Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Adventures In Advertising: Getting Good Work Approved Or The Best Business Pun I Ever Heard

Every ad agency faces the same client problem:  getting good work approved by the various client layers without the work being watered down by each successive layer of approval.  By the time it gets to the most senior person, the work often does not even slightly resemble what was originally created. 

The best clients sometimes ask the agency to bring the original and subsequent “boards” to the final presentation. (Boards here are intended to be generic – could be TV, radio, magazines, out-of-home, even web design and UX.)  These clients are rare.  During my many years as an account person, I only had one client do this.  The final board was always presented first, the first board was presented last with an explanation of the changes that were made by his brand and advertising people.  The result is that he often vented his wrath at the changes.  As a result, changes were kept to a minimum by the fear of his anger.  There had to be a good reason for the changes.

These clients are few and far between.  I believe that this why there is so much bad work; by the time the work gets to the final approval level it has often become the “Emperor’s New Clothes”.  I always think of the old adage that a camel is a horse designed by a committee.

That is a long explanation to get to a short and funny story.

Two people, cousins and partners, owned a company equally; they were the children of the original founders of the company. The company was Faygo Beverages, a Detroit based soft drink company (subsequently sold, many years after this story).  Mort and Phil Feigenson were legendary tyrants. They sat together in the same office.  They approved everything that happened in their company.  But they especially loved the advertising.  One of them had really great taste, one not so good.  The agency always presented directly to them along with their ad manager, who didn’t have much to say because the owners always had the last and, mostly, only word. The company was known for having good, sometimes great advertising.  But occasionally they erred.

I was newly on the account and this was my first presentation to them.  I was presenting fairly mundane but nice coupon ads.  One of the owners asked if the headline on one ad could be put with the copy of the other.  Without thinking much, I responded simply, “No”.  I don’t think anyone ever told them no before.  The room became deathly silent.  They stared at me and I stared back. You could cut the silence in the room.  The quiet lasted, probably, twenty seconds.  Then, the copy group head, who was sitting behind me, said, and this is an exact quote -  “A Paul has come over the room.”

It broke the silence and was was the greatest business pun I ever heard. 

Everyone, including the cousins laughed.  They approved the ads as presented and insisted that no presentation ever be made again without me.  They loved the fact that I stood up to them.  For the next several years, they really listened to me.  We were able to sell them really good work.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Adventures In Advertising: Revenge On A Bad Client

When all of us deal with a terrible client, we wish we could somehow get even.  This is about how it actually happened.

Some time ago I wrote about the worst client, ever. This is another story about that same client.

The ad manager, we will call him Ralph, was a screamer, abusive, difficult and we caught him lying all the time. He was the director of advertising of one of the major watch companies.  At some point while we had the account, he cut the advertising budget so he could fund sponsoring the clocks which then appeared all over Grand Central Station.  In those days those clocks were not digital, were not connected to or with each other and often showed the wrong time.  They were of questionable value. We made it clear that it was a dubious buy and a waste of money; especially since it used up a huge portion of their meager budget.

We always questioned why he might have made the purchase. (Guess why!)

Our agency did a really smart thing.  We sent our own employees out to interview commuters. We were trying to recoup the lost budget and sent our own employees out with a short questionnaire to intercept and interview commuters. They actually asked over 2000 people who commuted every day if they looked at those clocks.  Most did.  But, as I recall, only about 2% could identify who the sponsor of them was.  Worse than that, a fair number of them when asked about the sponsorship questioned why a watch company would sponsor inaccurate time pieces.  We actually did the research again after a year and the results were the same.

We could not dissuade him from wasting his budget.  Over time, I moved on to other accounts and eventually took another job.
Well, about five years after I had left the agency, I was at another agency and handling Elgin Watch.  And guess what?  Their marketing director was smart enough to call me to tell me that they had been approached by the out-of-home company which then controlled the clocks (the franchise had turned over a couple of times) in Grand Central and Penn Stations and was proposing that Elgin sponsor them.  We arranged a presentation at the agency’s offices.  The Elgin marketing director was a good guy and had become a friend.  Prior to the presentation I told him about my previous experience.  He told me that the genesis for this meeting came from his own ad director who had been approached by the company and he agreed that it was of dubious value.  Never-the-less, he was a good boss and agreed to allow the presentation.

So the meeting took place.  I was there along with the media director and others from the agency account group.  The client marketing director was there as was the advertising director.  The seller came in with a couple of people.  Lo and behold who was there?  My old friend Ralph.  He was introduced as a consultant who had extensive experience (and success) sponsoring the clocks in another job.  When he saw me his face fell and his demeanor became very dour.  

The sponsoring company made a perfectly nice presentation.  They talked about the traffic and number of people who went through the station on a daily basis.  They had some kind of crazy calculation about the CPM. Then they turned the meeting over to Ralph to tell us how effective this sponsorship would be.  He lied consistently.  He had a few graphs and charts which showed how these clocks affected sales; they were totally a figment of his imagination. 

I was lucky enough to have saved my previous agency’s research and was able to pull it out.  It gave me great pleasure to present it.  I also asked Ralph a lot of questions about the charts and graphs he showed.  He hemmed and hawed and blustered through the answers.  Half way through my presentation, Ralph screamed at me (what else was new?) called me a liar and stormed out.  (Clearly he had been offered a piece of the action if Elgin agreed to the sponsorship.  I always suspected that he had previously gotten some kind of fee.)

In fairness, I thought that the clock sponsorship might be a good idea for the right company, but Elgin wasn’t it for reasons too long and complicated here.  And the new owners of the franchise were somehow duped by Ralph and meant no harm.

