Monthly Archives: June 2010

Alex Bogusky on New Business

The first time I heard Alex Bogusky’s voice was in 1991. I was running Creative Search in Raleigh, NC — a creative headhunting firm specializing in recruiting talent for regional creative agencies.  He called me and declared that he wanted to build something special, an agency “that will ruin it for everyone” and that the only way for him to do it was to attract the “best rising talent” in the business (Alex referred to these relative unknowns as “mutts”) and he needed my help to do it. He was just named Creative Director of the fledgling shop with 18 employees in Miami and he was now empowered by Chuck Porter to act on this vision.

If I had a buck for every creative director who called me with this request, I could afford to spend the 4th of July in The Hamptons. But, there was something in this guy’s voice that was irresistible, like a force of nature. I bought it and devoted my commission-only time to help Alex build his agency. At first, it was a challenging sell. Hurricane Andrew hit Miami in ’92 and Tony Montana’s city was not exactly the creative epicenter of the country to begin with. Alex was undeterred. Hurricane Andrew forced Alex and Chuck to re-position the agency. They would get away from being a “South Florida shop”. They eschewed the typically lifeblood local accounts — tourism, real estate, hospitality. All that business was dead for the time being.

Instead, Alex pledged to follow his passion and chase smallish, but national outdoor enthusiast accounts, even if they were West Coast-based companies. He “lived” these brands (as did most of the staff at C&P). Creating great work for these outdoor brands enabled the agency to target hip, young demographic accounts — morphing eventually into the “kings of pop culture”. It was a 10 year ascension to the throne. The account trail went like this: Giro Helmets>Shimano>TRUTH>Mini>Burger King>Volkswagen>Microsoft. And along the way, I helped Alex recruit the best “mutts” in the country and moved them to the land of lox and bagels.

Alex recently delivered a keynote speech on new business at an Adweek-sponsored conference in New York City. The theme was “defying convention” and “breaking the rules”. I did not attend because I had a new business pitch, but I heard most of it before — from 1991 to 2001. Here are the YouTube videos of the keynote:

Bogusky Keynote Part 1

Bogusky Keynote Part 2

Bogusky Keynote Part 3

Bogusky Keynote Part 4

Bogusky Keynote Part 5

Bogusky Keynote Part 6

The Perils of Online Job Search

Rich Terry is a special talent. Yes he’s creative as both a writer and director. But, he also played college basketball at Texas Christian University. That makes him special in the Palma book. I am announcing my advertising basketball all-star team soon, and Rich will probably start at the two guard. Seriously, Rich raises some good points. Online job search for senior star talent is serendipitous at best; and at its worst, career-threatening.

His story is a cautionary tale of the crypt. Enjoy:

Last March, I stood in an office building atrium in Dallas with my iPhone to my ear and my hands sweating. The conversation went something like this, “Mike? Hey man, it’s Rich. I think I made the biggest mistake of my life.” I remember there was a fountain below the stairwell I was standing on, and I was pretty sure that peaceful gurgling water was actually the sound of me drowning.

Before we get into what my mistake actually was, perhaps I should take you back ten years. I was a SVP/Creative Director at GSD&M in Austin. I felt like I’d really gotten to a good point in my career. Had a loving family, lived in a great city, worked with talented people and was doing award-winning work. All was right with the world.

Now, I can’t verify it, but somewhere around this time, I believe I suffered a head injury. Because clearly the organ between my ears wasn’t working properly. That was also exactly the time I decided to become a director.

It made all the sense in the world—leave a great job with a big salary to go be a starving artist. Sure! Why not? Actually, it was a great gig. I loved directing. But I also missed being a part of something bigger. I missed the creative work and the teams and the energy that only ad agencies have. I’m an agency guy. I felt like I wasn’t growing. So I started looking.

In February of this year, I landed a job I found posted on the Internet on one of the online job boards.

It was at a very nice, up-and-coming digital media company. It meant moving from Austin to Dallas. It meant doing absolutely nothing I was trained to do or had succeeded at doing in the past. It meant an incredibly bad fit. It meant wondering what on earth I was thinking.

It meant knowing I’d have to quit three weeks after starting.

Three f’ing weeks. I was embarrassed, disappointed, and feeling very guilty.

“I think I made the biggest mistake of my life.”

