This year officially marked by 18th year with my creative agency – Maris, West & Baker. Since my MWB tenure is now eligible for Selective Service I thought it would be a good time for some reflection. First I thought it would be nice to list the accomplishments of the campaigns on which I’ve worked over the years. It’s been quite a ride – from anti-tobacco work, to electronics recycling, logistics tracking, nuclear power generation, tourism, public health, economic development, and education access. That would make a great article. But you know what would make an even BETTER article? Ranking some of the standout surreal, weird, and hilarious situations in which I’ve found myself since 1999.
So they are, in no particular order, Tim’s Top 6 Strangest Career Moments at MWB:
Give it up for STEVE!… STEVE!… STEVE!… STEVE!
Very early on in my career we were working on a large anti-tobacco effort across the state. The most significant portion of this campaign was focused on teens. As part of the grassroots marketing effort, we staged a series of concerts across our state as a draw, and then used interwoven anti-tobacco messaging throughout the performances.
One particular concert was on a Saturday on a beach in the south part of the state that faces the Gulf of Mexico. The point of this particular concert was that we were going to take messages teens had written to tobacco companies, package them up, and ship them to the headquarters of the top US tobacco industry CEOs. Kind of a “hey, stop targeting me” kind of message.
Well as it turns out, staging a “postal event” wasn’t exactly sexy back in 1999 (some things don’t change). So, being the good ad agency that we are, we had to figure out how to turn it into a spectacle (some things never change). It just so happened that at the time I had long hair…like really long. Like Brad Pitt in Interview with the Vampire long (some things REALLY change). Someone thought, “Hey, Tim would make a GREAT delivery guy! Let’s have him play that part!”
And it just so happened that one of my female co-workers at the time had an ex-husband (named Steve) who spent a stint as a mechanic. She also just happened to have in her possession one of his garage uniform shirts, adorned with a “Steve” patch on front pocket. The consensus was it looked like something a “delivery guy” would wear.
So I donned the Steve shirt, and marched on stage as the “Delivery Guy” to pickup the package that was going to be shipped to tobacco company CEOs.
As I trotted out from stage right, the emcee of the concert announced, “And here comes the delivery guy to send YOUR voices to the tobacco industry!” She glanced over at me, I guess saw the Steve shirt, and turned back to the audience to an yelled:
“Everybody GIVE IT UP FOR STEVE!!!!”
The crowd started to chant, fists pumping in air: “STEVE…STEVE…STEVE…STEVE…”
I glance out over what was now clearly MY audience. There were some teens in the crowd. There were also a sizable number of slightly overweight, shirtless (male), and insert-domestic-beer-brand-here-bikini wearing (female) folks. Ok, maybe they were actually the majority. They had NO idea what the concert was about, or what the hell this package was, but they were definitely giving it up for Steve! I took the box, offered a fist held high in the air (to thunderous applause), and walked-nay strutted-off stage.
That one was for Steve…whoever he may be.
2. I got AIS’ed by a VIP
I was doing some work with a large (Fortune 500) company that required I travel around the country and help stage communications events at which a huge VIP within the company was speaking. Part of this project was admittedly pretty cool, as the mode of transportation was the company’s private jet. And lemme tell ya, it has been really tough to fly plebeian commercial ever since.
Pretty cool, that is, other than when you’re running late.
One of the particular events I was helping produce was some distance from the airport. So I left before the event was over in order to have plenty of time to return the rental car and then make my way to the runway for private planes (said with aristocratic British accent). It just so happened that the hangar area for private jets was nowhere near the rental car return area. As I was trying to navigate my way back to where I needed to be, my phone rang. It was my client.
“He’s ready to go,” said the voice on the other end.
I’m sure you can guess who he was.
I won’t say that I panicked, or that I would make a different decisions today than I did…but I’d be lying on both accounts.
“Go ahead, I’m not going to make him wait. I’ll find another way.”
Yep, I got AIS’ed.
(If you’re not familiar with the acronym, it means “Ass In Seat.” I took it from an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond in which Frank explains that was the rule for his kids back in the day. If the parents were ready to leave, and the kids didn’t have AIS, they got left.)
So let me backtrack a bit and explain why this was such a big deal. I stated that I was traveling around the country helping to produce these events. It just so happened that I got AIS’ed on the front end of back-to-back events. So, yeah. It wasn’t like I could just hop a plebeian commercial flight back home. The VIP who AIS’ed me had an event the very next day, but also had to stop in NYC for a meeting prior to (which is why the AIS happened in the first place).
I was left to my own devices. I checked alternative plebeian commercial flights. At this point I need to tell you that the locations of all these events were somewhat, well, in the middle of nowhere. Or at least located some distance from major airports. My research told me I could have waited three hours to catch a flight that landed me another three hours away from my final destination. Googling the distance, it was about a five hour drive.
I said to myself, “Self, you’ll probably never have the reason opportunity to drive this region of the country again. Just go back, get your rental car, and hit the road.”
So I marched back to the rental counter to reclaim my car. Which I actually didn’t mind. They have given me this sweet Lexus on the first go around. But when I requested a one way rental to my final destination I was told that “The Lexus couldn’t go one way.”
“Ok…what are my options,” I asked.
“We have a Ford Focus,” I was told.
