Below is the audio and transcript of the most recent Smartups with George Evans, Owner and Creative Director for Brandwidth. I will post this transcript here for now, but in the future we will be posting them on our site, once we get the new one live.
If you are interested in joining Smartups or would like to go to the next one signup at SmartupsIndy.com.
George Evans Smartups Oct. 15th by Smartups on Mixcloud
Full transcript after the break.
[George Evans, Owner, Creative Director Brandwidth]
Thanks to Tim. Very gracious of him to say that you folks came out to see me. I know you came for the beer and the pizza. That’s okay. You can admit it. Before we get started, really a technical question. Corduroy? Is it too early for corduroy? What’s that? Thank you. I’m just wondering because I thought it was September.
I thought the cutoff was September and then Adrienne was nice enough to remind me that it was too early for corduroy. So I wasn’t sure. So I wanted to get a consensus from everybody, but basically I want to thank Tim for inviting me and actually for including me early on here with Smartups, among some really, really outstanding people – Jeb Banner, Brian Phillips. Jeb with SmallBox, Brian Phillips with The Basement. I’m humbled to have been asked to be included in the launch of Smartups with such interesting and smart guys which leaves me wondering why I’m here, but I think it’s because I’m old.
I think Tim was being polite to some extent. Before we get started, just a show of hands. How many people here are involved as a principal, as an entrepreneur in some manner of a startup or something like that? Wow. One, two, three, four, five, six. Six of you. How many of you work in startups or small – one, two, three. So we’re talking about nine or ten people here who are actually in startups. How many work in marketing to some extent whether it be with an agency or with a company directly?
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen. Great. This is I think what Tim and I have talked about and what I’d like to share with you tonight is really thinking that applies to both sides of the business. My background, as Tim said, is with advertising agencies, and I actually counted on my fingers tonight 34 years I’ve been working in the business. Brandwidth now is my ninth agency in 34 years and it’s going to be my last.
So as my team knows, they’re going to carry me out of there feet first, probably out of necessity. Nonetheless, 34 years, and in that 34 years, as Tim mentioned, I had really the benefit growing up in Pittsburgh of really being part of kind of a phenomenon. Pittsburgh was a huge packaged goods market for decades which afforded me the opportunity at a very early age to work for such brands as Nestle, Taster’s Choice, Stouffer’s, Lean Cuisine, Nestle’s ice cream bars, Digital Equipment Corporation or DEC, Alcoa. The list goes on.
I’ve worked on three beers, three sports teams, two professional sports teams, three banks, three hospitals and medical groups, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Harley-Davidson, GlaxoSmithKline all before – that was before even coming here to Indianapolis. And I think from that perspective Tim thought maybe I could share some things with you from my experience that might be pertinent to where you’re going in your ventures today, whether you’re marketers or whether you’re going to be on the other side of the desk and working with agencies and agency teams and marketing teams as you’re growing your budding new products and what have you.
As Tim mentioned, I actually have fortunate or whatever you want to call it. I counted them up when Tim and I started talking about this, nine campaigns that ran for more than ten years. I had four campaigns that ran for more than 20 years, and I’ve got a number of campaigns right now that are still running that I was involved in as a writer, a budding writer and a producer and a creative director back in literally the ‘80s. The most prominent probably if you go to Hershey Tourism, Hershey.com, you’ll see on the upper left-hand corner of the Hershey website “The Sweetest Place on Earth.” It’s been the sweetest place on earth now for almost 30 years and to give you an idea of what happens and then how something like that can have that longevity.
We actually were dealing with the brand. We were pitching the account, actually. I was at Ketchum Advertising in Pittsburgh. We were pitching the account and they needed some new branding, new theme line. We did consumer testing. We talked to parents. We talked to you name it in the community and what we were told by the Hershey tourism board was that they absolutely and under no circumstances wanted to allude in any way, shape, or form to the Hershey Chocolate Factory.
They said, “We’re this city. We’ve got amusement parks. We’ve got parks proper. We’ve got shopping. We’ve got culture. We’ve got theater and we always get stuck playing second fiddle to Hershey Chocolate Factory. We don’t want to do that anymore. So you’ve got to come up with something that’s different, that’s unique, that differentiates us from the chocolate factory.”
