How We Won The Olympics

Part 4 in the series “Pitching To Win…Without Pitching”

If Seattle’s decade of the dotcom gave us anything, it was breathtaking innovation followed closely by mountains of investment capital. Or the other way around. This became more obvious each day in my tip-of-the-spear New Business Director role at Horton Lantz & Low in the early 2000s. It seemed that, almost overnight, the entire marketing landscape started shifting at warp speed. Every hungry business now wanted a fancy website adorned with 1-click storefront technologies, pop-up windows and clever meta-tags tied to search engine optimization strategies. Suddenly the fabled “big idea” pushed by ad agencies and eye-popping graphics of branding firms were being kicked to the curb. Marketing innovation harnessed by digital technologies became the bright new currency of brand managers of consumer products–and data-driven lead generation campaigns for B2B clients–across the Northwest and the nation.

As fate or good fortune would have it, I left Horton Lantz & Low  with a mix of optimism and dread. I was determined to ply the new waters of digital marketing. But the currents seemed deep, dark and a bit deadly. I dove in anyway. Over a period of several months I became an expert digital marketing strategist (albeit self-appointed). I read volumes on a multitude of topics from every digital marketing web portal and e-newsletter my eyeballs could land on. But the ones that caught most of my attention were Click-Z and MecLabs, two daily e-newsletters that, though light on creative ideas, were heavy on data and analytics-driven content I was looking for.

While doing my industry due-diligence two topics rose to the surface that gave me pause, telling me these were worthy of my full attention. Three actually, though they are intricately interwoven—multi-variate testing, landing pages and keyword search.

Providentially while doing this research I discovered a quiet but potent Seattle digital marketing agency specializing in app development, web design and back-end data analytics—Peak Systems (subsequently renamed UpTop Corp (www.uptopcorp.com). I was mostly drawn to the company by their roster of super cool clients like Warren Miller Ski Films and the Salt Lake Winter Olympics. But what was most exciting was a) they were looking for a New Business Director / Chief Marketing Officer and b) their CEO lived on Bainbridge Island, which meant we were fellow ferry boat commuters to downtown Seattle.

After making contact with John Sloat (the CEO) which led to an engaging lunch interview, I was hired. John gave me one specific assignment: to help UpTop win the RealNetworks account. More specifically, win a never-done-before project to acquire new subscribers for RealNetworks’ new streaming music service, Rhapsody. For me it was a perfect storm opportunity to apply my love for music with my passion for digital marketing, sales and analytics.

What ultimately won me an open-ended Rhapsody marketing assignment and subsequent full-time job offer as UpTop’s CMO was the surprising initial success of the project. Admittedly, that success had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the dream-team to whom I handed off most of the heavy lifting—my boss John (and the UpTop developers); Scott Fasser, the project manager; Tom Kelly, RealNetworks’ Rhapsody Division VP; and last but not least Scott Simonelli, Optimost’s VP of Sales (who was the primary architect of the multi-variate testing platform that pioneered a systematic way to test offers, images, colors and headlines to ensure the optimal combination of creative messaging on landing pages were tied to the most popular keyword searches at the time, such as streaming music, Coldplay, free digital music, jazz, etc).

The Rhapsody music project was a watershed moment for me. Not only did I get a primer in back-end data analytics but it earned me more time and opportunity with UpTop to wield the most powerful weapon in their (or any agency’s) arsenal—its client portfolio. I knew the impressive website and app develop work they’d done for Warren Miller Ski Films–and more importantly, the Salt Lake Winter Olympics—would be my calling card to bigger and more lucrative new business. Providentially, this meant chasing after the biggest event within 200 miles of Seattle in the past decade—the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Though I only realized it in hindsight, the Rhapsody project taught me the incalculable value of trusted partnerships that fostered collaboration leading to breakthrough results. This was the big take-away for me, the one I determined to apply to the Vancouver Winter Olympics account–to win it for UpTop. What I learned then about innovation in digital marketing–and am still learning–is that true digital creativity happens most efficiently and sustainably when you saddle up with people who have already blazed technology trails with proven success. In Rhapsody’s case  our dream-team members were Scott Fasser, a seasoned search engine marketer; Scott Simonelli, one of the nation’s pioneers in multi-variate landing page testing; and my company, UpTop, a back-end application development firm that could slice up a page and code it with an infinite array of message and image options. And of course Tom Kelly, RealNetworks’ VP of Rhapsody Music, the master conductor of the project.