So within the span of a couple of hours I had gone from cruising on private jets and tooling around in a tricked-out Lexus, to slumming across three states in a bubble car.
I will say that it wasn’t awful. I drove through the New England countryside for the first time in my life. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to upstate New York, but it was really pretty.
And rural. Over one stretch I went 30 miles scanning through the radio dial without picking up a station.
Anyway, I made to the location of the next day’s event. In the morning I proceeded to set up the event, and the VIP who AIS’ed me walked in.
“You made it!” he said.
“Yes, sir.” I responded.
Later that day my client told me that the “important meeting” in NYC was actually dinner with the VIP’s son.
Oh well. At least the drive was pretty.
3. I might have accidentally worked for the mafia.
I was working with a fairly sizable client (the names have been changed to protect…ME!) who had partnered with a business interest located out of Long Island. We were holding a planning meeting at the main company’s southeastern headquarters, and it became clear we needed to have a follow-up planning meeting with another partner, at the Long Island location.
I liked these guys. Great NYC accents. Really funny. Possible organized crime ties.
The head Long Island guy looked at me and said, “You need to come to this planning meeting. Fly up, and I’ll have my guy Paul Castellano pick you up at the airport.”
I paused for a moment. Looked at him.
“Big Paulie???” I asked.
“How do you know about Big Paulie?” The Long Island guy asked.
“Because I watch the news,” I said.
If you don’t know, Paul “Big Paulie” Castellano was head of the Gambino crime family in the 1970s, prior to being bumped off in a car bombing outside an NYC steakhouse in 1979 (and yeah, John Gotti orchestrated the bombing.)
The Long Island Guy laughed.
“Nah nah nah,” he said. “It’s’ not THAT Big Paulie…they are related, though.”
I made the trek up to Long Island. Paul “Not Big Paulie” Castellano did indeed pick me up from the airport.
He was wearing Wranglers and cowboy boots and sporting an Alan Jackson-esque ‘stache.
Sometimes, life is surreal.
Fortunately I didn’t find myself taking a dirt nap or sleeping with the fishes. At least not at the time of this article’s publication.
4. I spend a day lying in the dirt learning not to trust Bluetooth.
As of 2014, every single state in the United States (and like three cities in Afghanistan) had hosted a TEDx (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference. If you’re not familiar with TED Talks, it is a conference at which leading innovators of the day give talks on ground-breaking subjects. TEDx events are individually organized TED-licensed conferences meant to bring the same innovative spirit and “ideas worth spreading” to the local level.
So I said every single state had hosted a TEDx conference…except my home state of Mississippi. A group of us decided to change that. We received a license, and set about organizing the event. Even though we would be the last state to host a TEDx, we were committed to hosting one of the best.
We worked really, really hard. Renovated an old theater in an artsy area of town. Secured GREAT set design. The theme was “Fertile Ground” so the designers outfitted the entire stage with sod and dirt. It looked awesome. And through a lot of coordination with Disney, we even got Kermit the Frog as one of our main speakers. The first TEDx talk ever given by a Muppet!
So the day came and we were set. Our first speaker of the morning was an author who wrote for such titles as Playboy, The New York Post, and Spin. He had a great presentation that we had previewed the day before. As he proceeded to the stage and began his presentation, he clicked through his slides efficiently and deliberately, hitting every single cue.
But something really really weird was going on with the sound. This awful feedback was occuring. I mean AWFUL. Basically ruining the presentation. We scrambled. We thought it must be a problem with the speaker’s headset. Then we noticed everytime he clicked to advance his slides, the interference was happening.
He finished (the sound quality virtually ruined his presentation), and we took a short break trying desperately to figure out the situation while the PACKED theater crowded looked upon us, all judgmental-like.
So the issue was happening as he was clicking. So let’s eliminate the clicking, we thought. This meant manually advancing the slides.
The computer that was running the slides was positioned on the floor of the stage. Remember I said how AWESOME the stage was, all covered with sod and dirt? Well, it was awesome, except that to manually advance the slides someone had to lay in the sod and dirt. So myself and one of the other organizers took turns, literally getting “down and dirty,” to operate the computer all day.
Soooo….the TEDx event was a HUGE success. After taking a shower and several antihistamines, I wanted to figure out exactly WHAT had gone wrong in the beginning. Turns out, that instead of grabbing the slide clicker at the very beginning, the presenter had accidentally grabbed a rogue bluetooth mouse. Apparently, Bluetooth signal can interfere with wireless mics. And by “can” I mean “will” and “did.”
Yep, it was actually THAT GUY’S fault. Anyway, we allowed him to redo his talk later in the day with someone manning the dirt computer, and it went off flawlessly.
The moral of the story? Don’t cover your floor with dirt and sod.
5. A New Respect for the Hearing Impaired
So here’s another “clicker” story for you. I was involved in producing another set of events, similar to the ones I got AIS’ed on (see above). And this involved yet another VIP.
These events were internal communications meetings and were staged in front of LARGE groups of company staff. By “large” I mean “literally fill a theater” large.
So the stage was set. All the staff members filed into and filled a theater. The VIP approached the stage, picked up the clicker, and started to talk.
He clicked to go to the first slide, and the presentation went blank.
I was in the projection room manning the computer, so I reloaded it and advanced to the first slide.
The VIP addressed the information on the first slide, and then clicked to go to the second slide. Only the presentation went back to the title slide. The VIP was visibly annoyed.