After doing the research and after spending a good bit of time interrogating the brand until it confessed its weaknesses – and we’ll talk a little bit about that process in a little bit – we determined that what they absolutely had to do was to embrace that heritage, was to embrace the equity that they could borrow from the chocolate factory and how do we transfer that equity. How do we transfer it to the city, to the arena, to the amusement park, to the people who lived and worked and breathed in Hershey, PA?
And we developed a campaign and launched “Hershey, The Sweetest Place on Earth.” And here we are. That was 1987 and today Hershey, PA is still the sweetest place on earth. So that kind of gives you an idea of what I do, what I’ve done, what we do still to this day at Brandwidth which brings me to Brandwidth. We’ve been around now since 2007 and if you think about the name a little bit, brand and width, we’re essentially taking my experience let’s call it, my passion if you will for oldfangled marketing precepts and we’re applying them to newfangled channels.
The subject of my talk today is the more things change, the more they stay the same. I’m not saying that there are things that haven’t changed. There have been things changing in the industry for 100 years going back to the introduction of radio, the introduction of television. So I’m not saying that things aren’t changing, but fundamentally at the very heart of what we do and who we are, I want to challenge some folks that think that in some way, shape, or form they’ve reinvented the wheel, they’ve changed branding, they’ve changed marketing forever. In my opinion that simply has not happened.
We didn’t change this. We didn’t invent this. We basically picked up the ball at the 1, or the 5, or the 20 and we’re carrying it towards the end zone. So that’s really what we’re going to talk about tonight and as the basis of that I’m actually going to be reading some passages to you, some bits and pieces from Ogilvy on Advertising. Growing up in the business for me this was my Bible. Introduced in 1983, the stuff that’s in here is written in 1983 and it actually talks about the industry and the way the industry had grown and evolved between the early 1900s, 1900, 1911, 1917, 1920 all the way up to 1983 and the things that are espoused in this book, it’s shocking how many of them are still relevant today.
There’s stuff in here, yeah, that’s kind of outmoded and outdated, but I’m going to be sharing with you some passages of this book that could have been written yesterday. Real quick, for those of you that are in the marketing area, how many of you have read this? One, two. Okay. It used to be required reading. That’s why I’m wondering. I’ve got some issues with the state of education in marketing these days, but that’s for another speech.
But, anyway, at the end of the presentation we’re actually going to be giving away a couple of copies. So hopefully you’ll get your hands on it and hopefully you’ll hear enough from this that you may want to go check it out online. I think the Kindle copy is $7.98, something like that. At the library it’s free, but it’s really amazing. If you look at this book and you index it against where you are, how you want to grow, the things you want to do, the goals and the aspirations that you have for yourselves, your clients, your company, your customers, whatever the case may be, you’re going to be amazed at the fact that there are some real parallels here that are very, very, very relevant to your life and that align with I think where you want to go with your businesses.
Back to the topic, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Like I said, I think I may challenge you this evening with a couple of things and please feel free. I want this to be interactive. So if you have questions at any time throw your hands up. This is loose. I want this to be more of a conversation than a presentation. So feel free if something occurs to you to interrupt me if you need to, but what I’d like to do is start with is actually a passage, something I’m reading in the Bible, well I kind of am, from the beginning. This is from the introduction of Ogilvy on Advertising. And like I said, it was written in 1983, but I really do believe that when I reread this again to put this presentation together I was like, “Wow. I can’t believe it’s still that prescient today.”
We had a lap mic. It didn’t work so I’m going to have to suffer through this. “I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement I don’t want you to tell me that you find it creative. I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the damn product. When Aeschines spoke, they said, ‘How well he speaks.’ But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, ‘Let us march against Philip.’
When I set up shop on Madison Avenue in 1949 I assumed that advertising would undergo several major changes before I retired. So far there has been only one change that could be called major. Television has emerged as the most potent medium for selling most products. Yet, there” – and this is important – “yet there have been other changes, and I shall describe them, but their significance has been exaggerated by pundits in search of trendy labels.” Pundits in search of trendy labels.
