Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Sporting Scene

I know that Print media is supposed to be dead. The numbers certainly bear that out. But, I still subscribe to some of my favorite print publications — The New Yorker and Cigar Aficionado are two (actually I received the subscriptions as gifts). I have no problem reading The New York Times or the Huffington Post on their  iPhone apps — especially on the go. But some of the most creative and useful content is not free. The Wall Street Journal won’t give it away. And neither does The New Yorker‘s digital edition.  You pay to read.

Most publications are sterile. They contain news, stories, columns, Annie Liebovitz photos — they can be interesting and entertaining. They lose very little in the translation from hard copy to digital formatting.  The New Yorker is different. Since 1925, the publication has been the premier showcase for writers, poets, critics and humorists. Recluses like J.D. Salinger and Woody Allen felt comfortable releasing their new work on its pages. The news reporting and commentaries are thorough and cerebral without being haughty. It harkens to the reader who seeks seminal creative content. Unlike many publications it rejects the ephemeral and pop cultural.

I enjoy the tactile experience of reading a hard copy of The New Yorker. I like having copies of it on the credenza. I like taking it to bed, on the plane, to the bathroom. I like the fact that it is published weekly. I like it’s taste and style — its lack of slickness and hipness. I like the cartoons. It will look fine on an iPad , I guess. But, what if you forget to bring your iPad to the dentist’s office? Or if your flight doesn’t have wiFi? Some of my most memorable creative enjoyment has occurred 20,000 feet above geometric farmland with The New Yorker in my hands — it’s very presence a more revealing clue into my personality than anything I can wear or maybe even say. If you carry an iPad around the airport, we know you’re digital. And cool. If you’ve got a rolled up issue of The New Yorker in the back pocket of your khakis or jeans — well, that tells us something else entirely.

One of my favorite columns in the venerable publication is The Sporting Scene. John McPhee, Herbert Warren Wind, Roger Angell and John Updike are just some of the authors whose pieces on sports have appeared in this space. So I humbly proceed with my first sports “column”. What does this have to do with growing your creative agency? Well, nothing directly — but I’m pretty certain that if you read The New Yorker, you personally will be more creative and you’ll propagate a more creative culture.

Ok, first up — steroids in baseball. Steroids are illegal drugs. They enhance strength and performance. They make an interminably long season easier to navigate. You could describe amphetamines with these very same words. Baseball players in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s religiously popped “greenies” (see Bouton, Jim “Ball Four”). Amphetamines were part of the fabric of the game, synonymous in the players’ vernacular with “doubleheader”, or “day game”. Nobody questions anyone’s statistics from this era or holds anyone accountable for amphetamine use. But, we do know this —  if an Olympian peed greenies after a medal event, they would be stripped. I’m not defending steroid use;  but, I just have to laugh when the old guard makes a grandstand play on the sacrosanctity of statistics and how steroids taint the game’s history.  Reminds me a little of the drunk who castigates potheads.

NY/NJ gets the 2014 Super Bowl. SO this game will be played outdoors? I was in the city the past 4 Super Bowls to judge the NY Addys. We usually do a Judges roundtable at the New York Athletic Club and discuss the spots. Hey. I don’t remember ever being colder ANYWHERE than this past year’s Super Bowl evening in NYC. Who will they get to do the Halftime show? I think it needs to be a Canadian act, or ABBA (from Sweden) — someone who knows how to perform in cold weather.

LeBron James is a free agent. How can he not want to come to NY — and how can he not want to BE the face of  the new Brooklyn franchise? Never again in the history of sport will someone have an opportunity to come into the biggest city in the world and LAUNCH a totally new franchise. It is completely unprecedented.                                                                                  

Speaking of NY hoops — how can Spike Lee not become a Nets fan? If anyone saw Crooklyn, you know the dude is not a Manhattanite. Yes, he hangs at the Regency Hotel watching Knicks’ road games with his buds and he’s The Garden’s version of Jack Nicholson — but Spike’s a Brooklyn boy (who you calling “boy”?). I personally think he’s prejudiced against Italians — as was evidenced by the tragic ending of Do the Right Thing. But, I’m not here to pre-judge anyone.