Within two weeks after that call to Michael Palma, I suddenly was the Creative Director at a great agency named Rawle Murdy in a great place, Charleston, South Carolina. I am still pinching myself.

The sad thing is, I know a lot of creative people with stories like mine. And I’ve always felt sorry for them. And then I became one of them. I don’t know what it is about so many of us, but managing our own careers seems to be like one-hand clapping—it doesn’t accomplish much and you look pretty silly doing it.

My story makes me believe career management should only be left to those who can actually manage a career. That, as recent history would indicate, wouldn’t be me.

The Internet is an environment where anything is possible. But just because anything is possible, doesn’t make it a smart thing to do. Finding a job in our particular discipline, I’m convinced, is the poster child for this way of thinking. Good recruiters like Michael are at their best when they understand who we are and who the agency they’re working with is—and then make a perfect marriage happen.

As for me, I’m clearly not someone I’d hire to manage my own career. That’s why I’m grateful to Michael Palma for his friendship and insight. And if I sound like a total shill, trust me, I have a good reason for it.

Thanks Rich. Good luck in Charleston.

On Writers, Copywriting and How to Build a Portfolio

The utter audacity to call yourself a writer! Now that takes cojones. Writers are born with an acute sensitivity to the human condition (in this way, they are “chosen”) and then they are self-made through reading, studying and, well, writing (then, rewriting). You must “invent” yourself as a writer. To think that you can play with words enough to massage them into something interesting and entertaining (and in advertising, sell something at the same time) requires a certain insouciant naiveté.  And at the same time, it requires a willful dedication to language and style as well as devout discipline to practice the craft daily.

Writers are a rare breed, like southpaw pitchers in baseball. I’ve placed more writers than any other type of talent — hundreds and hundreds of them. I don’t know why. Maybe because the good ones are so rare. I’ve noticed an alarming de-emphasis of writing in the advertising industry in the past decade. I’m not sure that’s a result of the declining literacy of today’s audiences or the slow extinction of the breed providing less written content (or both). But, it’s almost odd to see a “writer’s campaign” today. Everything is so visually driven — hinging on a “concept” (usually shock value or a slapstick gag — like the Betty White spot).

I’m not just referring to the Print medium. It’s also TV, Radio (how can radio be so poorly written and dependent on cliched sound-bite gags?) online and outdoor (all you have to write is 7 words). I’m also not necessarily referring to a lot of body copy or words. Take the Google Super Bowl spot — it was a delightful narrative; a coming of age story allegorical to all Google users (that would be everyone with a computer and an internet connection). Not one spoken word, just three and four word “googles” [Google Super Bowl Spot]. And I’m also not referring to nostalgic Neil French/David Ogilvy exhaustive Print tomes drawing upon Noel Coward drawing-room humor. But more along the lines of the recent Avis “The Other Car” television campaign Avis \”The Other Car\”. Brilliant. These days, a writer’s campaign sticks out like a boner in a lesbian bar.

Before I forget, just a second while I digress on radio. It’s not going away. People drive to and from work — most of America does (check out the HOV lane). Yes, the dork in the Beamer has Sirius — but most of America listens to the radio. Every day. Even with iPods and iPhones — radio remains a viable medium. I can’t think of a better way for an advertising writer to prove they can write than to author an entertaining and sustainable radio campaign. Think Tom Bodett. The Folgers Coffee Couple. Molson. I know as a fact that agencies discourage radio from their clients’ media mix because they can’t fulfill the creative. I once sent a young writer to interview with Lee Clow in Venice. He turned the job down and subsequently founded a successful radio scriptwriting agency. That’s how rare the skill set is — they don’t need Chiat/Day. As an aside, I listen to 1690AM Atlanta WMLB “The Voice of the Arts”. Stream it into your agency, set it on your laptop at work. It is guaranteed to inspire you and increase your creativity. To stream them in from anywhere: 1690wmlb.com.  Don’t trust me, trust your ears.

I’m often asked by writers for assistance in constructing their portfolio. What’s most striking about young writers’ portfolios is the absence of evidence that they can actually write. I visited the Creative Circus not too long ago and reviewed several dozen student portfolios. WHAT ARE THEY TEACHING THEM THERE? Certainly not how to write interesting or entertaining copy. I can’t tell the difference between the copywriters and the art directors. I can’t find the headline (“oh, there isn’t any headline”). The body copy (if there is any) reads as if it were written by Jeff Spicoli. No radio scripts to be found anywhere.

