• The Pitch Season 2, Episode 1. Hunks Get Screwed.

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    You know, I said I wasn’t going to watch this season of The Pitch. Last season infuriated me to the point of bursting a blood vessel or two.

    But I’m an ad freak. I love the business, and I love watching reality shows about the business. Even if they illustrate how completely fucked up this industry is.

    Oh, there are huge spoilers in this by the way. If you haven’t seen it yet, bookmark this page for that moment immediately after watching it, when you feel the need to vent. You will be happy you did.

    So, the season two opener kicks of with two agencies competing for the business of College Hunks Hauling Junk. You’ve seen the vans. You know the name. It seems like a decent account to win. After all, they clearly have something of a sense of humor, judging by the name.

    The two agencies that came into the arena couldn’t have been further apart. Fletcher Rowley, an agency of stiff douchebags with mainly political clients on their roster. They’ve won 32 Pollie awards for their muckraking shit that gives advertising a really bad name. And Breen*Smith, laid back creative folks with a decent portfolio and a good attitude.

    Hang on Felix…we’re not even a few minutes into the episode and you’ve already made that conclusion.


    And I’m sure most people did, when they saw Bill Fletcher, the George Lucas lookalike, getting his hair cut whilst reading Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.”

    Give. Me. A. Fucking. Break.

    This was about as spontaneous as one of his political clients kissing babies and wearing the USA flag pin. He instantly branded himself as a complete dickhead in one second. Nicely done. And then his protégé, John Rowley, showed his true colors by saying he still obsesses about a game he lost over twenty years ago.

    Now there’s a man who has his priorities right. Oh, and if first impressions count in this business, you may consider getting the haircut, John. Holy shit.

    Anyway, the other guys from Breen*Smith were humble, self-effacing and likeable. Based on last year’s winners, I figured these guys had no chance. I already wanted them to snag it.

    They get the pitch from the College Hunks execs, which is basically a blank sheet of paper. But as soon as they leave the building Bill Fletcher is on the phone, his pompous bullshit already oozing out of every pore. He wants to know everything about the competitor agency, down to what they ate for breakfast.

    For fuck’s sake! Why, Bill? Why?

    This isn’t political advertising. You can’t smear them and win. Your obsession with Sun Tzu is completely irrelevant here. In fact, I’ll ask you right here, just in case you’re reading this…what did learning everything about Breen*Smith accomplish for you? What nuggets did you glean than helped you pull together a campaign for College Hunks?

    The answer, I’m sure, is absolutely fucking zero. You cannot produce a great campaign by focusing on your pitch competitors. You need to focus on…the client. I know, weird right? You’re usually so obsessed with digging dirt on your opponents that you forgot the basic number one rule of a pitch – know your client and the product or service.

    Breen*Smith, on the other hand, were not digging into Fletcher Rowley. They would have shit themselves laughing (or maybe crying) if they had. Instead, they were more interested in going back to the client to get answers to new questions.

    Yes. Smart. Get those questions now, before you dive into a pitch campaign, not later when you’ll have to dump half the work.

    We go back to Fletcher Rowley to see they have decided to completely flush the College Hunks name down the shitter. Yeah, they only built a massive business from that name. It has great brand equity. We don’t need that. Let’s rename it something cool like, oh, “Heroic Movers and Haulers.” The tagline “With Great Movers Comes Great Responsibility” was just as lame. In one fell swoop, they dumped years of brand building and replaced it with something completely amateurish. It looked like student work.

    Wanting to sound cerebral, Fletcher started quoting Greek mythology – the word hero works across every continent. This guy could bottle his smugness and sell it in Target.

    Breen*Smith were throwing out lines like “Hunks holding your package,” They wanted to keep the equity College Hunks had built, and move forward. The right move.

    Then we go back to Fletcher to see that he’s brought in a focus group. At this point, I was convinced this was some kind of Candid Camera stunt. No ad agency is this pathetic. You don’t base your entire pitch on the musings of a few housewives from down the road. Christ, they all said Hunks was off-putting. This is the name that built an empire, how fucking bad can it be?! If Steve Jobs had put the iPad in front of these women, Apple would had shelved it. Which is why he didn’t.

    So, long story a little bit shorter, pitch time comes. The night before, Fletcher and Rowley are drinking and talking about Sun Tzu again. Give me strength. They stated they were unbeatable. I forget which part of “The Art of War” says you should embrace hubris. Oh, it never did. If he’d ever shown up, these guys would be too busy blowing him to realize he was berating their entire raison d’etre.

    The two agencies have to pitch in front of each other, which is the first time I’ve seen that. Hopefully, the last. Personally, I would have declined, and asked to pitch separately. It’s best all around. But they obliged, and both agencies presented pretty fucking awful work. I already knew I hated the Heroic stuff, but Breen*Smith’s “Hunks & a Dolly” throwback to World War 2 poster campaigns was dire. The College Hunks team looked underwhelmed to say the least.

    In the end Breen*Smith won, but really, there were no winners. Only losers, the biggest being College Hunks. They probably didn’t want to choose either agency, but went with Breen*Smith because at least they didn’t shit all over the brand equity.

    It was good to see the Fletcher Rowley shits run back to their political muckraking HQ, trying to convince themselves the College Hunks just weren’t ready for their bold strategy.

    If this is the kind of work we can expect from this season, I pity the clients. Did you see the episode? Am I off base? Fire away, you magnificent fuckers.

    There will be more analysis of Episode 2 next week.

    Felix is a site contributor, ranter and curmudgeon for The Denver Egotist. He’s been in the ad game a long time, but he’s still young enough to know he doesn’t know everything. If he uses the f-bomb from time-to-time, forgive him. Sometimes, when you're ranting, no other word will do. In his spare time, he does not torture small animals. He's been known, on occasion, to drink alcohol by the gallon. Do as he says, not as he does.

