Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Why More Advertising People Should Consider Going Into Pharma Or DTC

It is amazing how many advertising account people at all levels tell me that they are not interested in pharma. Their reasons are that the advertising is too dull, too restricted and it lacks creativity.  I think many of these people have merely heard this from others in the business, but have no idea what pharma advertising is or could be. It is one of those things that get passed from one person to another  with minimal basis in fact.

Among other positive things, pharma advertising is one area of the business which has shown consistent growth over the last several decades.  There is no indication that this growth will slow down.  This means that there is constant hiring.  My observation has been that the pharma agencies and the general agencies handling direct to consumer advertising are actually more stable than many other aspects of the business.  I believe that these accounts are less apt to go into review, meaning that there may be more job security. 
Beyond that, the DTC accounts and pharmaceutical companies are more apt to talk to and hire people with no category experience than other general advertising accounts. (This may not be true of direct to physician accounts which might require considerable technical knowledge.)

What should motivate advertising people, especially those in account management or planners is the strategic challenge on any account.  There are plenty of those challenges in pharma and DTC.  

In terms of creativity, well, as they say, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”.  While pharma advertising is highly regulated, there is room for creativity. It merely requires a willing client and an agency with an innovative creative team.  There are many examples of successful and excellent creative work.  And the truth is, when a product fulfills a true consumer need – treating heart disease, alleviating pain, etc. – the product doesn’t require a lot of clever executions to communicate its benefits.  As the great Ned Viseltear put it, “Cure for cancer found” does not require a large type face or a complicated headline. 

And, besides, what could be better than selling a product that fulfills a true consumer need and has a real benefit?

There is another great irony.  For the most part, people who join pharma agencies or work on DTC accounts mostly enjoy the work and the challenges their brands present. One of my favorite accomplishments while I was in advertising was winning an Effie for handling a product for head lice, Rid (at the time made by Pfizer).  It was not only a difficult marketing issue, but creating a commercial and executing it was actually fun.

I am not advocating that everyone go into pharma advertising, but I do think that people shouldn’t deny themselves an opportunity to find out what the challenges are if the opportunity it is presented to them.  Too many account people turn down the chance to talk to agencies about these kinds of accounts.  They are doing themselves a disservice.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

What Happened To The Ad Agency Star System

Once upon an advertising time, from the nineteen twenties through the nineteen eighties and into the nineties, there were creative (and account, media and even research) stars.  Everyone in the business knew them.  In fact, many in the general public knew them as well. They produced well known work.  Then the holding companies (along with budget cutting clients) dismantled the star system beginning in the 90's.  They apparently no longer pay for (or want) creative stars to stand out. It is as if, somehow, having well known people would somehow diminish the anonymous owners of their agencies.

Way back when, if a client hired an agency, they knew what they were getting.  The reasons agency names contained the names of their founders or stars was because they were the attractions for clients.  Mary Wells, Sam Scali, Lester Wunderman, Fairfax Cone, Carl Ally and Bill Bernbach are good examples.  If a client hired Doyle, Dane, Bernbach it knew what it was getting. As those founders aged or retired, new names were added to the marquee but if the founders names remained, it was a reminder to clients of the heritage and philosophy of the agency.  But today, if one hires most of the network-owned ad agencies, well, who knows. 

Some stars did not have their names on the door – Al Hampel (Benton & Bowles/DMBB) or Lee Clow (Chiat/Day) – are good examples, but everyone knew them. (I remember one pitch where David McCall (McCaffrey & McCall) could not make a final pitch and the client told the agency that that is the reason they did not get the account. 

Unfortunately, the creative stars have either retired (Lee Clow among others), started their own agencies (David Angelo – David and Goliath; Mark DiMassimo - Dimassimo Goldstein) or just disappeared. Donny Deutsch is a perfect example of someone who simply moved on after selling his agency for a fortune. But his name remains on the door, which is a beacon to clients as to what the agency is about.

The holding companies have sucked their agencies dry, putting all their money into the mother lode.  The salaries to attract (and keep) super stars are just not there anymore, so the leaders or would-be leaders have gone elsewhere.  The great commercial directors have moved on to Hollywood (Ridley Scott, David Lynch).  Clients have significantly contributed by continuously decreasing the blended staff rates they are willing to pay their ad agencies.

