Greed Causes Fighting. Trust Leads To Prosperity.

greed

Not long ago I met with a company that specializes in digital apps for entertainers. Their client roster reads like a Who’s Who of recording artists: Usher, Sara Bareilles, the Eagles, Smashing Pumpkins, Kelly Clarkson and others. Their work is very good, exceptional in fact when you realize the team has deftly cornered the market on high-dollar app development projects, not from LA or New York—but a dingy basement in Bremerton, Washington.

They are young and lucky and they know it. When we started talking about combining our talents in a “unite-and conquer” partnership to further dominate the entertainment app development space their excitement was palpable. But the minute we started talking money—about who gets paid for what in a series of hypothetical scenarios—their eyes got shifty, their words tightly measured and their vibe cagey.

It was clear to me their suspicions were fueled by fear. What was written on their foreheads on an invisible Post-It note was the elephant-in-the-room question, “What if we don’t get our fair share of the money?”Try as I did to reassure them it would be a win for everyone, they seemed skeptical. Looking back, I guess I can’t blame them. They simply didn’t know my team enough to trust us, nor me. But the underlying issue was more immovable: When it comes to money—and the power that often accompanies it—people often get weird. And the perpetrators of such behavior are the evil twin sisters, Greed and Fear.

Some years ago I took a marketing team to Atlanta to make a once-in-a-lifetime presentation to the top executives of Coca-Cola’s digital marketing division. It went pretty well, but throughout the pitch one of our developers continued to interrupt the discussions with her dogmatic points of view which quickly overpowered the ideas of the client. At one point she even turned on me and adamantly refuted the rationale for my perspective on a matter. It was bad enough that she was completely mistaken in her judgment. But she embarrassed our team, and worse, the Coke executives. It was greed that drove her subversive assault. Greed for power, greed for recognition. As you might guess, we didn’t win the business.

When we later stepped out of the elevator following the meeting I paused to read a massive quote etched into the black granite wall of the stately lobby. It moved me deeply, as if I were reading The Ten Commandments written on Moses’ tablets of stone:

“THERE IS NO LIMIT TO WHAT PEOPLE CAN ACHIEVE IF THEY DON’T CARE WHO GETS THE CREDIT” (written by Coke founder Asa Griggs Canler)

If the Coke brand is a shining testament to that tenet—which it is—my colleagues’ behavior in that meeting was the polar opposite.

Whilst lying in my hotel room that night, staring up at the black ceiling, I rewound the day’s events. After a few minutes I heard a faint whisper…

“You learned something big today, Phil. You learned by simply observing how ugly and destructive greed, fear and insecurity look like from the other side of the desk. May that lesson stick with you. Don’t be greedy with power, influence or money.

“Keep trusting others to do their part—especially when they appear better, more productive or important than yours—and give credit where credit’s due.”

“I Was Cable Before Cable Was Cool”

ted turner 3

Ted Turner is one of my heroes. My first encounter with Ted, or shall I say his persona,  was while driving through Atlanta’s Peachtree Plaza en route to a national sales meeting for Rollins, one of the South’s true media giants back in the 80s. I glanced up from the taxi window at a towering 40 foot billboard displaying a bold declaration:

“I WAS CABLE BEFORE CABLE WAS COOL.” Signed, Ted Turner.

“Who would do that? Who would have the gall to think they invented a whole industry and publish their bravado on billboards scattered throughout their own home town?” I asked myself. A few years later I learned the answer. Only Ted would do something like that. Why? Because back in those days only Ted had the courage, insight and legitimate ownership rights to a field that would swiftly turn the entire entertainment industry on its ear.

In the mid-80s I temporarily left behind my executive sales career to stake my claim of fame and fortune in the direct marketing industry, a relatively obscure business back then simply known as direct mail (the ugly step sister to the glamorous advertising industry). My plan was to briskly hop three stepping stones–the first to the drab DM industry, then to the emerging cable business, then into the sexy world of entertainment advertising.

Little did I know that first stepping stone, direct mail, would one day become the mother lode of marketing, the true darling of today’s fast-morphing interactive, social media, direct response marketing industry. As luck (or fate) would have it, I was blessed to hire on as an Account Supervisor and assistant to the iconic Freeman Gosden Jr, one of the pioneers of modern direct marketing as we know it, and chief architect of the legendary 40-40-20 Rule (the de facto formula for direct marketing success).

For several years I was Freeman’s shadow. He took me everywhere–to the boardroom of Hilton Hotels, to Universal Studios executive lunchroom to the publisher’s penthouse at Architectural Digest. He even sent me to New York one time with the expressed purpose of meeting John Yeck, the brilliant copywriter and founding chairman of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation.

