Punt It Over to Marketing

Yesterday I was approached about doing a billboard. The company I work for does not promote the use of billboard advertising. I personally don’t believe in them either. Despite whatever Clear Channel or any of the other media company says, in my experience I have yet to see any kind of significant return on the purchase of billboard advertising. So, of course I declined the request.

But the guy persisted. He had to have a billboard. He had to get our name out there. “We’re dying in the field and this billboard is the only thing that will save us” was this guy’s stance.

If things are that dire then call it quits.

A billboard, or any other ad for that matter, will not save a business.

It’s easy to punt problems over to marketing departments and have them take a stab at solving a problem. What gets me is that when they ask for help, they are quick to offer up tactics but rarely tell what it is they are wanting to achieve. A billboard is a tactic, not a solution.

Solutions are hard to figure out. They require considered thought, and often, some time. Rarely does an innovative idea present itself under duress.

After some quick chatter with a colleague about the problem, we came up with a good solution:

Rather than make a huge investment in a billboard, how about cleaning out the local Krispy Kreme and driving around to a few customers’ locations and drop off some doughnuts. Don’t even try to sell anything, just let them know you’re available should they need you and have a nice day.

This solution that would save the company about $10,000. In the process it will create bigger impact on the business and perhaps some goodwill with our customers. But it requires work. And unfortunately, he will never do it. It’s easier to scratch your name on a P.O. and it is to rent some real estate for a couple of months.

Marketing can do many great things to help a business grow, but rarely is it the solution to a fundamental business issue.

Week Links, #10


From Dave Trott – Brilliant!

Facebook’s Andrew Keller offers 10 steps to connecting with online audiences
For good or ill, the world changes when people come together and share ideas.

What matters in advertising this year
My favorite law is Amara’s Law. It says: “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run”. For this industry especially, it is apt as Adland loves to focus on embracing what’s next and ignores how we can use what we’ve had for a long time.

Leo Q+A: Rana Khoury
Leo Burnett Beirut’s creative director shares the inspirations and commitments behind her transformational work


Cheryl Strayed’s Secrets of Creativity
The bestselling author of ‘Wild’ and ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ shares her process and philosophy with Tim Ferriss

The grandmother of socially active art: the generous work of Sister Corita Kent
Born Frances Elizabeth Kent, Corita became a nun aged 18 joining the Immaculate Heart of Mary order in 1936, a Catholic teaching institute where she was also educated. She embarked on a career of unique teaching techniques, becoming the chair of the art department in 1964. Her classes were all-encompassing. School trips would vary from visiting Charles Eames’ studio, to going to the local supermarket to observe people and packaging.


Tenacity, Drive and Passion: Margo Chase
Margo Chase: Chasing the Bright Light explores the late West Coast designer’s insatiable curiosity and love of design before her untimely passing in an aviation accident in July 2017. The exhibition will officially open with a private reception on March 22 and then continue at Texas A&M University-Commerce, Viscom Gallery from March 23 through May 2, 2018.

Design and Leadership Are Inextricably Bound Together. How Design Means Business to the Modern CEO
It’s no secret that great design can unlock revolutionary business opportunities, and the Brainstorm Design conference in Singapore kicked off Tuesday with a panel including thought leaders, who asked big questions about what design has to offer modern businesses: What’s driving all this corporate interest in design? And what does it mean for corporate leaders?


Do Content Writers Really Need to Think about SEO?
It’s the fine art of writing content that can be found more easily on search engines — SEO copywriting.

Why It’s Imperative To Teach Entrepreneurship
Our education system is responsible for preparing young people to build successful lives. They should be ready for the wide range of possibilities ahead of them, including working for others, starting their own ventures, and contributing to their communities. All of these options require a depth of knowledge in their chosen discipline, as well as creative problem solving skills, leadership abilities, experience working on effective teams, and adaptability in an ever-changing environment. It’s no coincidence that these are the same capabilities that employers say they want in college graduates.

Be the audience

A while back I wrote about being a chameleon and started off by addressing my lack of style in the way I dress. In reality, it is not truly a lack of style as much as it is that I want don’t want there to be any barriers between me and my clients, so I dress like them.

I’ve held this practice for years. Never one of have a closet full of black t-shirts and jeans to match, I dress conservatively at work so that I can easily go meet with anyone at any time and look appropriate. Yes, it can be and often is very square.

This basic way of thinking applies to other parts of my life, too. I’ve gone down his path for very specific reasons.