When the meeting was over, Ralph was the first one out of the room.  The sponsoring company was mortified and apologized to the agency and client.  I just smiled.  Ralph had gotten his just reward.  I never hear about him again.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Seven Books Every Advertising Executive Should Read

If you want to understand what the Mad Man era was really about and where the current business came from, I thought I would publish a list of my favorite books about the business and the people in it.  All were originally published (although most have been reprinted) prior to 1990, except the Mary Wells book, which is a great look back. Some of these are kind of a how to and others are philosophy, but all of them are interesting, fun and informative.

All of them are still available today.

            Confessions of An Advertising Man by David Ogilvy - Atheneum, 1963
            Long before he wrote Ogilvy on Advertising (1983), which is more of a
            personal philosophy on what works and what does not, David Ogilvy wrote
            this seminal book which is still required reading in many advertising

            From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor - Jerry Della
            Femina, Simon & Schuster, 1970
            Loaded with sometimes riotous anecdotes about the comings and going
of advertising people. He names names.  It remains one of the funniest
books on the business.  It is loaded with real mad men stories.

A Big Life (In Advertising), Mary Wells Lawrence - Simon & Schuster, 2002
Mary Wells is a pioneer of our business.  She wrote some of the greatest
(and most loved) campaigns of the 1960’s and was one of the first women
to start an agency, Wells, Rich, Greene.  She was also the first CEO of a New York Stock Exchange company.  Among the stories in the book are how she got Braniff Airlines to paint their planes in pastel colors and then married the airline’s chairman.

Reality in Advertising, Rosser Reeves - Knopf, 1961
Rosser Reeves was the master of the hard-sell and the creator of the USP
(Unique Selling Proposition).  He was the co-founder of Ted Bates & Company (now a part of WPP.  Although this book is somewhat dated and his philosophy went out of favor, but many of his tenets remain true today. It is an interesting read.

Bill Bernbach’s Book: A History Of The Advertising That Changed The History Of Adverising by Bob Levenson and Evelyn Bernbach – Villard Books, 1987
Every advertising person knows or should know Bill Bernbach.  He was a genius. 
His agency produced many of the greatest works in the history of the business.  While lots of examples of his work are in this book (every advertising person, in my opinion, should be familiar with them), it also tells his story as well as telling anecdotes about him and his quips to clients.

The Hidden Persuaders - Vance Packard, Random House, 1957
While somewhat dated, this book was on the best seller list for months and is still read today.  Vance Packard wrote about research, focus groups and subliminal advertising long before any of these techniques were in common usage.  At the time it was published, it was a revelation.  Needless to say, it was highly controversial and scared the hell out of many people who consequently felt that advertising was a “dirty” profession.

Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind - by Al Reis and Jack Trout, McGraw Hill, 1980
The developed the concept of positioning, but surprisingly, their advertising agency, Trout & Reis, was never highly successful. It eventually became a consultancy.  However, they were the first to explain the concept of positioning to a skeptical industry; their thinking is still in effect today.

I am sure that some of you may have other books to add to this list.  I would love to hear from you..


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Right And Wrong Way To Start A Partnership

Many advertising people think about starting their own company.  There is a right way and a wrong way.  To illustrate, I would like to share a story.

Two well-known creative people approached me to find them an account person to be their partner.  Both had been working together at an agency which was well known and successful.  It was a west coast agency with a New York office.  The management of the west coast had decided to close the office.  The issue was that they were able to take some accounts (but lose others) and needed someone to run the accounts and the business.

They felt that the income generated by the business that was staying would not be enough for them to continue their lifestyle. The fees generated by those accounts were enough to give them each a six figure income. The account partner they were looking for would be tasked with finding, pitching and generating new accounts.  They would then share that new income, while keeping the income they already had for themselves. 


In effect, what they were asking a new partner to do was to sacrifice this or her own income wile supplementing theirs.

Unfortunately, I hear that story in one form or another, all the time.  Creative people have the ability to generate income through freelance. Most freelance activity can be handled during off hours (if the creative people are otherwise employed) or on the weekend. Account people rarely have that opportunity and on the rare occasions when they get a freelance assignment, the account manager must work full time.  

In order for the partnership to be successful and the business to prosper, the parties involved have to be totally committed both to each other and to the business.  Whatever income comes in has to be drawn equally, even if that income is freelance for the creative – the account partner is enabling them to have the opportunity to start a business. That enablement is worth money, or should be, to the creatives.

Years ago, when I had my agency, this is the arrangement I had with my partners.  It was fair to them and fair to me.  In the early days when the business had almost no income, they freelanced and gave me a third of what they generated.  As the business grew, we all agreed to draw money equally. If someone wanted a hundred dollars, for whatever reason, than the other two took a hundred dollars each. 

By doing so, it avoided anger and resentment and kept the partnership whole.  And more than that, it kept us all friendly and financially content.  At times the equal draw principal did cause some problems – especially when the partner with kids in private schools had to come up with tuition.  But we managed to work through it.

I told this story recently to a very good friend of mine, an account person, who had started an agency with two creative partners.  He came to me because he was going through his savings rapidly.   His cohorts were freelancing and had income.  My comment was that, if they were really committed to building a business, hey had to find a way to share all the available income during the start-up period.
When he told me that they were unwilling to share their freelance, I had to tell him that they were not truly committed to the business or the partnership.  In a good partnership, the partners are always equal and draw equally.

It is almost always the creative people who generate the product for an ad agency.  It is always the account person who runs the business, manages the clients and generally enables the creatives to do their thing.  That is worth equal pay.
Creative Commons License