Anyone who ever worked for Freeman owes him a debt of gratitude. He was brilliant, a mad scientist trapped in an ad man’s body. A simple glance of those piercing eyes over the rims of his reading glasses could set legions of AEs aflight. He was a tyrannical perfectionist, yet merciful to a fault when you cost the company $20,000 due to a simple proofing error or missed drop date. “How else are you going to learn?” he would often say to those of us mistaken-prone AEs who were moving at mach speed in the West’s  largest direct marketing agency.

To this day I have the utmost respect for those who have graduated to the fast-pitch league of social media, email marketing, “two-step” landing page strategies and the like from the hallowed halls of direct mail. Want to create the perfect order page? Take your queue from a well-designed reply card. Looking for the ultimate hook in a subject line? Search no further than a clever outer envelope teaser.

Note to hiring managers: On the lookout for the most talented direct marketers to help you win the war on branding and customer acquisition simultaneously? Hire direct mail specialists—the foot soldiers of direct marketing. You can never go wrong.

One day we’ll look around and see precious few of the founding fathers of direct marketing among us. Yet in my dreams I see a 40 foot billboard along the Santa Monica Freeway sporting a familiar headline in quotes…

“I WAS DIRECT MARKETING BEFORE DIRECT MARKETING WAS COOL.” Signed, Freeman Gosden Jr.

Except Freeman would never do that. First because he doesn’t own a billboard company. And second because he’s just too humble a guy.

Hats off to our direct marketing forefathers whose tried and true techniques help us serve clients in the digital world to their most strategic, profitable advantage.

Go Big Or Go Home

taylor swift 2My 19 year old daughter is an aspiring professional singer. As a sophomore vocal performance major she’s often auditioning for a part or performing in a concert.

Every once in awhile she’ll call or text me about a show she’s getting ready to take the stage for. She’s usually looking for a pep talk or reassurance that she won’t biff.

My advice is always the same…

“Go big. Have fun…or stay in your dorm room.” She seems to listen because it apparently pays off.

What does going BIG mean to you? Whether you’re a salesperson or singer, presenter or preacher, in my mind it means tapping into that passion and energy deep within your heart to share a prized gift to your audience.

Since I’m an entertainment marketer I’ll give you a couple of examples. The best is from the King of Pop. If you read my earlier post you watched MJ’s History show in Munich as he floated, stomped, screamed and whispered to the roar of 100,000 ravaging fans.

Let’s face it. Michael was from a different planet, oozing passion and energy from drinking kryptonite or something from distant galaxy. It seemed that from every pore in his body, shoes, even that raw energy electrifying reshaped the sound waves produced from his voice.

The best preachers tap into it when attempting to pierce the hearts of souls they’re seeking to convert. Call it hell fire and brimstone, or whatever. It’s palpable. The late Chris Farley applied it with abandon while sitting in the interview chair on the Late Show with Conan O’brien.  The best pop singers have made it their signature sound (think Christina, Miranda, Adam Levine, etc).

For example, feel the passion, crazy talent playfulness from the biggest star you’ve never heard of…yet:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TwpajZIUxM

Celica Westbrook was all of 15 when this video was shot. Not in front of adoring fans or flanked with hunky dancers, but in a small Nashville studio. Which is an even bigger testament her energy and love for the lyrics and music of Al Green’s People Get Ready.

 When Celica makes her television debut in the next week or so on The Voice (under the expert coaching of Keith Thomas), she’ll hopefully be adding that magic ingredient she projects that can even make a sour note sound heavenly. What’s that? Humor. It’s what a beautiful, energetic, fun-loving high school senior should be doing at the ripe old age of 17…having fun.

Another case in point since we’re on the topic of beautifully talented, golden-yet-light-hearted young women: Taylor Swift. Want to know why this 22 year-old grossed more sales last year–$100 million–than any recording artist on the planet? Take a looks and see for yourself:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WA4iX5D9Z64.

$100 million. Let me say it again. $100 million.

Love her or hate her, she proves my point: Everything she does…whether videos, arena tours or talk show interviews, she is who she is—oozing passion and playfulness at every turn.

Tomorrow I get my own shot at five minutes of fame. I will be a presenter at Interbike, North America’s largest stage for the bicycle industry. I will be presenting a global marketing campaign for bike shop owners around the world—many of whom need a primer on how to sell electric bikes to their die-hard spandex-and-shaved-legged cycling customers.

So I’ve been thinking…like you should always be thinking…how do I go big?

Since I’m pitching electricity-powered bikes maybe I’ll switch my mic to a 220 volt power supply with a 1,000 watt amp and jolt everyone to attention with my booming voice? For that maybe I’ll need rubber-soled tennis shoes while talking through my PowerPoint slides.

