Help me Slay Cancer for my 30th Anniversary

VF_Logo_Benefiting_BWThirty years ago I picked up a landline telephone and recruited my first copywriter. I then faxed his resume and a few of his writing samples to an agency owner in Raleigh, NC. Pretty soon I was sending portfolio cases to agency Creative Directors nationwide.

1,300 hundred placements and 12 cell phones later, it is 2019 — and high time to celebrate the good fortune of a rewarding career and vocation in the advertising industry.

Please be my guest as I celebrate all the good times over the past 30 years. If I helped your career, agency or brand, please return the effort and help me slay the giant of cancer. Please make a donation. The donation is also a ticket to attend the anniversary party on 10/10/19 in Atlanta if you wish to attend.

The event is supported by and benefits the V Foundation for Cancer Research.

I played basketball for Coach Jim Valvano at tiny Iona Colllege before he became famous. We slayed giants together: Louisville, Kansas, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Pittsburgh…we took them all down with a slingshot — like David took down Goliath.

And together, we have one giant left to slay: cancer

Last December, cancer took my twin sister, Michelle Palma Furchak. In her honor, I dedicate my 30th anniversary in the advertising industry with a celebration of fun, food, jokes and stories amongst the extended family of “Palma people.”

Whether you can make the event or not, please help me fight cancer by making a VF_Logo_Supporting_BWdonation to the V Foundation. It doesn’t matter how much you donate, just do what you can to chip in. One thing Coach Valvano taught me: it takes a team effort to pull off an upset.

Creativity just wasn’t made for these times

It’s morning again in America. Why do I feel as if I just woke up to an alternate reality where the good guys are bad and the bad guys are good? Why do I feel as if everything that was normal is now whacked and everything that was whacked is the new normal?

It reminds me of the scene in Sleeper when Miles Monroe awakens to a world where things like milk and college aUnknownre considered unhealthy (prophetic, no?) — a country where everything we thought was good for us is actually quite bad and even deadly.

In Sleeper, science and data informed this opinion shift paradigm. Science and data drove the Revolution (the Aries Project”).Unknown-1

When did a good education, ambitious career & a moral vocation begin take on the sinister tone of “elitism?” Exactly when did intellect become an enemy of the people? Did it begin in the post-war McCarthyism of the 1950’s? Did it get its name in the early 1960’s?

The effects of anti-intellectualism are deadly to an inspired and creative world. In the advertising industry, creative salaries are shrinking in a time of unprecedented financial prosperity in America. What does that tell you?

It tells me that creativity is actually more important than ever. It tells me that creativity is scarcer than ever, therefore more valuable to client advertisers — because they still need it and because the “commodity of creativity” (now that’s an oxymoron for you) is vaporizing. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King (or Queen).

It explains why the hot agencies are providing BOTH solutions — combining data and creativity for business results. Ad agencies are, above all else, in the solutions business. Creativity is a proven solution. Fight for that. Commit to data & science, yes; but, fight for creativity — because today, it’s more wobbly than Mike Tyson in Tokyo.


7 Lessons learned from Jim Valvano…

…relevant to the agency business and life

images-2Every year around NCAA Tournament time, I think about my old coach, Jim Valvano. He’s become synonymous with the underdog. As one of my life’s great fortunes, I played for Coach V on his last two Iona teams after transferring from Wake Forest. In our two seasons together, we went 52-11, won two ECAC championships and made it to the NCAA Tournament both years. We beat the Kansas Jayhawks, Pittsburgh, St. John’s, Wichita State, Seton Hall and Mike Krzyzewski’s Army squad thrice.

We also beat the eventual tournament champion, Louisville, 77-60 in Madison Square Garden in February of 1980. They0_0_3586_4675 were nicknamed the “Doctors of Dunk.” We were a bunch of tough New York kids without a nickname. That season, we ranked in the Top 20 of the Final AP Poll.

Playing for V was an emotional roller coaster — such incredible highs and lows. There was no “normal.” Everything he did was a challenge to our manhood and our competitiveness. He and I had an unusual bond —  we were both English majors and literary students. We often discussed the frailty of the human condition and the duty of the writer to make language new.

