The All-Video RFP…it’s about time

So your agency just spent about 200 hours frantically copying & pasting a written RFP response which you submitted a few minutes before the deadline. We all know the drill: assign sections of the response to a handful of senior managers and pour the ingredients into your RFP template. Then package it in a nifty custom binder and Fedex it off to the search consultant or client.

Then what happens?

Unfortunately, not much. I was quite surprised when I started running agency reviews 5 years ago how little of the written responses were actually read in the initial stage of the process. What I learned was that the voluminous agency tomes (many exceeding 100 pages) were perfunctorily glanced at, thumbed through or ignored entirely.

A video component has been a part of the RFP process for about 15 years. The first one I ever saw came from Boston-based Pile & Company around 2001 and it asked for a short agency “culture video.” Then a few years later, it evolved into a request for a 5-10 minute video of the agency team that would work on the account having a roundtable discussion about the opportunity. I always incorporated the latter into my RFP’s when managing a review.

But, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. My clients were ONLY watching the
Picture17videos and when impressed, they requested to ONLY look at the creative work. They ignored the written responses. Instead, they would simply ask me some of the key questions like, “how many employees?” and “where are they based?” and “do they have experience in our category?” And, of course, “where did they come out on their cost proposal?” They didn’t read the written response until we boarded a plane to visit a semi-finalist agency!

Which got me thinking…the video format allowed for breakthrough creativity and opportunities to make emotional connections with the client. It gave challenger agencies the chance to out-hustle the big boys. The best ones entertained, educated and inspired. AND they saved everybody a ton of time. What if the RFP called for video response entirely?

I just finished my tenth ALL-video RFP review. We asked the basic 12 or so questions be addressed up front (employees, mission, process, etc.). And then we asked to meet the team. And then we gave them creative license to riff however they wanted: “Show us what you’re all about…”

Most of the videos came in at 10-12 minutes in duration, and were shot with a GoPro camera. The good ones made us laugh or cry or get goosebumps (the best ones, all three). With ten courageous and innovative marketing clients, I think we revolutionized the Agency Review process.

It’s not about saving trees…it’s about saving time.

Interested in learning more? Click here.

Palma Portfolios…it’s about time

imagesOften I’m asked by creative people for advice & assistance in constructing their portfolio and digital presence. In 27 years, I’ve placed more than 1,000 creative people at some of the best agencies in the business: CP+BBBDO, GSD&M, C-K and 22squared, to name just a few. I’ve reviewed tens of thousands of creative portfolios and have learned what kind of book gets agency interviews, and what kind gets ignored.

While the format has evolved from hard-shell cases to online portfolios, the basic question remains the same: How can you best showcase your experience and work?images-1

Due to popular demand on all levels — from Juniors to ECD’s, I’ve decided to launch a new offering for creative candidates seeking to upgrade their portfolios and careers:

It’s called Palma Portfolios and it works like this:

  • Thorough online portfolio and resume review
  • Complete online profile review (LinkedIn, etc.)
  • 30-minute telephone consultation
  • Written summary with critique and recommendations
  • Placement in the active Palma database
  • Nominal fee
  • Buddies for life

For more information click here.

Why Most Restaurants Need a Better Creative Agency


We all know the importance of breakthrough creative advertising for any brand or category. In the sea of sameness that is the restaurant category, an effective ad campaign is what often separates the industry leaders from the pack.

Today, the restaurant landscape consists of a handful of “haves” and then, hundreds of “have-nots.” The haves are killing the competition: maintaining significant margins, reporting consistent growth and sales increases, attracting strong franchisees and of course, building brand preference and driving volume simultaneously. The have-nots are giving away food (“2 for $20,” etc.), reporting consecutive quarters in the red and struggling to keep their franchisees and/or investment partners at bay.

Millward Brown recently ran a study on award-winning creative work and determined that it is 2,000 times more likely to be effective. I know that marketers generally tend to be leery of creative awards; but, strong creative works.