Have you guessed it yet? Yep, we was clicking the “back” button instead of the “advance” button.
This was an important presentation, and the VIP was new to the position. He needed to convey an air of “having it all together.”
Thinking on my feet, I decided that everytime he clicked the back button once, I would click the forward button twice. I had helped build the presentation and had it memorized. All I had to do was listen to his verbal cues to know when to offset his one back click with my two forward clicks to render the correct slide.
Only there was one problem.
The projection booth was soundproof. I couldn’t hear a single word the VIP was saying. Yeah.
I ended up having to watch, like a hawk, his fingers on the clicker from about 70 yards away. When it looked as though he clicked once, I would click twice, and hope for the best.
It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t seamless. At one point, I think the VIP got a little spooked because he didn’t know someone else was controlling the slides. He set the clicker down on a stool and I was told he remarked, “We’ll just see what happens.” I continued to use physical cues to determine when to click through to the next slide.
As it happened, the entire presentation went fine, and I think the VIP event scored some points with staff for being funny and a good sport about the whole thing.
Anytime I do this now, I put a piece of tape over the “back” button on a clicker and write “back button infected with pink eye” on it.
6. A frog, a governor, and a surreal change of clothes
This is another story from the aforementioned TEDx event. As I said, this TEDx event really was a big deal for my state. We had secured a big name speaker in Kermit the Frog, and the reception for the event was actually held at our state’s Governor’s Mansion, with the Governor in attendance.
A little background here. At our TEDx event, each organizer is assigned one of the event speakers to “coach.” One of my assignees was a highly noted innovator in the field of education, computer science, and robotics. She worked with MIT Media Lab, was faculty at another noted Northeastern University, and has several grants and patents to her name. Her Curriculum Vitae is literally 14 pages long. She is also a native of Argentina and speaks four languages. She flew into town late the day before the TEDx event and was the final rehearsal of the day. She finished up her rehearsal and we had less than an hour to get changed and ready for the reception I mentioned at the governor’s mansion.
My wife and I drove the professor to her hotel and she overhead me tell my wife I’d figure out somewhere we could get changed.
“You can come up and change in my room if you need to,” the professor said.
“Really?” I said.
“Sure,” she replied. “Just change in the bathroom.”
We did. While we were getting changed my wife remarked,”Uh, ok…this is a bit surreal, right?”
And that was only the tip of surreal iceberg land.
We attended the reception at the governor’s mansion. Kermit the Frog was there, along with his Disney-supplied travel entourage. My wife was wandering around the mansion, looking for a bathroom, when pair of pocket doors slide open. She almost ran into the governor, who stepped out from behind them.
“Excuse me,” she said.
The governor had a new grandson (few months old), and thought it would be neat for him to meet Kermit. So the infant took a photo with Kermit (we all did), and then went back to his grandmother – the First Lady. My wife was milling about the appetizer table when the First Lady walked by with the baby.
“Would you mind holding him for a second?” First Lady asked.
“Sure,” said my wife.
After several seconds the First Lady found something she was rummaging through a drawer for, and came back to retrieve her grandson.
As she approached my wife she said, “Hey, the private quarters of the mansion have just been redone. Would you like to see?”
“Uh, sure,” we both said.
So the First Lady gave my wife and I a tour of the private quarters of the State of Mississippi’s governor’s mansion. My wife held the Governor’s grandson the entire time.
It was an amazing event. As we were leaving, we got in our car and my wife remarked, “We changed clothes in the bathroom of a genius, took a photo with the most famous frog in the world, and I carried the Governor’s grandson around the governor’s mansion.”
“Yep,” I said. There was nothing else to say.
• Helping save a co-worker who was choking on a piece of melon during a client meeting (actually pretty proud of that one).
• Ending my first office Christmas party with an Italian art director holding back my really long hair (NOT proud of that one).
• Hitting 70+ mph in a boat over open water headed to do some photography.
• Visiting the Atlanta corporate headquarters of a regional speciality pizza chain on a “new business” call, only to have it quickly digress into a tour of the owner’s personal warehouse where they stored a YUGE collection of old Boy Scout tents, vintage gas pumps, and Shoney’s Big Boy statues.
How today’s news with ESPN, Ai, and WPP is indicative of the death of “advertising.”
Sports entertainment goliath ESPN has laid off approximately 100 people, with about half of them being on-air talent. Amazon is introducing a new feature via their Echo that will help you choose your outfit of the day. Multinational advertising conglomerate WPP Group reports exceedingly slow revenue growth as clients “spend less.”
These three seemingly unrelated stories de jour actually are symptomatic of the new construct that is
disrupting rocking the advertising industry. And the foundation of this GAMECHANGING dynamic is something that we’ve been saying for some time: Consumers aren’t really consumers, anymore.
They are marketing partners. To remain viable, the advertising industry must treat them as such.
These three news items underscore why.
On Wednesday, 4/26 the buzz began to build that significant layoffs were imminent at ESPN. Watching Twitter in real time, it was apparent that phone calls were being made across the network. One moment a reporter tweets his best wishes for “the people being let go,” and the next minute returns to Twitter to reveal that he had just learned he is “one of those people.” The purge wasn’t confined to obscure analysts, either. Some fairly prominent names and former athletes were on the list.