I learned seven key lessons from Jimmy that apply not just to basketball, but to the agency business and life:

  1. “The only two things that are real in this world are Achievements and Relationships.”  V would finish this thought with, “and we get to have both.” 40 years later, this theory has withstood the test of time. Everything else just fades away, like cheap ink.
  2. “Never accept in victory what you wouldn’t in defeat.”  Boy, does this apply to the pitch process. You might get away with less than your best occasionally; but it will surely come back to haunt you when you need it most.
  3. “Dare to Dream.” As usual, V usually had a subtitle to his headlines. For this one it was, “and then out-dream yourself.” Our dream was to beat the #1 team in the country in the 9 o’clock game at The Garden. What’s your team’s dream? Agency of the Year? What’s your personal dream? Marketer of the Year? A One Show Pencil? Go do it…anything is possible if you plan for it.
  4. “Always know the time and score.” Sounds simple, right? It’s not. Your shelf life as a professional has an expiration date. And your value is measured in wins. Never lose sight of the clock and scoreboard. LinkedIn is littered with expert losers.
  5. “Success requires a system.” All great coaches have a system. The system wins and the system loses. The players are just executors of the system. Great players in a bad system often lose. And good ones in a great system almost always win.
  6. “Basketball is a cumulative game.” Life is a cumulative game; so is your career, your agency or your brand: it’s ALL a cumulative game. It all counts — not just the last 2 minutes. A missed opportunity is a missed opportunity.
  7. “Make enthusiasm a habit.” Our industry attracts cynics…don’t be one. Train your enthusiasm, don’t curb it. Foster it. Develop it. Seek inspiration. Find and channel your inner Coach V; number 15 below did.550684_10150977951418433_828174284_n

The Arc of a Great Career: 5 Steps

The real hero’s journey: the great pros come full circle

What is it that makes for a great career versus a merely efficient one? Many people do their jobs well enough to survive many years. They manage to avert layoffs, downsizing and restructuring. Somehow, they prosper. They adapt. They advance. Yet they never achieve their fullest potential. They never seem to be completely satisfied with their lot in their professional lives. They never reach their full promise.

Conversely, there are the big winners — the great ones,images

“the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn like fabulous yellow roman candles and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’” — Jack Kerouac, On the Road

What separates the roman candles from the matchsticks?

This is my thirtieth year recruiting top professionals in the advertising industry. I’m fortunate to have a large and significant sample size to make observations and draw theories upon what separates the wheat from the chaff. What I’ve noticed is the stars all share a similar arc in their careers. In fact, the “arc” is actually a career that comes full circle — the hero’s journey.

Nobody asked me, but these are the 5 steps:


  1. STUDENT: We all begin as novices. We all start the same way, in the metaphorical mailroom. Our careers are narratives, coming-of-age stories: allegories. A literal AND a figurative journey unfolds. Call us Ishmael, and our industry the Great White Shark. I remember cutting out the daily advertising columns from the Wall Street Journal and pasting them into a binder. This began in 1990, and by 1997, I filled up 6 large binders of advertising industry content that I studied every weekend. Then, the world went digital and the files moved to jump drives. This is the time we begin building our career skills.
  2. JOB: A speaker at a Mary Kay seminar once spouted, “JOB is just an acronym for ‘Journey Of the Broke.'” This is true. If you approach what you do every day as a job, that’s all it will ever be. You will never make a lot of money, you will always live beyond your means. And your career “cycle” will become increasingly vicious. But, we all start as entry-levelers. Our first “big break” is simply landing a job. Rule #1: Never let your boss beat you to the office in the morning. My first big break came as an assistant basketball coach at The College of the Holy Cross. It’s where I learned how to recruit and where I also learned Rule #1 from the head coach. It was great advice from a work ethic standpoint. This is the point of the arc where we begin defining ourselves.
  3. CAREER: Ah, this is what happens when we get good at what we do — when people value our work and our particular skills. These are the chapters of the allegory where our professional lives take on a direction. A roadmap develops. We stay the course. Our goals are met. We gain clarity. We adjust. We reinvent ourselves. We change, morph, transform. This is the time in our lives when we hit our stride.
  4. VOCATION: I speak often of the “vocation-based” professional mindset. At its core, it’s approaching what you do as if it were a higher calling — as if your career chose you and not vice versa. It’s the WHY we are, not the WHAT. This is pretty heavy stuff, when you really think about it. But, when it happened to me, it was truly an epiphany and changed my life. Crazy to think that my work was part of a bigger picture, a grander scheme. Crazy to think God could work his ways through my ministry. Crazy to want to give something back. Uh…not so crazy. What will you be remembered as? What will be your legacy? This is the true mark we make.
  5. STUDENT: Elliptically, it all comes full circle — we wind up where we started. I can’t say it better than this guy:

TS Eliot“We shall not cease from exploration /And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning…” — T.S. EliotFour Quartets

It amazes me how many folks on LinkedIN describe themselves as “experts” at what they do, especially at this final stage of their careers. I’m leery of experts. I want to be remembered as a student.