Otherwise my next blog post might be…”Stay Grounded Or Die.”

(originally posted 10.30.13; reposted 2.5.16)

Who Are You Wearing Tonight?

gwyneth

Two of my favorite TV shows are the Grammys and Academy Awards. For a couple of reasons.

One reason is the opening act. The opener always sets the stage for the evening, providing a glimpse of the current quality and state of music and film in the entertainment business.

The other is the red carpet. The appearance of the industry’s biggest successes always leaves me star struck.

When I’m at my kitchen counter cooking or writing and I hear Lara Spencer or Natalie Morales ask that million dollar question “Who are you wearing tonight?” I know it’s time to drop everything, impose a gag order throughout the house and settle in to my front-row recliner.

What I’m about to witness (along with 3 billion other viewers) is humanity at the height of glamour—the stunning, beautiful people, glittery fashions, jewelry, and yes, even the diamond-studded accessories.

But under the lights of center stage, amid the perfect teeth, coiffed hair and sequined gowns shines an even brighter star:

Branding.

Since volumes have been written and broadcast on the topic of branding by marketing stars like Seth Godin and Donny Deutsch I won’t rehash more of the same. Instead, I’d like to take a peek behind the curtain, into a world many consider counter culture (which in this sense is an oxymoron) but in reality defines authentic, classic branding:

Indie music.

There’s no cooler music riding the airwaves today than the rapturous tunes of Eisley, short-listed by Billboard Magazine a few years ago as one of the special “Indie bands to watch”. If you’re not familiar with them (most of us late adapters aren’t) perhaps you will shortly. They’re continually following the path of Coldplay, Switchfoot, and Death Cab, for whom they open shows when not headlining their own. But make no mistake. They are Eisley. No one else.

Eisley-Tour-Banner-LO (2)

As I’ve watched their slow, steady rise to fame I’ve observed their unwavering commitment to be true to their values, style and passions—ultimately, that thing we call brand.

Curiously, the concept of branding (with origins from American West’s pioneer days) that helped define the classic cowboy persona is the same that identifies an indie fan, frequent flyer or Pandora One listener:

Loyalty.

In today’s free-for-all, circus-like marketing world loyalty is everything. Seattle’s Kennedy High School Development Department cultivates “Lazers for Life.” Masterworks, the premier faith-based ad agency chants the mantra “Donors for Life.” Even my own two companies—SmoothStone Partners and SmoothStone Sports + Entertainment Marketing rally to the slogan “Connecting Fans to Bands for Life.”

Smart companies have long since moved their main focus away from single-transaction ROI. Today’s marketing metrics are about projecting lifetime customer values and pro formas based on amortizing and analyzing customer acquisition costs over months and years. And not just original customers. Friends, neighbors, even extended family who become brand loyalists are worth thousands if treated with tender loving care.

It’s no secret in this economy: Differentiate your brand, foster fierce customer loyalty—or die.

eisley girl

One day, if you’re really lucky like Eisley, you can have a photo of People Magazine’s Best Dressed Woman gracing the front page of the London Times fleeing the paparazzi in your company’s cool new t-shirt.

Timing Is Everything

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You’ve heard it a million times. “Timing is everything.” In the Western world, and most often in business, we tend to think in a linear fashion, in sequence. We process items from A to B to C to get to our intended destination. Yet in other realms, like music or film for example, timing is often used in seemingly random and arbitrary ways to create a dramatic effect. But don’t be fooled.

There are many delicate, deft uses of timing in entertainment, and a myriad of words to describe them. Pacing, tempo, slow-motion, fading, pause, freeze-frame, fast-forward, momentum, crescendo, cadence, and rhythm are a few of many techniques. While many words can describe the ways timing is used to create drama and impact, no one has better used them or invented new ones like the late Michael Jackson, the undisputed King of Pop. Business professionals should take note.

One of the most epic shows ever performed by Michael was the History Tour performed 15 years ago at Munich’s Olympic stadium with a crowd of over 100,000 fans. The show was choreographed by Kenny Ortega, the genius behind many opening shows for the Olympics, Madonna tours, and High School Musical’s Step Up.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qF3MO0sCMP0

The show begins as an illusion. In other-worldly fashion, Michael appears on the Jumbotron screen strapped inside a space orbiter. En route to Mother Earth from a faraway galaxy, Michael passes through iconic images and sound bites such as Martin Luther King Jr., Caesars Palace, the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Sistine Chapel. Once landed on stage, the King emerges from the orbiter in a Tron-like space suit to the screams of a crazed audience. The longer Michael pauses, the more deafening the applause becomes.

Finally, the opening song, so aptly chosen is Scream.