  • The Egotist Interviews: Legwork Studio

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    In just a few years, Legwork has gone from brand-new agency to becoming a preferred digital partner of Wieden+Kennedy. We were interested in what they attribute their meteoric success to, among many other things. So we asked. And they told us. Get inside the minds of Legwork.

    Illustration by designer/illustrator Eric Wedum


    Q: What is Legwork's motto/mission?

    A: We don’t really have anything official, but we were noticing a shift in the landscape of our industry when we were getting started. Some of the places we worked at previously were built on what we saw as dated models. We thought we could do something different and, hopefully, better. For example, there were ideas that you had to specialize in a particular software language or service offering, protect the IP around proprietary code and closed systems, and retain clients either contractually or by forcing them into a maintenance situation. There were always layers upon layers of management and a lot was getting lost playing games of telephone. Some decisions were being made for the wrong reasons and it could be really frustrating at times. We all shared a vision of how things could be different. We wanted to take full ownership of our work, not push the responsibility of its outcome onto others we couldn’t collaborate with. We wanted to continually learn and grow, not get stuck in one way of doing things that would inevitably die out (sooner than later in our world).

    In the end, we like to say that we are built on creativity, innovation and a DIY ethic.


    Q: What are the three most important things to which you attribute your success?

    A: It's hard to say, especially without the ability to look at ourselves from an outside point-of-view. But in our relatively short period of time as an entity, we’ve been as honest and transparent with our clients and each other as possible, we’ve worked really hard on everything we do, and we’ve strived to be constantly learning new things.


    Q: How much bigger can your agency get before you start to lose the attention to detail and craftsmanship you put into your work?

    A: Every project we take on has a team that is dedicated from the beginning to the end. We have a very flat organizational structure, so a team typically consists of a strategist and any number of designers and/or developers and animators. Our goal is to simplify our workflow and enhance quality by eliminating unnecessary layers in our company. We are strong believers in communicating early and often and we include the client every step of the way. They usually really appreciate having direct access to the people who are doing the actual work. Additionally, since our owners are also “workers,” there is always at least one involved in every project.

    We know this just scales to a point, but we don’t want to get much bigger anyway. Being small allows us to be nimble, more selective with the projects we take on, and continue to be actively involved in creating the work.


    Q: How do you estimate projects to ensure that you can go overboard on the output and not lose your shorts?

    A: We essentially bill time and resources. It’s a really simple model to track. When we start, a team is assigned to a project and we prioritize the desired features with the client based on their importance. Then we build to a working, base version as quickly as possible. We iterate from there by continually adding features, polish and generally making things better until we run out of time. We all have enough experience and knowledge within our group to know if someone is coming to us with a totally crazy request that would be setting everyone up for failure. We turn that work down. We’re certainly not perfect, but we’ve always finished our projects and learned from our mistakes so we aren’t destined to repeat them.


    Q: What influence do metal and punk music have on your work and business philosophy?

    A: Growing up heavily involved in our local music scene, we learned the value of DIY ethics and wanted to apply them to our company. We started slowly and we worked nights for the first year-and-a-half saving all of the money we earned. It was basically like doing freelance projects on a regular basis to invest in our own company. One by one, each of us (Sean, Joey and Aaron) took the jump (and a huge pay cut) to quit our day jobs. At first, we worked out of Aaron’s basement. Then, we rented a tiny 10’x10’ room across the street from a homeless shelter. The first year was scary at times, but we managed to always stay in the black and never borrow money from banks, investors or anyone else. We could come up with plenty of metaphors to going on self-booked tours in shitty vans and the like, but you get the point. From the very start, Legwork was a profitable, self-sustaining business. We figured if we could survive during the worst economic collapse in generations, we should be in a great spot once things start to turn around.


    Q: Is being headquartered in Colorado meaningful to your output or could you be stationed anywhere?

    A: It’s meaningful to us as individuals and for our families, but not really to our output as a business. Nearly all of our clients are out of state (sometimes out of country), but geography has never been an issue. If anything, it’s provided some opportunities for us to travel to some really cool places on a semi-regular basis and a lot of our clients love to come here to take advantage of what Colorado has to offer.


    Q: Which is necessary to having a successful office environment: 
a) Kegerator b) Dog(s) 
c) Metal
 d) Ping-pong 
e) All of the above

    A: f) None of the above... see next question.


    Q: What is the work environment like at your shop?

    A: We set out to create an environment that represents the personality of our brand. It’s not fancy here — we keep it pretty casual and fun. We are aiming to make the office comfortable, not intimidating or full of ego. We really want the studio to feel like a second home. We see each other more like family than colleagues. Though it is essential to our business model that every person here takes responsibility for themselves and the work they produce, we’re all in the weeds together and do everything in our power to help and support each other, especially when things get tough. The rest is pretty fluid. People show up and leave when it’s comfortable for them. They are free to manage their time however they see fit. As long as someone is reliable and available when they are needed, the rest is up to them. It’s all based on a foundation of mutual respect. We also don’t think we can overstate the value of a balanced life enough. We all have things and people in our lives that are more important than a job. To not acknowledge that is ignorant and short sighted.


    Q: Does Legwork have nicely sculpted quads and calves, befitting of your agency moniker?

    A: Everyone here uses their feet instead of their hands to work. It takes a little training, but our name is very literal.


    Q: How have you dealt with your rapid growth — specifically from a hiring and resource delegation perspective?