Remember that phrase. Let me skip that part. “In saying this, I run the risk of being denounced by the idiots who hold that any advertising technique which has been in use for more than two years is ipso facto obsolete. They turn a blind eye to the fat that these techniques still make the cash register ring. There have always been noisy lunatics on the fringes of the advertising business. Their stock in trade includes ethnic humor, eccentric art direction, contempt for research, and their self-proclaimed genius. They are seldom found out because they gravitate to the kinds of clients who bamboozled by their rhetoric do not hold them responsible for results.”
When we’re talking to folks, entrepreneurs, we’re talking to folks in startups, you guys are going to be responsible over the lives of your company if you’re on the side of the client side for at some point choosing an advertising agency or someone to partner with you in marketing somewhere down the line in your careers. Think about that and those of you that are on the agency side, think about that.
“There have been noisy lunatics on the fringes of the advertising business. Their stock in trade includes ethnic humor, eccentric art direction, contempt for research, and their self-proclaimed genius.” If you were to go through and just look for Indianapolis advertising agencies and you look for the way they define themselves and the work that they do and what they think is important, you will find remarkable marketing. You’ll find fresh air marketing.
You’ll find trendy marketing. You’ll find sexy and edgy marketing, and you’ll find one innovation agency. That one really cracked me up that they’re an innovation agency. They actually have a thing on their website that says there are too many ad agencies and not enough innovation agencies. I think it’s exactly the opposite.
Based on remarkable marketing, fresh air marketing, trendy marketing, sexy and edgy marketing, innovation agency, to me there are too many innovation agencies and not enough advertising agencies. You talk about fancy labels. Ogilvy in ’83 talked about self-proclaimed genius and fancy labels. How much of what is going on in today’s marketplace is based around those kinds of things, something that Ogilvy called irrelevant brilliance?
On the surface it looks good. It’s shiny. It’s cool. The uninitiated will go, “Oh, wow. That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” But is there any thinking behind it? Is there strategy behind it? What is behind all of this basically irrelevant brilliance and these trendy labels? And I think there’s an important point there because as a marketer, whether you’re on the agency side or whether you’re on the client side, you have a responsibility toward your brand.
You’ve got a responsibility toward your employees. You’ve got responsibility toward your clients. You’ve got responsibility towards your customers. The last thing that you want to be doing is hitching your wagon to a snake oil salesman coming in with, “We’ve got exactly what you need. We’ve got fresh air marketing. We’re the innovation agency.”
That’s bull. It really is. You need somebody who’s smart, who can think. You need strategies that have fundamentally been around for years. To that point, allow me to illustrate marketing. A guy walks into a bar. Okay, I’m going to tell a joke. Is any familiar with The Aristocrats? The joke The Aristocrats, the comedians, tell to each other? It’s one of those things where the joke can change depending upon who’s telling the joke.
So this is my version of The Aristocrats’ joke but it’s an old advertising joke that really tries to define what marketing is. A guy walks into a bar. He sees a comely lass at the bar. He sends his friends over to sing his praises, tell her how great he is in bed. He’s a listener. He likes long walks on the beach. Will she go home with him, they implore. That is advertising.
He sees a comely lass at the bar. He sends over a napkin singing his praises, telling her how great he is in bed, a real listener, a cuddler. “Go home with me,” he writes. This is direct marketing.
He sees a comely lass at the bar. He manages to get her phone number. The next day he calls her to singing his praises, tell her how great he is in bed, a good cook, a Christian. “Go home with me,” he says. This is telemarketing.
He sees a comely lass at the bar. He takes a picture of his junk. He posts it, pins it, and otherwise proffers it to the world hoping that she’s one of the 71 percent of the women in the space and not one of the 70 percent of those who ignore all their posts, and twits, and pins, and pegs, and pokes, and prods, and pawns. “If you don’t go home with me you don’t get any of this,” he brays to the world. This is, what? Social media. Thank you.
