Category Archives: New Business

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.

 

 

 

The Ad Agency Outlook for 2013

Happy Days Are Here Again

xctmppjah6YThe S&P is at an all-time high. The Dow is over 14,000 — more than double January 2009. Warren Buffet says “opportunities abound in America.” Believe him, he knows what he’s doing. It took 5 years, but our nation survived George W. Bush and is prospering once again. We leapfrogged the fiscal cliff and we’ll kick aside sequestration (like a Government shutdown would be such a bad thing?).  All this can go bust with the flick of a Bic; but, as they say in the Google search bar: I’m feeling lucky. By the way, Google’s stock price closed at $821 per share today, another record high.

I see a turnaround. I see agencies pitching a lot of business. I see agencies recruiting and hiring good people. I haven’t seen it quite like this since the glorious Clinton administration in the creative advertising industry. Yes, a lot of the growth has transpired in the Digital sector; but we’ve also seen growth in more traditional agencies that have transformed themselves into hybrids. This transformation is driven by talent — not just by simply adding disciplines, but by recruiting and attracting the best talent in the marketplace.

Notice that I say “in the marketplace” and not “on the marketplace”. The bad economy of the past four years caused a lot of bad habits, which are listed below.donnydeutsch1_175 But, I’m happy to report that the era of agencies and clients playing it ultra-safe and conservatively is over. To prosper in the new economy, agencies must once again focus on their inventory: the talent pool. 

5 Habits Agencies Must Break to Exploit the New Economy:

1.  Category-driven Prospecting — As Donny Deutsch said in 2003, “kill the category lists.” The bad economy forced clients to seek “round-peg/round hole” solutions. Fortunately, we can be marketers once again. Our reputation can rest on our creative product and its connection to effectiveness, and not on category expertise.

2. Specialization-based Positioning — In the doom-and-gloom darkness of the past few years, agencies have been forced to move away from their real point of differentiation: Creativity.  And for good reason, creative had become a devalued commodity — like home values during the housing crisis. But, creativity is back and content is once again, king. We can get back to being creative companies, and not “fully integrated whatever.”

3. Online RecruitingIf you want top creative talent, they are not going to respond to an ad on a job board. Your ad will attract unemployed candidates, job-hoppers, underachievers and folks that want to “get into advertising because it’s cool.” You will attract the best available talent ON THE MARKET. You will never get the top 10% of talent IN the market. FACT. The best people are busy creating great work. I’m happy to report that most creative agencies with pride in their product recognize this as well. This is not to say there’s not a place for online job resources, just not for leadership and key positions at your agency.

4. Jobvites/Employee Referrals More short-cut, cheapskate nonsense propagated by a bad economy. Once again, these practices produce what’s available. This tin can is so rife with worms that it ensures a fishing expedition. What if the hire doesn’t work out? What if the internally referred candidate is not quite as good as another? What if that candidate uses you for a counter-offer? What if they are not the right cultural fit?

5. Collaboration Platform — Why do agencies talk about collaboration so much? Is it unusual for a vendor to listen to their clients? Seems that way. Luckily, we can move away from this and back to leadership, stewardship and seeking out clients with like-minded missions and purposes. To drive this point home, let’s quit on Wieden + Kennedy’s Philosophy — leaders attracting leading brands:

OUR PHILOSOPHY

wkLogoA brand must be willing to lead consumer expectations, not follow.

At Wieden+Kennedy, we do communication. Creativity. Ideas. We build big brands and deep relationships.

We help create brands that lead popular culture, not merely reflect it. Because we believe brands that influence culture sell more.

2013 Digital Marketing Predictions

The Prognosis for a Healthy 2013 

When you have a broken bone in your body, or a faulty organ… what do you do? You usually seek the opinion of a specialist — a surgeon with a track record of curing what ails you. There’s a group of Digital specialists in New Haven, CT that call themselves Digital Surgeons (http://www.digitalsurgeons.com). These guys rock. Just blocks from the Yale University campus, these eggheads are inventing leading edge technologies that will blow your mind. Recently, they published 32 somewhat bold predictions for the year ahead in Digital Marketing. mikepalma.com is proud to share them with you. Enjoy, and apply as needed.

