Friday, March 14, 2014

Writer Discovers Pattern in Viral Headlines- What Happens Next Will BLOW YOUR MIND

I don't know about you, but I am getting pretty sick of headlines in digital news feeds.  How many "Top 5 Things to Avoid When Wrapping Christmas Presents"-type articles can we tolerate?  How long will this tactic keep working to get people to click-through to ad-laden sites and even re-share them with their friends and followers?

Stuff like this comes and goes.  Either audience fatigue or jaded-ness will kick in, or the comms platform companies (Facebook, Twitter, etc) will find ways to de-emphasize these.  Either way, I am pretty sure I will be glad when this fad passes.  Of course, it could be replaced by something much worse.  Like "Sea Monkey" style, in which ALL CAPS, "quotations," italics, and exclamation points!!! simply cannot be overused.  Let's start a new trend.

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Friday, January 24, 2014

What is wrong with the agency-client model?

(response to Jeff Hilimire's excellent article)

The answer is "lots."  But knowing this is not all that helpful.  Jeff does a great job of describing the situation from the agency perspective, and I agree with his assessment completely.  From the client side, the issues are somewhat different, however.

The Pitch Process

This dog & pony show is not something that clients enjoy either.  We don't like to read the initial proposals, the actual presentations are merely a timesink, and all we hope for is that one or more of the presenting agencies show us a gem that makes us think.  Every firm has the same capabilities, the same logo-drenched slide of Fortune 100 brands, and the same bios.  In an established client company, most agencies also have some direct experience delivering for that company that they can reference, demonstrating an understanding of the industry.  In the end, the pitch boils down to the creative concepts that are shared and how compelling these are.  This is entirely the wrong way to make a choice. 

Creativity is critical.  It is also the most fun part of the process.  Even so, it is way easier to find an agency with good creative talent than one which can really assess the client's underlying goals and propose real strategies and tactics to achieve them.  The pitch process does not generally emphasize this point, and I am not sure anyone from the client team would show up for the meeting if they focused on processes and methodologies without the eye candy of a creative concept to review.

Agencies Sell what Sells

Clients cannot possibly keep up with the constant change in media, consumer behavior, and the waves of disruption caused by emerging and refined technologies.  We count on agencies and strategy firms to do this for us.  Even so, we read articles, news reports, and memos from our CEOs about cool new things that some firm we admire is using.  Thanks to the corporate lemming effect, we take this kind of buzz as tacit endorsement of the tactic and begin to overweight anything that may include this in the pursuit of our broader goals.  The digital marketing world is littered with once-shiny objects that became rites of passage for mega-marketers - flash intro pages, 3D universes, podcasts, Facebook apps, etc.  Nothing wrong with these things per se - a smart marketer should have tried them all - cheaply and quickly.  But anchoring a major effort on one of these media or tactics is nuts - and we do it all the time.  I once asked an agency friend why he was still pitching flash intro pages long after practicioners dismissed them as foolish, bandwidth and time-hogging distractions.  His answer was honest and simple, "because clients keep buying them."  This is hard to fault.

The good thing is that client's memories are pretty short, so when a shiny object fails to perform (assuming we measured it), political self-interest kicks in (so no one hears about it), and 6 months later no one remembers.  The bad thing is that our memories are also pretty short about successes, so the pitch process is likely to be renewed often even when we have been pretty happy with the outcomes generated.

The answer

I did not like changing agencies.  Instead, I sought teams of people that I trusted, admired, and with whom we worked well.  We strove to be brutally honest about our interests, competencies, and outcomes and to accept feedback from our agencies.  Having a go-to partner who has the permission to stumble (provided that they only make new mistakes) is incredibly liberating.  If the agency knows that the business is "theirs to lose," they should behave much more like partners than vendors.  If things go south, no one will be surprised when the relationship ends.  It happens.

Of course, sometimes agencies are changed because the "hand of God" kicks in, as was the case when a former employer decided that all business needed to be done with one mega-agency for the sake of scale economies.  This made sense from a procurement standpoint but wreaked havoc among teams which had been doing pretty well.  I have no answer to this other than to suggest that all marketing leaders develop a thick skin and a good sense of humor.

Good News

The constancy of change means that there is always room to maneuver, and agencies who fail to land a client once will certainly have a shot again in the future.  Whether an agency is chosen or not, its ability to build and maintain relationships will determine its success.  OK, maybe this is cold comfort for the up-and-comers who just poured their souls into a brilliant pitch that was discarded in favor of a "safe" big agency, but at least it is something.  In addition, the friction between agencies and clients also creates ceaseless opportunity for change and growth, and in the current and foreseeable environment this will come in very handy.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Audentes Fortuna Iuuat - Why You Should Never Punt

Kevin Kelley, varsity football coach of the Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas, never punts and always goes for the onside kick. His team has won 4 state titles in a football-obsessed state in 10 years, and his win-loss ratio is almost 6:1.

Wayne Gretsky said, "I missed 100% of the shots I didn't take." Gretzky holds or shares 61 records in the National Hockey League including almost every category related to scoring and winning.

"Audentes fortuna iuuat" is Latin for "Fortune favors the bold." This is an ancient proverb that pretty much agrees with Kelley and The Great One, Mr. Gretsky. Despite this time-honored wisdom and so many examples supporting it, most companies are hyper-conservative and dogmatic to the point of paralysis, leaving them almost universally vulnerable to the phenomenon described as The Innovator's Dilemma (iconic 1997 book by Clayton Christensen). The fact is, most companies are aware of this yet continue to do little to change their behavior.

The lesson? Take risks. A lot of them. All the time. The only outcome in business (or life) that can ever be guaranteed is failure. Successes, big or small, require that you attempt to succeed. What are the benefits of risk-taking? If you fail, you have the opportunity to learn a lot about what does not work - so you won't have to do that again. If you succeed, the rewards can be massive. In both cases, you generate a positive outcome. If you never try, you generate nothing of value at all. People are rational. 

When given the choice between doing something that will definitely provide some benefit or doing something that will definitely provide no benefit, there is no question about what the decision will be. In big business, however, this is seldom the case. Why? Complacency is a big reason. Inertia is another. We reason that what worked before will work again, and this is not without merit. It ignores the reality, however, that there is always a better way. However successful we are at providing arguments against innovation and risk-taking, it is simply not rational.

The implications are obvious. Take risks. Not foolish ones, and not risks that will ruin you if they do not produce the positive results you are seeking. Take risks all the time. Create a cycle of learning and self-disruption to combat the natural indolence brought about by past successes. Only make NEW mistakes. If you learn from failure and adapt your actions to incorporate this knowledge, you will always be improving. Understand sunk cost theory. If something is not working, stop doing it. (This turns out to be a big challenge for most companies.) Never punting does not mean being foolish. It means that you have to take chances that make sense.

It is almost certain that your company is not doing this. If you want to make a difference and become a valued source of disruptive innovation, creating value at a rate that can transform your company or industry, the mantra is obvious -- go for it.