October 16, 2009

Real vs. Perceived Value


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Smart, witty, provocative – that’s adman Rory Sutherland, current Vice Chairman at Ogilvy and one of the most entertaining brains you’re likely to meet.

I came across him at TED, the worldwide confab of technology, entertainment, and design leaders which now freely distributes highlights of their conferences on the web at this site. Anytime you want a little juice for your head, go there.

Meantime, sit back for a few minutes and be enthralled by Rory Sutherland’s take on perceived value. It’s a hoot.


August 18, 2009

Smell the Gardenias


John is a good friend who owns a successful ad agency in the San Francisco Bay Area. At lunch recently we were talking about feeling trapped by the very thing you create – your company, your lifestyle, the crazy pace of advertising – and he shared an experience we can all learn from.

He told me he used to get in the office most mornings before 7. But now he’s not as religious about being the first one in. 9:30, 10:00. . . what’s the difference?

Of course nobody’s going to fire him for coming in later because he’s the Boss-Man, right? But you might be surprised how tough it can be exercising the privilege of rank.

For most it’s a see-saw of guilt and indulgence: one day you hate the damn place and say screw it, I’m leaving early or not coming in at all tomorrow. . . And the next you can’t get enough and find yourself working around the clock and loving it.

The problem is those tapes in your head. Gotta be busy, work at least as hard as anyone else, can’t leave when others are frantically rowing the galley ship like in Ben Hur. Those old tapes, by the way, were laid down by parents and teachers who believed that “hard” work was the only way to sanctify your life and succeed. What about “smart” work?

Over the years I’ve known hundreds of men and women who ran their own ad shops. And none of them should have any reason to feel guilty about coming in a bit later, taking Fridays off, or clocking fewer than 40 or 50 hours a week.

Because it’s not about having “earned” it. Or about what’s “fair” in anybody else’s mind.

No, it’s about taking your life to a place (I call this leading your life) so you CAN take the time you want to do other things besides just going to the office every day; it’s about being smart enough to realize you don’t have to make an appearance 6-plus days a week; it’s hiring and nurturing good people to do the things that once only you could do. Now that’s “smart” work.

And don’t tell me you don’t have people you trust enough to do things right. You either haven’t taught them well or you’ve got the wrong people. Fix it!

Well back to my pal John. Lately he’s been giving himself the pleasure of enjoying a second cup of coffee on his terrace with his wife instead of being first to the office.

He’s learned to put the drama of running an ad agency in abeyance every few mornings so they can sit enjoying the view, sometimes chatting a bit, sometimes just being quiet near each other.

One morning his wife noticed a gardenia blossom in full bloom nearby. She gently harvested it and sat there with it at her nose, drinking in the fragrance. She handed it to John to do the same – to take a moment to absorb a gift of the universe which, like so many other seemingly small things in a hectic life, are often overlooked. They linger for a while. . . You get the picture.

More often now John comes in a little later. He’s learned not to offer excuses to his staff –  if he wants to leave during the day, he just leaves. Most probably think he’s off to another meeting.

I think John’s one of the smartest people I know in the business, don’t you?

May 19, 2009

Rock ‘n Roll & Advertising

[Note: if you’re reading this on RSS or an ISP like AOL, just click on the title, e.g. Rock ‘n Roll & Advertising to see the full article on our blog page. Most of you probably know that, huh.]


guitars-rock-and-roll-museum-6Went to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame yesterday in Cleveland. God, it was great; almost too much to take without requesting supplemental oxygen as the memories flooded in from my death-defying youth. . . or what I remember of it anyway (!).

There are so many impressions to share, but one that bubbled to the top was how similar rock ‘n roll is to advertising.

Well, sort of.

The Hall’s multi-media experiences and displays make it clear that a rock band’s success was highly dependent on how outrageous they were, how many taboos they shattered, how uncomfortable they made the establishment, and of course produced words and music that spoke to the very soul of their audiences. The costumes, make-up, stage design, coarse words, driving beats, stunts. . . all are highly expressive forms of communication. And, highly effective, too – making their mark on their target audiences that has lasted generations.

Isn’t advertising supposed to be like that? Powering a message at a specific audience, stopping them dead in their tracks to feel something, and maybe even do something. When you experience good rock music, at the least you want to get up and move and dance. Now how powerful is that? Just imagine if advertising could be that evocative. . .

But alas, as we all know, it rarely is because the really good stuff – the uncomfortable, over-the-top edgy stuff – gets shot down before it leaves the agency, and sometimes even before it gets out of Creative. “The suits upstairs won’t go for it.” “The client will never buy it.” “It’ll never get past Legal.”