Marketing:

Video will get bigger as a medium

People aren’t getting any less lazy in 2013. Why read a blog post when the same information can be conveyed to you in a 30 second video? With streaming quality increasing and camera prices decreasing, in 2013 it will be easier than ever to produce and then distribute content.

Inbound marketing will grow within brands and businesses

The role of the content strategist will rise in conjunction. Strategic content will drive inbound marketing efforts and increase the need for full-time employees to curate that content.

International will be the new domestic, for many

The internet has made our very large world navigable from the comfort of our couches. The same will be said about e-commerce in 2013. With exciting young companies such as FiftyOne making American brands easily attainable all over the world, the term “foreign markets” might begin to seem a bit dated in 2013.

The idea of thinking global and acting local will be turned on its side with businesses thinking local and acting global.

Experiential and brand experiences will be the new website

The standard HTML homepage will increasingly be blown out of the water by interactive elements and experiences that surpass digital.

Mobile will finally start to be a real concern for marketers

This will force us to be better at delivering better mobile experiences (responsive, adaptive, context driven): This 2013 prediction is nearing the ranking of “Broken Record” in the marketing world for how often it is discussed. The conversation keeps occurring because of the astronomical amount of data pointing towards mobile dominance in 2013. Morgan Stanley is predicting that there will be more mobile devices (tablets and phones) accessing the internet than traditional computers (laptops and desktops) in 2013 for the first time EVER.

The term big data will be abused as agencies promise magic insights based on analytics

Data regarding demographics and reach will be the driving factor behind marketing decisions in every area. More media outlets will hire more statisticians, developers and computer scientists following the wild success of Nate Silver’s election coverage for the NY Times. Punditry will suffer at the hands of big, meaningful data.

Brands as platforms will be a big aspect of content strategy

The past few years have a seen a much bigger push for both content and innovation from brands. Brands that have pushed the envelope have consistently won both critical acclaim and increases in revenue. 2013 will show an increase in brands pushing the envelope in terms of product creation and new business units in an attempt to excite consumers.

Brands will start really listening to their customers

And, thus, a new form of advertising will be born where the brands act as the facilitator for what the customers collectively agree they want. The importance of data and brand advocates as well as the amount of tools available will aid this trend.

Social Media:

We will see more social media gurus

As social media grows in popularity, so too grows the number of 20 somethings who claim to be experts. What exactly qualifies one as an expert, or a “guru”, is up for interpretation so in 2013 you will see an even larger amount of people “interpreting” themselves that way.

Social media agencies of record will grow

The rationale will be a bigger need for social CRM support and influencer programs. As the importance of social media grows, the need for experts in the field will become equally important. No gurus here.

Pinterest will only get bigger

Clearly written in the Pinterest mission statement, it says: “There is always more room for cute cupcake recipes and shirtless Jake Gyllenhal pictures”. We kid, it doesn’t say that (but it should). For all of the potential knocks against Pinterest it is still a beautifully designed platform and concept that has miles to go before it sleeps (see: dies like friendster and myspace). Brands are currently struggling to use it for marketing purposes already without an available public API. Once a public API is released to developers in the coming year, the possibilities are endless.

Twitter will keep stepping on toes

Twitter burned some bridges this year with moves like ending firehose access and cutting itself from Instagram. 

Facebook will be a-ok

It has been quite a tumultuous year for Facebook, but we’re still behind them 100%. Their innovation related to ad units as well as the addition of Gifts this year has shown the companies continued focus on sustainable, business minded innovation. It’s tactical moves such as these that will allow them to return to a share price over $30.

Brand social interactions will have to get more personal and creative in 2013

This is due to the lack of polarizing global events (Olympics, Elections, etc.) News jacking will need to be a bit more inventive as the topics won’t be as predefined or dominating.