    A: We’re guessing many people think we’re a lot bigger than we actually are. We’ve been very conservative about growth and overextending ourselves financially. After we brought on Matt, Matt #2 and Andy to round out our ownership group, we knew we were capable of executing high-profile projects for big brands without outside help. Each of the six partners are still actively involved in creating all of the actual work we produce — which gives us a unique perspective on what we actually need as a company. This allows us to be very deliberate and thoughtful about the employees we want to add to the team. We’ve since grown very organically, scooping up friends and people we respect professionally along the way and developing talent through internships. We just added number fifteen to the team. He graduated from Boulder Digital Works this summer and was interning for us the last three months. We also just moved to a new office. We’re still finishing some things up, but we’ve been working towards this place for a long time. It’s been a dream come true to design a space that gives us some room to breathe, better facilitates the way we work, and embodies the vision of our brand.


    Q: Look Colorado agencies straight in the eye and give them your best advice.

    A: We’ve given a few talks about how we like to do things and these are some of our favorite parts:

    Less talk. More rock.
    Get your hands dirty as soon as possible. This means less documentation and more deliverables. Through prototyping, storyboards, motion tests and design explorations, you get far better insight than you ever could from a book of requirements or long talks about theoretical possibilities. We also find it essential to not work in silos. If you’re handing things over the fence, you’re doing it wrong. Collaborate with your team and client throughout the process.

    Embrace change.
    Everything in the digital space is evolving faster and faster, so you have to embrace change — not fight against it. If you don’t like constant learning, iterating and experimenting, then you will quickly become obsolete.

    Give a shit.
    Put in the time and effort to be a master of your craft. This should be one of your biggest passions in life. You can’t stop learning and improving when you think you reach a certain level either. There’s always room to get better. On top of this, you have to care enough to see your vision through to the end. You have to love the process. That last 10% is always the most difficult to get through, but it’s also the most important part. An idea is only as good as its execution.


    Q: What effect has winning awards had on your business and how do you recommend the rest of us win more of them?

    A: Since a lot of our work comes through ad agencies, winning awards has been a simple and inexpensive way for us to get our name out to a wider audience. We also know that it feels good to be recognized by your peers, which, in turn, contributes toward a positive morale within the company.

    When we finish a project we’re proud of, we try to get the word out to everyone we can think of and hope for the best. We haven’t figured out any secrets. We just post links to the work.

    When we collaborate with an ad agency, they’re usually the group in charge of the submission and PR process. So, in that case, we leave it up to them.


    Q: What's your biggest secret to doing great work?

    A: If we take on a project, we will do everything in our power to make it the best it can be. Budget helps estimate resources, time and features — but it should never dictate quality.

    We live in a small world and you never know how one thing can lead to another. That’s why we work the way we do. For example, early on, we took a project to build a new website for our friends at the Union Station Neighborhood Co. Though it was a small project for a local real estate client, they gave us the freedom to make it something really special and we all believed in its potential. Shortly after its launch, word of the site organically spread and eventually caught the eye of the Chrysler team at Wieden+Kennedy. They invited us to collaborate on a really cool project for their Imported From Detroit campaign. That work has lead to countless opportunities not only with them but a lot of other people... like Google.


    Q: What mistake have you made that we can all learn from?



    Q: What other agencies do you admire and why?

    A: Hovercraft
    We first met about 4 years ago when the two founders randomly hit us up to hang out during SIA. They started in a really similar way to us and we’ve been able to learn and grow together. It’s been cool and encouraging to see some of our friends follow a similar path and be successful at it.

    Invisible Creature
    The Clark brothers were a big inspiration to us forming. They came from a similar background, as well, and showed that starting your own small design company was possible and sustainable. They have consistently produced some of the best work in the world on their own terms.

    Buck, Instrument and Hello Monday
    Because they always do amazing work that makes us jealous.


    Q: Describe your ultimate client.

    A: Since we have a fairly unorthodox workflow, our ultimate client has to be willing to fully embrace this process. Sometimes it feels too loose for people. It’s predicated on making real-time decisions with the client and each other. There should be direct contact with a few key people that can make decisions. At the end of the day, everyone has to truly trust and respect each other.


    Q: Your company is going to die tomorrow. Describe the party you're having tonight.


  • Advertising Is Dead and I Don’t Care

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    Wait — don’t go anywhere just yet. This isn’t going to be yet another article about the death of advertising, which, if you were to believe the pundits (and good lord, why on earth would you do that?) has steadily been dying for the last decade.

    Fast Company published yet another article on the end of advertising, and while it made some good points in addressing technology’s disruptive role in advertising and marketing, it sparked the same debate and vitriol the industry has been spouting in the war to define the future of advertising.

    Personally, I just don’t care about that debate — and I’m in advertising — it’s the wrong conversation. The future of advertising is not talking about the future of advertising. I care less about the endless debate over platforms, mediums, channels or how many degrees of 360 your campaign touches. I care more about simply doing good work that gets results.

    When Steve Jobs passed on the reigns of Apple to Tim Cook, his only advice was to, ‘do what’s right.’

    It’s easy to overcomplicate the business world. We love to feed our egos with buzzwords, weighty PowerPoint decks and general douche-baggery of the latest digital toy.

    But it’s much simpler than we make it out to be.

    :: Know your product.

    :: Know your customers.

    :: Know how to serve them.

    Yes, the technology landscape is charging like a tsunami with little regard for the businesses currently standing in its path. We’ve already seen yesterday’s untouchables fall hard and fast — Kodak, Blockbuster, Borders — each replaced by a company thinking about how to create a better product that understands how to better serve their customers and tells an engaging story that captivates them.

    Instagram, Netflix and Amazon. The list could go on.

    But in the midst of these changes, the foundational question is — do you see a problem, or an opportunity?

    Advertisers should worry less about the supposed death of the sixty-second spot, and focus more on bringing their creativity to help clients identify how their brand doesn’t become the next Blackberry. Smart brands like Nike, Red Bull and Burberry are only going to continue launching world-class digital experiences and services, and agencies have a huge opportunity to identify, shape and build those experiences.