You can pretty much tell who the haves and have-nots are just by watching TV. Chipotle, Panera, Taco Bell, Subway and Popeye’s are a few restaurant brands killing the competition with breakthrough creative. Particularly impressive are the effects of recent strong creative on formerly stale, struggling brands like Arby’s and Church’s Chicken.

And, the have-nots? Just look at the new McDonald’s work, or Wendy’s, or Burger King’s or Olive Garden’s or Golden Corral’s. Is it bad? No, it’s worse — it’s mediocre. And it all looks the same.

7 tell-tale signs you need a better creative agency:

  • Your ads look and sound like everyone else in the category (wet meat, steaming vegetables, price/item, LTO-message only) and lack strong, memorable creative concepts
  • Your agency has stopped constantly bringing fresh ideas to you; they’ve lost enthusiasm for your business
  • Your agency has continuing employee turnover on your account, particularly in the creative department
  • Your Social Media/Digital Content/Community Management marketing doesn’t translate or connect to sales increases
  • And, of course, you are struggling to maintain strong margins because you are giving food away
  • You system’s unit growth has ceased
  • Same-store sales are flat

Sometimes, even great creative agencies like Wieden + Kennedy and CP+B drop the ball — as they have recently with KFC and Applebee’s respectively. The reason? It’s hard (really hard) to cram a memorable creative concept into the restaurant commercial “formula.” You’ve got to show the food, you’ve got to show the deal…that only gives you a few precious seconds to execute a strong concept as well. I believe this makes the restaurant category the most challenging creatively.

The New Agency Website: What’s working now?

So this is the digital age. You are not just an ad agency anymore. You are now a hybrid, tradigital, Unknown-2
media agnostic, nimble, agile, curating creator of commercial content
. Good for you. Why does your website still look like an ad agency’s?

It’s no great insight that your company’s single most important piece of identity is your website. It’s where you send prospects, clients, search consultants, headhunters and potential employees to learn more about you and what you do. It’s where Google sends anyone who searches your name. It’s probably the most important piece of communications you will ever create. I spend most of my waking life looking at these things. Why am I mostly underwhelmed?

Recently, an old friend called to say he was re-doing his agency’s site and asked if I had any tips. This man, mind you, has one of the most startling imaginations of any creative I have worked with in my 27 years in advertising. In short, a great new site takes a great imagination. So he’s off to a good start. Make sure you appoint your most imaginative minds to your new site. The old site was a “business tool.” The new site is much more than that. It’s your digital persona.

UnknownThe trap is to talk to yourselves. Don’t fall in it. I’ve looked at agency sites from every possible angle: with clients, as a search consultant, as a headhunter, as a recruit and as a biz dev person. I’ve observed what causes your targets to keep clicking (the new site) or opt out (the old site).

Old site:

  • Themeless — No connection of your positioning to any mission, purpose or specialty
  • Words — “About us”…riddled with clichés and pompous agency-speak
  • Pictures — Ads, head shots, office space, ping-pong tables, posers posing for “candid” photos
  • Case studies — “When Acme Corporation came to us, boy were they up shit’s creek. We saved the day with our trademarked processes, brilliant insights and (mediocre) creative, and here’s how…”
  • Bios — “Joe has won every imaginable award on the planet. He loves dogs and look how handsome he is.”
  • TV spots — usually the only moving thing on the site besides that unsettling download onto the landing page
  • CTA — “What are you waiting for? Fill out this generic form below”

New Site:

  • Theme — The site makes an immediate statement and emotional connection to what the agency brand stands for
  • Video — The connection is made through a short agency video that connects the agency’s positioning with the core values of your targets. This is the first thing that comes up front & center on your landing page.
  • Infographics — The most effective way to explain who, you are, what you do and why you do it. “The agency in 60 seconds” is a better link to these than “About us”
  • Creative showcase — don’t “let the work speak for itself”
  • Case studies — 1 minute videos or infographic, beautifully designed
  • Bios — 30-second videos. A great creative opportunity
  • CTA — Again, a video. Close me; in a brilliantly unique & entertaining way.

Now they want to learn more about you. People don’t read websites until they want to buy. They look. They watch. They share. This is the digital age, lest we forget.