Aside from the notoriety of some of the talent who were laid off, what makes this move interesting is that is was more proactive than reactive. Traditionally layoffs occur as a cost-cutting measure in the face of hard economic times. It has been recognized for sometime that ESPN has been “leaking subscribers.” But this is really misleading. As people cut the chord and ditch their cable packages, ESPN has been a victim of the bundle. The network is part of practically every basic cable subscription. The actual number of viewers of ESPN (versus subscribers) is far less than those who actually pay for the service as part of the bundle. The network’s penetration peaked at a little over 100 million households back in 2009/2010, and has fallen precipitously to under 90 million homes today. But again, that number is based on subscribers, not actual viewers. While it is true that its flagship TV properties like Sportscenter have experienced an actual decline in ratings, its other platforms – especially its digital and podcast properties – have grown.
This is no indicator of declining sports fandom. It says everything about trends in media consumption.
“ESPN has been actively engaged throughout its history in navigating changes in technology and fan behavior in order to continue to deliver quality, breakthrough content. Today, we are again focused on a strategic vision that will propel our vast array of networks and services forward.”
– ESPN president John Skipper in memo to company.
ESPN’s falling subscriber numbers have certainly hampered the stock price of parent company Disney. That being said, it remains one of the single most valuable properties owned by the entertainment giant, and generates tons of cash. The staffing shakeup isn’t a last-ditch effort to save a legacy brand. It is a move to intended to ensure the brand remains relevant in new media environment.
“Our content strategy… still needs to go further, faster… and as always, must be efficient and nimble.”
Here Skipper is specifically referring to digital offerings. And it is here that the advertising industry should taketh note. If a behemoth like ESPN is unable to shoehorn the old television construct into the digital age, you can sure as hell bet advertisers won’t be able to do it, either. It won’t be enough to pick up a thirty-second TV commercial and simply repurpose it as a thirty-second web ad. ESPN is changing their content model. Advertisers and advertising companies must change their content models, too.
And we’re not just talking “digital media,” either.
“In 2017, we are SO post-selling.”
The Ai genie is out of the bottle.
Channeling Alicia Silverstone’s fashion-tech from Clueless, Amazon is introducing a camera for Echo that, well, will help you tighten up that sloppy appearance. What does this have to do with the future of advertising? Everything. If Alexa tells you that your clothing selection for any given Wednesday is 50% outdated, it’s not that much of a leap to understand how Alexa can then suggest purchasing something more in-style from a featured fashion line. It fact, it’s not a leap at all. It’s likely the driving force behind the feature itself. How valuable it is to Ralph Lauren or DKNY or Adidas to be able to engage with their potential customers in their own closets??? Let me answer: UBER VALUABLE. The same dynamic works with food, hygiene products, electronics, cars….you name it. It is a whole new marketing doorway with Ai holding the golden key.
But again, simply porting over existing advertising executions to an Ai’s voice platform won’t work. That is selling. And in 2017, we as SO post-selling. Whatever engagement brands have through Ai platforms has to be just that – engaging. A resource for users. The construct isn’t a brand selling to a consumer anymore. It is a “consumer” (I hate that moniker) partnering with a brand, and vice versa. In first example from Echo, the partnership isn’t about selling a new jacket, it is about a brand partnering in a way that helps you look your best vis a vis your personal style and sensibility.
WHOA. That’s a seachange. We’re so very comfortable with the concept of “mass marketing.” You can largely throw that out the window as Ai becomes more prevalent and engrained in culture and commerce.
Which a part of other trends leading to a decrease in traditional “advertising.”
Consumers aren’t really consumers, anymore. They are marketing partners. To remain viable, the advertising industry must treat them as such.
Death of an advertising salesman
The WPP Group is to the advertising industry what ESPN is to sports media. It is the largest conglomerate of advertising companies in the world, counting the likes of J. Walter Thompson and Mindshare among its holdings. In it’s most recent earnings call, the company revised it’s annual revenue forecast downward. The reason is that clients just aren’t spending as much as they used to.
Why? See previous two stories above. Chord-cutting and on-demand platforms have put the squeeze on two of the main pillars of ad agency revenue: making ads and placing media. Traditional ads don’t function well on new platforms and jive with media consumption habits. Paid media placement hasn’t, and probably won’t be, totally supplanted by social media messaging, but digital ad buys are typically cheaper and thus the commission-model most agencies work on isn’t as lucrative. Plus digital media is highly accountable. Advertisers are able to review campaign performance by direct metrics – something that wasn’t possible in the age of newspapers and television. Therefore ineffective campaigns can be pulled more quickly, and effective spending levels can be more accurately determined. No over-spending means less revenue for ad agencies operating under a traditional model.
The train has left the station, and its not coming back. This is the new “advertising” paradigm. So what is the advertising industry to do?
First thing, stop thinking about “advertising.” “Advertising” is useful in a brand-selling-to-consumer construct. We are now in a brand-partnering-with-user construct. What are the kinds of executions that will solidify relationships between brands and users? I think the answer is creating useful content. Let’s face it, traditional advertising really isn’t that useful. Content that helps a user, or can be used as a resource, can also promote a product or brand. The Echo fashion camera is a great example of this.