    This is an immense challenge. But it begins with understanding your product, knowing your customers and zealously striving to deliver an experience for them keeps your focus where it should be — just doing what is right.

    Ryan Moede is Director of Client Strategy @14Four focused on building useful digital experiences with ad agencies. Drinker of coffee. And wine. Oh, and good beer, too.

  • Omnicom and Publicis are Merging. Fuck.

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    That news seemed like as good a time as any to return to my column, for the foreseeable future.

    I’m sure you’re all way more informed than I am. No doubt, I am coming very late to this party. But when I heard the news that those two giant ad groups were merging, the only word I could bring forth from my filthy mouth was the four-letter one I so heavily rely upon. Day in. Day out.


    It can mean many things. Just like “fuggedaboutit” in Donnie Brasco (a vastly unappreciated movie) means everything from “Raquel Welch is one great piece of ass” to “a Lincoln is better than a Cadillac,” fuck can mean many things to me.

    And in this case, it means, “well, there goes the fucking industry.”

    The healthy spirit of competition is one of the factors that drives people to do great work. It’s not the only reason, but it’s out there. “Christ, we have to do better work than Dipshit, Dickhead and Douche or we’ll never win this account.”

    It’s also a way to encourage differing perspectives and creative approaches. Some agencies thrive when they're working on certain accounts, like booze or cars. Others, they’re more into health-conscious clients and environmentally friendly products.

    Now, with Omnicom and Publicis merging, there is even less choice out there.

    For the record, Omnicom owns:

    BBDO Worldwide
    DDB Worldwide (including Tribal Worldwide)
    TBWA\ Worldwide (which in turn owns Integer, Being, DAN, Tequila and a bunch more)
    Element 79
    Goodby, Silberstein & Partners
    Martin | Williams
    Merkley & Partners
    Roberts + Langer
    Zimmerman Advertising

    Plus dozens of customer relation management firms, media firms and more.

    They own a fucking lot.

    Now, they’re merging with Publicis. They own over 1,200 agencies around the world including:

    Leo Burnett Worldwide
    Publicis Worldwide
    Saatchi & Saatchi
    Bartle Bogle Hegarty
    Fallon Worldwide
    Burrell Communications Group
    Bromley Communications

    And again, another bunch of agencies too numerous to mention here.

    Anyone scared or dismayed, yet?

    With one group controlling so much of the advertising, marketing and media in the world, where will the diversity come from?

    Where will we see the new ideas? The ones that challenge convention and break with the established order of things?

    Where will real creativity emerge?

    The simple answer is, it won’t. Or at least, it won't have the same chance.

    As the advertising world becomes more and more homogenized, the solutions offered will become just as bland.

    Big companies will not see the need to shop around for the best digital agencies, the best media, the best public relations, and the best advertising shops. Why should they? Now, in the MegaOmniPubliCom Advertising Warehouse, it’s all under one enormous fucking roof.

    It’s like the Costco in Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, where you can buy shit sofas, Starbucks handjobs and law degrees without ever venturing past the broken front door.

    Want media? We got it. Want digital? We got that too. Advertising? No problem. Events? Easy. Want to spend less time assembling a diverse, creative and powerful network of agencies to service your corporation? No problem. Just give the MegaOmniPubliCom Advertising Warehouse your business, and go play 18 rounds of golf. We’ve got your back.

    This is just what the agency world didn’t need. The smaller, more creative shops still managing to scrape a living will be hard-pressed to offer the range of services that the MegaOmniPubliCom Advertising Warehouse can offer. They will have a difficult time matching responsiveness and price, too.

    Just like conglomerates pushed out small businesses in our towns and cities, so too will this massive merger spell the end for the boutique shops who cannot compete with this kind of assault.

    All we need now is for WPP to join the party, and we can pack up everything and go home. A bunch of rich fat cats will get richer, ad agencies will report to the same overpaid bosses, and the chance to do some breakthrough work will dry up faster than Paris Hilton’s pussy at a World of Warcraft convention.

    With all the agencies out there, it may seem like we have a ton of choices. But with so few people actually pulling the strings, all we really have is the illusion of choice.

    The advertising industry will pump out the same controlled messages that the media currently dishes out from just a few outlets.

    And before you know it, we’re all insignificant cogs in one enormous advertising machine. Its only goal…to mass-produce mediocrity and reward those at the top with paychecks they couldn’t spend in ten lifetimes.


    Felix is a site contributor, ranter and curmudgeon for The Denver Egotist. He’s been in the ad game a long time, but he’s still young enough to know he doesn’t know everything. If he uses the f-bomb from time-to-time, forgive him. Sometimes, when you're ranting, no other word will do. In his spare time, he does not torture small animals. He's been known, on occasion, to drink alcohol by the gallon. Do as he says, not as he does.

  • The Vine Test: Pinpoint Website Weaknesses in 6 Seconds or Less

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    When today’s time-pressed and hyperactive visitors arrive at a website, the homepage needs to slap them in the face with what they'll find on that site and who that company is.

    We see a lot of unclear or poorly defined products and services in the B2B space. That's just the nature of the B2B beast. But a website that leaves the viewer as confused about the products you sell just won't do. Market Creation Group recently began a campaign to help companies identify messaging problems that leave websites in the dark.

    Tell me what you do

    “We make it easy to find used cars.”Perfect. Simple and clear: a visitor knows exactly what to expect from this website because it tells you right up front.

    The ability to clearly and concisely say what you do can be a competitive advantage. As a company that focuses solely on B2B technologies, MCG feels the pain of conveying the confounding offerings in your market space.