With 30 percent of the 71 percent of the women and 30 percent of the 53 percent of the men in the bar now possibly thinking he’s a dick maybe, he gets up to the bar and sings his own praises and also distributes a press release talking about how he once saved a baby seal from slaughter while rescuing a virgin from a volcano. “To my wife, I say I’m sorry. To the comely lass at the bar, I say go home with me.” This is public relations and probably a sad attempt at crisis management.
He sees a comely lass at the bar and not learning his lesson from the whole Instagram or whatever debacle he walks up to her and slides his hand up under her skirt. “Go home with me,” he whispers. This is market research perhaps [laughs]. She slaps him. What’s that? Customer feedback, thank you. Thank you, Ryan. That’s customer feedback.
All of these attempt are tactics on his part, among other [issues] together in various combinations. What do you call that? Integrated marketing among other things. That’s marketing, though in this case it’s all tactics and there’s obviously no particular strategy there. Still, even a blind squirrel finds a nut.
So the next time the guy walks into the bar the comely lass walks up to him, leans into him seductively and says, “I hear you’re great in bed. I hear you’re a great listener. You like cats, like to cook, like to cuddle. What do you say we go do this thing?” That, ladies and gentlemen, is brand recognition and ultimately that’s I think what we’re all shooting for.
The point here with this joke is that you can mix and match. You can plug in anything you want in this joke. You can take things out. You can put things in. You can rework it. You can rewrite it and fundamentally the joke stays the same. I could have written a version of this joke when I started at Griswold Eshleman Advertising in 1979 and it would have been just as valid as this version of this joke told today in 2013.
The more things change, the more they really, really do stay the same at the very fundamental, fundamental level. From a marketing perspective, and Ryan I hit you up with this earlier, does anyone know what the 4 Ps are? Tim, I know you would know this – product, place, price, promotion. They’re basic fundamentals of marketing that have been around pretty much forever that have been taught in marketing and business schools for pretty much ever.
We’ve tried to add changes to them. They’re now I think at the last count they’re up to 7 Ps. They even introduced one that was 4 Cs. I think that was commodity, cost, communication, and channel I think. Was it 5 Cs? Thank you. The point is everybody keeps trying to change the things that are really, really just fundamentally sound.
There’s even a compass model where you draw the points of the compass. N is for needs. W, for west, is for wants. E is for education. S, south, is for security. Everybody’s always trying to redefine. It seems like every generation seems to feel like they need to redefine the basics of what we do, of what our responsibility is as marketers, what our responsibility is as an agency partner, what our responsibilities are as a client partner.
And, again, you all that are going to be really immersed in your own businesses, you need to know what an agency is, how to work with an agency, what a good agency is. You need to know what a good agency isn’t. You need to know when you’re sitting there and looking at smoke and mirrors. You need to know when you’re talking to somebody who’s maybe a little bit smart about what they’re talking with you about.
The bottom line, it’s not rocket science and this hasn’t changed probably since Stanley Resor in 1903 with was it Young & Rubicam[sic] [notation: agency is J. Walter Thompson] or something like that. Know your client and their product inside and out. For you on the client side, know your customer and their needs inside and out. Know your client’s distribution channels. Work your ass off.
Go in with questions instead of answers. I had an old boss – we were bought by a British agency when I was at HBM/Creamer in Pittsburgh; Wight, Collins, Rutherford, and Scott. Robin Wight, the creative director from the U.K., his favorite saying was interrogate a brand until it confesses its weaknesses. That was in 1985 or something like that. Interrogate a brand until it confesses its weaknesses. Try to tell me that that’s still not valid today. I’m sorry. Go ahead.
Interrogate a brand until it confesses its weaknesses. When you’re immersing yourself, and some of what I’m going to be talking about actually covers some of this, but one of the things that we always say from our perspective, and we actually have landed business because of it, is that we go in with the right questions and not necessarily with all the answers.
That’s a philosophy that I’ve had since interrogate a brand till it confesses its weaknesses. We’re there to do a job. We’re not there to be cool. We’re not there to be brilliant. We’re not there to land on the cover of Creativity Magazine. We’re not there to win CLIOs. We’re not there to win Webbies. We’re there to, as Ogilvy would say, make the cash register ring. Make a difference for our client, their product. In order to do that we’ve got to know what questions to ask about the product, about things like the product’s unique compelling benefit, about what the needs are of the audience that you’re going to be interacting with as a marketer.
