Friday, July 30, 2010

MEDIAPOST: What Does It Mean To Be A True “Partner”?

What does it mean to truly be a partner?

This is a question that I’ve been thinking about over the last few weeks and it has stylistically impacted a number of my recent columns. It’s come up on discussion threads, in some email lists and it’s been bantered about in the comments section, so let’s address it head on.

The antithesis of a partner is a vendor, and there is a simple point of differentiation. A partner is a valued relationship. A vendor is an order-taker. A partner is someone who adds value beyond the exact words of a contract, where a vendor does exactly what they’re told and nothing more. A partner is willing to say “no” and willing to fight for ideas and engage in intelligent discourse. A vendor fears conflict and does what they’re asked, even if they don’t believe it’s the right thing to do.

Many people ask me what’s wrong with the marketing services business, because there is definitely something wrong with much of it. My two cents is that too many companies and too many people are vendors and not enough of them are true partners.

In the days of “Mad Men”, or what some refer to as the glory days of advertising, agencies were partners and those relationships lasted a very long time. Agencies would call “BS” on their clients and would fight for what they believed in. Clients would engage in a healthy debate and the two sides would try to convince the other side of their POV. In the end we’d see a rationalized, well-thought out effort that would drive appreciable lifts in business.

Today, there are too many “yes-people” in this business.

It feels like people fear conflict and change, which is funny because this business is built on these two cornerstones. Conflict and change breed innovation and whether you’re trying to reinvent a brand or a category, you need innovation. People are also afraid to make mistakes, and our climate is one that doesn’t tolerate mistakes very easily. Mistakes are what develop ideas! You have to be encouraged to make mistakes and learn from them, because no one ever gets it right on the first try! Mistakes, conflict and change; these three words are important to the growth and creativity of ideas and they are currently missing from the marketing services world.

Yes-people live their lives worrying about mistakes, conflict and change. They’re terrified of making mistakes, they avoid conflict in any way possible and change unsettles them so they try to maintain the status quo. What great ideas have ever emerged from that kind of environment? What great developments or great strides forward have ever emerged from that mindset?

To mend the problems with the business, we need to embrace mistakes, conflict and change. We also need to end the nickel-and-dime tyranny of the post-procurement age where agencies are held to the letter of the contract and negotiated to within an inch of their lives. On the flip side, agencies need to branch out and provide insights with out holding out their hands every single time. Agencies need to take responsibility and offer intelligence without expecting an immediate response in the form of a check, but rather as a deposit in the emotional bank account of the relationship itself.

We need to recreate an environment where ideas are applauded and partners are encouraged to fight for their ideas without fear of repercussions. I don’t mean that every agency should turn into an arrogant, fascist regime but I think that they need to learn to stick up for themselves and their ideas. Clients need to see the value in their partners and engage in the discussion, and they need to be clear about who the decision makers are, engaging them early and often. Some blame Wall Street for the fear of public opinion, but I don’t believe it anymore. I think the responsibility lies within our teams and ourselves as only we can impact the relationships of those around us. Like the saying goes (sort of), you have to affect every relationship one client at a time.

Don’t you agree?

Friday, July 23, 2010

MEDIAPOST: Have You Hugged Your Agency Today?

Have you hugged your agency partners today?

OK – admittedly that sounds a little extreme, but the question is intended to be exaggerated to highlight the state of agency/client relationships these days.
In the old days, the agency/client relationship was long lasting, quite deep and very effective. These days the average agency/client relationship is four years. Is that because the agencies are full of overworked, under-experienced, over-compensated braggarts? In most cases, no.

For the most part, regardless of the issues facing the agencies, the agencies are full of hard working, well-intentioned innovative minds. To be an agency careerist is hard, and it’s full of challenges from many sides. Your competition is always coming after your business and the ethics of business aren’t always top of mind. Agencies undercut on price and they come after your best people. Being in an agency and pouring your heart and soul into the work of your clients can be a pretty thankless job, but those of us who’ve chosen this path know why we love it!

Being an agency person allows you to explore creativity and data all at the same time. It allows you to learn on an ongoing basis. It allows you to be innovative and it allows you to be a problem solver. The nature of the agency world is one of facing challenges head on almost daily, and creating solutions. Identifying a challenge and knowing that you can overcome them and succeed is what drives us. That’s the kind of thinking that gets agency people excited!