Tiger. Has anyone not written something about Tiger? Let’s stay with sports here — I believe his former swing coach really let him down. I mean Hank Haney was so busy fixing Charles Barkley’s swing and Ray Romano’s swing that he forgot to fix Tiger Woods’ swing.

June brings us the NBA Finals. Just a hunch — everyone anticipates another historic Celtics-Lakers saga. You’re reading it here first, I see a Magical Sun on the horizon for the Finals. If so Boston will have two teams who have blown 3 – 0  playoff series leads in the same post-season.

I can’t wait for the release of Ken Burns‘sequel to Baseball (“The 10th Inning”) in September. Supposedly, it examines the steroid issue, the International talent explosion and the Red Sox miracle of 2004.

While Hanley Ramirez has been rightfully demonized for dogging it and bucking his manager, I do agree with one point he made. If you never played, you can’t possibly know what’s it’s like to be a player. I am very leery of coaches or managers who never played professionally. I wouldn’t want to play for one. This much is true, Hanley Ramirez is the best all-around player in baseball. He will have a bad day now and then. And at 27 years old, it would be nice if he were as mature as we’d like him to be — but you can’t coach talent. And it’s difficult to manage it if you never had it.

Closing on the phenom of the future — Pitcher Stephen Strasburg will make his imminent MLB debut in the next two weeks. I look for him to get shelled in the hyped premiere. Then I see him to settling down and becoming either the next Mark Prior or Tom Seaver, who’s still the best I ever saw. I know Gibson was a badass competitor but I thought Seaver had more pitches. I did see Koufax and Drysdale start each end of a doubleheader one Sunday in Shea Stadium — but I was like 6 years old. I still have the vivid recollection of Drysdale hitting one off the scoreboard in the nightcap and my grandfather slipping the usher a fin so we could sit downstairs.

Creative Musings, Part I

I spoke with a Chief Creative Officer of a large NY agency the other day. He’s a hot guy — all the recent awards: Pencils, Lions. He’s contemporary, hip, topical — generally viewed as on the leading edge of communications, both traditional and non-traditional. I asked him what the level of creative commitment clients today have to digital and viral work. He said, “We keep bringing our clients very cool viral campaigns and digital ideas — and they smile a ‘that’s cute’ smile — then say, ‘that’s great, where’s my TV campaign'”.

I recently presented ideas to a Chief Marketing Officer at a global QSR chain. I had the strategy boards on the table to set-up the work and he raised his hand to cut me off . He said, “Let me see the storyboards and I’ll tell you if I want to hear the strategy.”

Why does every pitch I’ve been in recently feel more and more like the scene in Albert Brooks’  Lost in America — when he tries to get his money back from the casino honcho, played by Garry Marshall?   This one:  watch?v=U4RZTNtuZvQ

Does anyone else think the Fifa World Cup TV advertising is the best work they’ve seen so far this year?

What if Tiger came out Gangsta? You know like, “That’s right, I banged those hoes.”

Has anyone seen the BBDO Hyatt promotion? 365 day giveaway. Great work, but makes me feel like Hyatt is getting away from the business traveler. I certainly don’t want to be anywhere near those girls in the spots (and I’m sure the feeling is mutual).

I love summer — even if the soup is cold.

I can’t figure out how YouTube is legal. What’s more important — public domain or an individual’s right to privacy? How about ownership of creative property and trademark rights? It’s cool and all, I’m just sayin’.

Has anyone ever sat through an advertisement on the internet?

I wonder how the folks at dotcoms feel when people navigate away from their site because they don’t know how to delete an obtrusive ad, or don’t have the patience to sit through it. At least with TV, we have the remote. When you’re online, you’re stuck. I guess they don’t care about me, their reader, they got their money already. Is there a metric that can track those who navigate away reflexively? You know, like Arbitron in radio.

What is Agency Spy trying to prove anyway? That most agencies suck? Like we don’t already know that?

I once had a database service in 2006 that listed 2 World Trade Center as a company’s address.

