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Food For Thought: Too Much Information – Not Enough Time

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By now, anyone that has read my blogs knows that I am the president of a small advertising agency. We’re an agency because we do with agencies do – assist clients by offering marketing services, and by generating adverts. Okay. Simple enough, but did you know that it’s difficult? Sometimes it’s even thankless and definitely can be money draining.

Let me reveal a masochistic tendency about my relationship to advertising and its pitfalls: I like it.

However, it’s lonely at the top. I’m supposed to know everything. But, I’ve discovered in the quest to know everything, there’s not enough time to discover and absorb the information.  This morning I attended a meeting on integrating CRM and marketing automation. It was quite a discussion. It was definitely not ‘old school’. Tomorrow, I’m going to learn more about data and analytics. The other day, someone sat in my office and droned on about programmatic methods for media buying. That meeting left me cross-eyed, and, this morning my left eye became my right eye and vice versa.

There is a project sitting on my desk that needs commentary, possibly requiring me to analyze why the graphics are off, and why the copywriting inconsistent. Yep. Helping to straighten out the inconsistencies of this advertising issue should be my element, but this other 21st-century digital modernist stuff keeps getting in the way.

What I’m learning is that it’s almost impossible for one person to take on the roles we small agency operators often have. What often suffers is that in the struggle to keep up, customer needs are affected negatively. Certainly, it’s unintentional. It also isn’t because we can’t let go and delegate because is often no one to delegate to. The hope is to incorporate a system and bring in individuals that can handle the nuances and intricacies required of marketing specialists, and sales people. It’s great being top management, but I want the end product that we produce to improve massively because our clients deserve it.

Running an agency has become more complex than before simply because as the tools of delivering our services improve, so does the level of difficulty to be good increase. When I got started in marketing and advertising, very seldom did we give the Internet a thought except to do basic research. The heavy stuff was done by some nerd steeped in statistics and research, and no one really cared how they learned it. I’m not doing myself a service by lagging behind in learning of, and discovering the usage of online sales technology and tools. But, I’m not a sales director but a guy that writes ads for other businesses.

It’s not so much a complaint but recognition that this profession is a difficult one to master. It’s easy to be mediocre. The standards that we set for ourselves should be higher than mediocrity. Clients place trust in us as well as pay for our services. As the remainder of the day closes, I’ll probably sketch out how all of this headache-inducing “stuff,” can help me develop my vision of a company that is proficient, nimble and capable of doing knockout work.

Some clients understand.

A few weeks ago, I spoke to a former client that told me of the plenteous marketing and advertising needs of his startup. He was considering hiring a large agency in Los Angeles.  After giving him an assessment of their capabilities, they quoted a retainer that made him choke. Still, he went to their offices and was given a brief tour and noticed they had departments committed to doing the very thing I’m trying to come up to speed too.

“These people are cold. When you handled a project for me, your staff treated me well,” he said.

I replied: “It’s just the Golden Rule. Honestly, that other agency’s a better fit.  It may be in your best interest to go with them.”

“Remember, if they’re not accessible, I doubt if they’re working for me. Never take the personal touch out of what you do.” He said, but took my advice.

After encouraging me, he gave an analogy of a small agency taking on a big formidable one. He talked about a boxing match between Sugar Ray Leonard and Mike Tyson. In his story, Ray knocked Iron Mike out. That analogy is reflective of reality because we try to compete against competitors that have five floors of creatives to undertake a project and know the modern digital “stuff.” 

That’s a great analogy, but if Mike tags Sugar Ray with a left hook, imagine the little guy’s headache. Maybe, learning stuff that will make me cross-eyed makes sense.

Food For Thought: Core Values

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When CDM Digital Advertising opened its doors during the ‘Great Recession,’ we soon discovered that despite the proliferation of agencies, we needed to stand out.  We are singular and make brands stand out because we are amazing story tellers.

We aren't skateboarding stoner ‘digitals,’ or, those jokers that proclaim I'm smarter than you 'because I code.’ We truly honor our clients and our philosophy is etched in four precepts.

Our Tagline: "Making Your Brand Memorable."

Our Mission: To tell a client’s story from the widest tapestry of imagination.

Our Philosophy: We have purpose: To create, succeed, and be the best.

Our Core Values: “The CDM Way.”

* We operate with integrity.

* Our agency observes and respects the dignity of others.

* We are ethical in all of our dealings.

* Be confident that our agency will fulfill its desire of “Making Your Brand Memorable.”

