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Bernard Alexander McNealy

Food For Thought

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(CDM Blog) Food For Thought

The Cockeyed Optimist

Today is the dawn of a new day, a renew of optimism. I can breath a little.

For about ten years, I have headed a marketing and advertising agency. It sounds exciting, but in truth, it can be mundane. It can also be downright disheartening because it is really very little in the profession gives one encouragement. We're an agency where "always...or maybe, today," prevails.

In running an agency, one of the most questionable, or depressing aspects is that old adage of a good client being very hard to find. Sometimes I think he may be walking the streets in the guise of homeless people. You know type? That's a person walks up to you, demands a few dollars to gauge your reaction. It's either Jesus, or an undercover millionaire looking for a marketing company. The inability to tell the difference of in the to, this what creates problems.

Advertising is like any other industry. We want to grow. We want to prosper. We want the guy in the homeless who to bless us with a fat contract. Of course, I'm being facetious. But, this article is entitled “The Cockeyed Optimist,” because it seems I’ve some major serendipity of late.

David Ogilvy advocated that a leader must be willing to delegate, and indeed give up certain aspects of the business to someone a bit more enthusiastic, mercurial, and insightful. In times past these people tend to be frightening because the expectations that they were really gunning for your job. I'm optimistic for good reason.

I started looking for someone to assist me in the day-to-day running of my agency. I discovered a remarkable woman who has exceeded my expectations, a moment of doubt I had the first second. The second ‘second’ allayed my fears because he spoke so articulately and with insight.

What this simply means is that I can breathe easier. It's good to have someone alongside you that is really an equal. It's not surprising that this gifted young woman has begun the see the agency as her own and helped to take it in the direction that it should be in. If that means that my view is askew, it means that progress has finally visited us.

Now, I need to hire a cute salesman to go shakedown a couple of homeless people. I'm willing to bet that the three dudes occupying the tent along San Fernando Road are in fact the former heads of the three largest brokerage firms and have decided to start new companies, incognito.

Bernard Alexander McNealy

Food For Thought: An Agency Life

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An advertising agency is one of life’s peculiar things. Some outfits overflow with optimism and soar to stratospheric, fiscal heights.  Others languish in a sea of struggle – year after year — customers are few and far between. The thought of closing of shop is always one breath away. The process goes this way: “I love being creative, but I ain’t got nothing to create.” The last part is a surefire path to rage, or being eternally pissed off. Agency life should be one where the highest creative achievement is realized. In truth, it is an existence where a creative director is beset by WTF moments.


I read recently that advertising agencies are considered by members of the public to be less trustworthy than used car salesmen. But hey! We are still one level above politicians…but that’s another story.


Face it, we hawk products like carnival barkers. We promise to lead you to the woman with a third breast – only to reveal it is only an extra roll of fat hanging from her chin. We are asked to speak the truth, and we should. When I sit down with a new client, I tell them I feel obligated to always tell them the truth. (I may unfold it in segments over a few days, but it will be the truth.) New clients plead to know your speculative prognostication regarding how their products will perform after they hire you.

End Part 1

Clients want to know whether they have exhausted their capital with a group of consumers, a how impactful it will be on their revenue. They want the truth. The client is saying regardless of the forecast of product performance, they can handle it. We shouldn’t be reluctant to engage in that dialogue. We’re being paid for our expertise and insight. The honest ad agency will tell them if their perceptions are real or imagined. There is an abiding truth – when you think you’ve tapped out, find new markets.


CDM clients have mostly been small and mid-sized businesses. You know – bookstores –insurance agencies — retail stores, car dealerships, restaurants, spas, computer stores and even software companies. In other words, Mom and Pop of all ethnic gradations. Small business – the engine of the American economic machine. Those are the people who built their business from nothing. Despite their courage in stepping forward to get a hand up, there is a lot of uncertainty among them. It affects business because it causes reluctance to commit to paying an agency to help them to market their company. This isn’t advanced insight into anything. It is the truth.


Why is it that as we go through WTF in the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election, small agencies will continue to deal with customers and use effective strategies to market products. Sometimes, we use a combination of blended marketing tactics with public relations.  It’s advertising because the goal is to grow sales.


Agency life has taught me that no matter what the circumstances may be, there is one truth. The customer needs our ability to navigate their issues. To me, this is the fuel that allows me to breathe and be good at what I do.  


Bernard Alexander McNealy, President/Creative Director

Food For Thought: The Creative Aspect

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I remember having a class in college whose primary textbook was entitled: “Why Man Creates.” What stood out were psychological and social assessments, with spiritual overtones explaining that a person must be creative for the survival of the psyche. This resonated with me. The textbook said nothing about being creative for its own sakeor, being inventive to make money. The thrust was that they creative personality within a person shouldn’t be stifled.


If anything, you are your own cheerleader. When at a public interest law office, I wrote four instructional books. They weren’t very long, but explained how one could go about representing themselves in Social Security disability matters, unemployment insurance, license hearings.), handling a divorce without an attorney, the nuances of proving discrimination and sexual harassment, and one of the subject. In truth, I’d forgotten them until I sat down to write this essay.


How they play into the creative aspect of the person, and the imperativeness one must have, is rather basic. As someone once told me when I was interviewed for a potentially lucrative position at a law firm, “No one else will toot your horn for you.” Simply put, it’s best just to speak on the things that go into your creative makeup. Those pamphlets were a prime example, but I glossed over it. The people interviewing me told me they were aware of by accomplishments. That I didn’t speak to what I’ve done, was false humility. I didn’t get the job but, learned a valuable lesson.


Law school taught me to develop ethics. Seriously. Later, business told me I needed to make money to support my family. Sometimes the two of them clash. It does not mean one must be a self-consumed moneygrubbing SOB, but it was false humility got in the way, it had to be set aside.


This may surprise some. When you are in business, the prime motive is to do what is necessary to fill its purpose – money comes with the territory. That’s the trumpet sound on the horizon — I have talent for marketing and I must be paid if you decide to hire me. Having the opposite attitude, cause me to transition from being a mediator.


Now, this brings me to working for or operating a creative agency. It is false humility to apologize for being able to use your imagination to idealize how a brand will benefit targeted consumers. I interview people that I want to put on staff who suffer from blushing and bashfulness. They have the refrain: “I just want to learn.” There is a bigger challenge than that, contribute something to the effort to promote a client. If you can’t, or feel that it’s a sin for you to use your gift of dreams and ideation, the creative arts are not for you. I have told clients that I respect their ideas, but from where I sit, what I offer is the best. In other words, listen and learn. Let me do my thing. If I’m going too far afield, let’s discuss it because I’m not serving you properly.


I can’t make apologies for believing people that work for agencies should have a common purpose – create the best advertising and calculate it to sell a client’s product. Clients aren’t impressed with how well a creative can turn a phrase, or design out of this world graphics. It is and always been the bottom line. ‘How much money am I making?’ Most advertising graduates don’t know what I’m talking about.


People believe that their independence must be disruptive of the agency itself. So, this type of baloney and infighting wounds both the psyche and work product. Everybody suffers. A talented staff helps an organization grow, but its compassion that rules the day. If we want to be ahead of the next agency – we will be smarter, leaner and be purposeful.


I will start the long interviewing process for Spring. I expect many will say their book of work is fine. Careful, I am setting real parameters now. Understand though what will be asked is that you must bring ideas to the fore that is better than the stuff that passes for “advertising.”


Most of it is crap. Everybody knows it.