The 12 Best Cuban Cigars of 2018

New releases & old favorites made for a very good year

“By the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the fertile land. From it you were taken; you are soil, to the soil you will return.” — Genesis 3:19

What the heck do cigars have to do with the mission of this blog? Well, we toil by the unknown-1
sweat of our brow in an industry with a 6-9 month sales cycle (at best). For many ad agencies, one good account per year is both sufficient and acceptable. That makes for a rare opportunity to celebrate the fruition of our labor. What better way to do so than by gifting and/or enjoying one of nature’s perfect organic treats — the Cuban cigar.

imagesHistorically, the cigar represents a time of celebration or victory. From the birth of a new child, weddings, business mergers, World Wars (Winston Churchill, anyone?) and perhaps most common, a victory cigar for a sporting event. Cigars and winning seem to go hand in hand for as long as I can remember. And Red Auerbach is our patron saint.

Year-end “best of” lists are ubiquitous, I know. But there is one in particular that I plug into while monitoring my own Cuban cigar collection: James Suckling’s Havana Insider list.

2018 was special for me as I finally had the opportunity to visit Havana and experience the cigar culture of Cuba firsthand. That September visit inspires this list.

My 2018 list focuses exclusively on regular production vitolas. While there is no disputing the quality of pricey Limited Editions; and special Regional Releases are great too, but it’s like “cheating,” akin to naming a $500 bottle of First Growth Bordeaux as a “Wine of the Year.”

Nobody asked me, but here is my subjective list of best Cuban smokes from 2018:

  1. Quai d’Orsay 50: 2018 marked a glamorous comeback for this marca; born as a regional brand targeted to the discriminate French market. Both the “50” and the “54” (named after their ring gauges) are reblended and repackaged from the original QdO brand. The result is an elegant short cigar. As refined as a Cohiba Robusto and richer than a Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure #2, this cigar tops my list. The perfect complement to a glass of champagne. Purchased as a 10 box from La Casa del Habano, Hotel Conde de Villanueva near the Port of Havana. 98 points
  2. Punch Punch 48: A new size and blend for a classic cigar. Double-banded as an LCDH exclusive, it is still a regular production cigar and is priced accordingly. But it’s what’s inside the wrapper that’s special. If you enjoy the Punch flavor profile, as I do, this cigar takes it to a new plateau. Rich, decadent, fresh. Purchased as a 10 box from the La Casa del Habano, Hotel Meliá Cohiba in Vedado, Havana. 97 points
  3. Partagas 898 Varnished: Unapologetically old school. This is what Cuban cigars tasted like 30 years ago. And I miss that. Long and skinny, this cigar bucks the current popular trend of thick, jawbreaker girths. The Lonsdale size is one of my favorites. The 898 is a classic in the earthy, spicy, peppery tradition of Cuban flavor profiles. A rare find, purchased as a 25 box in the 898 format at the un-snooty La Vega at Palacio de las Artesanías in Havana. 96 points
  4. Ramon Allones Small Club Coronas: These babies are little gems. Perfect for your employees or clients that “don’t smoke cigars.” There is no more exemplary small sampling of the alchemy and magic that Cuban soil and seeds can create. Majestic and bold. Not as complex as the RA Specially Selected, but more flamboyant. Purchased from an authorized Habanos SA dealer in Hong Kong. 96 points
  5. Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo de Depute: Woody and creamy, hard to imagine this much flavor can emanate from such a small format. The perfect after-lunch cigar. Good things come in small packages. 95 points
  6. Trinidad Fundadores: Boy, did this cigar make a comeback last year. Long, thin and elegant, these lanceros drip honey. Sweet and rich, maybe the best turnaround story in the Habanos portfolio. A special occasion cigar, like after winning a major review. Purchased as a 24 count varnished slide-lid box. 95 points
  7. Fonseca No. 1: Another old school Lonsdale makes the list. A superb value, the tissue-wrapped No. 1 holds its own in any blind tasting. Unusually flavorful for a mild cigar. Good for the golf course or the 19th hole. Purchased as a dress box of 25 at La Casa del Habano in the basement of the famous Hotel Nacional, Vedado. 94 points.
  8. Partagas Serie E No. 2: Many of these boxes are rolled at the famous Cohiba-dominant El Laguito factory. And the quality/flavor concentration is on par with the vaunted Cohiba Behikes. These are rich, strong, bold after-dinner smokes. Not for the faint of heart. They are sold in 5 and 25 count semi-boite nature cedar boxes. 94 points
  9. El Rey del Mundo Choix Supreme: Inconsistent production and quality control. Admittedly, some are not so good. But, the good ones are absolutely glorious. I smoked a couple that were superior to the Cohiba Robusto. Sweet, mild and harmoniously balanced. When they’re on, they are great. 92 points
  10. Cohiba Exquisitos: What Cuban list would be complete without a Cohiba? These are slim, panatela-styled smokes. A tiny but powerful flavor bomb. Hard to describe grassy and honey flavors in the Cohiba tradition. Readily available. Don’t take them for granted. 91 points
  11. H. Upmann Petit Coronas: Unfortunately, this cigar was discontinued last year by Habanos SA. My favorite Petit Corona in the world. If you can find them, buy as many as you can and stash. No better example of a pure H. Upmann experience. Burns like a champ. 91 points
  12. Diplomaticos #2: I prefer this piramide to the Montecristo #2, and many smokers consider them cousins. Again, rustic old school notes. Yet somehow refined and elegant flavors. A miracle in construction. The “hairiest” wrapper in the Cuban portfolio. Good gracious, if someone said I could only smoke one Cuban cigar moving forward, this may be the one. 90 points


