues, on cultural issues, on social issues. When I ask an employed job seeker why they are looking to move, too often they say, “nobody cares about my opinion, I’m just a hired gun.” Or worse, if they’re asked for their opinion — it isn’t valued and they feel ignored. Seek opinions from top talent…constantly.
  4. Decisions, Decisions. Nothing pisses off top talent more than evasive partners and colleagues that make passive-aggressive decisions. Or worse, are completely indecisive. Tomorrow never comes for them. They feel they are wasting their talent trying to catch jellyfish. Be decisive in defining roles. Dictatorship is okay as long as it’s fair and benevolent.
  5. Promises, Promises. In my experience, and that’s more than 1,000 hires; it breaks down far more often on the agency side than the candidate side. It hurts me to say this, because the agencies are my client (they pay everyone); but it never helps long-term to “sell” a candidate on an opportunity. If anything, under promise and over-deliver. There’s nothing worse than investing in top talent, introducing them to a key client and losing them because the reality of the opportunity differs from the perception.

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.