Of course, many of us will tell you that the agency business would be utterly amazing if it wasn’t for the clients. I jest (a little), but the fact is that most clients don’t value their agencies and they don’t take into account the human component of the work that’s delivered day in and day out, under intense conditions, in amazingly quick cycles. Rarely if ever does the agency develop the ideas they bring to you in the car ride over to the client’s offices. Most of those ideas were developed over painstaking hours and days and through any combination of late nights, frenetic brainstorms and emotional bloodletting. And nothing hurts worse than when a client shoots down your strategic vision in a matter of minutes for reasons like “they don’t like the color” or “but that’s what I read our competition is doing in AdWeek”.

By no means am I arguing that your agency partners get it right all of the time. Intelligent discourse is what truly creates great work, in both creative and media. What you should be striving for is that intelligent discourse, not just discourse for the sake of the meeting. When you select an agency, you select them because you believe they have the talent and the experience to bring value to your business, and that is what they do (for the most part, when compensated in the right way). Being a good partner means that you challenge one another and you try to make each other better. And you check your ego at the door. Being a good partner means that you value your partner’s strengths and you work through your partner’s weaknesses, knowing that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s the same in any relationship and it should be the same in business.

My hope is that if agencies and clients can create the right kind of relationship early, in the compensation structure, then they can create a truly mutually beneficial relationship that lasts for many years. Both sides should be willing to invest time and they should never nickel and dime their partners. Both sides should get to know the other from a personal view. They should value the experience they bring to the table and they should understand that decisions are made based on all the information, not just your gut or some innate desire to have power in the relationship. They should have an implied understanding that if they go the extra mile for one another, that they’ll have each other’s back and that kind of relationship can go on for years and years.

So if you have a meeting today, take a second to appreciate your agency. You don’t have to engage in a group hug, but simply ask them why they did what they did and say thank you for the hard work.

What have you seen that’s worked and was successful at creating a long lasting relationship between agency and client? Share your thoughts on the Spin Board – I know at least 1,000 people that really want to hear it!!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Digital Influentials Volume 2, Issue 8: Show THEM The Money!

Cuba Gooding Jr. and Tom Cruise immortalized the phrase, “Show Me The Money” in one of Cameron Crowe’s timeless masterpieces, Jerry Maguire. That scene has been used in various iterations for many different purposes since it was first spoken, but today I wanted to you use it by featuring some of the businesses that are doing an excellent job of getting consumers to spend their well-earned dough. This is the shopping-centric issue of The Digital Influentials!

Consumers spend money. That’s a fact. The economy will fluctuate. It will rise and fall and ebb and flow, but the constant is that people are consumers and consumers spend money. Our entire culture is based on capitalism and the flow of consumer goods. When you watch TV and a celebrity wears a brand, that brand sees a bump in sales. If Oprah says something good about your brand, you’re off to the races. The development of a brand takes time, but it’s the brand that sells products.

The sites we uncovered the past few weeks are utterly amazing in their ability to influence consumers, push products, build and/or translate brands and generate revenue! They all perform special services, each slightly different from the rest, and they’re all generating buzz, harnessing the power of social media, and achieving success in an environment where even the most consumery of consumers are keeping a close eye on their wallets and purses. Let’s see how they’re doing it, shall we?

First off, you can’t mention shopping today without mentioning THE GILT GROUP ( Gilt offers a series of invitation only (invitation through referrals) sales for well-recognized brands and the stuff they have is great. There are daily specials, weekly specials and specials that you may have missed because they were “after hours”. I was referred and started buying in just 4 days, and I know others are too!

If you like the idea of a “personal shopper” then you’ll love SHOP IT TO ME ( Just enter your favorite designers, your size, and the service will rummage through the web, uncovering sales and sites that have what you might want. It makes recommendations and facilitates your buying! Pretty influential, isn’t it?

Speaking of deals, have you been on Twitter lately? If you have and you like to shop, then check out CHEAP TWEET ( Cheap Tweet is a simple aggregator of deals and sales through the twitter feed. There are lots of companies offering closeout prices for inventory on Twitter and taking advantage of the immediacy of the space. Now you can too!

Sometimes the best way to save money, rather than spend it, is to share. That’s the basis for NEIGHBORGOODS ( I know this may seem a bit off subject because this issue is all about spending, but what if you could try out a product by sharing it with someone in your neighborhood before you bought it? What about going in as a group and buying a big-ticket item together? That’s sort of the basis behind this site, which turns your immediate neighborhood into an active social network for sharing real world goods!

Speaking of group buying (and just in case you live under a rock), be sure to check out GROUPON ( and HOMERUN ( Each comes at the category a little differently, but there’s almost no more buzzed-about section of the web than what these two companies are doing right now.

In the fun and exciting world of iPhones and iPads, don’t forget to check out the GILT app, the SHOPPING.COM app, the AMAZON app and the PRICEGRABBER app, to see what deals are available and products you’ll find useful. Shopping at your (literal) fingertips!