Retail outlets that stock products and brands voted on by its customers via social media

Give the people what they want! Social media gives everyone a voice and in 2013 we will see retail outlets begin listening to that voice a lot more closely while stocking their shelves.

Design:

There will be more Pinterest copycats

We’re starting to see it already, the term “Pinterest-style” has infiltrated marketing vocabulary when discussing grid-like visual design. While we love Pinterest, we cannot promote additional copycat designs for EVERY situation. In addition, sites like The Fancy and Wanelo will continue to pop up and attempt to pull revenue away from Pinterest.

Infographics will have to step it up to maintain relevance

The one page “factsheets” are a dime a dozen and won’t cut it anymore. Everyone and their mothers are creating infographics now. It’s hard to imagine a piece of information that hasn’t been visualized in some sort of goofy cartoon format. Audiences are now almost as blind to infographics as they are to the formalized studies that the data originated from. Data must be visualized in real time, interactive formats in 2013. With information changing so quickly, static content is no longer appropriate to create.

Web design will shift to a more app-like style

And will, in turn, accommodate for responsive layouts.

Vertical and collapsible navigation will become more prominent

With a larger focus on the end-user in modern design, choices need to be avaliable. Maybe someone doesn’t want to be able to navigate. Maybe they want their website to look uncluttered. Features such as collapsible navigation will become common place as the end users are given the tools to alter the design experience to their preference.

Minimal color-blocked design will be the new trend

Microsoft will (wrongly) get the credit. Color blocking has been a trend within digital and outside this season. We’ve seen color blocking gain momentum in fashion as well. Color blocking is great for breaking up content, categorizing information and creating more visually appealing design.

Technology:

Mobile Payment, not just for Starbucks anymore

Even banks have hopped on this trend with new tools such as Chase Quick Pay and V.me from Visa. Not only will the exchange of money between friends become digital, but tools like Passbook will allow users to pay through their phone.

More home automation and sensor/app driven combinations

The Nest is just one of many tools that will arrive in 2013 and force you to ask “How did I ever live without this?” From security measures to heating your place, your home will be just that much nicer when you walk through the door.

The year of Real-Time

Bidding, consumer engagement, customer service. For better or worse, the internet has allowed for instant gratification and that is what consumers now expect. Digital technology will have to operate in real-time or risk the backlash of the angry internet consumer.

One-click checkout will be the norm

Amazon introduced it, the digital world adopted it. One-click checkout has become a minimum expectation for not only Amazon, but also Apple, Google and many other online retailers. More profit for retailers, more goodies shipped to your door!

The rise of Linux

The Linux desktop (via Ubuntu) will finally start getting some recognition due to a perfect storm of Valve throwing it’s full weight behind it (in order to release it’s own Linux powered steam console), canonical working with hardware vendors and game developers, and the arrival of windows 8 driving some users away. It won’t become a major player, but all of a sudden people who wouldn’t have known about Linux will hear about it this year. The niche PC gaming enthusiasts may begin defecting. It will also continue to gain traction in foreign governments and education, but the U.S. won’t look away from its Android and iOS devices long enough to notice. Mostly, as mobile devices become more popular and gaming on Linux becomes more capable, this upcoming year will set the stage for revolution in the PC gaming that could revitalize the industry while simultaneously making Linux a big player for the consumer.

SAAS (Software as a service) and PAAS (platform as a service) will grow among business

The ease of delivery and constant support will cause “____ as a service” offerings to continue to grow in 2013. Cloud based software is projected to double by 2015. Businesses have so many different options to choose from as well, with established companies in the space such as Oracle and Salesforce being outshined by a myriad of innovative startups.

The 10-foot user interface setup will start to become more commonplace as TV’s get smarter

More than this, the multi-device experiences will become more common and it will be standard for the mobile device will supplement the content on your television. Companies will see this like they saw the world-wide web & try to abuse it for marketing.

