Lately, Mullen and Century 21 have been killing it with fresh weekly, social content. The agency has completely redefined the speed and process by which it conceives and produces such digital treats as Tryptophan Slo Jam, the sale of Walter White’s house on Craigslist and most recently the fake introduction of Century 21-branded drone landing pads so you can guide Amazon’s delivery vehicles to your front door. Or poolside if you ordered floaties.
There is no end of BS being written about content, branded content, owned content, social content. But truth be told, most agencies are content to talk about it, blog about it and invent buzzwords to label it. They neglect to actually do it. Sure there’s an occasional Old Spice on Twitter or a big campaign like Daily Twist. But few brands have actually embraced the practice.
What makes the recent Century 21 stuff impressive is that it’s fast, fresh, topical, and creative. It’s not a simple post on Facebook, a question about what color you’d like to paint your new house, or even a crowdsourced photo contest. It’s original ideas, conceived, sold, produced and shared online under crazy timetables. Shit, it used to take (and in some cases still does) an agency two weeks to generate copy and layout and that was after a brief has been written, re-written, presented, approved and shared with the creative team.
But this is the future. So what does it mean? It means you better, pay attention to the world around you, filter it through your client’s brand personality, learn to generate creative ideas quickly and surround yourself with a collaborative team of makers. Get rid of of process, approvals and layers.
True if you’re not buying media you have to earn attention. Given that there’s a shortage of that rare commodity not everything will generate millions of views. But if it’s constant and produced regularly, over time it will attract both attention as well as a community of followers who’ll willingly welcome and share the best stuff. It may even be more valuable than that big budget media plan. And if it’s actually creative — original, new, something the world is seeing for the first time — it will, inevitably generate both press coverage and inbound links.
If you’re not doing this at your shop, you better get going. And if you’re a student working on getting into the business, time to get faster, more prolific and learn how to produce stuff yourself. Or at least make some friends who do.
(Full disclosure: Before moving on to BU, I was a partner and CCO at Mullen for years and remain there part time as chief innovation officer.)
If you followed the story of my re-invitation to speak to the Council of PR Firms Boston event, here’s a follow-up. Last night the Council held a great event for students and young professionals labeled Take Flight with PR. I had my suspicions about just how good an even it might be, but truth be told it was outstanding. Great speakers, a genuinely informative panel, a very modern day perspective on the profession and a turnout that included students from numerous colleges and universities in the Boston area.
My talk — titled Courage, Creativity, Collaboration — suggested that the lines between all the communication professions are blurring and that we should welcome, encourage and hasten the tearing down of any remaining walls. Great ideas don’t know whether they’re PR, advertising or social. And users don’t care.
Here’s my talk.
Recently IBM asked me to participate in a series of interviews for their Think Marketing Program. I was in pretty good company: Twitter co-founder Biz Stone; Harvard Business School CMO Brian Kenney; Zappos’ Tony Hsieh; and Zillow’s CMO Amy Bohutinsky, among others, all contributed. The interviews were conducted by former Wired and Fortune reporter Jeffrey O’Brien, who also contributed to Making the World Work Better: The Ideas That Shaped a Century and a Company.
Thought I’d share my interview here, as Think Marketing does require you to be a CMO or CIO to gain access to the community. Below, my answers to Jeffrey’s questions.
Only three percent of advertising creative directors are women.
Who’ll solve this problem? Women? Men? Agency management?
I think we need the clients.
I was thrilled to see a huge a turnout last night — albeit mostly women — for the Boston version of Kat Gordon’s 3% Conference. It goes without saying that if only three percent of advertising’s creative directors are women, we have a problem. And it’s a pretty big one. It results in work that is often one-sided — dominated by guy-humor, lacking the right nuance, and missing opportunities to connect more deeply with the more dominant sex, at least when it comes to influencing purchase decisions, adopting technology, using social media and gaming.
Women account for, or influence, 85 percent of all purchases in this country. They embrace new gadgets and devices more quickly. They exceed men’s use of social media on every platform except LinkedIn. And they comprise at least half of all video gamers; 3% Percent Conference facts actually show that they spend more time than man playing.
Yet with the exception of a few organizations — Mullen’s own Frank About Women among them — the advertising industry chooses to have mostly men create, evaluate and bless the work that is supposed to market to women.