Perhaps addressing the idea of core values is simply one way to be meaningful as an agency. After all, an agency should have an identity -- as Ogilvy demonstrated in everything he did as titular creative head of Ogilvy and Mather. Sir John Hegarty has also admonished an agency to stand for something -- to be different and not part of the crowd.

I suppose that's a great idea when one remembers that there are 20,000 agencies -- some good -- some bad. A client doesn't really know until they've had a chance to interact with the agency -- CDM has discovered that more than we first have to get invited to offer our services. It does a disservice to what we claim to be if we haven't shown how good we are at what CDM does.

It's not easy because agencies do not promote themselves as one might think --part of it is because they haven't a clue. Many people, especially consumer confuse a tagline for the substance of a brand. In introducing the CDM Way, we have decided that our small agency is just as professional, if not more so than any other agency. If a staff member decides that how we work is a joke -- then they are in the wrong place.

Agency Culture: “The CDM Way.”

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The idea of agency culture is powerful. Culture can be defined several ways. It could be a culture based on intimidation, paranoia, or political infighting. Culture can also be nurtured trust, from that, productivity develops. Ideally, culture within the company goes a long way to allowing those things to come to fruition that make us fulfilled in what we’re doing.Way-to-a-Rainy-Night

Studying other agencies have given me a perspective. At one time, culture embodied around company social interaction (crazy parties like they used to have before sexual harassment litigation, or dram shop lawsuits).  When that stuff waned, agencies took on a casual style – torn clothing, sandals – disheveled chic — shorts — bowling alleys – ping pong tables and so on.

Is that culture, or comfort and playtime? I don’t know, but its sounds like recess. How many big ideas come from playing ping pong? How ticked off is a graphic designer buried with her nose in work while listening to guys drinking beer and shooting the crap about shagging girls?

Whatever form it is, culture should be positive.  Everyone in an agency should embrace it because company culture is simply taking care of business the right way. Agency culture does not start with recess on the client’s time, but truly exists if the agency functions with cohesion.

Culture, or projected positiveness should be voiced by every member of the team. Interns, middle and senior management included. Everyone. Each is an ambassador of an agency, and should understand the shop’s motives and goals.

When asked, they should be able to enunciate it. It doesn’t require a lot of words, but whether or not we provide good work is demonstrated by the actual product. If it is memorable advertising, or the brand is made memorable by our work, it’s also evident, it is consequential by how we do things.

In the past I’ve written that I’m from the city of Boston. The NFL Patriots Football Team have a special place in my heart. I love the way that team operates – I love their culture. Our agency has a culture called the “CDM Way,” patterned on the “Patriot Way.” We’re gaining structure and a desire to be exceptional.

Here’s what the “Patriot Way” is: Cohesion. It starts with Mr. Kraft, to Coach Bellichek, to the players and staff. Individuality is not discarded, but loyalty and purpose are stressed to attain a goal: The championship. If one player or a group of them become susceptible to injury and cannot play, they are replaced by players who believe that they can get the job done. That is the Patriot Way. “Do Your Job–” Coach Bellichek exhorts.

The CDM Way is to do good work that enables a client’s products to sell. Consistency must be good year after year. We developed and mentored an excellent art director at CDM, but for whatever reason she left. She was also associate creative director, making her within a small percentage of female creative directors in the United States (that was regardless of agency size. Perhaps she did not understand or appreciate it.) She left with her work undone and it had the effect of an injury on the rest of us.

Her replacement was able to adapt her graphic styles to our style – the CDM Way. The work product is always supposed to stand for excellence, integrity and be respected for the workmanship. The same held true of copywriters. When a copywriter left, another replaced him.

When culture is real, the true objectives of an agency speak loudly. Quite honestly, when it is not, presentations a much harder, and RFP responses seem to be circular arguments. Whoever we are is represented by what we claim. That is not bragging, it is to simply state what we can provide that’s different than other agencies.

We are many things: a work in progress, a ‘dark horse’ unknown group in a nondescript building, but since we are developing, what we are today, will be tomorrow’s memory. We can’t be intimidated by relative smallness of staff. The Patriots didn’t capture a Superbowl until they had an earth shattering change in thinking. Prior to that, the team had been good, but the infusion of the culture of winners birthed a dynasty. History speaks to that.

I’m confident history will speak to the consistency of the CDM Way and its efforts to make a client’s brand memorable. That can only occur unless our agency culture is that of winners and believers.

Bernard Alexander McNealy