Misc:

Second screen experience

chatter will continue but the numbers still won’t catch up fast enough. It’s going to take a universally accepted platform for this phenomenon to become common place; hashtags on twitter just won’t cut it

Startups will be fewer and farther between

We predict that investors will wise up and realize that so many of them have no business plan or plans for profitability. Current startups that offer free services will look to monetize.

Television manufacturers create a TV with a built-in motion sensor

After the success of the Microsoft Kinect and Smart TVs in the past few years, it makes sense for television manufacturers to cut out the middle-man (Microsoft’s Xbox 360) and to begin offering motion sensing capabilities directly

Up for Debate:

You’ve heard our two cents (at least), but what do you forsee for 2013? Our office couldn’t decide on these major topics, so let’s hear it.

Instagram

The social network had a fantastic 2012 with the $1 billion acquisition by Facebook and a user base surpassing 100 million. However, a recent Terms of Service chance (effective Jan. 16) gives considerable control over photos to Instagram and has the newly acquired 100 million ready to flock. Will Instagram overcome the negative press and suspicious users or will it fall into the social media graveyard?

Apple

As rumors swirl of the next iPhone and the long-awaited Apple TV, our staff continues to remain undecided on Apple’s future. Some think the enormous stock value and 2013 iDevices will keep the loyal fanboys and girls, while others feel Samsung has made significant advances and Apple’s lack of innovation this year will cause the company to suffer. What does 2013 have in store for Apple?

QR Codes

While we’ve never been fans of the QR code trend, we have seen them everywhere this year: in subway tunnels, on street signs, in magazines. We tend to prefer more enriching experiences (augmented reality anyone?) but meanwhile QR codes sneak their way in as a touchpoint for many campaigns. Will QR codes become more popular or fall short?

Fiercely Indistinguishable

Agency Positioning in a Sea of Sameness

The beautiful thing about language is that it catches on. When folks find a befitting phrase that captures their circumstance, it can take on a life of its own. And imagesat the tipping point, it becomes a phenomenon. This was the case with the phrase “voracious reader.” Somehow, anyone with three paperbacks on their nightstand in the 1990’s was suddenly a “voracious” consumer of the written word. The phrase took on a slight tone of literary condescension (most condescension is slight and subtle). For example, if you had a  Sports Illustrated on your nightstand, you really didn’t qualify as a voracious reader. To qualify as truly voracious, one was required to juggle several titles at a time from the New York Times bestseller list.

Rather than attack all the similar things ad agencies say about themselves (“best-in-class,” “fully integrated,” etc.), let’s just take a look at a currently persistent one: Fiercely Independent. I know, it sounds so cool and maverick. It screams, “we’re such tough hombres.”  There are two problems with “Fiercely Independent.” The first is,  it’s redundant to the point of weakness. Adjectives can be dangerous like that. Secondly, it’s become such a common theme among independent agencies that it’s lost all effectiveness as a point of differentiation. But, certain phrases are simply irresistible.

W. Somerset Maughm said, “Money is the string with which a sardonic destiny directs the motion of its puppets.” Independent agencies attempt to connect their w-somerset-maughambusiness brevity to a tangible financial benefit for the prospective client. Translation: “you don’t have to pay out a percentage to a holding company.” I suppose that kind of claim may be an endearing approach with Procurement. But not a single marketer in history has ever been fired because they retained a holding-company agency. Conversely, LinkedIn is littered with former client-side VP’s who took a chance on the latest independent creative Hothouse. Clients buy great creative that works. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to them where their money goes. Price doesn’t matter. It never did and it never will.

Go ahead and google “fiercely independent ad agency.” The search reveals no fewer than 27 agencies — some of which are among the best-known in the industry. One is actually an IPG agency that claims to be “fiercely independent” but can also “instantly” enlist “an army of 23,000” people through an “odd twist.” They conclude their positioning with “who we are depends on what you need.” Now that’s what I call putting a stake in the ground. As the inimitable Tim Bayless often cackled, “We have our principles — and if you don’t like those, we have plenty of others in the back.”