Shake and pummel your clients, even when they don’t want you to, even when they resist, even when they think it’s a pain in their asses, even when they want you to come in with your hair on fire and, “Here’s what you need. You need a dick blimp.” It’s not that easy and anybody who thinks it’s that easy you shouldn’t be talking to, plain and simple on the client side.
So it’s knowing the product, knowing the barriers to trial, knowing your product’s weaknesses. Where are we vulnerable? Where as a product do we not stand up? You need to know that as much as you need to know the points of difference and unique compelling benefits. Interrogate your product. Interrogate the brand until you get the information you need to come up with an answer and that could be direct questioning.
That could be in market research. That could be in you doing due diligence. You happened to notice I said work your ass off. Be curious. Be literate. Fill your head with and fill your consciousness with as much information about a brand, a product, a service, the audience, the target markets as you possibly can. Fill your head with it and your subconscious mind will actually work on the problem for you.
People say I have my best ideas in the shower. No, you don’t. You’ve filled your head with a lot of really good information. You interrogated the brand until it confessed its weaknesses. You beat the crap out of the brand, and you got the information you needed, and you filled your conscious mind with that information and two days later you’re in the shower and boom, sweetest place on earth pops in your head and you think my muse is talking to me.
That’s not it. That’s really for that to happen, to facilitate that happening you really have to put the work in. So go in with questions. I’m sorry. You had a question. Sorry. I apologize.
[Q: A lot of people here in the room are startups or they’re looking for that competitive edge. Are you saying that they can’t do this on their own?]
I’m not saying that at all. You may find, some of the best marketers I’ve ever known have been my clients. So I’m not saying that they can’t do it on their own. I’m saying that I expect that at some time or another in the course of their journey as a startup that they’re going to need to talk to somebody on the outside who can bring some objectivity and some objective thinking to that process.
Not that they have to, but we have situations where we’ve actually talked with just that kind of company that, “We’ve got it handled. We know what we’re doing. We know what our message is. We know who we’re talking to. We know what we need to say. We know our brand. We like our brand. My brother-in-law did a really nice job with my logo and my package, my mother loves it and we’re ready to go to market.” Go ahead.
[Q: I ask that and it’s somewhat of a loaded question because I agree with you. I’m not a marketer by trade and I’m not a marketing agency, but one piece of advice I could give is as a startup you have to know, and not even just startups but as a business owner period, you have to know your limitations.]
[Q: And when you say there’s a point where your technical proficiencies on whatever subject matter it is, no matter what it is, you’re going to get to a point where this isn’t my strongest point. And even if it is your strongest point there’s a point where you go there’s somebody out there that might know better than me. So I guess I would just encourage the startup people in the room to say let’s bring in some outside help and that’s from a non-marketer.]
I appreciate that and actually Bill Bernbach back in the 1930s for about 20 years he carried around a card in his pocket that simply said, “Maybe he’s right.” That’s all it said, and it was for him on those occasions when for whatever reason he knew better, he thought better, he was pontificating like I’m doing [laughs], he pulled out that card out of his pocket and he read it and it said, “Maybe he’s right.” That’s a really, really good point and you know what’s really hard to get, folks, I can tell you from our experience because we’re working on four branding projects at the moment.
We actually just parted ways with a company that we had worked with for about a month and a half because we went through what effectively is our interrogation process, our branding process. We identified some definite needs for this amazing company, this amazing product, and their response was, “My wife likes it. My brother-in-law likes it. My mom thinks the logo is fine and our branding message is going to work just fine.”
And we said, “In that case we can’t help you.” And they said, “Can’t you just design it for us? Can’t you just take our ideas and can’t you just put them on the package? Can’t you just do that for us because we know what we want to be.” And our answer was, “We don’t really have people that do that because the people on our team are going to look at that and they’re going to know that it’s not the right thing to do.” And of all these quotes that you see, we put these together for you all, all these quotes going by behind us.