Of course, this is neither a new nor a surprise. The annual cover of Creativity showing All Star creatives has told us that for years. Juries at the award shows reminds us how male-dominated the creative side of the industry remains. And a look across the top ranks of most agency creative departments confirms it.
The problem is as easy to identify. This is a brutal business. Long hours, lots of weekends, the demands of new business pitches, extended time on the road far from home to produce TV commercials. None of which is very compatible with women who want kids and families, which, by the way usually happens right when they’re at the point in their career where they’re most qualified to become creative directors.
The 3% Conference last night did not pretend to offer the complete formula for effecting change, saving that for a more thorough two-day conference in San Francisco. But Kat Gordon and our panel did put forth a few strong suggestions — all of which were discussed and debated vigorously by an engaged and opinionated audience.
There are two sides to the issue. The role that women can play in their own career growth and success. And the responsibility of agencies themselves to change, not out of altruism but because it’s good for business.
The consensus came down to this.
Women need to take more credit for their accomplishments.
I love assertive, opinionated women. Apparently not all guys do. So you can heed the advice of Cindy Gallop and be a bitch. She makes a damn good point.
Right now our industry needs more bitches because bitches need to start bitching, by which I mean, speaking up.
We live in a world where the default setting is always male. Most innate bias and sexism is unconscious. We change that by speaking up. Have a different point of view from the men? Say so. Want that promotion? Ask for it. Facing an all-male leadership team, board, creative department or conference speaker lineup? Challenge it and propose a better balance. Yes, you’ll be called a bitch but not by people who know the best new future for our industry is one shaped equally by men and women.
But even if you don’t want to get overly assertive, women do have to ask for more promotions, fight for more opportunities and most importantly take credit for their accomplishments, something they fail to do. Especially when they work with men.
All of this presumes, of course, that they’re doing great work and know how to present it convincingly.
Finally if both of those approaches fail, you’re working in the wrong agency according to panelists Alyssa Toro and Sue DeSilva. In that case, get the hell out, let it be the agency’s loss, and find a more enlightened place to work.
Guys have to play a role
While they probably won’t admit it, guys are more comfortable hanging out with guys. As creative directors, they’re more comfortable giving feedback to guy teams. And when they do review work from women, they often apply narrow evaluation criteria.
The women in the audience last night appeared unanimous in suggesting that men CD’s filter work through a man lens. If it doesn’t satisfy their creative sensibilities it isn’t creative. So perhaps it’s time to listen to the smart, creative women that work for us. Recognize that they understand themselves better than we do and so their opinion should matter at least as much.
Kat shared one interesting example that proves this. If you were going to buy your wife or girlfriend a birthday gift, who would you ask? Certainly not another man. Perhaps one of her friends or another woman who shares her taste. Why not trust the same opinion when marketing to women?
Lastly on this topic, senior men need to be mentors to women. Don’t be afraid to take young women to lunch. Counsel them on how to sell their work, navigate the organization and develop influence. You won’t be seen as a lech. You’ll be seen as a guy who gets it.
Management needs to model behavior
We may have to put in crazy hours to meet client deadlines and get to work that’s great. But is that the only way? Is it good to be in the office at 10:00 pm every night, to forego vacations, to neglect our families?
You could make an argument that everyone is more creative if their life is balanced. But even if you don’t buy into that, it’s more than evident that women who are Moms work harder, smarter and more efficiently. They have no choice. So what if someone goes home to get the kids or watch a soccer game? All that we should care about is the quality of the work.
If agencies buy into the fact that a woman’s perspective is better for business and yields more effective work — arguable I know — then as the 3 Percent Conference suggests, they have to set an example from the top and practice the kind of behavior and policy that can make the business for accomodating to women. If not, we all know what happens. When it’s time to have a family, the women leave. We all know amazingly, talented, senior creatives who eschewed becoming CDs to go freelance instead.
Example: Feel compelled to write 10 emails to your staff at 11:00 pm? Do so. But don’t hit send until the morning. After all if you send them at 11:15 at night you’re declaring that you expect them to be reading them and responding at the same time.