I suspect that I could have turned up more than 27 fiercely independent agencies; except one agency, Moroch, so thoroughly dominated the SEO search term that they ronaldtook up 15 pages of results. Yet, I subsequently googled “independent ad agency” and they didn’t turn up until page 5. The irony here is that it is plausible for a mid-sized or challenger brand marketer to run a search for an independent agency. But, it’s laughable to think a CMO will actually google for a “fiercely independent” agency. Congratulations Moroch, you own the word “fiercely”. Way to go. The further irony is Morch’s bedrock client is apparently regional McDonald’s franchisee groups. How independent it must be to push the McRib (what is that thing, anyway?).

The moral of the story is stop talking about independence and be independent. Lead your clients fearlessly. Stop selling on price and get to the real tangible benefit of your agency to your clients’ business: you make them money, not save them money.

Hernias & The Sausage Factory

TMI in the Age of Information

You have a medical condition, a hernia. You know something is definitely wrong with your body — it’s not performing properly. So you go to the doctor. What does he do? Does the doctor show you x-rays of previous hernia patients? Does he waste your time by walking you through his track record of success in performing hernia operations? Does he show you what those other patients are doing now; how they are performing as a result of his operative techniques? And does the doctor try to convince you to get an operation because of his proprietary hernia procedures? We would think that doctor wasn’t very good if he had to make a case study to perform a hernia operation. We would seek a second opinion.

Or, let’s say you want sausage for dinner so you go to a Pork Store (when I was a kid, there was a “Pork Store” or Italian butcher in every neighborhood). Does the butcher take you in the back of the store and say — “Here’s where we take the gizzards and chop them up. And these are the casings that we stuff the fat and chopped organs into. Our casings are made of the finest pig intestines.” If this happened, you may never eat sausage again.

Yet, ad agencies feel compelled to show x-rays to prospective clients and give them a tour of the sausage factory. Why? It’s easier than diagnosing a particular patient’s hernia, or the prospect’s particular problem. We show them what we have done for others and not what we can do for them. We stamp trademarks on “secret sauce” processes as if they are anything more complicated than making sausage.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a rare and true art to make a great sausage. It requires time-tested recipes involving carraway seeds and special spices. But, the sausage maker knows that only two things really matter to his customers: taste and price. The Italian butcher doesn’t say, “well if that’s what you want to pay for the sausage, then I will make them smaller.” He sets his price and makes his sausage. Then he sells them because his customers like the way they taste.

It’s the same with great creative communications. There’s this new show on AMC called “The Pitch”. This was actually an idea I was trying to sell in to agencies in 2006. But this rendition gives me douche chills (not my line, but I like it so I’m using it). I’ve never watched Mad Men so I don’t really understand this emerging public fascination with the advertising business. It’s really quite unsensational, the day-to-day of it; much like the butcher’s day.

This comes from Carey Moore, one of the great Southern copywriters of our era: “If you rolled the cameras and re-created a typical week in a creative department, it would be the most boring television ever made. What we actually do isn’t very glamorous to a cold set of eyes. They had to make it contrived to make it even remotely watchable.”

I visit agencies ALL THE TIME. Between biz dev and headhunting, I’ve been inside well over a thousand agencies in the past 23 years. Ad agencies are quiet, like a library (more so now than ever). They are sterile, like a hospital. They are politically correct, like a government agency. They are fashion-backward (jeans & Clarks), like a college campus. Yes, the babes are hot, but besides that, there is nothing remotely entertaining about the advertising business — EXCEPT THE PRODUCT (at the better creative agencies, that is). Shows like Mad Men and The Pitch create a false illusion about our industry — show business replaces sound business sense. Creativity becomes a cliché, marginalized in a sea of strategy and soap opera voyeuristic sexcapades.