Consider the peculiar but profoundly powerful first words of the show:

Next there are perfectly timed explosions followed by louder screams. Blaring sirens, more screams, fire effects, and chaos. The energy is nearly overwhelming.

About eight and a half minutes into the performance screaming gives way to ghoulish, high stepping Gestapo storm-troopers marching to the rhythm of drill sergeant MJ’s hate-provoking epithets such as “skin head, dead head” whilst flanked by Michael’s team of riot gear-clad dancers.

At 11 minutes 30 seconds we’re presented with the show’s theme—HIStory—with subtle relief from the chaos in the form of Miss Liberty’s flaming torch paired with a flowing American flag. The dancers downshift to super-slow motion for effect, as if to freeze frame the show’s redemptive take-away: liberty and freedom for all.

 Curiously, the fans aren’t presented with any of the pop icon’s classics until 14:30 minutes into show.

How do we know?

Being the consummate audience connector, MJ simply asks his 100,000 zealots: Do you want to be starting something?” The legendary music again takes flight into the stratosphere, this time with the husky and larger than life dancers sporting flat-black unitards and burly boots, strikingly juxtaposed against the shiny gold, lighter-than-air Michael.

But how much “Don’t stop till you get enough” intensity can a fan take? At exactly 21 minutes, MJ deftly slides into the lush, symphonic song, Stranger In Moscow (my personal favorite).

The tune is intended to slow things way down so the fans (and performers) can rest and breathe in the magic. True to his nano-second timed sensibilities, the sultry sway of lush strings and synthesizers morphs violently into Smooth Criminal. So erupts the rat-a-tat-tat machine gun fire followed by the suspenseful pause of a stretched note held tight by the violins, which then transitions into a West Side Story style entrance of 1930’s era gangsters  dancing to the staccato chorus of  “Annie are you ok?” The back beat is a classic treatment of heart-pounding solo percussion and bass riffs. The timing is yet again deliberate and palpable; with the slow motion side-winding moon walkers and stiff-bodied dancers listing like ironing boards as their noses nearly touch the stage. Brilliant.

Then it happens, the first of several climaxes in the set.  Around an hour into the show we witness one of the finest dance sequences in HIStory. Set to the iconic beat of Billy Jean, there’s no music, no props, no back-up singers or dancers. Just the King of Pop alone, silhouetted by a sliding 90 degree vertical spotlight from on high trained on his every move.

Then finally, the moment arrives: Thriller. And the rest is…HIStory.

So how does all this relate to business?

Timing truly is everything, and is as critical for the business professional as for the entertainer. To make perfect, you must practice perfect, and practice takes time. MJ is a classic example of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outlier. Yes, Michael was gifted beyond human ability, but he was also a staunch believer in the theory of 10,000 hours, times two. You don’t become the King of Pop or king of anything without practicing more than your peers, unless you’re a prince by default, like Prince William.

The next time you need to apply intricate timing to an important business task or event, ask yourself a few questions. How long should this presentation be? When should I close this deal? When should I stop talking and speak up? When should I move on? When should I buy…sell? When should I walk away?

Timing doesn’t just apply to your business, to PowerPoint presentations or cold-calling. It also applies at home, on the tennis court, the kitchen and even in the bedroom.

OK, maybe timing isn’t everything, but it’s a lot. We could all likely write a book on the times our timing was bad (think stock purchases, speeding past a highway patrol officer, asking a dumb question). However, we could also write another book just as thick on moments of perfect, providential timing (think parking spots, the haul we made at the One Day Only sale, that first date).

michael-jackson-dancing-leather-shoes-1

The next time you need to be intentional in your timing, pause and ask yourself…“WWMD?”

Be Kind To Thine Advertising Brethren

 

mad menCommandment #3—Ron Elgin’s Golden Rule

By the time the dessert menu arrived I’d lost count of the number of people who went out of their way to greet us at our table at the Capital Grille. Among them were CEOs, venture capitalists, a serial entrepreneur, a philanthropist and a politician. I knew none of them. Ron knew them all. What baffled me was how he remembered everyone’s name. I guess it’s no big deal when part of your DNA is hardwired as a consummate networker. I could see why he named his company “re:Connects.us.”

In The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell refers to people who start social epidemics—trends, if you will—as Connectors. The way Gladwell describes them fits parts of Ron’s MO to a tee:

“The first—and most obvious—criterion is that Connectors know lots of people. They are the kinds of people who know everyone. All of us know someone like this. But I don’t think we spend a lot of time thinking about the importance of these kinds of people. I’m not even sure most of us really believe that the kind of person who knows everyone really knows everyone. But they do.”

Amidst the parade of greeters and idle chatter I marched on with a few deeper, more sensitive questions as we wrapped up our lunch.