The New Agency Credentials Meeting: What’s working now?

So you got a meeting. A prospect has agreed to meet with you or your agency has advanced in a pitch process. Great. Now what? piranha_bites_heart_on_hook_anti_valentines_day_card-r6ca99ffe1882408089e3162ce57ef6b5_xvua8_8byvr_324

The trap is to plan the agenda around your agency’s credentials. Don’t fall in it. I’ve been on both sides of the table: as an agency search consultant for brand marketers and as a business development consultant for agencies. I’ve observed what entices clients to bite (the new meeting) and what causes them to fishtail away (the old way).

Old Way:

  • This is who we are — riddled with clichés and pompous agency-speak
  • This is what we do —  puffed-up agency capabilities and service offerings
  • This is how we work — trademarks, proprietary processes, secret sauces
  • This is the proof (work & case studies) — eyes begin to glaze over by the second case study
  • “Ok, enough about us, let’s talk about you…” — the client is checking their watch and smart phone by now

The best and most effective meetings I’ve been a part of in the past few years (on both sides of the table) begin something like this: The agency leader puts a jump drive on the conference table in front of the client and says, “Here are our credentials, if we have time and you are interested, we can take you through them. But, we’re here to discuss your brand and your business and learn more about your challenges.” Then the meeting proceeds something like this:

New Way:

  • This is who you are (brand video, brand book or manifesto) — the best meetings begin by making an emotional connection with the client. They think, “Wow, they get us.”
  • This is why we like you (missions aligned) — Demonstrate passion, don’t talk about it.
  • This is your customer (and they are us) — Don’t pitch prospects you don’t believe in
  • These are your challenges (truthful) — Address the toughest challenges, the brutal facts
  • These are our ideas for you — Business ideas, marketing ideas not necessarily spec creative
  • “Oh, you want to know more about us? Sure…” — Now you’ve got their attention as they fumble around for the jump drive.

Now they want to see your case studies to see if you have experience in successfully executing similar business/marketing ideas for other clients. Now you have a chance to win their business.

Book Review: WHY IS YOUR NAME UPSIDE DOWN? by David Oakley

51iv1PHz0PL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The first time I heard David Oakley‘s voice was in 1993 when I noticed some of his work in the Print Magazine Design Annual. I called him to recruit him for a creative position at Tausche Martin Lonsdorf, then Atlanta’s hottest creative agency.

It was a different era in recruiting — pre-Internet (Prodigy was just bursting on the scene). Recruiters actually called candidates, got to know them and their career goals. Not only did I like Oakley’s work, I liked him as a person. He was a copywriter at TBWA in NYC (pre-Chiat/Day merger) and he had the right mix of big city agency smarts and North Carolina “aw shucks” schoolboy charm. He was a young rocket that I pegged as a rising star.



It was then my mission to attract top creative talent to Atlanta and help build a creative community in the city. It all began with Kurt Tausche, the Minneapolis product and disciple of  Ron Anderson and Tom McElligott. His mission was to build a special agency in Atlanta. UnknownKurt liked Oakley and interviewed him. But, he passed on David and brought on board several other talented creatives: Patrick Scullin, Robbie Vitrano, Chris Schlegel, James Boyce and the inimitable (some may say insufferable) Andrew Payton.

David instead took his formidable talents to Charlotte where. in short order. he co-founded one of the great NC creative agencies of the era: BooneOakley with John Boone.

Kurt recently admitted to me that not hiring David Oakley was one of the biggest regrets of his career.

So when David called earlier this year to tell me that he was publishing a book about his life in Advertising it made me think, “wow, where did those 22 years go?” And he also mentioned that I was in the book.

WHY IS YOUR NAME UPSIDE DOWN? is not a how-to book about copywriting or creativity, like Hey Whipple or Guy Bommarito’s Creative Bones. There are no tips or preachy advice. Instead, it’s an uproarious journey through the industry; an allegory…a coming of age story that ironically climaxes with our phone conversation about an erstwhile client gone awry last year.