An accountant I know recently got a tattoo. He’s still an accountant. Reminds me of a lot of ad agencies.

Doesn’t it seem a little squirrelly when creatives insert their names into campaigns? You know, when the Insurance Agent’s name is the same as the Creative Director.

You’d think a company that has had its business in review 3 times in the past 7 years wouldn’t need the services of a search consultant to identify potential fits.

If print is dead, why is my mailbox full of junk mail?

Speaking of print — does anyone else think that the imminent success of the iPad can create a renaissance of the “print” medium? It may be renamed however, something like “flat” advertising.

Did anyone else think the Super Bowl spot was way underrated?

Finally, this bit of sad news to the creative community — a comment on the general lack of interest in creative work. Agencies better watch out, pretty soon your client’s CEO’s wife will be writing the ads.

Dear readers,

It is with sadness that we inform you that Boards magazine has ceased publishing immediately. Established in 1999, Boards rapidly evolved into one of the world’s most respected media brands serving the international advertising and commercial production community. Over the years we’ve built a legacy of cutting-edge journalism that helped to unite a disparate market with unflinching perspective and insight.

Each month we took the pulse of the industry and pointed the way towards new opportunities for our entrepreneurial readership. There wasn’t a single moment that we didn’t consider how our efforts might contribute to a better industry for all. Through that lens, we hope we made a difference.

Major long-term trends over the past several years have forced our clients to re-evaluate their business models and the recent global economic turmoil has simply accelerated that need. This process will take many years to unfold but, ultimately, this business will thrive once again in a new form by harnessing the sheer creative force from which it was born.

It has been a pleasure to serve you all of these years. We thank you for your undying support, all of the good times we’ve shared and, most of all, wish you much success as you tackle this brave new world.

– Boards Magazine

How to Win One Good Account a Year: FIFTH TAKE

5. Approach them intelligently with an idea or insight that will help them drive business

This is the final installment of the series: How to Win One Good Account a Year: Take 5!

In the past decade, we’ve had two major recessions — the double whammy. It’s fair to call this the Recessionary Era of Advertising. Under such circumstances, it’s not difficult to understand why new business has become such a high priority for ad agencies. In 10 years, the function of agency business development has gone from a luxury to a necessity. In the 90’s, it was mostly the larger agencies that could afford this “luxury” (a luxury employee is one who is not billable). Today, you can’t afford NOT to have a dedicated new business program/function/person.

I talk to marketing directors every day. They tell me that they have never seen or heard more outreach by ad agencies than now. They receive countless tweets, calls, emails, materials, books, brochures, PDF’s, live links. What they tell me is that 99% of the outreach is about the agency, their people, their awards, their case studies, their positioning, their cool office space, their latest hot campaign, their omniscience to all things pertinent to their business. What most of the agencies fail to do, is demonstrate that they’ve given any thought to the prospect and their business challenges.

There’s a myth floating out there that “all agencies look and sound the same” in their positioning. This claim was more accurate 10 years ago. Since then, I’ve noticed that the better creative agencies have done a great job in differentiating themselves. The top creative agencies recognized this and changed the way they communicated their offering and positioned themselves. It’s funny how the best agencies did little communicating at all — they preferred to let their work speak for them. They showcased it on a neat site with as little of the usual salesmanship as possible. Their work was VISIBLE. People saw it and liked it. They talked about it. It won awards. Marketing directors noticed. Consultants noticed. They got invited to pitch and they won a few and lost a few.

Then the second recession hit and cash became about as tight as an old man returning soup to the deli.

Existing clients cut spending. New business reviews, while seemingly abundant, were more often than not, futile fishing expeditions on behalf of struggling, unprofitable marketers. That’s when everyone either became a new business director or hired one.

So that’s the world marketing directors live in. They become the boy in the bubble because everyone’s become a salesman selling their agency. I think there’s a new way to sell. I believe our new business targets are smarter and hipper than ever. They’re certainly younger than ever. They have more digital acumen than ever. But, do NOT let the presence of additional outreach tools like twitter be a substitute for developing a personal relationship with your top 5 prospects. Do not let social media make you less social, or even anti-social.