I believe the most successful “advertising” companies of the near future will be those who morph into branded content creation studios. And “content” can’t be confined to video, either. Augmented and virtual reality are advancing at a breakneck pace. It appears that no less than Facebook is betting the farm that future ad revenue will be tied to augmented reality. The companies that figure out how to seamlessly yet effectively meld branded content into this augmented world of proliferated media platforms will be the winners.
Stop thinking about “advertising.” Partnership over salesmanship.
At the risk of the MWB Blog looking increasingly like a tavern, I feel compelled to write a postmortem on our latest #MWBeer30 event. Jon Fisher, Donnie Brimm, and Bethany Cooper from Oxford-based FNC gave a great talk reviewing many of the practices and protocols their company has put in place designed to stir innovation and creativity. I think attendees of this event (4/17) will agree that it really was inspiring to hear a Silicon Valley-esque approach to innovation being undertaken by a company who is committed to being headquartered in Mississippi.
Like I’ve said a million times before, Silicon Valley was an apple orchard 60 years ago. There’s no reason we can’t turn the Delta, red clay hills, pine woods, gulf coast, and mini-Appalachian landscapes that are Mississippi into something at least equally as impressive. And I don’t want to gloss over the fact that FNC – like so many other thriving entities – is committed to a robust corporate headquarters in our state. The company counts the majority of the top 20 banks in the U.S. as clients utilizing their applications. They are rapidly expanding operations into Brazil and Canada. I have a feeling new products are in the offing. FNC basically invented a category and is the market leader. Not bad for Oxford, Mississippi. Heck, that wouldn’t be bad for Oxford, England.
But back to the main point, the latest #MWBeer30. We had a great crowd attend representing Innovate Mississippi, the Mississippi Development Authority, the Clarion Ledger, EatShopPlayLiveJXN, C Spire, and various other highly innovative individuals. After a brief announcement about TEDxJackson 2015 (coming 11.12.15) and watching the newest Star Wars Trailer (yes, it looks uber cool) the folks from FNC took the floor. Here’s what we learned from their 6 minute 40 second presentation:
1. A 6-minute, 40-second, 20 slide presentation is called “Pecha Kucha.”
Here’s Jon Fisher from FNC getting into their talk. Many of you may be familiar with the “Pecha Kucha” approach. I was not. This is a presentation that consists of a total of 20 slides and each slide lasts no more than 20 seconds. Jon’s pictured here taking us “through the wormhole” that is FNC’s innovation process. The story I was told was that #MWBeer30 was the first time these guys had used Pecha Kucha in a talk… and they didn’t practice, either. They really had it down seamlessly, so I don’t know that I necessarily believe that “we didn’t do a run-through” story. Either way, they nailed it. This was a highly effective and engaging way to present information, so three cheers on the style points!
2. Play-Doh isn’t just for kids anymore.
Bethany Cooper of FNC talked specifically about some of the (dare I use the phrase) out-of-the-box exercises that the company utilizes to get the creative juices flowing. These include actual Play-Doh planning sessions. Don’t be skeptical. There’s a reason four-year-olds think they can do anything.
Other hyper-cool practices FNC has implemented include developing and maintaining their own internal Innovation Team, an annual all-night hackathon called The Forge (props to Jon Fisher for having a product from The Forge now in development), and their implementation of the “80/20” work principle. The latter of these, being a concept pioneered by 3M and really made famous by Google, roughly states that an employee has the freedom to spend 20% of their time working on pet projects they believe will contribute to a company’s mission, outside of “sanctioned” job functions.
3. People will show up and talk… for beer… (and for other reasons, too).
Many, many apologies to FNC, but I didn’t learn until they pulled into our world headquarters about 2:45 p.m. that they had actually missed out on the annual FNC crawfish boil to some speak to the attendees of #MWBeer30. I hate the thought of making someone miss their own event like that, but I will also say that we’re not BYOB. We had great craft beer (much of it brewed here in the great state of Mississippi) on hand for sampling. There are so many innovative people in Jackson and across Mississippi that we feel honored to provide a forum to evangelize the growing nature of our state’s knowledge economy, the great creative assets that we possess, and the how companies, organizations, and individuals are really fostering a culture of innovation.
Tasha Bibb (top) and Lynlee Honea (bottom) were among a contingent from Innovate Mississippi who attended #MWBeer30. Innovate Mississippi is a great organization who are champions of innovation culture and entrpreneurialism across our state. Always very glad to see these folks in attendance.
4. Mississippians are engaged and ready to support our knowledge-based companies.
Plain and simple, we (Mississippians) get a bad rap. “We’re a backwater…” “we really can read and write…” “thank goodness for Arkansas…”. Well we say phooey on all that nonsense. And apologies to our friends from the Travelers State, no disrespect intended. I’m just trying to convey the point here that we’re poised and ready to springboard into a prominent place in the 21st century.
Here’s Donnie Brimm from FNC talking. Donnie and the rest of the FNC crew got peppered with questions after their 6 minutes and 40 seconds were done. And I don’t mean peppered in a “Mike Wallace from 60 Minutes GOTCHA” kind of way. The people at #MWBeer30 were genuinely curious and supportive of great knowledge-based business like FNC and wanted to know more about the industry, the development aspect, and especially what kind of stumbling blocks had the company encountered in implementing a real culture of innovation.