But there’s really only one solution: clients have to demand more women on their accounts
I’m skeptical, however. Change is hard. And the industry is what it is on many fronts. Granted there are some companies where everyone goes home at 5:30. (They’re probably not on the Ad Age A-List or winning lions at Cannes.) And there are others that go out of their way to make flex time work, to fly creative teams home from shoots on weekends, etc. They get it. But when push comes to shove, deadlines and the work take priority, at least as far as most agency management is concerned.
If we really want more women CDs working in the industry, the only real solution is for clients to demand more women on their accounts, from the teams that do the work to the CDs that inspire and approve it. They already know it’s good for business, after all their consumers and users are women.
(That’s not to say that men can’t deliver the goods see Dove Sketches, done by a male team; but let’s face it, typically women get women better than men do. And that perspective is needed for all products and categories, not just so called female brands.)
It’s clients who have the greatest clout and the most to gain. And wouldn’t it be so great to replace Don Draper’s best line of this season…
“Every time this agency wins a car account it turns into a whore house.”
“Every time this agency wins a _______ account it gets more collaborative (or more relevant, or more balanced, or more diverse, or more balanced.)
After all, those would be just a few of the benefits of having more women CDs in advertising.
I get it. You’re anxious. A bit stressed. One life stage comes crashing to an end and a new, unfamiliar one is about to begin.
You want a job, a paycheck and something that validates the last four years of life and the $200,000 you just forked over to prepare for — or perhaps delay — this very day.
Over the last few weeks I’ve had no shortage of students seeking advice on their portfolios, websites, cover letters and resumes.
Is my work portfolio good enough to get a job? How can I make it better? What should stay in? Should I take this out? Does this cover letter work? Do you know anyone at (fill in the name of virtually any advertising agency in America)? Would you mind looking at my resume? What’s better, any job inside a good agency or the position I really want at a lesser agency?
But there is one question that no one ever asks. A question that is far more important, at least in the long term, than, “How can I make this cover letter better?”
And it’s this.
“How can I be happy in my career?”
Given that I’ve somehow managed to survive for 35 years in a business that I love. Given that I actually looked forward to work every day for 30 of those years. And given that I never felt that I had to answer to anyone but myself I thought I’d share the six tips that I’m convinced lead to happiness as well as success.
Avoid working for (or with) assholes
You’ll recognize them right away. They throw their weight around just so you know who is in charge. They take credit for your ideas and blame you when theirs don’t work. They compete against you instead of working with you. They tend to say, “no because,” instead of “yes and.” They defend the past rather than embrace the future. They take the joy out of both the work and the workplace. Life is too short to spend any of it working for an asshole. Please don’t.
Find clients you believe in
Not everyone gets to work on Apple or Nike or Dove or Chipotle. You may find yourself selling fast food, sugar-laden soft drinks, SUVs or hair dyes. And that’s OK, too, if you believe in those products. But if that’s not the case, find a way to get off that business and onto to one you do believe in. Otherwise — even if you are engaged with the team, and stimulated by the challenge — you’ll never love the work you do or be proud of your accomplishments.
Pursue the work not the money
You want to wake up every morning excited about what you will create not about how much you’ll get paid. It’s the work that will make the day fly by. It’s the work that will keep your brain engaged. It’s the work that will make you want to come back tomorrow. And, no surprise, if you love the work and what you’re creating, you’ll do a better job and end up making more money anyway.
Control your own career
You have two choices. You can let your career happen to you. Or you can take charge. My suggestion? Don’t leave things to chance or to someone you work for. Plan ahead, leverage every experience, seek new challenges, stay impatient.
You may or may not have a 10-year plan or even a five-year plan. But as soon as you have your first position start plotting how to secure the next one. Know what it takes to get there and take the first steps sooner rather than later. Volunteer for additional assignments, develop relationships outside your immediate circle, build your personal brand with online content network, and stay open to any and all opportunities that present themselves.
Share everything you learn
If you really want to be happy, pass it forward and give it back. Few things can give you as much joy as teaching others what you know. So help someone older learn a new technology that keeps him relevant. Show a newbie the ropes. Save others from making whatever mistakes you made as you learn and grow. You’ll feel good about yourself. And set a good example for anyone inclined to be an asshole.
Got other tips for the next generation of makers, creators and doers? Please comment.