The best way to differentiate yourself from other agencies and their outreach programs is to treat your top 5 prospects as clients. Up to this point in the series we have:

  • gotten smart on their business
  • established credibility as a thought leader
  • been creative and entertaining
  • developed a relationship

None of those things has brought one dime into your agency from your top prospects. What they have done, however, is pave the road for you to do what you do best — help solve one of their critical marketing challenges. By now, you should have identified a gaping hole in the prospect’s marketing mix that you can fill. You may even have an unexpected insight into their target, or an opportunity they are missing out on in the marketplace. You have an idea that can help them drive business.  If you don’t by now, why are they even on your prospect list? Tell them you have an idea. They need ideas.

I’ve heard that Jack Connors was a master pitchman. Supposedly, he would always say in a meeting, “we’ve done some homework on your business, here are 3 things we think you could do right now”.  They weren’t spec ads, or media plans — but business ideas.  The “idea” you bring to the prospect should never be ADVERTISING, or creative. Make them pay for that. Besides, it’s too expected — creative agency brings in fluff, free, spec creative. They will not value a free product. Creative work is your product. But, you will surprise them with a business idea or a target insight. You don’t need to blow it out. You don’t need fancy boards or powerpoint.

Tell the prospect you want to meet for 20 minutes at the Mom & Pop coffee shop closest to their office. If you have to go to Starbucks, okay — but I find most of them too loud and WIRED (gee, imagine that). Show the prospect your idea on a napkin. Don’t let them have the napkin. Get clarification on the potential for them executing your idea. Explore other opportunities in their mix. Find out who else would be involved in making a decision. Close on a meeting back at their office (or invite them back to yours). If they agree, then you can blow the idea out and sell it in. You’ve hit a double off the wall. If not, your  idea had warning track power. Keep swinging for the fences. Maintain the relationship. Be professional. Your respectful persistence will be rewarded. Maintain an unwavering faith in your ideas. Your ideas will become meetings. Your meetings will become projects. Your projects will become retainers.

Building a Balanced, Organic Prospect List: The Prospect Pyramid

Let’s take a timeout from the outreach case studies and look at how to build your list. In building a manageable list — say 150 prospects (there is no set number) — you will chart a road map that will lead you to your Top 5 Prospects. We know that those Top 5 should get 80% of your attention; but that leaves 50% of your time unaccounted for (Yogi Berra math). More importantly, it broadens your bandwidth and increases your odds. Everyone knows to establish criteria and emphasize category experience. Yes, you can approach several prospects in the same category with the same unexpected insight or business idea.

One of the most interesting things I learned working on the agency side was the role that Planners played in determining the sweet spot (why does everyone put that term in parentheses?) target audience for their clients. I loved the way they profiled demos and anointed the target with pithy titles — “The Discount Diva” for Song Airlines was my favorite. The Planners established target criteria, set up a prism and fed different profiles through the prism. I’m a bit surprised that agencies don’t do more of that for themselves — you know, run basic research on their targets and feed them through an Account Planning prism (maybe some do — I’ve just never heard anyone talk about it yet). Well, that’s the way I started to approach prospecting — set criteria, build a prism and run prospect profiles through it.

Lee Lynch built a pretty good creative agency at Carmichael Lynch. Someone once showed me his new business triangle on a napkin. I lost the napkin but built my pyramid around an adaptation of Lynch’s triangle. It looks like this and is fairly self-explanatory:

Palma-Prospect Pyramid

It’s important for agencies to have a balanced client roster. It’s healthier, better for morale, and better for their clients. It’s more conducive to fresh ideas and uncluttered thinking. It rejects cookie cutter solutions. I know that opinion flies in the face of the conventional wisdom of promoting your agency as narrow specialists — but didn’t Bogusky just give a rousing keynote on the merits of defying convention — on breaking the rules? If you were a basketball coach, you would have a very difficult time winning with five point guards. Or five centers. or five rebounders. You need all those things to win, but the great teams are balanced. Therefore, I think it’s important to have a balanced prospect list. One key point on the Pyramid is to realize that your Top 5 prospects will come out of the “meat” grouping. This group represents half of your total prospect list.