They say that an indicator of creativity and intelligence is the ability to ask great questions. That being said, we certainly had a highly creative and intelligent group of people who attend #MWBeer30. Being a connoisseur of great craft beer is simply a plus. By the way, our craft beer is courtesy of the great guys at LD’s Beer Run, serving a huge selection of local, regional, and national craft brands. Stop by and see them if you’re ever in the neighborhood.
5. Star Wars The Force Awakens looks super cool.
One of the warm-up acts for FNC’s presentation was screening of the new trailers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. To quote Mississippi icon Marshall Ramsey, “I watched it at least a dozen times and I felt my heart swell when Han said, “Chewie, we’re home.” To quote MWB VP Keith Fraser, “OhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGod.” Yes, it certainly sends chills throughout your spine. The folks gathering at MWB world heaquarters gave a standing ovation after the trailer. Well, technically they were already standing, but I feel certain if they could have levitated, they would have.
6. It’s ok to hire people with purple hair.
This was actually a happy little coincidence of parallelism. A couple of years ago FNC CEO Bill Rayburn was giving the luncheon keynote talk at Innovate Mississippi’s annual luncheon. During his impassioned delivery (those of you who have ever heard Mr. Rayburn give a talk know exactly what I’m talking about), he made the statement – I’m paraphrasing here – that in the new economy we have to get over not hiring people because of things like tattoos and purple hair and instead be meritorious in our approach. Basically, hire the most creative, innovative, and driven person for the job at hand.
Well MWB new hire Erica Robinson just happened to show up at her first #MWBeer30 sporting a rather glamorous “Friday wig,” as she calls it. Everybody loved it. She’s a great addition to our creative staff and innovative culture and certainly the embodiment of how not to let individualism and self expression be an impediment to raising your organization’s intellectual talent. Can’t wait to see this Friday’s colour-de-jour.
In fact, one of the best TEDx talks I’ve heard was given by purple-haired Heather Crawford at the TEDxAntioch event I also spoke at in 2014. Check out Heather’s talk here, titled “You really ARE what you eat.”
Correction, 1:37 P.M. Also do not be afraid to hire people who’s names are spelled in unconventional ways. I just realized her name is actually “Hether Crawford.” Our apologies, Hether.
So anyway, a great time at April’s #MWBeer30. Again, many many thanks to FNC for sending down some of their most impressive folks to give a great 6-minute, 40-second presentation. We’re already working on the agenda for #MWBeer30 in May, so if you want to keep up with this and other #MWBeer30 events, please opt into our MWB Tap special alter system. Cheers!
Ray Harris (MWB), Tasha Bibb & Lynlee Honea (Innovate Mississippi), various unidentifiable pairs legs.
All photography via MWB’s Tate Nations.
We’ve launched a new digital magazine focusing on creativity and innovation in the world of marketing. MWB staff Tim Mask, Randy Lynn, and Marc Leffler are the magazine’s primary content wranglers. The magazine is created via a platform allowing for optimized viewing via tablet or smart phone. New editions will be available every 7 – 10 days, and will chronicle the innovation happens that make advertising one of the world’s most rapidly evolving industries. The publication, called INNOVATIONS is available by subscription or can be viewed by clicking here. MWB’s Twitter feed will also note when a new issue has been posted. We all hope you enjoy!
If you happen to hear a heated conversation at MWB about dark matter, parallel dimensions or world history, you can be pretty certain Tim Mask is behind it.
For a good long while, Tim’s favorite word was “balkanization,” and he sprinkled that word liberally throughout several marketing proposals. That is, until I started poking fun of him for using arcane geopolitical buzzwords in situations where arcane marketing buzzwords would work just as well. Kidding aside, Tim is a deep-thinking kind of guy and I recommend his blog to anyone that’s interested in marketing, electronic media, technology or other related stuff. Here’s an excerpt from his terrific post, Chaos, Creativity & Sober Englishmen.
Great moments in mankind’s history—Einstein’s revelations about the relationship of space and time, Newton’s epiphany about gravity, Steve Job’s development of simple and beautiful technology, Tim Berners-Lee and the innovation of hyperlinks—countless other moments when the clouds parted, the blinding rays of innovation shown directly into the grey matter of some contemplative individual, and the world was forever changed. We have, really since the enlightenment of the 16th and 17th centuries, kept this idea surrounding the inspiration of genius. Great thinkers, in contemplative moments of solitude, reach the epiphany which had for so long eluded them.
Tim goes on to discuss how, more often, creativity is the product of chaos, not solitude. Interesting point. As a creative person and a writer, I can see both sides of this perspective. When I’m focused on ideas, a little chaos can be a good thing, as it’s often helpful to gather creative inspiration from a wide variety of sources. Alternately, when I’m writing, I like as much solitude as I can get. Writing is, for me, a more focused process. I can’t even listen to music. The difference may be due to the fact that creativity is more of an “open” process. The more input, the better. When I write, it’s less about being creative and more about translating the idea into words in an effective way. Okay, I’m starting to get pretty deep here, myself. Back to Tim.
In his post, Tim talks about how England’s entrance into the Enlightenment period was preceded by a transition from beer, as the favored beverage, to coffee and tea. I can relate. My “enlightenment period” lasts approximately five minutes when I am drinking beer. I have a tolerance on par with Sunday school teachers and recent blood donors. Coffee works much better for me. Good thing, too, as I don’t think my boss would appreciate me having a morning beer at my desk during the week.