Oakley’s not just a copywriter…he’s a  storyteller. His tone has the perfect blend of confidence and self-deprecation. We all have war stories, the magic is in how we tell them. Oakley tells his magically. His book is not just for agency “insiders” — it will benefit any creative entrepreneur and entertain any voyeur of the ad industry. Mad Men was a superficial portrayal of the ad industry of the 60’s & 70’s. Oakley’s book is a real depiction of agency life in the 90’s and 2000’s.

Order it online here and leave it in your bathroom — it is perfect reading for the john.

8 Tips for Hiring a Creative Ad Agency


j6BH-453AYour creative is stale. Your ads don’t break through the clutter. They are not memorable. You waste money on paid media. The agency team that works on your business is constantly changing: a new account director every year, new creative people, new strategists and planners. It seems like once you get a new group up to speed on your account, they then depart. You feel as if new business is more important to your agency than YOUR business.

Is it any surprise that the same accounts are always in review and the same search consultants are pushing the same mediocre creative agencies? Don’t you think it’s time to fix the pitch process?

Rate of change and the speed of business are at an all-time high. More content was created in h-armstrong-roberts-hands-of-magician-performing-magic-trick-pulling-rabbit-out-of-top-hatthe past two years alone than in the entire history of civilization. Not just marketing content…but content content. Advertising reflects society (when it should lead it). Agencies rush for the next new bright and shiny “paradigm” (ugh…is that the worst word in the business or what?). They seem to be running away from the one thing clients value from them the most: CREATIVITY. Creative chops. Creative bones. The alchemy of taking a strategic brief and creating something mysteriously wonderful: magic. Many agencies have stopped being artists and have become scientists.

Agencies tend to over analyze what they do and what a client wants from them. Account service? Price of entry. Collaboration? Who would NOT collaborate with their client? Strategy? Ah, strategy…I love the intellectual bullies that think a brand is doomed without their insights. Regardless of the category, there is a finite set of strategies that sell anything. And clients sit around every day and kick them around:

  • More for less
  • New and improvedUnknown
  • One of a kind
  • Original, authentic
  • Better experience/service
  • Better stuff/quality
  • Selection
  • Performance
  • Aesthetics (beauty/design)
  • fill in the blank…

But, what most clients cannot do, and will always be at the mercy of creative agencies for is…creative product. If you are still reading this article, your creative product probably doesn’t meet your expectations.

So how do you go about hiring a better creative agency? Here are 8 tips:

  1. Hire a culture, not a process or person — All agency processes are basically the same and they should all be driven by the same singular goal: to get to the best creative work possible. All agencies think they have the best creative talent. But, it is the culture that must be the right fit for your brand. Do they have a mission? Do they live that mission or just talk about it? Does that mission align with your company mission?
  2. Define your company goals and communicate them clearly to prospective agencies — What is success for your company and brand? Do you have a roadmap or a plan to get there? Where does the agency fit in with that plan? Set the expectations early and monitor them often.
  3. Define your required Scope of Work — every good process has a clearly defined, surgical SOW. It is the core of any strong RFP.
  4. Conduct an RFP — Know what it is that you are looking for. Prioritize criteria. Set a process and stick to it. Be decisive in establishing criteria.3fe00259f3f1efd6fb9f0d5d3dfafa73
  5. Require a staffing model — Ask prospective agencies to explain how they specifically plan on servicing your account. Make sure you “interview” the key staffers in the RFP process. Place the most emphasis on the creative team. These are the shoemakers that will make the shoes. Make sure their shoes will attract your target’s feet.
  6. Be transparent — Don’t play games with budgets, Scope, existing research or proprietary methods. Water seeks its own level.
  7. Be inclusive — Your company has many stakeholders. Include them all. Form a “core” selection team but also include a secondary team and bring them in at various points in the review process. Seek their input. Everyone has a valid opinion.
  8. Own the decision, program it for success — Transparency and inclusion are great. But, ultimately ONE person needs to own the decision and live or die with it. Again, be decisive. Hire a consultant, or “marriage counselor” to set expectations for the first 100 days. When agency relationships go bad…they go bad fast. Get over the honeymoon in the first week, and get on to the marriage.