(Me) What’s been the financial impact on the agency business in recent years, and how do you think it’s affected the average agency person’s income?

(Ron) First and foremost, one must understand and appreciate the basics of our economy. Clients don’t grind on their agency partners because they’re assholes or trying to be mean. They’re pushing to get more for less because their companies and stockholders demand it. That mentality is not going away. In order for an agency to provide more for less, several actions must take place.

Agency leaders must ensure they have the best and most productive employees. This invariably means for those employees, they need to pay above market rates. In order to make that financially viable, the agency needs to be right-sized. Given the option, an employee will almost always admit they’d rather be well paid than to be given an extra pair of hands. Specific to your question, Phil, I think the “average” agency person will be lucky to even keep their job in this economy. The extraordinary employee will, however, always make good money in the agency business.

(Me) In retrospect, it seems that selling ElginSyferd to a multi-billion dollar communications conglomerate was the most strategic decision of your career. Would you agree? Were there stakeholders in the company who may have felt otherwise?

(Ron) First of all, my partner Dave Syferd and I owned virtually 100% of our company. With the help of our extraordinary employees, in eight years the agency grew to be the third largest in the market. It became a very large fish swimming in a pretty small pond. That very fact made us attractive to several of the multi-nations that didn’t already have a local presence. We began paying attention to their overtures after realizing that many of our national accounts such as Holland America Line and Nordstrom could benefit from their billions of dollars of clout. We also felt our employees could benefit from the depth and breadth of experience from the big shops. Plus on a personal note, Dave and I would make a lot of money by selling! So yes, Phil, I agree it was a good decision. As to your other question, we considered each of our employees to be an important stakeholder and wanted all to be comfortable with our decision to sell. I asked DDB Global’s CEO, Keith Reinhard, for assurances that after the sale no one from NY would waltz in and start replacing our people. He laughed and said “Do you think we have a big warehouse in Manhattan filled with talented people in search of a place to roost? We’re buying your company because of your talented people and their brilliant work. I promise as long as you continue doing great work and making decent money, you’ll only hear our voice when you call us.” Keith kept his word to the end.

(Me) Let’s face it, your agency career has been pretty charmed, but nobody bats a thousand in this or any other business. What do you think was your biggest mistake?

(Ron) Let me think about that for a minute while I finish this delicious salmon. Phil, I honestly believe I never made a BIG mistake running our company; lots of small ones to be sure, but nothing major. For example, I wish we had never made a handshake agreement to sell our shares in Hornall Anderson ten years after co-founding it because I’d love to still be a part of their great company.

I’ve often wished we had actively pursued a merger with another small agency about our size in Portland that was (and still is) handling Nike. I wished every day that we would win more business. But even with those and many other little things like them, we were able to claw our way to the top of the rankings faster than any agency in the history of this market. Staying on top as long as we did says a lot about our people, our culture and our work. So you’re right Phil, we didn’t bat a thousand but because of what we accomplished over the last 30 years, I think we batted close to 950.

(Me) Throughout our conversation today you’ve referred over and over to your people. I know that part of being a good leader requires delegating to those people. Can you tell me a little about your approach to continually opening your hands, hoping for the best outcome, taking risks?

(Ron) I learned the value of delegation as a young Army officer. The first “report card” from my commanding officer basically gave me 39 A’s and 1 E. I was pretty happy until he told me he wasn’t recommending me for a promotion. He explained that I probably earned the 39 A’s because I micromanaged everyone’s work. The E I earned was in Delegation. He said if he promoted me, I’d have more people under my command.

At some point I wouldn’t be able to do everyone’s work myself. At that point, I’d start an inevitable slide into mediocrity and probably failure. I vowed at that moment to make it a life-long passion to bring my E grade up to an A. The ability to successfully delegate is the most valuable skill a manager can possess. One of our agency’s founding philosophies was to allow our people the opportunity to fail. We made them aware that we were delegating not abrogating. We’d always be there for advice and counsel to keep them from sinking but we wouldn’t be holding on to the bike while they learned how to ride it. A word of caution: good managers must also know when a person is not capable of successfully handling the responsibility delegated to them and what needs to be done about it.

(Me) If you could make one rule every ad person had to live by, what would it be?

(Ron) That’s a great question, Phil, and one I’ve never considered. Since we’re nearly out of time let me end with this cornball but heartfelt rule: Every person should treat every other person with the same integrity and respect that they would hope for themselves. When that person happens to be in the advertising business, that integrity and respect should also be applied to every message created for their client’s customers.

Perhaps the most poignant part of our meeting came at the end. After lunch Ron and I walked out the restaurant to the curb and chatted next to he electric bike I’d ridden off the Bainbridge ferry up Madison and Fourth Street. While frisking my coat in search of the key to unlock the bike a distinguished looking young man approached us and introduced himself to Ron.