Does our industry really need this type of promotion? No wonder it’s so hard to find a good young writer today. Everyone wants to be this Don Draper guy. But, the smart kids are going to work for the top consulting firms, like Boston Consulting Group. And, as a result, BCG and the like are writing the real business and marketing strategies for clients today. They view us as narcissistic dilettantes. They warn our clients away from us. This explains to me why talent agencies like Creative Artists Agency have infringed upon advertising creative territory. They’ve become more creative than us and produce better work. We go to Mad Men cocktail parties and watch ourselves on The Pitch.

Clients aren’t buying into it. They remark to me about how offended they are by agency case studies. “It’s like the brand never could have succeeded without them,” one recently told me. Their “douche radar ” beeps loudly when agencies tout their trademarked proprietary processes and the fancy phrases they coin to promote themselves, er, explain their point of differentiation. They don’t want to see x-rays — they want their hernia fixed. Don’t show them gizzards, show them the sausage.

Hide the Buddha

“We have our principles… and if you don’t like those, we have others”

New Business people have plenty of pitch war stories. There’s the urban legend about how the Aflac Duck came into existence, supposedly on the elevator with the client after the pitch creative failed in the formal presentation. Then there’s the notorious story how BBDO stole the Cingular Wireless account from what was then known as WestWayne (now monikered 22squared) after the selection committee chose the Atlanta independents. Maybe the juiciest of all was the WalMart pitch led by Julie Roehm, choosing Draft/FCB but then having to re-review the account following tales of impropriety, lust and betrayal (ultimately settling in at The Martin Agency). If you’re in New Business, you have a war story — or several.

My favorite centers upon a character named Tim Bayless. I’m fortunate to have worked with many magical personalities in my Gump-ish life: Jim Valvano, Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Lee Clow, Bogusky, David Lubars, Andrew Robertson, Richard Ward, Doug MacMillan (The Connells), among others. Bayless had as much magic in him as any of them. Tim started an agency on his kitchen table in Atlanta in 1994 and proceeded to build one of the hottest shops in the country within 5 years. He recruited the writer (Jerry Cronin) that created the most famous Nike & ESPN work (at a time when getting talented creatives to move to Atlanta was harder than getting the Olympics to come to town). In his sixth year, he sold the agency to Omnicom. Think about that… a guy with not much else besides gumption, starts an agency alone on his kitchen table and 6 years later sells it to Omnicom for millions. That’s magic.

About 10 years ago, I was helping Tim with Biz Dev. We had just lost the agency’s cornerstone Church’s Chicken account. So Tim ordered me to “call every chicken company in America and tell them we’re available.” We didn’t have to look very far. Atlanta (and the regional Southeast) is the fried chicken capital of the world. Chik-Fil-A became an obsessive target. I badgered their marketing people for weeks. Told them that “nobody will like this Cow stuff you’re doing.” And “The Richards Group is the Dead Poet’s Society” and desperately, “Why is such a civic-minded, community-based company like yours taking jobs and business to Dallas?”  Finally, I struck a nerve and one Friday, they emailed me and agreed to meet with us “soon.”

That same Friday we also received an RFP from Van Gogh Vodka. The RFP arrived in a box with dozens of mini airplane bottle-sized samples of flavored vodkas — chocolate vodka, raspberry vodka, et al along with all the mixing accoutrements — all these flavors at a time when flavored vodkas were relatively new. So, at around 4 PM that afternoon, I sent an email to all agency personnel that we would be “doing research” on these flavored vodkas for the RFP in the main conference room and all were invited. Within 5 minutes, the conference room was teeming with everyone from our Controller (boy did HE need a drink, trying to balance Bayless’ books) to our building’s Janitor. It was a real mix-off, concocting potions previously unimaginable. And we were catching a bit of a buzz.

At one point amidst the all this mixology, our receptionist came into the conference room to alert me of a phone call. I retreated to my office and took the call. It was the CMO from Chik-Fil-A. He said he wanted to come by the agency to meet with us. “Awesome!”  I exclaimed, “when would you guys like to come, what day works best for you?”