Again, everyone knows the basic criteria: category, geography, demographics, revenue, etc.. Lately, I’ve had the most success with another criterion. I don’t have a pithy name for it, but a great way to build a relationship with a marketer is to “live” their brand. Those prospects’ brands are in your closet, your garage, your refrigerator, your liquor cabinet. They’re on your American Express statement and your bank drafts. Ask your new business council to run an audit on the brands they live with and make a list. You can speak with conviction to these prospects. You can lead an exciting conversation. Exciting conversations are memorable. This is organic prospecting — not shaking down your existing clients for more money.

I know the new wisdom is to dumb everyone down into being category “experts” (geez, how pompous). I’ve heard all the fear-mongering, “clients are afraid, they want ‘safe’… they want round pegs for round holes”. Reminds me of fashionistas who say “never wear plaid and stripes together” or foodies that won’t mix red wines with seafood. Is there anything less interesting than a matchy-matchy person?  I’ve also seen how some search consultants construct their RFP’s. Part of their service is to eliminate the guesswork. I believe that when smart marketers seek creative solutions, a little art appreciation is required — it’s not a pure science and math.

Regardless, most small-to-midsized creative agencies will never see the shadow of a search consultant, no less an RFP from one — so don’t prospect accordingly. The real truth is that the last thing your best people want to work on is another account in your cash cow category. And on the prospect side, you will be eliminated from consideration due to a perceived conflict within your “expert category” at least as many times as a prospect will value category experience. The best prospects want fresh ideas anyway. They want to stand out and defy category conventions. They want to be a category of “one”.

Breaking the Ice With a Top Prospect By Showing Your Ass

Fourth Take, Continued

It can be frustrating — putting all this time into your business development program: creating a new business culture, assembling a council, doing your homework, getting smart on category trends, identifying your prospects…and then you can’t even get your prospect to notice you. Well, why should he? You’ve done nothing for him — everything you’ve done up to this point has been for you and your agency. To expect him to drop everything and take your call is presumptuous, at best. If you’re going to bother someone on a consistent basis — you’d better do more than talk about your agency.  You’d better at least entertain your target.

As Gossage said, people filter their messages by what entertains them. It doesn’t matter what kind of transformation or revolution is occurring in our industry; once our messaging fails to entertain — our services are devalued (entertainment includes “discovery”).  So, therefore our initial outreach efforts to top prospects should reflect the kind of work we would do for them. It should have the same tone — speak their enthusiasts’ vernacular. In short, it should reflect their brand. It should feature a skill that you can immediately bring to their existing marketing mix — in essence, giving them a taste of what you can do for them. In the Hammerhead Case Study, it was obvious that our guys had a gift for radio scripts. For a New Jersey-based retailer, like Jackson Hewitt, that was pretty attractive. Especially when the radio they were getting from their agency sucked. It paved the road for an”idea” for a radio campaign come tax time.

I’ve found that most biz dev folks are pretty adept at talking about their agency and what it offers. The best ones however lead conversations about the prospect’s business. They rarely refer to their agency — and when they do, it’s framed in a current or previous client’s relevance to the prospect’s business. Leave the credentials stuff to digital outreach. Attach a creds link to a an email following a real conversation. Don’t always be closing. This is not Glengarry Glen Ross. You’re not selling land investments.

Think of icebreakers in terms of a campaign. Stagger your messages. The first one will be ignored. Everyone sends out one cute thingy. By the last one, they should be wanting more. It should be that entertaining. If you can’t create an entertaining campaign to the prospect featuring the benefit of your agency’s skills — then how can you expect the prospect to believe you can do it for their business?

Before we look at the next case study, a brief word on viral videos. The beauty of them is they are so easy and cheap to produce. All you need is a great idea. Creatives love doing them, even more than their client work. Clients love seeing them on youtube. So do prospects. I recently had a prospect show me one in a meeting — unprompted. He just said, “check this out — some guy in California sent me this.” It was great. If you’re not doing them for your prospects — others are. And if you are, someone did one better than yours.

