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.
A week ago the pundits were quick to suggest that Yahoo’s purchase of Tumblr was little more than a Hail Mary. How can a company dependent on a dying model (display advertising) and an aging user base stay relevant in the age of social media?
Put that way it sounds like a sure recipe for an obituary of some kind a year or two out. So was this a mistake? Or does Yahoo know something we don’t know yet?
What Yahoo did acquire was a younger, hipper audience. Tumblr indexes at 237 for 18—24 year olds and only a notch below that for users up to 34. But despite the appeal of that demographic, Tumblr has failed to sell or deliver effective native advertising. And the other option, blasting users with uninvited display ads has to be ruled out, as it will likely make the site too uncool to hold onto the users Yahoo covets in the first place.
On this week’s The Beancast, host Bob Knorpp, Mitch Joel, Brian Morrissey, Steve Wax, and I discussed a number of topics including the recent Yahoo Tumblr acquisition. We wondered if the real strategy was to leverage Tumblr’s voluminous porn. We hypothesized that Tumblr could become a YouTube of printed and visual content. We hoped that eventually the creative community would figure out how to make native advertising that’s either useful or entertaining. Just in time to save Yahoo’s investment.
(None of us really knew what we’re talking about or we’d be running Yahoo or creating Tumblrs, but this is social media so we’re all allowed to pontificate. Mitch Joel may have been the closest to right when he reminded everyone that $1.2 billion is cheap if it simply buys Yahoo some relevance with a younger market.)
But here’s how Tumblr and Yahoo will make money. They won’t be saved by ad agencies, or creatives or some form of native advertising. It will be with algorithms and data and search software. Possibly from a company called Swoop.
In a total coincidence, the night after Mr. Knorpp asked me how Yahoo would make money with it’s newest toy, I found myself on a 50-mile road ride with the CEO of Swoop, serial entrepreneur Ron Elwell.
His new startup extends advertisers’ search campaigns by leveraging the content that a search ultimately leads a consumer to. So if you were looking for cake recipes, found a page that offered one, and were skimming through the recipe, Swoop knows that a.) you were searching for that recipe and b. how to match advertising with the content on that page in a very user-friendly and unobtrusive way.
Swoop relies on what it calls “hints,” essentially asking you if, at that moment, you are interested in an ad or offer about, say, cake mix, or sugar or milk. Only if you say “yes,” do you see an ad. Better yet, that ad gets customized based on what your search terms have been, so its relevance is increased.
Yes this is one of many new programs and platforms attempting to make advertising more timely and contextual. But what makes it interesting and suggests real potential is that it actually respects the user and offers him or her a choice.
What does something like this mean for Yahoo and Tumblr? First and foremost, suddenly all content becomes more valuable. If you, as an advertiser, know that an interest in certain terms, whether searched or discovered in content that readers care about, leads to traffic and sales, you have more relevant places to offer your “hints.” And, of course, given that Yahoo is now sitting on a ton of new, fresh daily content that it already knows people seek out, it has something useful to offer advertisers.
This won’t happen overnight. Right now Swoop is still in the process of evaluating the content against which its technology works best. And much of the content on Tumblr is, of course, visual. But it is likely that the solution, or part of it, will come from new ways to create contextual advertising that accurately knows what a user or reader wants, not simply assuming that a like or a follow means she wants to be pummeled with so-called native ads in her stream.
Of course, platforms like this, assuming they are successful, will benefit any content creator or popular destination. But at least it gives Yahoo a fighting chance and a way to leverage traffic, popularity, and its young readers without fucking up what does seem to work for Tumblr users.
In fact, Yahoo might even be able to make more money off of its porn.
I’ve been a fan of Springpad since they first launched. Enough so to join its board and also to fill in as interim CMO for six months in 2012. I can’t say I was a very good CMO – not a master of growth hacking, which is what startups really need in their marketing mix – but I did push for one feature. Embeddable notebooks.
Everything that Springpad is about – filtering the web, acting on your “springs,” saving, preserving and presenting content in a form that keeps it persistent rather than lost in the stream – is exemplified when notebooks become embeddable. Now you can post them anywhere, share them on platforms other than Springpad, allow your notebooks to travel across the web.
And if you’re a blogger, publisher, media company – and who isn’t these days – it gets even better. Springpad gives you a means of curating, organizing and sharing content in a more productive way than ever. Letting your readers access it, re-Spring it, copy an entire notebook, or more easily navigate to the original source.
If you are a user already, embeds are possible simply by hitting the share button inside a notebook, then grabbing the embed code. Just like a YouTube video. Give it try. Create, curate, publish, distribute.
It will be a great new feature. Love to hear what you think.
Should a copywriter know how to launch and execute a social media campaign? Is it necessary for an art director to be able to program a Maker Bot? Do you think a planner needs enough knowledge of Final Cut Pro to edit her own videos?
A few years ago the answer to all of these questions might have been no. But that may not be the case anymore. In a recent book called Mash Up, Ian Sanders, marketer, author, FT columnist argues that it’s no longer enough develop a single skill. Ian’s premise is that you’ll find a more fulfilling job, enjoy a competitive edge and make more money if you develop or leverage multiple skills.
Forward thinking companies want multi-skilled people
But in the long run, you may have no choice. At innovative companies, diversity is the new expertise. IDEO doesn’t have constrained job descriptions. They expect you to design your career and contributions in the same way they solve problems for clients. At Google’s Creative Labs, which has grabbed some of the ad industry’s top creative talent, Strategy Director Ben Malbon seeks “people fluent in one language, but literate in many.” The same is true at Mullen. In the long run, an art director who can invent and launch a new app might be more valuable than one who can only art direct.
In some cases there are new positions emerging that in and of themselves call for multiple skills. Five years ago creative technologist, social media strategist and experience designer were non-existent roles in most agencies. Chances are that over time, these newer jobs will become even more prevalent, or at least offer greater opportunity.
You may already be that T-Shaped multi-skilled person. If you’re not, here are some simple things you might want to do.
1. Learn more about technology and what you can do with it.
Everything from emerging social platforms to HTML5 to the accelerometer in your mobile phone. The more you become aware of their potential, the more problems you can solve and the more opportunities you can create.
2. Make something yourself.
These days if you can think it you can create it. With resources that include Apple’s software developer kits, 3-D printers, cheap hosting on Amazon and the distribution power of the Internet, you (or your employer) don’t need a lot of money to invent an app or even a platform. Mullen art director Sam Mullins, just launched this. TourBus.
3. Partner with people who do what you don’t.
I had a student last semester who conceived a platform to help students change their housing. He had no idea how to build it, but decided to find some other students who did. Six months later BU Room Swap was up and running.
4. Change where you sit
I’m constantly surprised what a difference this can make. If you are surrounded by people who do exactly what you do all day long you lose out on the serendipitous collisions that open your mind to different ways of problem solving.
Multi-skilled does not mean generalist
However, being-multi-skilled is not shorthand for lacking a deep talent in at least one area. Simply being a generalist won’t get you hired. At least until the typical agency staffing plan gets reinvented. Most plans don’t include generalist or multi-skilled as a job description. They list all the usual positions, from account management to studio artist. A client agrees to pay for a certain number of FTE’s and that determines who gets hired and put on the business. And at the end of the day writers still have to write, designers have to design, and animators have to animate. The objective is to master your craft and learn enough about the other roles and functions that can make you better at yours.
Share your thoughts. Working somewhere that welcomes or demands multi-skilled contributions? Or frustrated in a company that still compartmentalizes people?