So creativity thrives on both chaos and alert sobriety. I would add another factor: discontent. People invent things because they’re not happy with the status quo. Sometimes the invention is simply a means of escape from a miserable situation, as was the case with the blues and its invention by impoverished black sharecroppers years ago in the Mississippi Delta.
Other times, the discontent is fueled by the realization that there just has to be a better way. After a hundred years of shaking ketchup bottles vigorously and smacking the bottle just so, somebody had the brilliant idea to make a container that opened at the bottom. Wow. It seems so painfully obvious. When this product hit the store shelves, I bet a hundred thousand people said, “why didn’t I think of that?” Well, why didn’t you? You’d be a ketchup millionaire by now if that bottle had been your baby.
More than anything, the role of discontent in creativity gives me reason to be hopeful about the future of Mississippi, the state that I chose to call home some 18 years ago. Yes, we know: We are a long way from being the smartest, the fittest or the wealthiest state in America. But we are not content, and we are ready to do something about it. Let’s get innovating, people!
My colleague Tim Mask had posted an article a few days ago about not allowing negative circumstances to overpower your brand. Based on my experience, I wanted to offer my take on this idea. Before coming to Maris, West & Baker over a year ago, I held positions in project management and marketing for many years at the storied wireless communications company SkyTel. For any of you not familiar with the company, SkyTel was founded in Mississippi in 1988 and became the worldwide leader in two-way paging (yes, back when paging was ‘cool’). Thinking about it now, the company basically invented commercial wireless communication, which takes us right to the age we live in today. (more…)
BOUNCE RATE . . .killer of web ROI. When we think of measuring effectiveness of our interactive campaigns we tend to focus on impressions and click-throughs, but the real underlying indicator is bounce rate. Regardless of your success in attracting eyeballs to your website, if you consistently maintain a high bounce rate, you’re actually likely doing more harm than good.
“Bounce Rate” can have a highly technical definition, but in layman’s terms let’s just say that a “bounce” is essentially a visitor that lands on your website doesn’t stay there any significant amount of time. Sometimes this is due to user error – clicking the wrong link, entering the wrong address, etc. However, more often a bounce comes as the result of a user not relatively immediately finding information that is relevant to their query, not interacting further with your site, and “bouncing” right off your URL.
Yes, it’s important. You can’t expect your audience to interact with your site if you don’t give them a reason to.
A decent bounce rate is less than 40% (4 out of 10 visitors to your site do not remain on a landing page or interact with the site). An average bounce rate is around 65%. Analytic services (e.g. Google) reads your site’s bounce rate and uses such as a metric when calculating site relevance, which is a determining factor in how highly (or not) search engines rank your site in search results.
As with all things digital, there are best practices that help you lower your bounce rate and increase your site’s relevance. A major factor is, of course, content. You can’t expect your audience to interact with your site if you don’t give them a reason it. So having content in place that users are looking for is one of the “no-duhs” (as the kids said when I was in school).
So if content is the “artistic” side of making your site relevant, the way in which the information is served to your audience would be the technical side. Traditionally, this has been the trickier aspect to get right. Even to the point of website best practices contradicting other website best practices.
Clearing the Digital Kudzu.
A cardinal rule of website design is to not overload the user with information on the homepage. Keep it clean, simple, and visually engaging. Problem is, how can your expect to serve relevant information for specific search queries if that’s the case? A solution to this problem came in the form of Micro-sites and custom landing pages. Search queries or other advertising would drive users to content-specific landing pages that would then link viewers back to your main website, or relevant sections on your website.
Technically, this worked. Practically, it was the digital equivalent of bringing in kudzu to control land erosion.
So the issue of serving relevancy was nominally solved, but landing pages and micro sites created more work. A lot more work (just ask your friendly neighborhood web developer). And from a branding standpoint, it often had the result of producing more brand confusion, and less awareness for the brand itself. No good. Throw into the mix the rapid proliferation of mobile devices – which necessitated the need for mobile versions of websites – and the problem was only compounded.
So to in order to maintain optimum user experience combined with effective brand promotion and organizational efficiency, we needed to find a way to clear the digital kudzu. The overgrowth of mobile sites, micro sites, and landing pages needed to go. The ability to reduce bounce rates need to stay.
Intelligent Responsive Content (IRC)
New technologies have emerged which seem to be a good solution that addresses each side of the problem. Collectively, I’ll call the approach “Intelligent Responsive Content,” or IRC. We’ve been implementing IRC solutions for clients now for several months, and have documented success with the approach.
In an IRC model, the technology addresses two aspects. The manner in which the content is served – particularly to the homepage – is dynamic and user-defined. Not to get too technical here, (you can contact me if you have further questions), but basically your website determines what content a user sees based on a series of “if/then” scenarios. The “if’s” can be derived from a series of factors – nature of search query (what did the user search for), manner in which they reached your site (display ad, facebook post, linked article, search engine, etc.), even aspects like geographic location, time of day, etc. One of more of these variables is then associated with a “then” that tells the site to service specific content.
For instance, let’s say you own a company that makes various products, including a Flux Capacitor. Let’s also pretend that the Flux Capacitor has a large profit margin, but represents a small portion of your overall business. It doesn’t make much sense to feature the product on your home page, but sales are still highly profitable to small group of people. You want to make sure that if someone if looking for a Flux Capacitor, they can find it on your site.