I confess: I’ve killed a lot of unborn children in my time. I, and other folks like me who’ve made a career in advertising, told Elton John to forget the goofy glasses and outfits and just play the damn piano like the classical pianist he was trained to be. We instructed David Bowie to look like a man instead of wearing a dress and wig. Janice, don’t scream like that; it offends people. Hey, ZZ Top – shave, will ya?!

Today I stand with the Pro-Lifers. Don’t kill the fetus before it even breathes! Let the ideas, crazy and bold and raw as they may be live, for Crissakes.

If advertising is going to survive as a “collective” experience, i.e. where we all get the same message and react pretty much the same way (as people do at a rock concert) then we can’t be afraid of any idea no matter how scary or whom it might piss off. OK, sure, it’s got to mean something. But please can we drop  the politically correct crap and get on with the business of effective communication?

And if I see another damn flyspeck legal disclaimer at the end of a TV spot I’m going to throw something at it.

Your 2 Cents

Agree, disagree? Are all the good ads stillborn because they might offend somebody?

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May 15, 2009

Agency Leadership Disasters

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A few stories from some agencies we know with suggestions to avoid similar fates.

When you read these you may think, “No way.”  Well, way. I’ve been in the middle of straightening these messes out as an “agency shrink” and though there’s a shade of obfuscation in each tale to identities , be assured they’re all true.

Agency T: A high-energy place, a big independent in a large town with brand new offices and just now coming off a couple of flat-to-awful years. Sounds good so far, but here’s the problem: the 7 VPs do everything they can to avoid each other – some actually brag they haven’t spoken in months! They have no regular meetings. Sadly, several say that even though they’re paid well, they hate coming to work because they dislike their colleagues so. They simply can not work as an effective group and so the agency misses opportunities and is a pretty miserable place to work for a lot of people.

Agency D: In business 18 years, 28 people on staff. Scraping by but they’ll probably survive today’s soft economy. Unless, of course, the owner’s unmitigated and TOTAL lack of trust in his 4 senior players doesn’t scuttle the ship. He says he can’t stand to even look at them they’re so incompetent, unreliable and disengaged. He hasn’t done anything about it because (1) “it might upset our clients” and (2) “it’s hard to get good people.” Folks, I’m not making this up.

Agency V: Dad now in his 60s started this place and did well (the biggest Mercedes, house in the mountains, and everything’s paid for). Brought his kid in a couple of years ago right out of college to begin to take over. The problem: Dad’s so afraid the whole thing might crumble that he’s paralyzed about doing anything differently than he did 25 years ago. This guy could be the poster boy for the Risk Aversion League and as a result the agency’s dying. Clients are bailing and there’s no new business to speak of. There’ll be very little left for the kid to run.

Warren Bennis, who has made a career studying why some leaders are great and others fail, would probably tell you these agencies are in serious trouble because of titanic leadership breakdowns. Let’s look.

There’s no shared dream at Agency T, only personal agendas. It’s the CEO’s job to blend differences in style and provide direction and meaning to achieve a common unifying mission. Bennis tells the story about the Manhattan Project and George Kistiakowsky, a great chemist who later served as Eisenhower’s chief science advisor, who threatened to quit because he couldn’t get along with a colleague. Project leader Robert Oppenheimer simply said, “George, how can you leave this project? The free world hangs in the balance.” Conflict, even with brilliant and diverse people, is resolved by reminding people of the mission. Works especially well at agencies.

How’d you like to work at Agency D where the owner doesn’t trust his key people and they don’t trust him? How this guy came to hire so many people he dislikes and distrusts would keep Dr. Phil happy for several shows, but the point is if you’ve got trust you can ride out all kinds of storms. Trust starts with the CEO generating and demonstrating faith in the senior team – if it isn’t there it won’t be anyplace else in the company.

Over at Agency V, Dad’s gotten way too comfortable. I call this the WAS disease – We’ve Arrived Syndrome. If the top banana isn’t fueled by urgency, risk taking and experimentation then the agency is careening toward perdition. The son wants to diversify and maybe acquire some competitors (they’ve got the cash), but Dad won’t agree to it. Too risky. Bennis says willingness to risk failure to achieve results is at the heart of all successful ventures. I’d add that success stops when risk ends.

Full disclosure: Warren Bennis’ short article, The Secrets of Great Groups, was the inspiration for these opinions.

Your 2 Cents

How about you – have any horror tales you’d like to share? Morals to the story are highly encouraged so we can all learn.

