An Agency CEO and Brand CMO Write Each Other’s Resolutions

What Each Side Wants from the Other in 2015

Clients and agencies notoriously misunderstand each other. Their mutual complaints make great water-cooler fodder but rarely come out in the open. That’s why this year, we decided to write New Year’s resolutions for the other side. And while we may seem tough on each other, we have actually enjoyed a close agency-client relationship for over 10 years, hopefully without most of the issues raised below.

Agency resolutions (from the brand)

1. Learn our business. Too many agencies pitch us without having done their homework. We even had a well-known boutique agency allow a junior social-media strategist to lecture us on Social Media 101. #Fail. You need to be a sponge and participate in our business as much as you can.

2. Be a real partner. We see a huge correlation between curiosity about our company and effective work. Agencies need to make sure their core team is fully engaged, not just the account people.

3. Understand our objectives. Our goals should be the guiding light for everything you do. Things change in marketing. We get that, but you still have to keep a laser focus on our objectives. Fight for great work only when it clearly addresses what we are trying to achieve.

4. Be transparent. Always. Openness is a must for a healthy partnership. And don’t hesitate call BS on us when we deserve it. We’re adults, and we can take it.

5. Know yourself. You should know what your agency is good at, and more importantly, what it isn’t. That will define the type of clients best suited to your success.

6. Be proactive. Pitch us on an idea even if we didn’t ask for it. That shows that you know and care about our business.

7. Play to win. That’s all we want. Always strive for the best and we’ll celebrate success together.

8. Ask us for an endorsement. I’m proud of our agency partnerships and like to tell others who deserve our agencies’ attention.

Brand resolutions (from the agency)

1. Commit to grow. Too much cash is sitting on the sidelines these days. Let’s go for 10X-type ideas together, not the boring, single-digit growth budgets that are popular today at publicly traded companies.
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2. Mandate ROI. Three-quarters of marketers say they have at best a qualitative understanding of the impact their activities are having on their businesses. A measly 15% know the value of their social media. Your digital ecosystem can be measured and should be. Commit to a model for gauging its value and by all means hold us accountable to it.

3. Go where your customers are. Build apps (again). Over half of all digital time and traffic is spent on apps, so you need to make credible investments there. Also, if you want to reach millennials, you have to commit to YouTube and content in a big way.

4. Tell the truth. Be transparent about your goals and what success looks like to you. Make sure your agency understands that and works closely with your teams to make your goals reality.

5. Truly commit to innovation. We’re all talking a bigger innovation game than we’re playing right now. So partner with us to innovate on new platforms.

6. Don’t be assholes. (Not talking about Kieran, of course.) Culture matters. If your agency’s people like you, you will get the best work and best value out of them. If you behave like jerks, their top people will rotate off your account as soon as they can. It’s that simple.

7. Invest in agency relationships. The world’s most respected brands have long-term relationships with their agencies. But it seems like half of all companies are now reviewing relationships annually. To get the most out of an agency takes time, patience and commitment.

8. Think before acting. Right now everyone is reading the same blogs, following the same trends, and feeling pressure to respond to every competitive move on a new platform or technology. You can’t retweet your business model. You have to stop and think about what makes strategic sense (or ask us to help you).

Women, power and popular culture

There’s a business school in the US in which female students routinely use the “interrogative lilt” when speaking in class.

This “lilt” turns assertions into questions. The phrase “this strategy looks promising” is made to rise at the end, becoming “this strategy looks promising?” The speaker is now asking for agreement instead of insisting on it.

In a business school!  If women are not learning to be forthright here, something is entirely wrong with the world.  I mean, really.

Popular culture continues to cultivate images that make woman look little, unassuming, unthreatening, unintelligent, and incapable.

Happily, some women are fighting back and using popular culture to redefine themselves. Videos from Ingrid Michaelson (Girls Chase Boys) and Meghan Trainor (All About That Base) give us two great cases in point.  But neither of these go after the “lilting” problem.

I am persuaded that this work will be done by actresses in the world of film and TV. They will portray women wielding power. They will show us how to transcend acts of deference.