If there’s a main reason I’ve enjoyed success as a business development specialist, it’s that I read a lot…perhaps more than most of my friendly competitors, if not all of them. As a daily habit I scan trade periodicals, websites and e-newsletters featuring business trends and industry news. This morning ritual has yielded a treasure trove of leads over the years. And on that fortuitous morning when I read a small piece in the business section of a British Columbia Newspaper on the upcoming Winter Olympics I knew I’d hit the mother lode. I discovered that in preparation for the 2010 Winter Games the Vancouver Olympics Organizing Committee (VANOC) had just been assembled. The article went on to say the committee was in its infancy but would soon be recruiting staff and vendors to help facilitate the logistics of the Games. To me that meant one thing: my company, UpTop, needed to be THE tech firm that brought the logistics together with one massive database solution—our specialty. It’s what we’d done for the Salt Lake 2002 Games years before. So in my mind it was our business to lose. How could we not chase after this with abandon and transfer our database solutions from one Olympic Games to the next? It seemed like a walk in the park.

From that moment on I began the chase. The most important step in this Approach Stage, as I’ve mentioned earlier, was gathering  as much insider information as possible. This meant finding someone within the VANOC organization who could give us a competitive advantage to learn what the SWOT profile was (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) and where we could swiftly move in– quietly without any competitors around–to build relationships from within, along with the critical information we needed to present the best solution to our prospect.

As more good fortune unfolded, my first phone call to Canada connected me with the new office manager in Vancouver who had just been awarded the 4-year contract role to manage all administrative aspects of the Games. This included hiring an army of volunteers and paid staff to coordinate traffic, transportation, Olympic village accommodations, security and a million other details. The blessing for me was that she was not only incredibly capable and informative, but extremely warm. We made friends quickly, and over the ensuing dozens of phone calls and emails we established a mutual trust that paid rich dividends. One of the pay-offs was learning that Canadian companies—transportation companies, foodservice providers, construction firms and the like—would be given strong preferential treatment when it came to awarding contracts to bring the Olympics to Vancouver, Canada.

So again I went to digging…this time to explore suitable a British Columbia software development company with whom we could saddle up and fill in the technology expertise we lacked to build a gargantuan database to manage the logistics of the Games—and more importantly, give us the advantage over any and all competitors who wanted a stake in the software infrastructure to organize the Games and the resources to pull them off.

I was thrilled when my research pointed to a small software development firm headquartered in Victoria, BC that had just the chops we needed. They had an impressive portfolio and list of clients, and their leadership team was quite affable and open-handed. Between the many conference calls and trips from Seattle to their Victoria offices we forged a strong, trusting partnership. And in a matter of months…well, the rest became history.

In keeping with this series of Winning Without Pitching, I can’t exactly say we won the business without a few competitors nipping at our heels. In fact, as was my customary way, I sheepishly asked the administrator one day, “Would you mind telling me the names of the other companies in the running for this software development project?” In hindsight I wished I’d never asked. The moment my administrator-turned-new-best-friend mentioned the names of two global technology companies  we were contending with–IBM and Fujitzu Business Solutions—you could hear my bubble of optimism pop like a bomb, then a slow fizzling sound as our “we got this” positivity became a vanishing vapor.

Though chasing projects on the scale of the Olympic Games–with the odds in your favor (including the best team and the best solution) hardly guarantees a win–in this case, shockingly, it did for our UpTop team. We won the business. And we learned later we won handily, with subsequent fees generating well over a million dollars for the agency. I guess that’s why the company was aptly named UpTop.