May 12, 2009

The Essence of Strategy


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strategy More and more I’m convinced the path to agency success is specialization.

Face it, agency-types are burdened by hubris. We’re too quick to say “Sure, we can do that,” and we probably honestly believe we can. One agency I know actually has this mission plaque hung in their lobby: Whatever the Client Wants.

But this kind of delusional thinking is what costs agencies tons of cash as they unrealistically respond to client needs. They’ll claim they do PR by hiring a “people person” to head a one person department, promote a computer game fiend to web designer, or anoint someone who knows how to text as the Digital Strategist.

Agencies that will do anything for anyone are like short order diners – they’re good at slapping out eggs & toast or meatloaf with mashed potatoes, but you wouldn’t expect them also to confect a delicate French sauce to accompany your Dover sole.

To channel Gordon Gecko for a moment, focus is good. Two quick stories will illustrate.

An agency in Indiana had a basket of different accounts some years ago. But their biggest one marketed highly regulated and complex products like ag chemicals and advanced technical equipment. They began to focus only on  “technical and scientific products” and now 5MetaCom is a profitable leader with a national reputation in a narrow but target-rich field.

The Max Borges Agency in Miami tells their whole story in 4 words: Pure Tech, Pure Results. Owner/founder Max will tell you, “All we do is get hits for tech gadgets. That’s it.” Sure, like most PR firms they could easily slide into hawking any kind of product but their strategy precludes distraction and they market themselves as experts.

And who doesn’t want to go to an expert? You can be an agency that’s expert in high tech gadgets, hospitality and travel, not-for-profit hospitals, or even petroleum drilling rig mud pumps.

I don’t buy that agencies will never know an advertiser’s market as well as the client does. That’s merely an excuse for mediocrity and bogus in our age of specialization. Clients want you to really know their market. . .  so you’ll concoct opportunities and flood them with proactive ideas.

Consider: the essence of strategy is sacrifice. To be an expert and reap the good stuff – including high fees, a reputation for effectiveness, and prospects begging you to take them on – you’ve got to sacrifice the dog and cat accounts that suck up so much time and money and yield so little, and concentrate instead on the one industry you know. . . where you do it better than anybody else.

That’s not hubris, by the way. It’s sound strategy. And yes, like most things requiring sacrifice, there’s payoff down the road.

May 5, 2009

Join an Agency Owner’s Group



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Just came from The Innisbrook Group’s semi-annual meeting in Miami. Innisbrook is a collaboration of geographically diverse integrated marketing and public relations firms whose principals get together a couple of times a year to share ideas, best practices, marketing expertise – and even screw ups. It’s all about learning.


Agency groups make a lot of sense, especially if you’ve come of age at just one agency. They provide a) a way to profit from others who may have already solved the same problems you’re facing, b) camaraderie, c) a forum to discuss issues you’d be uncomfortable getting into with even trusted staff, and d) a chance to get out of the office a couple of days to do some big picture thinking. And, yes, you’ll have e) some laughs and maybe even squeeze in a round of golf or something.

Usually there is a guest “expert” or two at the meetings (that’s how I know Innisbrook – addressed them twice, but invited this time as a favor so I could hear one of the speakers myself).

Friday the gang listened to Chrs Heuer of AdHocnium give an overview of social engagement strategies, i.e. social media, for ad agencies. Terrific stuff. Later Dave Ramos of the Dashboard Group presented his process of focusing on One Thing. Saturday morning Tom Attea, formerly of Y&R and IPG, gave an inspiring pep talk based on his new book, The Secrets of Successful Creative Advertising.

There was also time for each agency head to present a brief review of what they’ve been up to lately, including sharing new business development tips, and for the group to do some collaborative problem solving.

Any topic is fair game at these things. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention there was some hootin’ and hollerin’, too. I witnessed certain agency big shots dancing on tables with belly dancers at Taverna Opa on South Beach at dinner Friday. Then Saturday the group took a Duck ride on the Miami waterways.

Hey, if you’re not a member of an owner’s group you’re missing opportunities to learn, develop relationships with peers, and have a little fun. Expenses are usually moderate; dinners, meeting rooms, etc. are typically totaled then divided by the number of agency honchos attending.

Over the years I’ve delivered seminars or speeches at several owner groups. Here are a few you might want to check out (and no doubt there are others): AMIN, AMR, ANNI, MAGNET, MarketPower,Worldwide Partners. Don’t forget the AAAAs – as a member you can participate in their Forum groups.