    But don’t worry, we won’t leave you stranded; MCG has devised a solution for you.

    We call it the Vine Test

    Vine is a Twitter-enabled mobile app that allows you to capture and share 6 second videos. The limited content forces users to be creative and effective with their use of space and time. Vine provides the perfect test for whether a website can clearly express it's message or purpose in the appropriate amount of time. Put your website to the Vine Test in four simple steps.

    Step 1: Download the Vine app

    Step 2: Film your company's homepage for 6 seconds

    Step 3: Post the video to Twitter

    Step 4: Ask social media followers to try to identify what it is your company does.

    Oftentimes a web visitor may already know what it is a company offers, but by exposing those individuals to a 6 second clip and asking them if the messaging comes across will help to override any familiarities or biases.

    Realizing that visitors may not immediately understand the purpose of your website is just the first step though. Next comes the task of fixing the problem. Here are several common issues that will assuredly lead a website to fail a Vine Test.

    1. Over-clutter

    Hey, I know how we'll keep visitors on our site: we'll put so much stuff on our homepage that they'll have no choice but to stay there for a while to read it all! Wrong.

    Today's website viewers are looking for any excuse to move on from where they land. Welcome visitors in with a clean viewing experience centered on a single message. Clarify your website's purpose so the message has a chance to resonate.

    After all, a cluttered homepage might only serve to remind visitors of how much they need to organize their inbox. A cluttered homepage is like a front door with 10 doorknobs: you don’t know what to grab ahold of.

    2. I don't know about you, but this makes sense to me

    You're an expert at what you do. And while you should be proud of that fact, keep in mind: the people who come to your company's website may have a different frame of reference.

    Avoid over-complicated industry phrasing and terminology on the immediate customer facing homepage of your website. Instead, replace the proof of just how adept you are in exchange for a relatable message. Get your visitors comfortable before your whip out the big guns.

    Go forth and perfect your website messaging

    Hubspot says we have between 3 and 5 seconds to capture a website visitor before they move on. They call this "The Blink Test." In those 3 to 5 seconds, you must not only avoid scaring them away, but also tell them exactly what they can expect to find on your site with clear and concise message statement.

    The short window of opportunity to grab a viewer’s attention coincides perfectly with the brevity of the Vine app. The Vine Test is the perfect tool for identifying where your website is missing the mark with it’s messaging. Improve your website's first impression and start attracting more dedicated visitors. Download the Vine app here and put your website to the test.

  • Hacking The Matrix

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    Neo wanted out of the Matrix. So do I.

    After that red pill, Neo knew the Matrix was only a simulation of what life could be, should be. A simulation built by the evil super-computers who had taken over the earth.

    After working in a small, consistent agile team, I know the agency model of assigning work using a matrix view of employees and projects is a simulation of what my work life at an agency could be, should be. A simulation built by some well-meaning business folks back in the 70s.

    People living happily in the Matrix thought Neo was nuts.

    Likewise, it's really, really hard to explain to prospective Aha Method clients and even to my own team exactly why a matrix management style is so painful for me.

    Most of them believe that because agencies deal with an ever shifting volume of work and that the type of work fluctuates just as wildly that then, in order to be successful, "we need to manage in multiple dimensions: horizontally where we align and optimize business processes and projects that serve the customer, and vertically, where we manage the resources that are then deployed to the horizontal arena." (Definition of Matrix Management from a 2012 Human Resources Management Report.)

    But I've had the opportunity to work on brands like Audi and The North Face using an agile management approach. We eventually managed these accounts from the perspective of a small, cross-functional, agile team (not just dev, but everybody) that was built to adeptly handle the fluctuations and the variation in the work.

    Yep, Bree and I have lived in a third dimension if you will...and it was ah-mah-zing.

    But don't take my word for it, Dave Aron, wrote a Harvard Business Review article where he predicts that by 2020, 30% of work will be performed by permanently employed, self-managed clusters.

    While his definition of a Cluster (an external team hired by the company as a unit) is slightly different from the Aha Method definition (a self-organizing internal team of the company), the four main benefits he outlines apply to both:

    • Higher levels of business performance through higher motivation. The cluster model, when executed well, addresses known performance drivers such as purpose, autonomy, and mastery (see Daniel Pink's book Drive for more on these).

    • Higher levels of business performance through a custom work environment. Clusters can create and sustain leading-edge electronic work environments since they are less burdened by bureaucratic decision-making and the need to serve the diverse needs of many types of teams and individuals.

    • Talent management in the right place. The cluster model removes the burden of team and individual performance management from the business — where it typically sits uncomfortably and ineffectually today — to the cluster. The cluster knows its own members, contributions and development needs much better.

    • Higher levels of personal happiness. Clusters are sufficiently small for members to genuinely know and care about each other, and they are stable and autonomous enough for members to support each other's long-term personal development.

    I know most of the agency folks threw their hands up about 6 paragraphs ago, rolled their eyes and muttered something about "well, lucky you miss fancy pants to be on big fat retainers where you can dedicate a team...but few of us are that fortunate." Yes, I first lived in the agile cluster utopia on a retainer. BUT, I've run the numbers with the director of PMO at my current gig and using the right approach we can work the work like we're on a retainer, even if we aren't. It just takes some smart resource forecasting (potentially across multiple accounts), a dedication to incremental growth on existing accounts and a willingness to take a risk.

    I say risk because it will require your internal teams to be willing to try something new. But the truth is, it's actually an investment because, guess what - clients don't want to get stuck in the matrix either. They know when you are simulating talent. Meaning, when you pitched it one way but end up staffing it another due to your best players being drawn and quartered every day in the Matrix.