Now stop reading this column and get out there to stimulate the economy, would ya’?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

MEDIAPOST: Avoiding The Place Where Good Ideas Go To Die

Success in business comes from a combination of luck, talent and timing. In fact it’s my personal opinion, and one that I’ve used for a very, very long time, that success in life comes from a combination of luck, talent and timing. If you can coordinate 2 of 3 of these in the same place, at the same time, for an extended period, then good things can happen.

Of course the antithesis of this philosophy can be process.

The phrases “process paralysis” and “death by committee” are universally known and equally frustrating to me, because I’ve personally witnessed too many good ideas go into a meeting and never come out. I’m certainly person who relies on structure, but I also know when a good idea steps up and smacks you in the face that you need to move quickly. You need to make decisions and you need to take a shot. As Wayne Gretzky once famously said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. Truer words were never uttered in any line of work.

Of course, I will caveat that I don’t advocate jumping in without a net. I firmly believe in stating a case, justifying it with a well thought-out and substantiated rationale, and making a logical test, but these things can be done quickly and they don’t need to be killed in committee! Some of the most successful campaigns I’ve ever worked on were the ones born out of a simple creative idea, sold through quickly, and tested with a simple, clearly stated goal in mind.

To help you avoid the dreaded death by committee, here are some tips for how to prepare an idea and get the most out of the room, hopefully enabling you to achieve success with your ideas:

1. Follow the pseudo-scientific method: Observation, Hypothesis, Action

It’s not the exact scientific method that PhD’s and doctors use, but its close enough. Start out by making an observation that everyone in the room will recognize. Keep it simple and concise. Then, form a hypothesis for what you’re looking to test, and recommend a simple course of action that will allow you to see results via definable, measurable actions.

2. State your case clearly, and stop talking.

The worst thing you can do when pitching an idea is keep talking. You need to speak clearly, with confidence and conviction, to present your idea. You have to make sense, and get to the point, then allow it to sink in. Let the room process your idea, and allow them to ask questions. Let them make your case for you. Let them guide the flow of the discussion. The power of a period and a pause in your sentence can never be over-stated, so make good use of it.

3. Prepare your support information.

Try to anticipate the questions your audience will ask and answer them in advance. Practice your pitch with someone you trust and let them ask the questions they anticipate you will be asked. That will help you to prep the responses you’ll need in advance.

4. Prep the decision makers before you enter the room.

Too many people forget that you should be making the case before you enter the room. All good lobbyists do it; they know the outcome of the vote before the vote even takes place. It’s simple politics, and it works. You seed the idea to the key decision makers in advance, letting them know that you value their opinion. Get their feedback, and integrate it into the idea. Know what their reactions will be before you make the pitch.

5. (This one is sneaky) Put the right people in the room.

Yes – this is sneaky. Be sure you know who will be in the room, and don’t invite the wrong people. There are the born “devil’s advocate” people and the “homeostasis” people who only exist to find balance, meaning argue your ideas. These are the people who don’t applaud change, and are risk avoidance specialists. If you can avoid having these people being a part of the decision making team, you should try it. If they have to be involved, spend special time with them in advance and get them on-board before you put the idea to a vote.

I know some of these sound a bit sketchy (sort of loading the deck, if you will), but they’re not. They simply allow you to put yourself in a position to make a move and live with the consequences while also fully thinking through your ideas. If you aren’t willing to live with the results and admit defeat if it comes, then you shouldn’t be pitching your ideas in the first place. If you believe in what you’re saying, and you have confidence in the outcome, then put yourself out there and see what you can do! Success rarely rewards the man (or woman) who doesn’t take a chance.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

MEDIAPOST: The Ego-Driven Internet

Is it just me or are the majority of innovations in this current phase of the web all about ego?

Checking in, tweeting, posting your status, and sharing your activities with friends are a collection of very ego-driven experiences. In some cases you may be sharing information that others will find relevant, but sharing what you’re thinking at that very moment or what bar you just popped into is rarely of value. I can’t throw stones since I do just as much of this as the next guy, but what’s really the value here and how can marketers take advantage of it?

It comes back to the ego. Tapping into the ego is one of the two most important things that marketers do. All marketing either satisfies a core human need or makes that human feel special by association. Once you get past the human needs, ego is pretty much all you have left.