I overheard only parts of the conversation, but what I gathered was that he’d followed us out the restaurant door and stood patiently for our visit to end so he could connect with Ron. He was a marketing buy who’d crossed paths with Ron through some previous agency work. Out of the corner of my eye I watched the exchange.

Ron, once again, stepped into his Connector mode, gave his undivided time and attention to a fellow colleague aspiring to climb the agency ladder. Once again, I watched him practice what he’d consistently preached for thirty years—Follow the golden rule.

Phil Herzog is CEO of SmoothStone Partners. He’s served as new business director for Seattle’s top marketing agencies. He is currently building a sports and entertainment marketing practice to promote entertainers, recording artists and sports personalities. Reach him at Phil.Herzog@smoothstonepartners.com.

Make Your Passion Your Life’s Mission

business lunchRon Elgin’s 2nd Commandment—passed down at Seattle’s Capital Grille

Frankly, during our meeting it was a challenge to pay attention to anything beyond the reach of my plate—Capital Grille’s signature lobster and crab stuffed shrimp. But midway through lunch, reaching for an unusually large prawn, my mother’s wise voice sounded in my head. “Don’t pay attention to the food you eat when you’re with important people. Pay attention to them.”

Pushing my plate of prawns aside, I resumed the task of mining for gold with Mr. Elgin.

(Me) What do you like best about this business?

(Ron) I got into this business initially because I found out I could make decent money doing something I thought might be fun. I thought I’d play around in the ad industry until something better came along. Now, 45 years later, I think I’m ready to admit there isn’t anything better. For me, at least.

I’ve loved the challenge, the opportunity and variety of sitting at a breakfast meeting with the CEO of one of the world’s largest cruise ship companies devising strategies to sell more world cruise cabins at $64,000 a pop. Then an afternoon meeting with a one-store McDonald’s owner helping with his local store marketing plan pushing dollar coffee. Then spending the evening hours with a charitable group developing a pro bono campaign to help the impoverished in Africa. In this fast paced, ever-changing business if you find yourself doing something the same way as before, you can be pretty sure it’s yesterday’s news.

It’s been said that advertising is a young person’s game. In a sense, that’s true. But I think when a person is constantly in search of the next fresh idea or new trend, the very act has a way of keeping a person young irrespective of their age. To be successful in this industry you must always be one step ahead of the present. I don’t think the readers of your blog have time to read the thousands of little things I like best about this business but if anyone ever wants to hear more I’m always happy to share.

(Me) I get the notion of being as ‘young as you feel.’ But tell that to a 40 or 50 something Account Executive in a tech start-up, where most of their co-workers are in their mid-20s riding skateboards to work with boa constrictors in their messenger bags. Then add to the quirky culture the cold reality that many of these younger people have cut their marketing teeth on social media and ROI-driven analytics, where breakthrough creative may be treated as an afterthought. How do you stay passionate in that scenario?

(Ron) It’s been a while since I was on a skateboard and I’ve never liked snakes, but I think you’re missing the point. Understanding why people in their mid-20s are riding skateboards with boa constrictors in their messenger bags is crucial to those of us who may need to deliver a relevant message to that audience.

As to your cold reality comment, when I first got in the business TV was still considered so new and different that creative had to be done by specialists. A few years ago, creatives working in the ‘new media’ space tried to shut out their traditional counterparts with the same ‘they just don’t get it’ attitude. Today’s most successful agencies have once again overcome that provincial thinking and you know how, Phil? With the Big Idea. It always has been and always will be about breakthrough creative—not about the tools used to implement the idea.

(Me) From a financial standpoint how does an agency executive thrive in the current environment?

(Ron) Today’s agency executive must keep in mind the words of the World’s Most Interesting Man. “Stay thirsty, my friend.” A former boss used to say that in this business if you’re not growing you’re dying. However, the growth must be appropriate to the vision and mission of your company. If you stray from that, surely you will become lost. Of course the growth must either be profitable or provide a clear path to profitability.

I realize in the current environment it can be difficult if not impossible to grow the business under any circumstance. When that’s the case, the alternative becomes mandatory. Yes, I’m talking about layoffs. They are the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in business. But the fact is no one can stay in business very long when they’re bleeding. I’ve seen too many agencies go down the tube because the executive in charge was either too optimistic, too good-hearted or too timid to take appropriate action in a timely manner. In those cases, everyone was a loser.

(Me) Tell me about the dark side of this business. And please don’t say there isn’t one because I don’t know of a single agency person who isn’t sporting at least a few bruises, some with permanent disabilities.