    There was a great headline in a January issue of AdAge: Kao USA to Agencies: We Want Your 'A-Team' on Our Account. They went on to quote directly from Kao's Request for Proposal:

    "Kao wants to be an important priority for your agency and does not want to get lost or relegated to the 'B' team."

    The headline I hope to read sometime in the near future reads:
    "Kao USA Discovers that 'A-Team' Stood for 'Agile-Team.'"

    Until then. I hope at least a few of you will consider hacking the system along with us.

    This piece is cross-posted from The BRAT Blog from The Aha Method — a company that coaches teams around a better working dynamic.

  • No Rubbernecking. Avoid the Marketing Technology Collision.

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    There is a constant collision happening every day in marketing. It's the collision between marketing and corporate IT.

    And those constant collisions create a bottleneck for innovation, speed to market and adaptive marketing.

    Today's marketing is more than just strategy and creative. It also involves technology and the utilization of technology to deliver a marketing message. It's not just about being innovative, but leveraging innovation as an early adopter or first-mover.

    And that's where the tension happens.

    Think about the tension points: marketing is about agility. IT is about consistency. Marketing is about innovating and taking risks. IT is about stability and mitigating risks. Marketing is about shifting and adapting. IT is about consistency and policy.

    A bigger question to ask is who owns marketing innovation via technology within a company today? If you ask, many will answer the final decision lies within the IT team.

    And that is where the problem lies. Marketing technology decisions should not just be made by IT, as it should be a collaborative business decision that is led and driven by the CMO.

    With growth and progression comes change. And a change in the decision making process is what's needed. Today's innovative marketing campaigns should no longer be limited by current-to-outdated IT policies and procedures. And with today's technology of APIs, web services, SaaS, PaaS, and open-source social, web and ecommerce platforms, they no longer have to be.

    I've worked alongside some amazing IT teams over the years and found the common factor each team had was the ability to adapt their policies and procedures to implement and support new marketing innovations and technologies. Rather than just providing marketing teams and external agency/development partners with a list of functional requirements, they instead partnered with the marketing teams to help provide immediate solutions.

    It's no coincidence these companies have become leaders in the use of marketing technology and have increased market share in their given categories.

    But not all companies have this advantage. And marketers have to understand their culpability by advancing their expertise in understanding technology. Develop a passion for understanding software development. Understand how to lead, drive and push the IT group when it comes to marketing technology and innovation. And understand how technical platform decisions affect not just their marketing business, but their overall business when it comes to omni-channel revenue, ROI and a multi-device consumer experience.

    Marketing technology can no longer be a decision made by a separate team within the organization. Marketing technology now has a direct impact on the success of your marketing programs, your consumer experience, and your brand itself.

    Gene Paek is the principal of Ideate Digital, a digital collaboration service that partners with marketing agencies and companies to lead them in the digital marketing space by unifying strategy, creative and technology together. Connect with him: gpaek@ideatedigital.com or Twitter @gpaek.

  • Dear Jr Creative, Earn Your Place. You’ll Be Better For It.

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    Dear Jr Creative,

    I’m a firm believer in earning your keep, starting from the bottom, doing the less than desirable well, before moving up.

    Prove yourself on what seemingly matters little, and people will notice. I promise.

    At the very least, I promise I’ll notice. Because it’s the unorthodox grind of a route I took.

    I was a rich kid from the suburbs. I was embarrassed by it. I hated it. It was a 90’s thing.

    In High School, and in Gen-X “rebellion” against my white collar family, I worked for the Las Vegas Water District doing underground construction.

    I dug ditches and changed water lines during the Vegas Summer for 8 dollars an hour. Not desirable work. And the guys I worked with could smell the rich kid on me. They busted my balls mercilessly for it.

    I dug the shit out of those ditches. I loved it. I used my hands. I used heavy machinery and pneumatic tools—I drove a dump truck (which is awesome by the way).

    All I wanted was the respect of these old guys changing water lines in the desert. Dudes that worked so fucking hard. For so fucking little. To feed their families; their addictions; their gambling debts.

    Eventually, I’d earned a bit of respect.

    I worked hard…”for a skinny rich kid.”

    One day I mentioned to the crew lead: “Fuck it. I like this. Why not full time?”.

    He pulled the truck over to the shoulder of a mountain road, heading North towards Mt. Charleston, looked deep into my face, “Every single one of us would give the world NOT to be here. Stop your blue collar charade. Go to school like you’re supposed to. Get out of this shit.”

    So I did.

    That was my last of three summers working for the water district.

    I went to school for business. Marketing & Advertising to be exact. Which, aside from teaching me some business basics, really just help develop my aptness for bullshit.

    Luckily for me, somewhere along the line, I learned a real skill and about this thing called the “Internet.” It was a place I could upload the photos I was taking (and developing in a darkroom, btw). I learned some Photoshop and HTML skills because of it. Eventually, I started freelancing: horrible graphic design and web work. Whatever I could get—fucking rave fliers, man. I just wanted to learn. The beer money was the gravy on top.

    My first “real” job out of college was resizing graphics for an eCommerce company. I showed up for the interview on my skateboard, handed the HR lady my resume and said, “I’ll take anything. I know Photoshop. Here’s my book.” I didn’t even know what a “designer” was. But that’s why I was there. And by no means was I a designer; Photoshop monkey…maybe.

    Ninety people had been laid off a month prior to me being brought on. I was the first hire after those layoffs and in the eyes of everybody…I was “that guy…”

    I was at the bottom of the totem pole. Where I belonged.

    The only thing I had going for me was a fear of “sucking.” And for the record, I sucked. (Certainly compared to the kids I see today).

    “…good enough to resize graphics” was what I overheard the Creative Director say, just around the corner.