The one from my grandfather is, “There’s right, there’s wrong, and you’re smart enough to know the difference.” I live my life by that and we market by that. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the wrong thing to do, and if we say to someone, “Good luck. God bless. Go knock them dead. We hope you’re right. We really, really, really, really do hope you’re right. Based on every intuition that 30 years tells me you’re not, but I really hope you’re right.”
One of the last quotes in our list of quotes is from us and we say it all the time. “We’re not going to just do this to take your money. There are a lot of people out there, the remarkable marketers, and the fresh air marketers, the sexy and edgy marketers who will be happy to take your money for you. So we suggest that for better or for worse that you go talk to one of them.” We’re pretty dogged in our process, in how we approach the way we work.
Know your client. Know their distribution channels. Work your ass off. Go in with questions instead of answers. Work your ass off. Be curious. Care. Just care. Know the target audiences and use that knowledge to shape your strategies, strategies, not tactics. Work your ass off. Leave your ego at the door. This is not your art form. This is your job.
Communicate and connect. Brian Phillips, our friend at The Basement, he said, “Be a storyteller.” Branding at the heart of it is just conveying the story of a company, a product. It’s people. Who it is, why it is. Why it is is important. By the way, work your ass off. That’s really it in a nutshell. That’s all this business is and all this has been at its core since really going back to the 1800s.
As for how to do that, the specific strategies and tactics you need are all right here in this 30-year-old book. Believe it or not, there’s stuff in this book that you guys can benefit from and it’s as it sits right now, 30 years old. A couple quick excerpts that you might be interested in. In the book it talks to you about – and this is my copy of it. Notice duct tape and pretty much falling apart.
There’s stuff in this book about how to run an agency, how to create effective advertising regardless of the marketing channel. Here’s what he has to say about that. “I doubt if more than 1 campaign in 100 contains a big idea. I am supposed to be one of the most fertile inventors of the big idea, but in my long career as a copywriter I have not had more than 20, if that.” A buddy of mine, a guy I worked with, account manager in Pittsburgh worked in Chicago with the guy that invented the Pillsbury Doughboy.
It’s the only thing the guy created of note his entire 40-something year career. They had him in a corner office. They treated him well. He banged out coupon ads and things like that, but his only contribution, for lack of a better term, to the lexicon was the Pillsbury Doughboy. That’s not unusual. The ‘80s,’90s, I can’t remember what it is, does anybody remember the California Raisins by any chance? Jill? California Raisins?
The guy who came up with that campaign was actually a young creative, West Coast. I want to say it was Chiat Day was the agency. He was lauded as a genius. He went to I think it was Richardson Agency in Dallas. He never did anything again for the rest of his career, for the most part. Labored in obscurity from that point on. So, like Ogilvy said, I’ve not had more than 20.
I’ve had 10 that I look at and say, “I’ve made my mark.” “This is true in art, in science, and in advertising. Big ideas come from” – I just said this – “from the unconscious, but your conscious has to be well-informed or your ideas will be irrelevant. Stuff your conscious mind with information. Then unhook your rational thought process. The rest is going to come to you naturally.”
On ideas he said, “It will help you recognize a big idea if you ask yourself the following five questions. Did it make me gasp when I first saw it? Did it scare me a little bit? Do I wish I had thought of it myself? Is it unique? Does it fit the strategy to perfection?” Does it fit the strategy to perfection? I’m going to make a statement here tonight that I see a lot of tactics out there that I see no discernible strategies hooked to.
It’s that slippery slope of irrelevant brilliance. It’s ideas for ideas’ sake, creative for creative’s sake. I’m very critical because of our process, because of my background in work that does that. On average, CLIO awards, one third of the agencies that win CLIOs actually no longer even have the accounts. They lose the accounts. They’ve either lost the account in the previous year or they lose it in the subsequent year.
So it’s not a matter of creative and creative recognition. It’s a matter of good, smart work. His last criteria, could it be used for 30 years? I like that one. Other things in the book that you might find interesting. “Detailed information on various channels from print to TV to direct mail.” Obviously he doesn’t talk about social media, but he actually talks about word-of-mouth advertising and a real rudimentary definition of social media is just fancy word-of-mouth advertising.