The Best Creative Agency in each State: 2018


It’s that time of year for the Midterm creative agency evaluations. Below are the winners, by state. The single criterion is current creative work; not legacy reputations. The best work right now. In some cases, certain states are omitted. Either no agency met the standard, or I simply didn’t know enough about the creative landscape in that particular state (Alaska, for instance).

The Palma Honor Roll:

  • Alabama               BIG, Birmingham                    
  • Arizona                 Santy, Scottsdale                     
  • Arkansas              Eric Rob & Isaac, Little Rock
  • California (So.)    Anomaly, LA                            
  • California (No.)   BSSP, Sausalito                        !/welcome
  • Colorado               Made, Boulder                        
  • Connecticut         Cronin, Glastonbury             
  • D.C.                       Admirable Devil                    
  • Delaware            Aloysius Butler & Clark, Wilm.
  • Florida (So.)         David, Miami                         
  • Florida (No.)         Bright Red\TBWA                  
  • Georgia                 Fitzco, Atlanta                        
  • Illinois                   C-K, Chicago                           
  • Indiana                  Young & Laramore, Indy   
  • Iowa                       Flynn/Wright, Des Moines
  • Kentucky               Scoppechio, Louisville        
  • Louisiana              Trumpet, New Orleans       
  • Maine                    Via, Portland                         
  • Maryland              RP3, Bethesda                       
  • Massachusetts     The Fantastical, Boston       
  • Michigan              Doner, Southfield                 
  • Minnesota            Fallon, Minneapolis             
  • Mississippi           MWB, Jackson                        
  • Missouri               Barkley, KC                             
  • Nebraska              Bailey Lauerman, Omaha  
  • Nevada                  R&R, Las Vegas                     
  • New Mexico         McKeeWallwork, Albuq.     
  • New York               360i, NYC                                
  • North Carolina     Baldwin&, Raleigh               
  • Ohio                       Brokaw, Cleveland               
  • Oregon                 Wieden & Kennedy, Portland
  • Pennsylvania (E)    Pavone, Harrisburg           
  • Pennsylvania (W)  Brunner, Pittsburgh           
  • Rhode Island          NAIL                                       
  • South Carolina       EP, & Co. Greenville            
  • Tennessee                Tombras, Knoxville           
  • Texas                         McGarrah Jessee, Austin  
  • Virginia                     Martin Agency, Richmond
  • Washington              copacino+fujikado, Seattle
  • Wisconsin                 C-K, Milwaukee                   

The 5 key questions to ask on a job interview

Candidates can control their fate by asking these 5 questions

Ok, I’m fortunate to have learned a few things after setting up 5,000 interviews in my 28 Unknownyears as an agency headhunter.

For one, many employers don’t know how to interview talented candidates. For another, HR sticks too closely to specs and job descriptions. And most importantly, candidates are so eager to talk about themselves that they often fail to ask the right questions.