    So I resized graphics. I resized the shit out of graphics, learning to code HTML along the way. I unlearned what I learned in business school. And learned…business. I developed site and page concepts for fun. Always showing my boss. Wanting critique. Always trying to get better. People noticed. He noticed. I gained more and more responsibility and more importantly, trust. Never begging for more money. Just wanting to do more work, better work.

    To not suck.

    Eventually, I took over as Creative Lead. I redesigned both KBToys.com and eToys.com. Enterprise level eCommerce stuff. Real businesses, making real money. I thought the designs were pretty damn good for the early 00’s. Some of the first .com’s to switch to 1024x768. We won some eCom industry awards. It moved product. I thought I was hot shit.

    I was far from it.

    Fast forward a decade and I’m blown away by the level of talent that’s out there. Kids today come out of school with so much fucking skill it’s crazy. But with all of that skill, in so many, there is equal-to-more parts hubris. An entitled attitude that seems to expect everything for nothing.

    Somewhere, along the lines, we (everyone) got sensitive. We started giving trophies for last place. People forgot how to take criticism. We started (and continue) to want to spare people from the realities of what it really takes. Close counts. Thanks for trying. Better luck next time—even worse—Fail Harder.

    I hate this phrase more than anything.

    “Fail Harder” is a manifesto for the delusional, the lazy—the lotto dreamer.

    Celebrating failure is a cop out. Be pissed that you fucked up—when you lose. And know why.

    Fail “Smarter” maybe. But failing hard is for losers.

    Industry-wise, we covet the idea. Not its realization, it’s viability.

    “I want to be an AD. But I don’t write and I don’t design. I’m an idea guy”

    “No, no, no, i’m a UX guy. I don’t do wires and I don’t do finished design. I just explore interaction concepts.”

    “I want to be a CD. But I don’t like talking with clients.”

    “My new Web 3.0 business concept doesn’t have a revenue model—it’s like Instagram but with animated gifs of kittens.”

    Ideation in a clientless vacuum; devoid the realities of real life (inside an agency or any company for that matter). Feasibility. Budgets. Client bureaucracies. The fact is that big ideas take time to sell. They die. They have to be reborn. And that it’s your role to breath the life back in. But only if you really give a shit.

    The “idea” is the tip of a gigantic, shit stained iceberg of work. And if you aren’t ready for what it takes, or worse, you think “that it’s someone else’s job” to push your idea from ether to reality—reconsider your profession.

    My advice is simple: don’t be the entitled kid. The kid who over indexes in ambition but lacks any real passion—any real drive other than a new title at a new agency.

    Be the kid who wants to learn even when he doesn’t have to—the designer who wants to learn to write, to code, to understand business because it makes the design better.

    Don’t be an industry douche. They call themselves ninjas or gurus…even evangelists. They’re the ones who will tell you, to your face, that they are smarter than the other guy. They’re the ones who have stopped reading by now.

    Don’t be the kid who hops around. Don’t be the kid, who, when given the chance, will opt for the bare minimum. Who scoffs at perspective. The kid who will jeopardize the team to spare his fragile ego. The kid, who, when faced with a situation that gets difficult, says “I’m too good for this kind of work. I deserve better.”

    Nobody deserves shit. Until you do. And even then, never admit it.

    I’m now the old guy. I get it…

    I’m not saying you need to go out and work construction. But it’s good to know where you don’t want to be. And understand why.

    I know I don’t want to resize graphics anymore. Why? Well…because it sucks.

    But I’ll still dig the shit out of a ditch.

    - Dave

    I should note, that my teen “rebellion” against my Father was laughably ironic. My dad was blue collar. A cowboy who changed tires on big rigs before finishing college and becoming who he is today.

    Behind my teen angst, unbeknownst to me all that time, I was trying to be just like him.

    What a silly little rich kid.

    David Snyder is Executive Creative Director at Firstborn. Living in Brooklyn. He likes progressive thought, design and technology. He eats and libates well. This editorial original posted on Medium.

  • Strategizing is for Prom Queens

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    I hear the word “strategy” thrown on just about everything. Like rhinestones on a South-Texas-prom-queen’s dress, “strategy” is too often a cheap and easy bedazzle on everything from PowerPoint slides, to someone’s superfluous commentary in a meeting that is already running too long with too many attendees. Anymore, in my day-to-day, Strategy is quite the loose little buzzword.

    Often, it is a noun, as in “brand strategy” or “I am a strategist." Sometimes it is an adjective, as in “strategic vision” or “strategic insights." Also, as an adverb, such as “strategically developed” or “strategically placed.” And let's not forget it as a verb, as in “strategize” (which for the record, makes me want to punch the speaker in the nose every time I hear it).

    And that isn’t to say that I don’t use the word often myself. But I used to accept the word at what I believed was its face value — a sense of something great and purposeful. A sense that when I heard “strategy” — I knew we were talking about the key to winning whatever was at stake, the secret sauce critical to achieving the mission. I knew we’d be talking about something tangible, and most importantly — something actionable. (Strategy is, by definition, a military term that, in a nutshell, means using your brains and your guts to not only stack the odds in your favor, but empower you to make the right decisions when confronted with any obstacle.)

    Now, given the bedazzling trend, I’ve made it my personal charge to pay much closer attention when the word “strategy” is presented. Analyzing it quietly in my head, from every angle. Challenging my own application of it constantly. Because the real disturbing trend, is not that the word gets overused, but rather that the very concept of strategy has become a crutch. A well disguised excuse NOT to act. An exercise in lengthy requirements-gathering to plan for problems and scenarios that don’t yet exist. A perceived need to create a long list of tasks for what should happen in the future, when instead we should be driving for real feedback via iterative launches in the present. I see terms like “strategic goals” and “strategic vision” plastered across PowerPoint slides, and the actual bullet points associated with most of these goals and visions, amount to little more than minute tactics positioned as passive options to explore. Presented in the context of “we are working on,” or “working toward,” or “think there is great opportunity within this area.”