So the book basically, it’s all right here. In closing, before we move on, I’m going to do a quick quiz with you guys and I’m going to give away copies of the book. I have four copies to give away. Apple’s famous 1984 commercial ushered in what is today the world’s most valuable brand. What year did that commercial make its debut?
[Laughs] Trick question. Enjoy. We talked a little bit about the concept of the 4 Ps when it comes to marketing. Can anyone remember the 4 Ps? Give that man a book. What year was Ogilvy on Advertising written? Give that man a book. Finally, a concept I’ve mentioned a couple of times pertaining to not only the creative process but the whole concept of how we define ourselves and our companies revolves around avoiding the slippery slope of blank brilliance. There you go.
One last thing and it’s from Leo Burnett and Chicago ad guy. He worked in Indianapolis for ten years, and this is excerpted from his retirement speech talking about his goals, his hopes, his dreams for the business, and specifically when he wanted his name taken off of the door of the agency. So this is from Leo Burnett’s retirement speech. So I’m going to go over here because I can’t see.
“When to take my name off the door. Somewhere along the line, after I’m finally off the premises, you or your successors may want to take my name off the premises too. You may want to call yourself Twain, Rogers, Sawyer and Finn, or Ajax Advertising or something. That will be okay with me if it’s good for you. But let me tell you when I might demand that you take my name off the door.
That will be the day when you spend more time trying to make money and less time trying to make advertising, our kind of advertising. When you forget that the sheer fun of ad making, and the lift you get out of it, the creative climate of the place should be as important as money to the very special breed of writers and artists and business professionals who compose this company of ours and make it tick.
When you lose that restless feeling that nothing you do is ever quite good enough. When you lose your itch to a job well done for well-done’s sake regardless of the client, the money, or the effort it takes. When you lose your passion for thoroughness, your hatred of loose ends. When you stop reaching the manner, the overtones, the marriage of words and pictures that produce the fresh, the memorable, the believable effect.
When you stop rededicating yourselves every day to the idea that better advertising is what this company is all about. When you are no longer are what Thoreau called “a corporation with a conscience” which means men and women of conscience. When you stoop to convenient expediency and rationalize yourselves into acts of opportunism for the sake of a fast buck.
When you show the slightest sign of crudeness, inappropriateness, or smart-aleckness and you lose that subtle sense of the fitness of things. When your main interest becomes a matter of size just to be big rather that good, hard, wonderful work. When your outlook narrows down to the number of windows from zero to five in the walls of your office.
When you lose your humility and become big-shot wisenheimers, a little bit too big for your boots. When you disapprove of something and start tearing the hell out of the person who did it rather than the work itself. When you stop building on strong and vital ideas and start a routine production line.
When you start believing that, in the interest of efficiency, a creative spirit and the urge to create can be delegated and administrated and forget that they can only be nurtured, stimulated, and inspired. When you starting giving lip service to us being a creative agency and stop really being one. That, boys and girls, is when I shall insist you take my name off the door. And by golly, it will be taken off the door even if have to materialize long enough some night to rub it out myself on every one of our floors and throw every goddamned apple down the elevator shafts.”
They used to have buckets of apples, baskets of apples on the front desk when you went into Leo Burnett for visitors. “You just won’t know the place. The next morning you’ll have to find another name.” Do good work, folks and good luck. [Applause] Any questions? Maybe that goes in the back because he asked the first question already. Please.
Actually they’re two books of short fiction and they’re very strange. I have a fascination. I can tell you from a career standpoint I was supposed to be a famous writer and John Lennon said that “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” I was at the fiction program at the University of Pittsburgh. Does anybody know who Michael Chabon is?
He’s a novelist. He won the Pulitzer Prize ten years ago, something like that. He was a year behind me at Pitt, and I was supposed to be the next him, and then I knocked up my girlfriend and had to get a job. The poet Evan Shipman has a really great saying. He said, “The unambitious writer and the unpublished poet are what the world needs most now. There is of course the matter of sustenance.”