I never dated another design student while in school. I spent so much time with my classmates, that I wanted a break from them. Needed to. I never  wanted to spend all my time talking about design; There is a bigger world out there. Yes, my wife did teach art, and I relish conversations with her on aesthetics and other issues around making and appreciating art, but that is little of what we talk about. We mostly talk about life.

For the past 25 years I have chosen to live in suburban west Houston. It is amazing to see how things have changed over the years; our area that was once quiet and rural is now bustling with commerce, traffic and tons more people. Living out here has been deliberate. There are more trendy places to live, places where I could be closer to more culture, but living in the ‘burbs definitely keeps me grounded. Also forces me to seek out new things to see and do. A very different mindset than when you constantly are immersed in that lifestyle.

Why is a creative person forcing himself to live an “ordinary” life? It is very much by design, and largely because I never want to loose touch with the real world, not live in the ones we create. I want to be grounded. I want to have the perspective of someone NOT in the business. I want to be the audience.

Rory Sutherland and Dave Trott continuously rail on Twitter about how out of touch the advertising industry is. They could not be more right. Last weekend the Houston Ad Fed held their award show and I reviewed the many of the winners online this past week. There was beautiful work, don’t get me wrong, but how effective/affective was any of it? The work spoke to me as an ad man, but how much of it resonate with me as a consumer? I’ll bet you know the answer.

I went back and forth on where I was going with this post, when I happened onto this tweet. Me and Austin Kleon are simpatico on this subject.

As a creative practitioner, you should feed your head constantly. Actively seek out things that inspire you and get your juices flowing. Just never forget, you’re not working for other creative types — you’re working to make some change for people who are not like you. They won’t analyze or spend time with the work the way you do.

Don’t loose touch with the real world. You may not live in it, but your work will.

When the client doesn’t call

One of the hardest lessons to learn as a creative professional is that when things are going right, you never seem to hear about it.

Seriously. You’ll killed yourself on a project, burn the midnight, dig way down deep and flawlessly bring a project to life. It gets released into the world, and … nothing.

No fireworks, no banners flying, no parades, not even a phone call to say “thank you”. Even the best clients will rarely follow up with you. This is just a plain and simple fact of life as a creative and you need to get used to it.

Now, after you’ve delivered a job and the phone rings right away – be wary. You might have a situation. Generally speaking, a client will not hesitate to call when they found that errant typo, or the brochures got smashed when shipped from the printer, or when any number of things that can go wrong on project did.

Be prepared. Be professional. And always remember: Even when things go south, you can always turn a crisis into an opportunity. That is what professionals do.

Clients are quick to complain and slow to compliment. Should you be fortunate enough to have a client who calls to say thank you, who works with you like a partner and respects the work you do, make sure you do everything in your power to hold on to them.

Lessons from the red-headed stepchild

Earlier in my career I did a lot of recruitment advertising and employee communications, the red-headed stepchild of proper advertising. At times, it was a fun and rewarding work – Connecting people with hopes of a better life, which is what changing jobs is all about.

The creative process went like this: You’d meet with a client on Monday, pitch creative on Wednesday, then produce and ship the materials by Friday. Ads would run on Sunday and by Wednesday you’d have a good idea if you were successful or not. It was a grind, but one that offered instant gratification, something other forms of creative work do not allow.

All new assignments started the same way: We’d go meet with a new client and talk about their goals for the adverts and what made their company different. We would dig into the company to learn about their culture, benefits packages and any other relevant bits the might make them look like an attractive employer to a job-seeker.

“Our benefits are the best-in-class…” No they’re not. In fact, almost every major corporation in the US at the time offered identical packages.

“We have a diverse workforce…” This one always got me. Most of the clients who made this claim were anything but.

Over time, we got a cynical about these kinds of claims: If you have to say it, you probably aren’t it.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the past week, especially as I grokked on the posting entitled Are these good ads good.

The point of that post was to question the validity of those advertisements as ads. What I did not dive into is that those ads do indeed give you a deeper understanding of who the company is, and the values that they hold. There is something to say for that.

The end result of those ads from The Gap and Apple is the complete opposite of the returns from the briefing sessions with my recruitment clients mentioned above. We would know what they offered their employees, but we struggled to understand who they were. And how to put a face on an otherwise faceless organization.

But I keep going back to my premise: Does this form of advertising that focuses all its attention on social issues, explicitly telegraphing the company’s values and beliefs translate into conversion and sales?

There has to be  balance where the company can project their values, not overtly but through the products and services they offer. It’s not about what you say or how you say it, rather it’s about what you do that defines who you are.