(Ron) To me, nothing was ever darker than having to tell one of my employees, one of our family members, that I could no longer afford to help them feed their family, keep a roof over their heads, provide the many necessities of life. I always took that very personal. After all, if I hadn’t failed at growing the company fast enough or wasn’t smart enough to make a better profit I wouldn’t have had to say “I’m sorry…”

Next week, Commandment #3—Be kind To Thine Advertising Brethren, featuring Ron’s biggest career mistake, close encounters with VIPs, the mark of true character and more.

The Power Table At Capital Grille

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Ron Elgin’s Three Commandments of Advertising

IF YOU’VE SPENT ANY TIME AROUND SEATTLE’S HIGH-FLYING AD AGENCY SCENE you’ve heard the name Ron Elgin. Power broker, philanthropist, husband to the divine Miss Bonnie—whatever you call him, he’s earned a fitting reputation as Seattle’s patriarch of advertising.

Over three decades, mostly in the role of Chairman and CEO of DDB Worldwide-Seattle, he’s assembled legions of account teams that have helped build some of Seattle’s and North America’s most respected brands—Microsoft, Holland America, Jansport, McDonald’s and many others.

Two weeks ago I caught up with Ron at the venerable Capital Grille to learn about re:Connects, his new marketing talent consortium and, well, to reconnect. As his company name implies, no one does it better than Ron Elgin.

What he shared with me on a deeply personal level during our whirlwind visit still has me dizzy.

Ron’s insights and personal disclosures were so engaging they must be shared with a broader audience. He consented to this blog post about our lunch and generously added a few color details in an email the next day.

Ron’s wisdom could and will fill a book (which is at about page 160 in its current draft stage). His career take-aways are a primer on “How to thrive anywhere in the agency world—Seattle, San Francisco or Singapore.”

Here’s the first installment, Part 1…

COMMANDMENT 1—Foster Thy Dream Team

Me: While waiting for our salads at the infamous power table (explained in my Commandment 2 post next week) I leaned forward in my chair and asked: “Ron, if you remember back in the summer of 2000 I flew up to Seattle from East Texas to job hunt. Among the dozens of agency presidents I reached out to you were one of the first to give me an interview. Why?”

Ron: The day we opened our agency 30 years ago I made it my business to seek out the most talented people I could find. You may have come from obscure East Texas with precious little “big” agency experience (by your own admission), but I saw someone with potential. I’ve learned that great talent and potential can come from out of nowhere, and I’ve seen some of the best agency people take long and arduous routes to get here.

Me: Up until your recent retirement DDB experienced over three decades of brisk, steady growth. How did that happen?

Ron: I’m going to give you several answers, not because I can’t decide but because good, sustained growth is hardly ever the result of one factor. The first strategic decision was to always try to hire people better than ourselves. We didn’t need to make heroes of ourselves when other people could do it for us. The second was to vow to never to work with or for assholes. Irrespective of how much better than us they were, if the person could not fit within our culture they could not be part of our family.

As far as clients go, it didn’t really matter the size of their budgets. If they were not good people they couldn’t become part of our family. The third decision was to give equal respect and consideration to all marketing and communication disciplines.

A marketing challenge is rarely met with a single discipline. But when a single discipline overpowers the process, the results are often disappointing. So embracing and integrating every relevant discipline in this new era of advertising is critical.

Next week, Commandment 2—Make Your Passion Your Life’s Passion

Written by Phil Herzog, SmoothStone Partners

Authenticity—The Ultimate Brand Aura

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In William Shakespeare’s As You Like it one of the scenes in Act ll opens with a monologue and the phrase “All the world’s a stage.” The speech goes on to eloquently liken the world to a stage and life to a play.

Personally, I’ve found the notion of life playing out on the world’s stage a dead-on analogy in a number of contexts, especially in business and commerce. In fact, five years ago I felt so strongly about the role of “theater” in the world of sales and marketing that I built my company on the premise that to break brand parity among competitors–to capture the attention and emotions of your target audience–you must create a sense of theater.

Nowhere on Earth is this more evident than Las Vegas, the convention capital of America. But beyond the decadent casinos and bawdy shows, what I experienced last week in Vegas was a curious intersection of old-school fun and urban funk. What’s that?

Interbike, North America’s largest annual bicycle show.

While attending Interbike to present a marketing campaign on behalf of the International Light Electric Vehicle Association (to help independent bike dealers sell electric bikes), I had time between seminars to stroll the exhibit hall aisles among the 11,000 attendees and 3,000 exhibitors.

What I witnessed those three days in mid-September were the newest fashions, gadgets and innovations for an ever-evolving mode of transportation and recreation–that archetypal pedal-powered vehicle commonly call “the bicycle”.