Merging agencies is mostly a disaster.  The choices have become limited and, as a result, one plus one generally equals one point four.  As agencies have become merged they have become homogenized.  I am sure that with the merger of VML and Y&R or Wunderman into JWT, those agencies will continue to shrink; mergers don't necessarily solve their pre-merger problems.

Every creative business has stars.  Hollywood, literature, architecture, theater. There are stars in every creative endeavor including the law. It is what feeds the success of those businesses and attracts talent to them.  Advertising should be no different.

The advertising business needs super-stars. It needs people who can attract clients. It needs outstanding people.  Advertising needs people who have a point of view that clients want to hear. It needs people who have a point of view about both their work and the work.  It needs people who are excellent conceptually so that they can work in both traditional and digital. We need people who understand the business well enough to stand up for their work.  I have written about George Lois threatening to jump out of the window if a client didn’t buy his work (while this may be extreme, it makes a point).  We need more like him who believe in and stand up for their own work.   

We need people who are not afraid to say no to clients and, if they do say no, will not be punished for it.  (I know one story of a holding company which chastised one of its agency presidents for resigning an unprofitable and unhappy account because it needed the revenue.)

And, of course, we need clients who demand excellence and will pay for it.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

It is Crititical For Companies And Candidates To Manage The Interview Process

It is really important to manage the process, especially if it started through networking.  If it becomes obvious that one is interviewing for something real, it is critical to find out that the people you see know why they are seeing you.  It avoids huge problems, per what happened to the person I am using to illustrate this post. 

I just heard a remarkable story.  A person had been interviewed by a number of people at a large, non-New York agency. The job was to be the manager of a department for which she was totally qualified based on her previous experience.  She had seen six people, all of whom had seen her resume, and was assured that the last person she would be seeing was merely a courtesy.   As a result, reasonably assured that she would get the job, she moved to this city prior to getting an offer - she obviously wanted to be there.  When she saw the final person, that person looked at her and said, “You are over qualified to work for me.  I am looking for a person to work for me.” 

Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens all the time. People go on interviews and finally meet the hiring manager, only to learn that the job isn’t right for them.  No one managed the process.  Not human resources, not the senior managers and certainly not the hiring manager.  Someone who knew the job was open referred the applicant to a manager (not the person who was doing the hiring) who then referred them to other people.  When it finally got to the decision maker, it was dinged.  Kind of like a game of telephone where the final person hears something completely different than what was originally said.

When no one is managing the process it can become a total waste of everyone’s job.  Now, in the case that I mentioned, the applicant should never have moved without an offer letter. But, be that as it may, one thing the candidate did not do is to ask everyone she met to define the job as they see it; if she had done that, she would have found out quickly that the job was not well defined and might have been too junior. (That is something every candidate for every job should ask, no matter what the level or position is.)  I know what happened in this instance.  The CEO or whoever he/she was, met the person and liked her.  They were then passed on to others who also liked her.  And with each successive interview, they merely passed her on, and, not surprisingly, they had no idea why they were seeing her, but they were asked to see this person, so they did.  They may or may not have known that there was a job opening, but even if they did, they had no idea what the real job specs were.  If they had been asked that question, they might have found out and told the candidate.

When I am asked about the hiring process, I always tell companies that after each interview all the people in the process should compare notes.  In this way, questions and concerns can be answered and resolved. If all the people are not available together, then it is up to HR to coordinate and determine whether the person being seen is appropriate. This insures that everyone is on the same page and allows questions to be formed and asked to insure the candidate is totally appropriate for the job.

The other half of this process is that the candidate has to insure that everyone is on the same page at the company.  This is especially true when one has networked to the company and has not necessarily seen HR first.  As people pass you from one executive to another, it is important to actually ask what the job is. 

Sadly, all too often this is not the case.  People looking for a job should take it upon themselves to be aware of why they are interviewing and get a definition of the job from each person they meet. Not long ago, I wrote about 30 questions every candidate should ask.

The whole point is to make sure that the job is defined for both the candidate and the company.
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