“Uh, we’re in Midtown NOW and would like to come by the agency on our way back to the office (their “office campus” is near the Atlanta airport). I’m with Mr. Cathey (S. Truett Cathey, CEO and famously devout Christian) and he’d like to meet you, too.”

“Nanananowww?” I stammered.

“Yes, now. We’ll be there in 10 minutes.”

“Sounds great. See you then. Do you know how to get here?”  I never heard their answer because I was already hustling over to Tim’s office.

In the center of the agency, in the “public area” of BaylessCronin sat a large Buddha statue/fountain. The Buddha symbolized all of the agency’s manufactured new age values: peace, tranquility, spirituality, mysticism. It anchored the most visible and central spot in our feng shui space. It was the star of the show, the belle of the ball. The flowing fountain was symbolic of the lifestream of the agency and our values.

I barged into Tim’s office. “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.” Tim never wanted to know bad news. “What’s the good news?”

“Chik-Fil-A is coming to the agency to meet with us,” I blurted.

“Awesome. What could be the bad news?” Tim cackled.

“They’ll be here in 8 minutes. The CMO and S. Truett Cathey. What are we going to do? Everyone’s getting hammered in the conference room.”

Tim took all of 5 seconds to respond. It was the single most brilliant answer to a question I’ve heard in my entire ad agency life.

“Quick, hide the Buddha.”

The 7 Deadly Sins of Advertising

Weakness in the Shadows of Strength

One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from the great Irish playwright and poet, Oscar Wilde, “I can resist everything except temptation” (scripted from the play, Lady Windermere’s Fan). We’re all human — each one of us prone to temptation and the foibles of this earthly experience.

Ad agencies are merely the sum total of the humans that inhabit their halls. 90% of an agency’s inventory disappears nightly via the elevator. When the sum of the parts of that human total exceeds the whole, a creative agency is in a position to catch lightning in a bottle — to be magical. It is this elusive magical elixir that seduces agencies, tempting them to succumb to their weaknesses.

Recently I ran a reference check on an ECD and while speaking to their former Account Planning partner, I asked him what this particular candidate’s strengths were — and then I asked about their weaknesses. The Planner’s answer was enlightening (that is his job, after all): “his weaknesses are merely shadows of his strengths”. That was a simple but seismic insight.

Our weaknesses are merely shadows of our strengths. This applies to all people-first companies, like creative agencies. Human nature is fairly predictable. Chaucer taught us through his Knight in Canterbury Tales that there is “nothing new under the sun” (turns out that even this message wasn’t new as it appeared first in Ecclesiastes 1:9). So what can we learn from our weaknesses in trying to grow our creative agencies? What temptations will most likely to lead to demise? What sins do we commit that may ultimately lead to our death?

The Seven Deadly Sins of Advertising:

Pride the excessive belief in our abilities. There’s a fine line between confidence and pride. We often demand that our people “take pride” in their work. This is a strength that is shadowed with weakness. An example are the ridiculously self-important and self-promotional case studies that appear on agency web sites. Not only do they reveal strategies to our clients’ competitors, they often make it seem like our clients couldn’t succeed without us. We make it seem like we have some special secret sauce that other agencies don’t. Another example is the way we put silly TM’s on processes that are pretty much self-evident and use fancy words when simple ones will do. Agencies don’t appear humble, even if their people are. It’s like we’re all seduced by our profession, as if we think we’re on Mad Men, or something. Makes me want to get out of Biz Dev.

Envy the desire for others’ status or abilities. Is this a wannabe business, or what? I mean one crappy little designer, Bogusky, takes an 18-person shop and makes them a global creative superpower and everyone thinks they can do it. I guess anything is possible, but it took Alex 10 years to become an overnight sensation. And it required tireless devotion and a deal with the devil at the crossroads with Robert Johnson for that to happen. Agencies should focus on what they can be the best at in their region and pursue that. They should talk their core target and invite others to listen in. They should have a simple, humble mission and stick to it. We’re an envious industry — when there’s a big public account review and we’re not in it, we secretly hope that NOBODY wins it. It reminds me of being a college basketball coach. Those guys open the USA Today in the morning and hope they see that everyone lost the night before.