Here are some tips to help guide you in building a writer’s portfolio:

1. Provide examples that you can actually write. Show us you can do more than just think visually in advertising terms. That you are actually a writer, as you purport to be. See the paragraph above. Headlines that inspire, compelling body copy, radio scripts, TV scripts with dialogue. You get it.

2. Provide examples that you can sell something. I recently ran a search for an ECD at one of the Southeast’s largest and best-known agencies. We reviewed a dozen or so candidates’ portfolios. There was a lot of humor (really funny shit), pathos (Goosebump City, near Rineytown), whacked out weirdness (half the stuff we saw we didn’t understand until the 3rd or 4th view). But there was very little selling happening. I am not just referring to price/item dreck retail formulas but basic brand/product/benefit advertising that is interesting and entertaining. Sell me something, dammit.

3. If it’s not great, there’s no place for it. This especially applies to TV. One of the hazards of Digital books (web sites, microsites, links, etc..) is the temptation to over-indulge in your own work. Treat it the same as an actual hard case portfolio. It only takes one mediocre campaign to get someone to click away from your site.

4. Be interesting, but not too cute. Tell us a bit about you WITHOUT actually telling us. Hell, you’re a writer. Figure out a way to make yourself entertaining without trying too hard. Use music, film, theatrics or something topical to augment your work. Don’t overdo it, but using a snippet  from an obscure Monkees tune as intro music is a nice touch.

5. Yes, show digital, duh. Everyone shows websites, banners and promos. Very few show cool applications, videos, games and original content written for websites (beyond basic yada “Who We Are” stuff). Live links are okay but remember, they take people AWAY from your site.

6. Order your work so it tells a story. Make it a “book within the book”. Make it a narrative. Leave ’em laughing or crying.

7. Stay away from spec unless you have nothing else. Sell an ad, man.

8. Be a headline machine. If someone puts 50 cents in, give them a case of headlines. There will always be a place in this business for a headline machine.

9. Radio. See my digression above. This can be spec if you have none produced. You can produce your  own on basic Mac apps — like Garage Band. I’m waiting for the young writer to produce a radio campaign for himself — just to show me he can do it.

10. Keep the gimmicks to a minimum. Be interesting and entertaining, not weird. We all know you’re weird — you’re a writer. Don’t rub our nose in it.

I’ll close with some of the infamous CP+B Copy Test. Devised by a writer I placed there about 15 years ago — Bill Wright, employee #28. Bill is now the Creative Director on Burger King. He noticed some of the same disconcerting trends in young writers that I  mention above. So Bill implemented a copy test as part of the hiring regimen at Crispin.

  • Give a short, persuasive argument on letting Pluto remain a planet.
  • Pen a haiku about prairie dogs.
  • Describe toast to a Martian in 50 words or less.
  • Describe the color red to a blind person
  • “Employees must wash their hands before returning to work” is such a boring sign. It’s ubiquity has rendered it useless (a sobering thought). For all humanity, please rewrite it.
  • You might be redneck if:
  • Write a really awful pun.
  • Match the airline with its hub airport:
  • What’s your favorite oxymoron?
  • What’s your favorite retronym?
  • Write 12 synonyms for the word “Go”.
  • Now write 12 antonyms for the same word.
  • Extra credit: Diagram the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

The Meter is Running (why accounts are always in review)

We’ve all sat helplessly as our taxicab wades glacially through heavy traffic — one eye on the meter. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of paying good money to go nowhere. This is the main reason why there are so insufferably many ad account reviews these days. Clients need results now — this week (retailers), this quarter (publicly traded companies) or even today (Cellular phone companies).  They feel like we do in that cab. Many of them cannot afford to wait out a quarter or two. It’s not just the clients’ jobs on the line, it’s their CEO’s. as well. We’re truly living in a “Win now, or go home” world. That’s the reality. You produce results now or you’re toast — and sometimes, you’re toast either way.

Client job turnover is often directly correlative to client/agency turnover. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a new CMO will probably look for a new agency. I’ve read that the average CMO job tenure hovers at around 20 months. As Don Corleone said, “this is the life we have chosen”. It just moves a whole LOT faster now. It’s funny that some pitch consultants complain about this doom loop, exaggerating market conditions along the way. I find it ironic since their niche exists primarily on the pretext of volatility.