What are the right questions?

  1. What do you expect me to accomplish in this role?
  2. What current obstacles are there in the way to accomplishing these things?
  3. What are next steps in the hiring process?
  4. Is there anything else you or I need to know?
  5. When can I start? (assuming you want the job, ask for it)

Ask the first two questions early in the interview. Ask question 3 about midway through the interview. Save the last two for your “close.”

Make sure you take notes and write down the answers you get. You are now ready to respond intelligently to the employers’ questions framed in their own language & expectations. Control the interview, don’t let it control you.

Win One Good Account in 2018


The hour is upon us. Grow Agency Grow is officially launched. Our website is live and the betting windows are open for business. Free pizzas to the first 100 members.



2018: The Year of Grow Agency Grow

Welcome to New Business MasterClass

It’s a new year and everyone is back to square one in the ad agency world. New forecastscropped-GrowAgencyGrow_Gradient-1 to meet. New business to get. Do you have a plan for growth? Are you committed to growth? How are you preparing for growth in 2018? Or is this year just a wash, rinse and repeat of 2017?

I’m excited to announce a better way for your agency to approach new business in 2018 and beyond. Next week, Ed Klein and I are launching Grow Agency Grow, an ad agency gag-1new business training & coaching company.

Grow Agency Grow will provide on-demand new business training content through online video lessons. It is the ad agency equivalent of MasterClass.  The videos will be released next week to subscribers. We believe it is a more efficient, effective and modern way to gain winning new business knowledge than attending conferences, seminars, summits and other code names for boondoggle.

cropped-GrowAgencyGrow_Gradient-1Grow Agency Grow launches next week on LinkedIn, so keep a lookout …it will change your agency’s life.


What Agencies Can Learn from Warren Buffett about Pricing their Services

“You can determine the strength of a business over time by the amount of agony they go through in raising prices.”– Warren Buffett

UnknownI’ve been hearing a lot from my clients and friends in the agency business about the erosion of their margins for years now. What Mr. Buffett alludes to as it relates to agency services is that if you’re not creating real value for your clients, and figuring out how to charge for that value, you’re never going to grow your margins. Many are wondering how we got into this mess in the first place, and how we’re ever going to get out of it.

My friend and colleague Ed Klein, who’s sat on all three sides of the table as an Advertising Director and VP Marketing at Coca-Cola; Principal at Hauser Group and 22squared; and as a search consultant has some insight to help us continue the migration away from the hours based fee structure.

Ed: “Thanks Mike. There’s an evolution in our industry that’s taking place right now. It can become a revolution if everyone gets on board and starts changing the conversation 36918c8with the client community. The good news, clients are open to and wanting the change! They didn’t get into Marketing to manage an agency’s profitability. The only reason they ask to see proposals in the form of FTE’s, blended rates, overhead and profit is that we trained them to do it that way. Think about it, what other business opens the kimono so wide that their customers can calculate not only the costs behind your operation, but right down to the salary of many employees.”

 Palma: “How do we get out of this?”

 Ed: “The big headline is pricing deliverables based on the value created. I love the
Warren Buffett quote because the best agencies in the world right now are more profitable than at any time since the days of massive commissions on media. It’s because they understand that the value they’re creating isn’t related to their time, it’s directly correlated to the value they’re creating for their clients, and no one has trouble paying for that.”

 Palma: “How should agencies go about determining the value they’re creating, and how do they price from there?”

 Ed: “The best news in the movement to what economists refer to as value based pricing is that from the outset of any engagement, you’ll be discussing your client’s goals and objectives, not your overhead and profit margin. Agency’s need to understand the value they’re creating to set a price. That conversation will lead to a deepening of their understanding of their client’s business, and their client’s belief that goals and objectives will be aligned. From there, agencies will calculate their costs, (not for client consumption), to build Pricing proposals, (not fee proposals), that protect and grow their margins. There is an element of art as well as science in pricing, as we can all understand when we think a little harder about what we pay for clothes, food, and other professional services. The strongest proposals will always come with options, so that all negotiations will be based on the pricing structure you’ve presented, not the slashing of your FTE’s, overhead, blended rate and all the other drivers of your profit margins.”

images-1As Jack Torrance said to the bartender in The Shining, “Words of wisdom, Lloyd…words of wisdom.” By the way, Ed and I will be launching a major initiative next year, disrupting the new business model and revolutionizing the agency search process, so stay tuned to