    And with that lack of conviction, certainty, drive — fucking nothing can be won. It’s all a lot of bling with very little bang.

    So here is what I'm really driving at — let's all of us in the industry be more thoughtful with strategy. That when creating, executing, presenting or thinking about strategy in any context, let’s be critical of ourselves, of our interpretation of strategy and when/how/why it matters or is applied. As an example, do we sometimes create formality where it isn’t warranted — like laboring over a “social media strategy,” when maybe all we really need is to just be social? Or when our strategy feels like it is a moving target, and people struggle with how to articulate it — should we check our premises? Are there assumptions at play that have been driving a weak, obtuse strategy? And if the goals are ill-defined, then no amount of “strategic planning” is going to get us anywhere, even if we wrap that anemic goal in a shiny label called “strategic vision.”

    Diamonds are a girl's best friend for a reason — because they have real value. The real, lasts-for-a-100-years-and-cut-glass kind of value. Fortunately, making sure your strategy has actual value is really pretty simple — just ask yourself, is your strategy something your team can:

    • Articulate without a slide in front of them?
    • Apply in any given situation?
    • Execute against to deliver desired results?
    • Feel empowered and confident in so doing?

    This piece is cross-posted from The BRAT Blog from The Aha Method — a company that coaches teams around a better working dynamic.

  • “No Gays Please, We’re Advertising.”

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    Advertising is a pretty progressive industry. We like to think of ourselves as an enlightened bunch. Some of our best friends are gay. Hell – some people in advertising are actually gay. Seriously. And yet, we all seem reluctant or incapable of portraying same-sex lifestyles in our work.

    There are gay creatives, planners, producers, directors, clients and actors. And yet in adland, it seems gays don’t need mortgages, don’t drive cars, brush their teeth, play bingo or use low-fat spreads as part of a calorie-controlled diet.

    There’s no question we should include ethnic minorities in our advertising. Who would even dream of digging their heels in to preserve an all-Aryan cast? We’ll feature empowered women. Strong-willed kids. And moonwalking Shetlands. But where’s even the token homosexual? They can’t all be at G.A.Y. screaming for a Kylie encore – or in hiding, surreptitiously unpicking the very fabric of our society.

    Did Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s child-catcher change tack and start prowling the streets playing Barbara Streisand from a float pulled by French bulldogs, loaded with rainbows and glitterballs?

    Dropping the G-Bomb

    Benetton have deliberately courted controversy over the years – some executions playing ‘agent provocateur’ with same-sex relationships as their political football. But why can’t gays feature in ads because they’re normal consumers who just happen not to be heterosexual?

    Look, it wouldn’t take much to stand out a mile in the UK straight-acting ad-scene. Feature gays. Leading normal lives. Arguing over dog food, trying out sofas, comparing their car insurance, living out their later years with a private pension.

    Ikea ran the first gay commercial ever aired on US television in 1994. It ran for a few weeks until there was a bomb threat at one of their stores and was subsequently pulled. Have we moved on since then?

    It must seem alien for gays to see themselves represented in TV shows and films but have their very existence given the cold shoulder when the ad break arrives. The few examples I’ve seen just use homosexuality as the rug-pull, the reveal, the joke. “Oh I get it, she’s actually a lesbian.” Gag, packshot, endline. Cheap.

    JC Penney vs One Million Moms

    JC Penney in the US used Ellen deGeneres to front their campaign which led to a storm of protest spearheaded by a Christian group calling themselves One Million Moms. They wrote, “By jumping on the pro-gay bandwagon, JC Penney is attempting to gain a new target market and in the process will lose customers with traditional values that have been faithful to them over all these years.”

    So far, so predictable. But two silver linings emerged:

    1: One Million turned to be a tiny fraction of that figure.
    2: The backlash spawned its own backlash. The #StandUpForEllen campaign gained 50,000 signatures almost overnight and helped prompt JC Penney to er… ‘come out’ and say Ellen was their perfect brand ambassador.

    In that distant land called real life, gay marriage is here. The Prime Minister – a Tory – is pushing for more rights for gays. And who’s to say he’s wrong?

    Guinness made an infamous commercial portraying a gay couple back in 1995. It was ready to run, word got out, people were up in arms, the world was clearly going to end and the client lost their nerve. And in so doing, they compounded the very problem they set out to address.

    Is it time for another try?

    Papas and Papas

    One recent exception is a Mamas and Papas campaign in the UK for their Urbo buggies, featuring heterosexual mums and dads, single-parents and a genuine gay couple and their little boy, Blu.

    The press release states, “How We Roll celebrates the diversity and individualism that forms the makeup of the modern family, for whom parenting has simply become a positive extension of their current lifestyle.”

    There have been mixed reactions. On Netmums, some are highly supportive – “The world is changing and it’s about time all loving parents are catered for in adverts” – while others chime in with not wanting to have this sort of thing “shoved in my face.” Freud would have a field day.

    Even the gay community was sceptical. Were they being used simply as a PR stunt? Were the ads really running? It seems there are pitfalls and suspicion whatever your intentions.

    Creatives want to create. We want to invent brand new stuff, never before seen. And yet there’s this vast expanse of unexplored territory: overlooked at best, taboo at worst.

    It’s a rich, emotive area, surely. Love against all odds. Unconventional is cool, right? Overcoming prejudice, defying conventions, being true to yourself. You could have this space all to yourself. Column inches galore and plaudits for being progressive and well… real.

    It doesn’t have to be gratuitous. No need to shock. In a way, the most shocking thing is that one of the most enlightened industries in the land is lagging so far behind the real world.

    This post originally appeared on the DLKW Lowe blog

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