Case Study: Firehouse

Situation: We got wind that Haggar and Crispin had recently split. The much-ballyhooed “equity stake relationship” apparently fizzled. As a  Dallas-based creative agency, we viewed Haggar as a terrific top prospect. They were a national account, based locally. And they already proved to place a premium on great creative. And heck, they didn’t even have to give us equity in their company — just an initial project where we could prove our chops. Except I couldn’t get their CMO to return my emails after a scintillating initial conversation (I finally got him on the phone at 6:45 pm one night) when he agreed to a lunch meeting.

Solution/Creative Idea: Since I had told him we were a creative shop — we decided to do a viral video idea to show him what we could do for Haggar (some viral spots for youtube).  We didn’t shoot the Haggar spots (we didn’t know enough about what he wanted at that point). Instead, we shot a pilot to a series of agency vignettes. The pilot featured the Firehouse President sitting at his desk — very deadpan, his natural demeanor — speaking agency speak; how his agency would like to help Haggar do some really cool stuff that got noticed by the target — guys like him, thirty-and-forty-somethings. After a minute of this he announces that if they can’t have Haggar, the agency won’t have any pants at all. The big reveal is, you guessed it, he stands up and he’s got nothing but some tacky boxers on. For the next 5 days, we shot vignettes — security camera-type stuff — the agency at work. Everyone in their underpants. Yes, chicks too. Like the Hammerhead spots in the previous case study, the brilliance is not in the context, but in the delivery and content. Each vignette ended with a log-in to an agency Haggar microsite. Each vignette was sent via email to the prospect with body text claiming we would not put our pants back on until our prospect took a meeting.

Result: On day 5, I got this email from the prospect:

Michael, thanks for the ongoing entertainment.
We loved your vignettes and want to meet you.
Our Director of Consumer Marketing will reach out with details.

And then a week later, this email arrived:

Hi Michael-

Stephen asked that I reach out to you and schedule some time to better
understand your capabilities. I am responsible for consumer marketing
for both our men's and women's businesses. I could meet on Tuesday of
next week at 3 PM or Thursday morning. We can set something up here or we
can come there. Let me know what works for you. 


Director, Consumer Marketing
Haggar Clothing Co.
11511 Luna Road
Dallas TX 75234

How to Win One Good Account a Year: FOURTH TAKE

Create an outreach program that is consistent, polite, non-threatening & professional

If you haven’t heard the news, traditional outreach methods for agency business development have recently gone out of vogue. Like traditional advertising, they’re out. How uncool to have an agency “book” or “reel”. How uncool to call a prospect and try to have an actual conversation. And heaven forbid we invite the prospect to breakfast or lunch or over to the agency for a beer.

There’s a new way of communicating with our prospects and it’s totally sterile, fail proof and guaranteed to grow your agency — you just tweet prospects to your blog and they become instant qualified leads. And if you have narrowed your specialty offering to the point of banality — “we’re the round hole for your round peg” — then new business just comes to you. Just tweet, blog and win. Sounds like a promotion. Bonus points if you write a book proving how smart you are — like Joey Reiman.

How jejune. I believe people do business with people. Most of the business I’ve ever seen move is the result of relationships. This series is not about chumming for numberless prospects. It’s about taking your agency’s new business fate into its own hands; not waiting for someone to hit your blog. Do the social media jagoff (must be said with a Chicago accent) with the rest of your prospect list. This series is about your Top 5 Prospects.

If you were a college basketball coach recruiting players — you would not have the same outreach program for your 30th rated recruit as you would your top 5 recruits. You’ve GOT to get one of those. So you spend more time, energy, creativity and passion recruiting them. So treat your  Top 5 prospects differently. They deserve 80% of your attention. Again, in the meantime — you’ll get RFP’s, get referrals and have the same crappy accounts SEEK YOU OUT. And you’ll win some of those. But this is about building a strategic plan for the growth of your agency; and maintaining a consistent and creative dialogue with your prospect.