And if you’re interested in the Innisbrook Group, get in touch with member Will Flynn at Franklin Street Marketing in Richmond.

Just tell him “Joe sent me.”

Your 2 Cents

Comment or plug your group here. Are these agency owner’s groups helpful? If you belong to one, what’s been the best learning experience for you?

April 20, 2009

Spec Work: Yes or No?

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One day when I was managing an agency near Cleveland, an RFP came in from Moen, a major manufacturer of bath and kitchen plumbing fixtures. We had a can’t-miss shot because we had a “mole” on the inside – a next door neighbor of one of our people not only worked at Moen, he was on the selection team.

The Moen boys were obsessive about the process – lots of Dos and Don’ts. One stood out: no speculative creative work of any sort will be permitted. Our inside guy said if anyone showed creative they’d be immediately disqualified.

On the final presentation day – one of those God-awful things where the 3 finalist agencies sat together in a crowded lobby near enough to the conference room to hear occasional laughter – our turn came and we flawlessly presented strategies and plans. But no creative.

Next day I got an awkward call with the news they’d chosen someone else. Damnit, we were wired – what did we miss?

The mole later admitted that in their presentation the winning agency whipped out spec creative and the business unit GM thought it was the coolest stuff he’d ever seen. He made a unilateral decision to ignore the rules because “they were the most creative.”

It scarred me for life. Ever since I’ve been generally in favor of presenting spec work.

Yes, when you do spec you risk being off the mark, misunderstanding product attributes, blundering into forbidden areas, or using a color the CEO’s wife doesn’t like. Some say you sully your most valuable asset by giving it away free (this always seems to have more to do with ego than money).

But friends, it’s worth it.

Sure, if it’s obvious someone wants to see creative just to harvest free ideas, of course don’t do it. A Memo of Understanding about how you the agency will proceed during the selection process, including who retains ownership of ideas, is not unusual and may save your bacon. Some prospects will pay you a pittance – never enough – just to ease their conscience. Make sure you keep the usage rights.

Clients love seeing their name in lights, right? Slap their logo prominently on binders, in PowerPoint, on boards, and on anything spec larger than you’d ever intend to use it.

And you can’t feature too many shots of their product. These are their children, their grandkids, their livelihood and seeing them in new ways blown up and comped (always show print ads at least twice actual size) is cheap flattery that works almost every time.

Prostitution, you say? I don’t know – you’ll have to decide.

After the Moen experience I never hesitated to include spec on every subsequent pitch including when it was forbidden. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. . . but we were never tossed out because of it.

I say the more spec the merrier as long as your strategy and planning is stout. You’ll showcase your talents (“Creative wins accounts and Account Service keeps ‘em”) and give them some juicy stuff to talk about. Leave the spec work behind after the pitch, if you can.

Never forget the mission: win a new account to keep and grow. Smart agencies find plenty of ways to recover acquisition costs later.

Spec is the sizzle; when you win the account you can start billing for the whole steak.

Your 2 Cents?

How do you handle spec work at your agency? Have you ever broken the rules pitching an account? Share your stories in the Comments section below.

April 15, 2009

Thoroughly Modern Bloggin’



dmi024-robot-yoWhat an adventure! 

When the new year dawned I got about as close as ever to crafting a New Year’s resolution and decided to figure out My Face, Tweeterizing, Snipe, and all the other whiz-whaz out there. Reason? To (a) become more conversant with “social media” so we could better advise our agency clients on its use and impact, and (b) see if any of it made sense as an outlet for my own juices.

After all, you don’t want the world to pass you by. 

Advertising is absolutely all about staying au courant, and even better, being outré. (See? Right there I used two French terms in one sentence – progress!) Staying cool and with it can easily become too demanding as more pages fly off the calendar. And since I just recently discovered my first gray hair, taking action became imperative.

After lots of fumbling we’re now on the grid with Plaxo, Linked-in, Facebook (which I use exclusively for only personal-family stuff), free video conferencing on Skype, and this blog. Twitter will be next.

This blog is still very much an experiment; there’ve only been a dozen or so posts – its “voice” is yet to ring steady and true. But we’re feeling our way and slowly picking up subscribers, many of whom were familiar with Grant Consulting Associates. We drive some in from our website, others from speaking gigs, and of course consulting engagements. . . but, my God, there are so many more out there!

Michael Gass who blogs on Fuel Lines writes almost exclusively about drumming up new accounts for agencies. . . via social media. His article and interview “Ad agency having explosive new business growth by leading with social media” will get your blood running.