The early days were frustrating.  Some actors would overcorrect. They “butch up” their performances but this had the unhappy effect of costing them nuance, as actors and as characters. There was a lot of growling and shouting.  But of course real power usually comes in a more subtle form (and is more effective for its subtlety).

But we are getting signs of a new approach.

In Murder in the First (TNT), Bess Rous as Ivana West and the acting CEO of Applsn confronts her boss.  She is leaving the company and wants to let him know.  He’s a world class bully and tries to intimidate her.  She doesn’t blink.  She doesn’t back down.  In a great performance of self possession,  Rous/West just doesn’t care. She meets his hostility with an attitude that sits somewhere between pity and contempt. No bluff, no rattling of arms. Just an implacable presumption that he doesn’t matter and that she does.  No lilting here. (Please could someone get this scene on YouTube.)

iu-1In episode 3 of The Killing (Netflix) we get Joan Allen (pictured) as the head of a military academy. And the pity of this performance is that it is designed to make her look a bit of a monster. But even as Allen satisfies this requirement of the role, she works in little grace notes everywhere. Which is to say this actress can deliver an overbearing authority and not lose control of subtle messages. This aspect of Allen’s art, the ability to assume authority without diminishes it or herself, was also on display in the Bourne Conspiracy.

Tea Leoni as Madam Secretary (in Madam Secretary, CBS) is giving us a variation on the theme. Her approach to power exhibits a light hand. Madam Secretary leaves no doubt that she has power and what she will do with it when dealing with people who disappoint her, but mostly she is alive to the humor and the ironies of the moment.  Call this a sprezzatura performance of power.It’s a welcome addition to our power vocabulary.  (Men have something to learn here.)

Compare this performance to the one being given in Homeland by Clare Danes as Carrie Mattheson.  This is a wonderfully ferocious “let it rip” approach to power. Clare/Carrie goes at it. (She succeeds in making the men around her look like time-serving careerists.)  This is sheer intensity, with no trace of ego or self aggrandizement.  (Men could learn something here too.)

Our culture is under reconstruction.  Gender, especially, is changing. And I think of all the ways the US qualifies as a “city on a hill,” as a prime mover in social progress, it’s surely here on the question of gender that we are most watched and most admired.

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Ralph Lauren, the 80s called, they want their ad back

Here’s a recent ad for Ralph Lauren’s fragrance Polo.

It’s a cultural antique. This is what advertising used to look like when designed to flatter male egos and sell goods that were designed to flatter male egos in a cultural moment designed to flatter male egos. These days, its “Really? Get over yourself.”

Ralph Lauren has not been superbly in touch with the cultural moment. (Not since the 1980s when he helped define the cultural movement.) But this is really egregiously out of touch. I guess he doesn’t have a Chief Culture Officer.

What looks and feels more contemporary?  Have a look at this Fitbit ad.

The difference?

It’s not about one person.  It’s about lots and lots of people.

It’s not about young males. It’s about a variety of people.  Because some years ago, advertising and branding learned it had to let in everyone, not just the Young and Beautiful…and Male.  Who gets the credit here?  Sylvia Lagnado and Dove? Who else?

And it’s not about someone with that terrible look of self congratulation, that overweening red speedboat of an ego.

It’s not about speedboats but the diversity of ways people have found to entertain and exert themselves. This is plenitude in action.

Yes, this ad is an exercise in diversity because the Fitbit is designed to capture data generate by any activity. But notice the tone, the reckless, frenetic charm of this spot. It’s not about anyone’s ego. There are no beautiful people here. No celebrities. It’s a “Here Comes Everybody” exercise, to use Shirky’s phrase. There are a variety of deep cultural reasons why diversity is so important when crafting cultural meanings.

We are on the verge of a season that shows a relentless stream of James Bond movies, and with each season, Bond looks a little stranger, a man so besotted with himself that it’s hard to imagine rooting for him.  How do we identify with a monster of vanity? Those days have passed. This is where you are, Mr. Lauren, on the wrong side of history.

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