An IRC system can identify this person through their own actions – i.e. they search for Flux Capacitors on Google, or they read an article about Flux Capacitors, or they see a Facebook post that your company makes great Flux Capacitors. Then if that person comes inbound to your site, the technology behind IRC reads their intent, and “serves” information on your home – text, or visual – related to Flux Capacitors. Being hit with highly relevant information immediately will reduce bounce rate and also increase conversions.This system functions from code, with the content being served dynamically. Thus, you are able to have the effect of a custom landing page or micro site without having to maintain separate landing pages and microsites. One URL, multiple versions of the information on your site.
That’s the “I” component of IRC. The “R,” being “responsive,” is a relatively simple way of making your site mobile friendly without having to maintain separate mobile sites. Again, through a coding process, your site can recognize the browser window size of an inbound visitor, and re-order the information on your site for optimal viewing. So your information can be presented in customized layouts for smart phones, tablets, mini-tablets, and desktop screens.
A lot of Kudzu grew up around the Internet. IRC strategies can help to clear the vines.
Think about the number of marketing messages you see during a typical day: Your morning begins with a commercial on your clock radio. You turn on the TV and a car dealer shouts at you as you brush your teeth. You get dressed, and there’s a logo on your pants, your shirt, your watch. You see billboards on your drive to work. And, at work, you see Google search ads and banner ads on websites. At lunch, you check Facebook and see their ads, too… (more…)
Every time there has been a media “revolution,” it’s been accompanied by a background chorus crooning “this will change advertising forever.” The printing press allowed for ad placement. Radio was “mass communicatin'” (to borrow a line from O Brother Where Art Thou). Television brought video to the masses. Then, later, DVRs allowed the masses to control how they watch it. And the Internet, well, that was supposed to totally change the advertising landscape.
Truth is, none of these channels did much of anything to fundamentally shift the advertising paradigm. Each either allowed advertisers to 1) communicate with more people at once, or 2) better target their advertising to a more applicable group of people. But, at the core, the dynamic remained the same: a company/organization was trying to sell something to the people. “They” were trying to convince “you” to buy something “they” were offering.
As an embryonic advertising platform, interactive social media may have the potential to actually change everything. Social media isn’t corporate-authored messaging trying to get people to buy. It’s a mass peer-to-peer network where consumers can recommend purchases to each other. Brands aren’t leading the messaging. Rather they are trying to encourage participation in the channel. Brands aren’t telling consumers what they want them to believe, they are encouraging people to insert their brand messaging into the medium via dialogue.
The call to action is quickly moving from “buy now” to “like us” and “tell your friends.” Wow.
Long ago, the only advertising was through word-of-mouth. Not since our ancestors first hung out “ye olde tavern” signs, have brands been focusing so intently on returning to this medium. Used to be “word-of-mouth” campaign was code for “we don’t have any money.” That’s not the case anymore. Media tracking shows that advertisers are moving an average of 20% of their budgets into social media. The big players are engaging this word-of-mouth space.
Of course, “word of mouth” now is spoken by a keypad and through a URL. But it is still interesting that if, indeed, the latest technology is fundamentally changing the advertising paradigm, it’s doing so in a way that essentially capitalizes on word of mouth over mass communication.
This may change everything…back to the way it was.
Choosing the right advertising agency is an important key to effectively promoting your business, and will save you countless hours and unnecessary expense in the long run.
Here are five common mistakes to avoid and suggestions to keep you on the right track:
1. Choosing the wrong size agency
An ad agency should be large enough to handle your current needs and grow with your business. But bigger is not necessarily better. If you’re a relatively small account at your agency, you’re likely to get less experienced staff members working on your business.
The solution: Examine an agency’s client list before you hire them and make sure it isn’t dominated by companies much bigger than your own.
2. Putting too much emphasis on experience in your specific business category
Relevant experience is important, but see what your agency can do outside for other types of clients, too. It’s easier for a smart, talented agency to learn your business than it is for an experienced, but dull, agency to think outside the box.
The solution: Look for an agency whose work showcases an ability to project a distinct and appropriate personality for each client.
3. Going with the low bidder
The success of an ad campaign hinges upon your agency’s skill, creativity and capabilities. Often, the least expensive vendors are priced accordingly because they are lacking in one of those three areas.
The solution: Ask for a proposal disclosing all costs and a disclosure of the agency’s compensation. Ask for a complete listing of all full-time staff (excluding freelancers or part-time workers) and get several current portfolio samples showing work that has been done by the current staff.
4. Being charmed by personality
No question, you should have a comfortable working relationship with the people on your account. But make sure there’s real substance there, too.
Solution: Ask to meet the team that would be working on your account. Look for people who challenge you to think in new ways about your business, not those who agree to every word you say.
5. Expecting too much upfront
The amount of time and effort an agency will put into winning your business is directly related to your account’s potential profitability. It’s tempting to ask agencies to jump through hoops and answer thick, detailed requests for proposals. But if your account isn’t large enough for agencies to justify the time expenses required to answer, you’re not likely to get many takers. At least not many well-qualified ones.
Solution: Base your decision on personal meetings with the proposed team for each agency, a portfolio of recent work and a written estimate of costs. And be wary of any agency that promises to deliver “champagne taste on a beer budget.” In most cases, you do get what you pay for.