I think it’s a good thing. Darwinism. Performance-based agency compensation. Incentive-based employee compensation. All this will make our industry hungrier and better. We will earn what we’re worth. This is the foundation of Capitalism (which may be just as fractured as the ad industry these days). But the agencies that whine about it usually lose the business and the ones who embrace it, win it.

Accounts move away quickly for a multitude of other reasons. Among them:

  • the agency is not providing the thought leadership they promised as “specialists” in their industry
  • the agency swooped in with a crackerjack pitch team that the client hardly saw ever again… until compensation time
  • the agency is so busy pitching/soliciting new business that they neglect the client
  • employee turnover at the agency (formerly the biggest reason of all)
  • mediocre creative work
  • lack of a service mentality at the agency — just plain bad customer service (it starts at the switchboard)
  • CMO turnover (duh)
  • unforeseen business turnover (banks & hospitals get bought, merge, etc.)
  • sluggish sales (not always the agency’s fault, but almost always the agency’s blame)
  • the client simply falls out of love,  someone prettier comes along who is doing sexier work —  you lose the beauty contest
  • the pigs at corporate suck up all the marketing dollars for their bonuses — cut marketing budgets
  • a new business professional at another agency steals the account by building a meaningful business relationship and seizes the moment (that moment you dropped the ball on a key deliverable)
  • change for change’s sake 

It’s also ironic that so many agencies chest-beat about  how they are “change agents”, but they find it difficult to understand when their own clients’ brands need a change, a fresh perspective, new eyes and ears. And, above all, a new voice.

This is advertising. There’s no crying in advertising. There are only two guarantees:

1. Accounts come and go.

2. People come and go.

12 Lessons in Leadership from The Wizard

We lost one of the real giants in the world of leadership last week when John Wooden passed away at 99 years old. I remember staying up to watch the UCLA vs. Houston game in 1968. It was billed as the “Game of the Century”. It was the first college basketball game I ever saw, televised by the Hughes Sports Network. It was also the first nationally televised college basketball game in prime time, and there were doubts that America would tune in for an amateur product. Although UCLA lost (they wouldn’t lose again for 89 games), my life changed that evening. When I learned that these players on television received full college scholarships to play basketball — well, it just blew my mind and provided me with my first true goal. I was going to be one of those guys someday.

I loved Lew Alcindor. He hailed from my native NY city-area Catholic school league and he was inordinately tall (I was a 6’3″, 6th grader at the time). I even copied his hook shot. Alcindor was my first basketball idol. He was articulate and opinionated but respectful of the game and his coaches. His 1969 autobiographical Sports Illustrated article, “My Story” provided me with my first glimpse into Coach John Wooden. From then on, I read and watched everything I could about the man who was the reason I chose coaching as my first career out of college.

Alcindor spoke with such praise of Wooden — how he helped him become a man. I find it humorous that everything in today’s street culture hinges on the fulcrum of proving one’s “manhood” — and here was this Brobdingnagian black man admitting that a hayseed whitey from Indiana taught him what becoming a man was really all about.

Much has been written of Wooden’s Pyramid of Success. It would serve your agency well if you hung it up somewhere for your colleagues and employees to see. For a printable version, go to coachwooden.com. But I am most inspired by Wooden’s 12 Lessons in Leadership:

1. Good values attract good people.

2. Love is the most powerful four-letter word.

3. Call yourself a teacher.

4. Emotion is your enemy.

5, It takes 10 hands to make a basket.

6. Little things make big things happen.

7. Make each day your masterpiece.

8. The carrot is mightier than the stick.

9. Make greatness attainable by all.

10. Seek significant change.

11. Don’t look at the scoreboard.

12. Adversity is your asset.

I’ll just close with some of my favorite Woodenisms. Rest in peace, Wizard — I don’t think even Jesus would want to coach against you.

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”

“Never mistake activity for achievement.”

“Adversity is the state in which man mostly easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.”

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.

“You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.”

“You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”

“What you are as a person is far more important that what you are as a basketball player.”

“Winning takes talent, to repeat takes character.”

“A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”

“I’d rather have a lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent.”

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”

“It isn’t what you do, but how you do it.”

“Ability is a poor man’s wealth.”