For me personally, the learnings of the Olympic Games pursuit–and the RealNetworks win–were vast. But to strip it down, here are a few simple take-away points you may be able to apply to your own hunt the next time you see a big piece of new business in your cross-hairs…

  1. Apply successful, relevant experience—In my experience, prospective clients have a difficult time imagining success with your firm if you haven’t shown solid marketing case studies and a portfolio that validates your expertise. No client wants to be a guinea pig.
  2. Be a relentless researcher—Make research a daily habit. In the above illustration I talked about how my research led to landing a big project, then a big job offer. It led me to discover Optimost that was the partner I presented to our client as the best technology partner for testing. We got in on the ground floor of the Olympic Games before any competitor knew about it, and we found the perfect partner to give us the local competitive advantage to help break parity with our rivals.
  3. Speed—In business development, speed is critical. Everyone pays attention when you’re fast with solutions and clear in your communication. It raises the bar for everyone to do their best and keep things moving quickly and efficiently. It’s called professionalism.
  4. Partnerships—You know the saying made famous by Aristotle… “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” That especially applies to team members with expertise far beyond your own capabilities. That goes back to speed and efficiency and professionalism, which is what clients are buying.
  5. Collaboration—When smart and experienced people band together amazing things happen. Ideas from one category or discipline can be cross-pollinated with others from different team members. The result is what everyone should be shooting for…genuine innovation through synergy.
  6. Likability—Very little of the above happens when pitch or implementation teams don’t get along. Common courtesies foster trust and respect. When people are liked and appreciated they do their best work. It’s where the Golden Rule applies in spades.

These tips and tactics may seem rudimentary to most. But it’s taken me two decades to live these principles out with any consistency. If you’ll take these concepts to heart perhaps you can hasten your personal learning cycle and win your pitch–with or without pitching—almost every time.

Winning The Pitch…Without Pitching

Part 1–Introduction

At the height of the frantic, money-grubbing dotcom era, Seattle’s business landscape was littered with tech start-ups and fat digital marketing budgets lining every street from Seattle to Bellevue to Blaine. Venture funding was flowing like freshly corked bottles of Dom Perignon. It was a heavenly moment for entrepreneurs and opportunists. For me and the ad agency pitch teams who chased after them with abandon it was a four star meal ticket to cash in on the region’s new-found prosperity. Or so we all thought.

On January 21, 2001 I uprooted my family from the piney woods of East Texas to stake my claim of fame and fortune in Seattle’s pot of digital marketing gold. I had a heart full of optimism, a head full of modestly successful marketing campaigns and a 20-year resume documenting my experience as the head of business development for Los Angeles and Dallas ad agencies and design firms. I had fire in my belly, fully convinced that hunting for plum new advertising accounts in the emerald green pastures of industry titans like Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon meant one thing. Big bucks.

And it was…until it wasn’t.

As many of us painfully discovered–in the irrefutable trends of macro-economics–what goes up must come down. The dotcom go-go era eventually slowed to a trickle, then bottomed out in 2001—not so fortuitously at the same time I left the comforts of East Texas to assume the reigns of new business for Seattle’s Horton-Lantz-Low marketing agency (arguably the largest and most innovative independent agency in Seattle at the time which unofficially merged with Ascentium in 2010).

Despite the downturn, for me it was a time of enormous challenge, growth and modest success. I learned to pitch business from the very best, in a team environment, competing for some of the richest and most storied advertising and design accounts on the planet—Patagonia, Shimano, Princess Cruises, Phillips Electronics, Microsoft, etc.

Though I brought to HL2 a solid background in account strategy and copywriting, I was hired for one reason: to get in front of prospects. And I did so, with dutiful enthusiasm as the sort of “tip of the spear” big game hunter for the firm.

What I learned could fill a book (which may happen one day). But for the purpose of this blog series I’ll lay the foundation for my learnings and pitch strategy by borrowing the simple but profoundly effective proprietary sales process model from my sales mentor and forever friend, the late Roy Chitwood. In his Max Sacks “Track Selling” training program (www.maxsacks.com – I wrote most of the copy and produced the website) Roy defines the track selling process as follows…

Approach  >  Qualification  >  Agreement of Need  > Sell the company  >  Fill the need  >  Act of commitment  >  Cement the sale

With this groundwork of a brief introduction and sales model laid, we’ll talk next week about that critical first step in the sales process that I’ve discovered, time and again, which separates the men from the boys—the Approach Stage.