I’m fascinated with the entire social media scene. I believe that on the timeline of technology we’re still living in caves, with the prospect of all this digital conjugation altering and improving our lives in quantum-leap ways.

Of course there’ll be plenty of bad with the good, including here on gRantvertising – lots of experimentation and failure – but it’s indubitable that advertising and marketing as we’ve known it will never be the same. Like air travel last century which recast business and personal relationships at 500+ mph, what we can and will do digitally will rewrite our story. Big time.

So I’m glad you’re along for the ride. Hope the occasional shutters and jerks don’t make you want to exit.

Next stop: Twitterville!


Your 2 Cents

Tell me and others reading this blog if and how you’re using the new technologies to promote your agency business.


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February 2, 2009

About gRantvertising

Filed under: About — Joe Grant @ 11:54 am
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gRantvertising is the #1 source for insight on ad agency life and learning how to make your career and your agency soar. Joe Grant’s lived a lifetime of agency experience (remember, agency years are like dog years!) and shares his knowledge, insight, and wit in this solution-filled blog. Since 1992 he’s been a leading resource for agency principals and executives helping them focus and grow their teams so their agencies run right. If you want the scoop on what it really takes to survive and thrive in the ad game – whether you’re the CEO or a junior AE – gRantvertising is the place to be.


“A great combination of insight and execution. Joe rocks!”

Charlie Mason, President, Mason, Inc.

“He brings out the best in individuals, allowing them to uncover solutions at their own pace. An excellent contributor with a genuine understanding of the ad business.”

Marge Navolio, Managing Partner, Mediaedge:cia

“Joe has either personally experienced every strange twist and turn or he’s advised clients going through the ad maze.”

Bill Pierson, Partner, Eric Mower & Associates

“We’re really hitting our stride and doing great things thanks to Joe’s solid advice and counsel to guide us in meeting objectives.”

Beau Lane, CEO, E.B. Lane & Associates

Joe’s ability to handle the personality issues that inevitably arise is invaluable.
I cannot imagine a more productive approach to helping an advertising agency ’reinvent’ itself and prepare for growth.”

Charlie MacLeod, President, Sanna Mattson MacLeod

Some of Our Clients

1508 San Francisco, Chicago

5MetaCom Indianapolis

Anthology Marketing Group Honolulu

Badertscher Marion, OH

Bandy Carroll Hellige Louisville

Bohan Advertising|Marketing Nashville

Bozell Worldwide* Chicago

Brown MC* Chicago

Clarke Advertising* Sarasota

Core Creative Milwaukee

Coyne Beahm Greensboro

CPM* Chicago

CPO Direct Chicago

Cresta Group Chicago

CS&A Bloomington, IL

Davis Harrison Dion Chicago

Duffy & Shanley Providence

E B Lane Phoenix

Empower Media Cincinnati

Evans Hardy & Young Santa Barbara

Franklin Street Marketing Richmond

GodwinGroup Jackson

Great Dane Limited Partnership Chicago

Hart Associates Toledo

Hughes Group St. Louis

Intrinzic Marketing & Design Cincinnati

KK&A Chicago

Kelliher Samets Volk Burlington

Kelly, Scott & Madison Chicago

Kinzley Hughes* Denver

Kuhn & Wittenborn Kansas City

Laird Christianson Honolulu

Levenson & Hill Dallas

Loeffler Ketchum Mountjoy Charlotte

Magnani Continuum Marketing Chicago

Malone Akron

Mason New Haven

Maring Weissman St. Louis

Mediaedge:cia Chicago

MGA Denver

Nicholson Kovac (formerly NKH&W) Kansas City

Ornelas & Associates Dallas

Osborn & Barr St. Louis

Ovation Marketing La Crosse, WI

Paul Kaza Associates Burlington

Perry Ballard St. Joseph, MI

Pierson Hawkins* Denver

Pollak Levitt* Atlanta

PPO&S Harrisburg

Preston Kelly (formerly Kerker) Minneapolis

Princeton Partners Princeton

Proficient Data* Chicago

Regian & Wilson* Ft. Worth

Robinson & Maites Chicago

Sanna Mattson MacLeod Smithtown, NY

Speakerbox Mclean,VA

Slingshot Dallas

Smiley/Hanchulak Akron

St. John & Partners Jacksonville

TargetCom Chicago

Target & Response Chicago

Topin & Associates Chicago

Tripp Minneapolis

The Adams Group South Carolina

The Jeffrey Group Miami

Zimmerman Laurent Richardson Des Moines

Zipatoni* St. Louis

*before acquisition



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