“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”

“Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights.”

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

“Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.”

“It’s not so important who starts the game but who finishes it.”

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

“Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”

“The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”

“Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

“Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”

Finding Magic: 10 Tips for Recruiting Top Talent

The most valuable capital in the communications industry is superstar talent. Despite the fact that we’ve done our best to commoditize it, it remains the heaviest currency.  Read the trades, the biggest stories of the past year have been the comings and goings of agency linchpins (unless media itself is a big story). There have been a few interesting account wins (Wendy’s, Pizza Hut and currently the AFLAC review), but the daily dish is always a big name (lately it’s been some lady dressed in a Chanel suit) coming in or moving on. We’re an industry of high profile peripateticity.

Why? Because what’s at the top filters down. Recruiting key senior management talent is the most expeditious, and often the most effective way to upgrade an agency.  Attracting a star, or better yet, a rising star is often what separates a good agency from a great agency.

So, what is a superstar? There are two kinds — let’s call them Pistol and Magic.

Pistol is Pete Maravich — all-time NCAA scorer (3 years, no 3 point line). Rock star. Degree-of-difficulty champion. Not a winner. Does not make anyone around him better. Loses. Pouts when not the center of attention. Is a character.

Magic is Magic Johnson — Rejects personal achievement, MAKES EVERYONE AROUND HIM BETTER. Wins. Makes it look easy. Always positive. Just wins. Has character (maybe not self-restraint, but character).

Hey, I loved Pistol Pete. Idolized him. But, I was 12 years old and didn’t know better. He could have been on the cover of Tiger Beat. And I hated Earvin Johnson — I was a Celtics fan living near Boston in the ’80’s. I wanted to wipe that smile right off his face. But, I realize now the difference between the two superstars: one made everyone around him better. The other didn’t. Suffice it to say, when seeking top talent — look for Magic.

Ok, we’re talking about an impact hire — talent that will excite clients, prospects and employees. A Creative Director, an Account Director,  a Media Director, a potential partner. Here are some guidelines that might help you evaluate and attract this type of talent:

1. DON’T be overly influenced by geography. It’s tempting to think that the ideal candidate (or their spouse) may have personal ties to your state or region. They may, or they may not. They will only move for one reason: Opportunity. Geography is a reason people DON’T move. It is rarely the reason they do. And if it is, it’s not a good enough reason. Geography, compensation, titles, etc. are secondary, supporting factors.  Opportunity is the primary factor.

2. DON’T screen candidates based on the size of their current agency. It’s also tempting to assume that the best fit will come from a similarly-sized current environment. This is an idea business. No two agencies are the same anyway, regardless of size. Sometimes mid-sized agencies are intimidated by candidates from the multinationals, and the larger agencies are sometimes prone to frowning upon candidates from smaller shops.

3. DON’T screen candidates primarily on category experience. You strive to increase differentiation for your clients — so consider taking this opportunity to do the same for your agency. Category experience is negligible compared to talent.

4. DON’T overlook the spec. The superstar’s portfolio/reel/work is chock full of visible, award-winning work — but, some of their best work was never produced. They love to talk about this stuff, and it will also provide an interesting peek into their potential. Don’t diminish a great idea just because it didn’t sell.

5. DO throw out the checklists and spreadsheets. This is a high-stakes creative hire, not an engineer. Trust your eyes, your ears and your instincts.

6. DO determine exactly what you need. What do you need for your candidate to accomplish? Can they?  Don’t recruit top talent to do a job they can’t do. Or they can do it, but you won’t let them.  Consider the obstacles to accomplishment in determining your needs.

7. DO notice and study the work you admire. Look for campaigns that are smart, creative and relevant to your business. Don’t under OR overestimate the major award shows. Trust your eyes.

8. DO initiate a conversation.Spend time on the phone with your candidates and you’ll get an initial sense of chemistry and interest. Emails, tweets, etc. are fine — but dialogue is a stronger recruiting/evaluation tool.  Ask them questions. Ask them what their principles are. Ask them what they know about your agency. Address their perceptions.

9. DO study the case studies. Ask the candidate to present a couple of their most interesting case studies — the two they’re most proud of. Ask them to take you through the campaigns — from strategy to results. This is separate from their portfolio work.

10. DO stress your agency’s and your personal values.Don’t assume everyone has the same methods, tactics or endgame.