I was supposed to be a writer and one thing this business affords you, and as I said earlier and Ben works with us and one thing I say all the time is, “This isn’t your art. This is your job.” So if you’ve got a passion, if you’ve got an art, if you’re a writer, if you’re an artist, if you’re a photographer, whatever the case may be, this business affords you tremendous opportunity to explore those talents. And I’ve been very fortunate in that regard. So I just decided I never did. So I went back to that time in my life to what I thought I should do and very selfishly I spend a lot of time writing.
I’ve got one collection called Buffalo & Rochelle, available on Amazon [laughs], Buffalo & Rochelle, and another collection called Lobster Tales, T-A-L-E-S, and that’s actually a collection of work from a writers’ group that I belong to. We’ve been running away for 11 years now workshopping our various own projects and so we decided for our tenth anniversary that we were going to put together an anthology of our work. So Lobster Tales and Buffalo & Rochelle. Please.
[Q: So I totally understand the general idea of your talk of the more things change, the more they stay the same and while I like the idea of the irrelevant brilliance and all of that, I wanted your thoughts on now we know a lot more with technology and segmentation.]
[Q: So the more things change the more things stay the same, yes, and what about how much more we now know about who’s receiving our message in which ways? I just want to hear your thoughts on that.]
I think that’s the single most beautiful thing that’s happened in this business because it allows us to be accountable now. It allows us to measure ideas in real time, and I think to me all of these channels are still serving the same basic goal. So when I say things haven’t changed, it’s the same basic goals. We’re selling a product, a service. We’re creating a brand. We’re nurturing a brand.
We’re shepherding a brand, protecting a brand. Everything that we do in the service of that is stuff that’s been done forever. Now we’ve got these amazing tools at our disposal that actually give us real-time feedback as to what’s working, what’s not working, what’s resonating, where are we connecting, where are we aligning, how are we aligning, to what degree are we aligning, with whom are we aligning?
It’s amazing. It’s absolutely amazing and we joke around at the office a lot. I’m not a big fan of social media and people say, “How can you have a company that does what you do and not be a big fan of social media?” and it’s because we’ve got people that are. I don’t have to be. I’ve got people that are immersed in it. One of our folks actually wrote Corporate Blogging for Dummies. So I’m not saying that we don’t have respect for these exciting new channels.
In fact, I think it’s the best thing that’s happened. For me it keeps me young. It’s awesome. Getting to work with Tim Flint, Flint Analytics, we do a lot of work with Tim and just the data we get back on what we’re doing, how things are working, how a subtle change in a message can drastically drive conversions, or click-throughs, or whatever the performance indicator is. Right now, it’s an exciting new age.
But my question is – and I don’t know the answer. They say never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to, but are people using it? Is everybody using it? Are the people that are espousing irrelevant brilliance, do they really care? I look at some things and I go, “Do these people really care whether they’re selling a product or not?”
I know a creative director that has had ideas rejected by clients because they wouldn’t work and he’s run them on late night television. He’s run the ads himself so he could enter them in award shows. To me that’s detestable. That’s not what we’re about. So with the new channels and the new tools that we have at our disposal, I think it could usher in a new age of accountability for the work if people pay attention to it.
We have clients who – I’m a big proponent of going back to Burke testing and day-after-recall testing and all that stuff of testing your work. And we’ve got some data and we could do some things. More often than not now with some of our clients we see them doing research that is specifically designed to do nothing more than reinforce their own predispositions. The questions are posed that way. The metrics are set up that way.
They ask the wrong questions and try to extrapolate the wrong answers into information that a particular campaign or a particular idea of theirs is working. So you can use the power for good as well as evil, but the long way around the barn to get to the horse, but I’m really excited. We built the company knowing that stuff was happening. That’s where Brandwidth came in.
It was like, “We’ve got these old-fashioned precepts. We’re not going to give these up. This is why we’re here. This is what we do. This is how we do it. This is why we do it. Now, let’s take these precepts and let’s take these new channels and make them work for us to do that job even better.” And they certainly, if used correctly, and I know that just in working with Tim, it’s such opportunity.
And what’s nice is it’s scalable. So even the smallest company with a modest budget in this day and age can have an idea of how their product is going to do, how their message is going to resonate, how their brand is going to be received. I’m a huge fan of all the new channels. [Applause] Thank you, guys.