Whether you were a recreational mountain biker, ebike commuter or shaved-legged criterion racer everyone felt a special vibe, a palpable “cool factor” in the air. Between the latest fashions in herringbone clip-in cycling shoes, Spandex knickers, neon CoolMax socks or the freshly minted 1000 watt e-bikes,e-trikes and e-unicycles, heads were turning everywhere.

Until you wandered over to the Urban Yard. That’s when most people stopped dead in their tracks.

Set amidst exhibit hall mayhem was a visually modest 50 x 50 foot island of quiet confidence and authenticity. It was the exhibit space for one of Interbike’s brightest stars: Chrome, arguably the hippest brand of the planet for messenger bags and too-hot-to-handle commuter fashions, footwear and accessories.

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What makes Chrome so cool? What’s the secret sauce that drew crowds to their exhibit like moths to a headlamp?

Authenticity.

Perhaps it was the legions of professional messengers laden with tats and-gauges from San Francisco’s Battery Street, sitting around Embarcadero-imported picnic benches waiting for party time. Maybe it was the assembly line of seamstresses who were feverishly stitching custom messenger bags for the ever-growing, ever-gawking crowd waiting patiently to grab their iconic piece of Interbike history…living proof that they were actually there. At Interbike 2012 in Las Vegas. And to boot, they even got a handmade Chrome messenger bag, the ultimate bragging right for anyone riding BART, Seattle’s free zone buses or the Bainbridge ferry.

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Whatever it was, the Chrome’s brand magic served as a clear message to the likes of Timbuk2, Pearl Izumi and Cannondale: This new kid on the block is leap-frogging over incumbent metro bike apparel and accessory brands with a quiet authenticity mixed with a dash of gritty, street-cred attitude.

How did Chrome pull off such a surprising David-and-Goliath feat so quickly in an over-saturated market?

In my opinion, real authenticity and the cult following generated in a great brand’s wake begins with the author—the founder of the company.

In Chrome’s case, that would be Mr. Steven McCallion.

Amidst the merchandising chaos I visited with Steve and his lieutenant Adrian for a few minutes at Interbike. In my exchange with both guys it took me no time to realize this whole scene had little to do with selling stuff to as many people as possible. For them it was about embracing a lifestyle, a calling to provide a super-quality product with a great back story for every Chrome customer to make a subtle statement about who they are and what they’re about. For the Chrome executives it was about projecting their personalities into the marketplace as an extension of the brand…

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Very smart, very funny, very unpretentious.

And did I mention the most important thing?

Very real.

You can’t fake authenticity unless your company or your brand exudes it from the core.

As they say…“An apple never falls far from the tree.”

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The First Guy Naked Wins

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Before you get too excited let’s establish something up front. This post is not going to feed your sexual fantasy. It’s the title of a book my friend David Hazard and are writing on the pandemic of white collar depression, invading the boardroom, bedroom and beyond (a later blog topic).

It’s a title, a subject line that’s intended to tease you, to lure you in. Call it a hook, grabber, tease. But whatever the name, it’s got the power to grab your attention and keep it there until the advertiser, author, publisher or producer can take you to the next step in the sales cycle: consideration.

Since the dawn of man nothing has done this better than the second most popular word or concept in the English language. The magic word?

Sex.

To make a point about how sex is used in entertainment and marketing to capture and keep an audience on the edge of their seat, I give you the wholesome version of this, done tastefully, exceedingly well (Parental and clerical warning: this may not be suitable viewing). Do I have your attention?

Here we go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsMN1ywJkQY.

What’s this video about? Fashion, if you’re a designer. Bras if you work for Maidenform. Heaven or a peculiar glimpse thereof if you’re clergy. John Mayer or J-Zee if you’re a John Mayer or Jay-Zee fan. For a junior in high school boy (or girl for that matter)? You’re getting warmer.

If you’re a Shania fan you’ve already seen this video. If not, feast your eyes on this:  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqFLXayD6e8)

Look into her eye…what is Shania saying to you? “I want you?”
But here’s the problem. You can’t have her. Nor can you have big muscles in 30 days. Or a 32 inch waist at age 40 (25 if you’re a woman). Or a waterfront home. Or a perfect marriage.

Here’s another one: Look at the massive smile on Shania. What’s she saying now?

To set the record straight, in my opinion none of these video images is about cleavage or a suggestive “lie with me” message. They’re simply images of breathtaking beauty and fashion. What’s not to love about that?

Oh, one last thought. What’s the single most powerful word in the dictionary, far surpassing sex?

Free.

It’s lured you and legions of others into watching countless videos and listening to downloaded songs (that 10 years ago would have cost you thousands). But don’t be fooled. Like the free oil check and full service at the gas pump, that’s going away soon, almost as quickly as it entered the mainstream marketplace…my next blog topic.

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