The ego is what drives most impulse buying while pure human need is what drives most considered purchasing. I hit on these topics a few weeks back and in doing so I had an epiphany of my own. Human nature is social and when we see others doing something interesting we want to join in. The same goes for shopping or activities. When we see others become interested in a product or service, it intrigues us and makes us want to know what we can do in a similar fashion. That’s why word of mouth advertising is so effective; it speaks to our base human needs to fit in and align with our peers. It’s also why peer pressure is so strong, especially at early ages when you are still trying to find your way. Peer pressure is the biggest example of the ego at work and the ego needing to find other egos with similar priorities.

Marketers have known this for many years, and that’s why the Internet is so powerful. The Internet allows the consumer to quickly, and with very little effort, have insight into the egos of like-minded people. That’s why re-targeting works so well and social re-targeting (which I hear about a lot because my wife works in that area with Media 6 Degrees) is even more effective. The concept that “birds of a feather flock together” speaks directly to the fact that like-minded egos will likely engage in similar activities, and they want to know about what each other are up to! Whether you tell the consumer “their friends are doing it” or not, that kind of targeting taps into that innate understanding and drives a stronger ROI.

What marketers also need to do is find ways to tap into the ego of their consumers and share their experiences. Sites like Blippy are simple and brilliant, though many of us don’t know why, because they project the ego of shopping from one consumer to another. People want to know what their friends are buying and why. If their friends are buying something, maybe they should be considering it too! It’s a purely ego-driven experience, because everyone wants to be first, but it works!

If your friends are buying something, you tend to want to know. It’s also referred to as “keeping up with the joneses”. If they buy a nice car, you may want a nice car. If they put an addition on their house, you might consider it. If their Christmas lights are out of control but cool, yours will likely go big the next year. It’s simple human nature.

How are your marketing efforts tapping into the ego? How are you pressuring the audience into looking you up and learning about your brand?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

MEDIAPOST: All This, And They Still Can’t Make a Flying Car?

On Saturday night I was at a concert, with a friend named Eric Duong. I dragged him to see one of my favorite bands from back in the late 90’s (Pavement) and we found ourselves reminiscing about the past and reveling in the present. It’s amazing to think of the advances in technology that we’re witnessing right before our very eyes, many of which were still just forecasts the last time that Pavement was on tour, and mere fantasies when we were all kids. It was the stuff of science fiction and James Bond movies, but it’s happening now right in front of us.

The iPhone 4’s Facetime is just one of those advances that we’ve imagined for years. I was skeptical of the concept when I first heard about it, but seeing it in action was a whole other experience. The videophone has been thought about for years, but now it’s real and it lies in the palm of your hand, not tied to your desk or your computer. The implications of video chat on a phone are that you can truly share experiences with others in away like never before. I know the platform is limited now, but knowing Apple, it’s only a year or two away from being a larger jewel in the crown. And just in case you weren’t paying attention, Apple just found a way to bring the world of cell phones to the deaf by expanding the opportunities for lip-reading as a form of tele-communication (kudos to whatever newscaster pointed this out).

But Facetime isn’t the only technological innovation that’s shaping our world, or has shaped our world in the last few years. Can you remember what the world was like before ATM’s, cell-phones and microware ovens? Everything took a lot longer, your penmanship was far better, and you actually spoke to the people at the bank. Times have changed, our ability to multi-task is increasing and plans are being made on the fly. No more waiting around the house for your buddy to call and tell you where to meet them; you just pop a “hot-pocket” in the microwave, take-ff to run your errands and call their cell.

Personalized GPS devices and in-car nav systems are making it more and more difficult to get lost and they’re saving millions of men the embarrassment of having to ever pull over and ask for directions. Hundreds of thousands of gas station workers no longer need to be able to point out where the freeway is and the location of the infamous In ‘N Out Burgers are no longer a secret. And of course, neither is the hidden menu; everyone now knows what “animal style” means, and they order them two at a time (or on a 4x4, of course)!

The Internet itself is a life changing innovation along the lines of the printing press and the airplane. It increases the ability for all facets of life to become more efficient, mobile and engaging. It’s created business opportunities, it’s created wealth, and it’s even responsible for social networking in a whole new way. It used to be that you had to wait until your 20-year high school reunion to catch up with all those people you haven’t heard from in years. Now we have Facebook to bring the class of 1991 together again (and 1990, 1989, 1988, and so on). I’ve been back in touch with old friends, old acquaintances and even some of the same people who used to pick on me to justify their own existence and make themselves feel better. Of course, now we’re all grown up, we’ve got families; we’re more mature now. And some of us even have our hair!

But seriously, with all this innovation and constant change, how much longer do I have to wait to see a truly viable flying car? Will it be around before the reunion of Luna? Is it possible that we’ll see one before the Rolling Stones stop touring? Probably not, but then again who’d have though that things would move so fast!