Check in next week for Be first, be fast, be fabulous—Part 2

(photo credit courtesy of John Hamm, post Mad Men)

Greed Causes Fighting. Trust Leads To Prosperity.

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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”

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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.

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.

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

The First Guy Naked Wins

naked
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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Praise For Pandora

pandora 2

In the wake of my last blog post (Beating The Digital Download Devil) I got a flood of emails protesting my position on the evils of digital music. In fairness to my detractors and to balance my indignation over the gobs of money sifted through the hands of hard-working artists, writers and composers and funneled into the pockets of the late Steve Jobs and company, I shine a promising beam of light—a beacon of hope for today’s topsy-turvy music business—on one of my favorite digital music brands.

Pandora.

What’s cool about Pandora? Perhaps the better question is…What’s not cool about Pandora (aside from the increasing proliferation of disruptive ads)? For over 100 million subscribers the notion that we’re beating the “pay for play” system by devouring an uninterrupted stream of free music seems delightfully naughty. Or consider that as subscribers we have instant access to well over a million groovy songs representing over 80,000 artists.

Last year alone Pandora served up over 4 billion music listening hours to aficionados like you and me. To date, they’ve delivered over 50 million mobile app downloads in the us alone. Here’s the best part—they’ve compensated music professionals with over $300 million in cumulative royalties to artists, labels, master copyright owners and the immortal SoundExchange. Sounds like redemption doesn’t it?

Personally, the thing I think is coolest about Pandora is it’s hip founder and CEO Tim Westergren. Aside from the fact that, post- IPO, he’ll never need to work another day in his life, he really loves and understands music. It’s written on his heart, it’s etched into his mind, and he’s devoted his life to making fabulous high fidelity music accessible to the masses. Free of charge, albeit with a few gratuitous ads springs sprinkled in after each music set.

He knows what I want. What’s that? To customize my music intake based on my favorite artists, genres and musical eras. Where else outside the digital world can you listen to a playlist of LMFAO, Katy Perry, Renee Fleming, the Beatles, Eisley, Death Cab, Glenn Miller, Coldplay, Bruno Mars, Ariana Grande and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir—in that order, or shuffled, whenever, wherever I want?

Exactly one year ago to the day I received a nice personal email from Matt Nichols, Pandora’s VP of Marketing (and two days later from Tim himself). Both responded gingerly to the constructive criticism I offered after hearing a poorly executed ad.

Here’s what I said…

“I was disappointed to hear an ad that came on during my Beatles Radio Station today while riding my motorcycle up here in Seattle. It was a fabulous ad for Godiva Chocolates and was beautifully timed the day before Valentine’s Day. But the ad failed to include a call to action which you could help every one of your sponsors develop by adding a 10 second tag to EVERY ad from every partner/sponsor, like…to get your exclusive “I Love You” Pandora/Godiva Chocolate Gift Set click on the banner ad now or go to Pandora/Godiva.com and use promo code PAN at check out to redeem your discount and get three free months of Pandora One (credit card required).”

Then the PS.

“Sorry if I sound pushy and maybe I am a bit. It’s only because I love Pandora and the whole notion of the music genome project—that of profiling music, dissecting and categorizing sound and style elements within—is incredibly technologically innovative. Your marketing should be every bit as innovative. Even more so. And that means continually testing, validating and rolling out new messages and offers that optimally engage and activate your listeners. My two cents anyway.”

Want to know their reply?

You’ll have to log onto my upcoming post “Trouble In Tech Paradise For Entertainment Companies” for more ups and downs in digital music for the likes of Rhapsody, Spotify, GrooveShark/TinyShark, Slacker and other category leaders.

In the meantime, keep filling your head and heart with great music. BTW, do check out Spotify when you get a free minute. It’s one of my other favorite music portals.