Let’s start with the premise that you’re a creative agency. If not, stop reading here.  What do clients really want? Great creative. That’s what makes them stars. They can leverage  great creative with their CEO or to enhance their careers. Yes, they all talk about integration, ROI, service, planning, measurement, digital, social, yada. But ALL those things assume a great creative idea. Creative is the end to all those means. You can call it content, or ideation, or whatever you want. I still call it “creative”.  It’s a noun, not an adjective. And you have to ascribe to the theory that great creative EQUALS effectiveness. At BBDO, they like to talk about a study conducted by Millward Brown that award-winning work is 2,000 times more likely to be effective than other work. That’s Millward Brown — not some Survey Monkey poll.

The best marketers know this — they know great work is what will save their jobs and enhance their careers. And 5 of them should be at the top of your prospect list. So how do you communicate with them? Creatively. Personally. Intimately. Intelligently. Professionally. Politely. What keeps most biz dev folks from doing this well is the fact they are also trying to communicate with hundreds of other prospects. If you were looking to get married, would you court 200 women (maybe Warren Beatty would)? That’s what this is — a marriage. It’s not a “sales cycle” it’s a courtship.

Creating a Contact Plan

A contact plan is a schedule. It reminds you when it is the appropriate timing for your outreach effort. I still don’t know a better way to engage with the prospect than a compelling, insightful and professional business letter. You can follow the hard copy letter with emails. The letter should ask for permission to engage, acknowledge that you know they have an existing agency relationship that you respect but also communicates a tangible benefit to the prospect for a continued dialogue. It should also allow the prospect to opt out if he wishes. You’ll be surprised how few will if you can inspire or educate him/her. I’ve found that most marketers are passionate about what they do and like talking about it as long as you respect their time.

But, we know better. It doesn’t always work that way. You may have to do something creative to catch your prospect’s attention, an icebreaker. Ironically, this is what we claim we do for our clients — do something creative to get them noticed, build their brand, drive sales, yada. Yet it’s now considered  ”too traditional” for us to do that for ourselves. Beyond the basic tools (a blog, a website, a book, a reel, an agency video — updated regularly) — we are further required to create an outreach “campaign” that will either/or stand out, win its own awards for self promotion, create a buzz and genuine interest from your prospect. Don’t tell them you’re creative — be creative. Is it worth it? Only if it’s done right. This requires you to really be creative and not just say you’re a creative agency. It requires you to hit a home run for your own team.

So let’s be specific and look at some of the best creative “icebreaker outreach” campaigns I’ve seen seen recently. Over the course of the next few days, I will be featuring one or two case studies per day. Enjoy.

CASE STUDY:  Hammerhead Advertising

Situation: A four-person creative agency in Hoboken, NJ. The two partners were creatives. Our strategy was to be the agency where you can great work AND not have to cross the Hudson. The prospects were all in New Jersey. We picked a few that needed better work and began sending them stuff. The problem we encountered was that most of the NJ companies are monolithic and nobody answers the phone. I spent half my day getting prompted to the company directory. So we needed a creative breakthrough to get our top prospects to talk our call.

Creative Idea/Solution: A voicemail message campaign that parodied the “cold calling” process. You know those voicemail messages you get from politicians around Election Day? Yep. A series of 5 messages, staggered 3 days apart, and funny as shit. You can hear the spots here:


To enhance the creative idea, we sent the campaign out to the trade press. We found a fan in none other than Bob Garfield.

RESULT: A minimum of 2,000 daily website hits for nearly a month. Several prospects called us wondering when the next spot would run. We had requests for meetings, proposals and information. Not only did Garfield review the campaign and rate it 3.5 stars upon release; but in his year-end advertising review, he voted the campaign ONE OF THE 10 BEST ADVERTISING  CAMPAIGNS IN THE WORLD (not just self-promotion — ALL ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS). Most importantly, it separated us from “the pack” of cold callers to our prospects. We were able to kick-start our contact plan and begin a professional outreach program.

Coming next week — A viral video campaign aimed at one Top Prospect