Gluttony — or in the old days when language was elegant, profligacy. The inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires. McGarry/Bowen comes to mind. Sure they’re on a roll now. But, just wait — pride and gluttony goeth before the fall. How is it possible to win all that business and service it diligently? But, let’s scale this sin down to the local and regional level. So many agencies get caught up in new business “activity”. They call it a “numbers game”. Tell that to your new client — that they were a number, welcome aboard. Guys sometimes call me and say that they can’t do their job properly because they’re “in 4 pitches this month”. What? It’s hard enough to pitch ONE properly. Not to mention pitch one and keep your current clients happy at the same time. We wind up just hoping that the line coming in the front door is slightly longer than the line going out. Gluttony also destroyed agency compensation models. It got so bad that clients hire consultants to monitor their agency’s financial efficiency. And it spurned entire gumshoe departments known as “procurement”.

Lustinordinate craving for pleasures of the body. Why did you choose advertising as a profession? Let’s face it — the babes are hotter than anywhere else. Admit it, you horndog. Maybe the bigger question is why do all the hot babes get hired by agencies? I’m sure I’ll get hateful comments branding me as a sexist or a pig (or maybe both, if I’m lucky). Whatever. Chicks dig the longball.

Anger — also known as wrath, it’s manifested when an agency spurns love and opts instead for fury. You can spot an angry agency pretty easily. Doesn’t matter how big or small it is. The receptionist sets a condescending tone. Your parking is not validated. The pizza’s cold. People appear stressed, overworked and challenged to keep up with their tasks. The under-staffed team hasn’t received bonuses in years. A few people make all the money (usually fat, white guys in the suburbs). Only a few opinions are valued. Anger can also often be subtle and passive-aggressive, more difficult to recognize and decipher. Haters appear to be lovers. Lovers appear to be haters. Nobody knows who not to trust. We’ve all worked somewhere like this at some point.

Greed — or, Avarice. The desire for material wealth or gain while ignoring the spirit. Don’t get me wrong — material wealth is fine. We’re all in this to make money. It’s the ignoring the spirit part that is deadly. So, whatever happened to Pro bono? It’s all but gone from the industry. And when we do it, it  STILL comes with an ulterior motive: “If we can’t win awards on Pro bono, then why do it?” Huh? Think about the hypocrisy of that statement. How many agencies are truly integrated into their communities? How many align themselves with institutions, educational and otherwise? You always hear the bullshit line, “the soul of the agency” — and then you look at the client list and they sell booze and fast food. Don’t get me wrong, booze and fast food are legal and part of the great capitalist dream. But booze is the third leading cause of death in America and poor diet is not far behind. We often get paid to help people kill themselves. We glorify the temptation. That’s our craft. So, at least be penitent on your way to the bank. The most successful people I’ve known in this business treated their career and their agency as if it were a vocation — not a profession or a mint.

Sloth — I love that word. It just sounds so much like it is, almost onomatopoeia. The avoidance of physical work. Agencies expect to “get to the next level” (they rarely define what that actually means) as if they are simply entitled to it. Everyone wants to succeed, but few are willing to prepare for success. Bobby Knight said that. He probably stole it from Chaucer, who probably stole it from one of the Prophets. I’ve noticed that there’s a high correlation to agencies that talk about “getting to the next level” all the time and ones that are barren and desolate at 5:15 PM (unless it’s freelancers in the creative department fixing the mistakes and revisions of the FTE’s). And it’s funny when the FTE’s complain about how hard their job is. It’s friggin’ advertising! Go dig ditches for a week, then come back and explain how difficult your agency job is. Fat, drunk and strategic is no way to go through life, you horndog.