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  • June 2023
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Interactive, digital, whatever – it’s here. Will your agency survive?

4asdigi.gifI mentioned some time ago that I was on my way to attend the 4As Digital Conference for Agencies of All Kinds in NYC in mid June. I hopped an early morning flight with my CEO and our web and creative directors to Manhattan for the day. The conference was well done except for this – no wireless. What kind of digital conference doesn’t have wireless?! Although, I was probably one of maybe five people there with a laptop.

Some unsurprising, but healthy headlines from the conference included:

  • Agencies need to be willing to try things and be passionate about the online space. Creativity in strategy, creative and analytics are a must.
  • Silo-free is the agency of the future. Look at every campaign from every angle. Look across all channels of outreach that best fit the product. Digital does not replace traditional, it complements it.
  • Agencies must find creative ways to reach that lost audience and they must allow the consumer to engage with the brand on his own terms. Find creative ways for that to happen.
  • Additional web-based interactive complements traditional campaigns. Feedback from consumer and analytics are critical. Pay attention and use them well. Chicks fighting can be a popular interactive campaign (don’t ask).

A nifty panel discussion on the Ad agency of the future wrought some interesting comments. Claims that boutiques will not survive, like the small web agencies of yesteryear. Slowly clients start to realize that boutiques don’t have the communication experience necessary. Digital boutiques are making a lot of noise, and making a lot of “cool” things, but are they fulfilling the goals of the client? Agencies will need to develop their own in-house digital to survive. You cannot NOT know the digital space, but you also have to know traditional communication strategies and tactics. I don’t know, what do you think? Will the digital, interactive advertising agencies of today wane?



Chris Weil of Momentum Worldwide presented on how digital works in experiential marketing. Pretentious, but really fun to view. Great presentation. He said digital is not about agencies or a tactic that you add on. Digital embodies everything we do in marketing. Customers don’t segment experiences. We need to understand and orchestrate the experience that the consumer has with the brand across all channels. We must inspire consumers to lift their heads, to disengage their digits and get engaged with interaction. Effectiveness of brand experience plus the stickiness of brand interactive is huge. Number one for all consumers is experience; number two is word of mouth.

John Bell, managing director & executive creative director at Ogilvy PR Worldwide, was understandably my favorite presentation. Hey, what can I say, I’m a PR guy. I was impressed with Ogilvy’s 360 Degree Branding approach, but will have to keep an eye on what they do to see if it’s walking the walk. John mentioned typical things like authentic conversations with consumers is critical, is engagement. People are resonating with other people, they don’t trust corporations or marketing or advertising. Ogilvy is following trends in the digital space and tying messages to those online trends. Same as traditional PR, just in a different space, stripped of the corporate speak and hype. Conversations are ruling this space.armour-young.jpg

Other special highlights of the day were meeting John January from American Copywriter and having lunch with the infamous Paull Young. Funny story, I called Paull on my lunch break and said “I’m done, where do we meet?” He was like, “I don’t know, just walk down the street you’re on and we’ll meet up.” Mind you, I haven’t been in NYC since I was 5 and Paull just moved there a month ago. So, it finally dawned on us, where would be a good place to meet up on NYC that we could both find? How about the Empire State Building!? D’oh…those silly country boys.


Meet Me in New York – how big can it be?

I’ll be attending the AAAA Digital Conference for Agencies this Thursday in New York City if anyone happens to be going. I’m hoping to meet up with superman Paull Young and one of my PR heroes and maniacal genius Constantin for lunch as they work just a few blocks away from the conference.

My agency is developing my digital skills so I’m joining the CEO and a couple of the principals as we head to NYC for the day. It’s a one day conference, we fly in and out the same day – so there won’t be a lot of room for chit-chat or dilly-dallying (is that really a word?). Since we’re leaving that day, I’m hoping to stay to the end of the conference for “How a PR Agency Does Digital” from an ad perspective, but I’m not in charge of our schedules.

I really looking forward to going, but it is an Ad conference and in my experience, those people tend to lump PR into one giant publicity/event/stunt-management blob. Yes, I’m aware of the irony that I’m lumping ad agency folk into one giant doesn’t-understand-pr blob.

I’ll let you know how it goes, drop me a line if you’ll be there or live in New York City – how big can it be?

Sensationalist Ad Hater Headline Here

Super Bowl season is right around the corner as everyone who doesn’t live under a rock or in a perpetual hallucinatory state knows. Even me, a staunch hockey-only fan, can’t escape the ebb and flow of the communication efforts that surround the Super Bowl like a pr/ad gravitational pull. Uh, within limits, of course, I actually have a hockey game Sunday night that I’ll gladly be lacing my skates up for.

But my real reason for writing is this. I just wrote a seemingly anti-ad post, followed by a rather defensive comment. But it wasn’t the ads or concepts of ads I was opposing; it was the obnoxious way in which they’re forced upon us.

Truth be told, they can work. Julia Hood from PRWeek US wrote a great article (subscription required?) titled It’s not taboo for PR to admit that ads do work sometimes. Which, besides being a fantistic title, is also true. She goes into detail about buying a pair of Bose headphones. In addition to telling us how much Julia is willing to pay for a pair of headphones, it also tells us that PR pros are capable of paying attention to ads. She writes:

“What drove me to Bose’s online ordering page wasn’t the ad alone. It was the brand’s power, as understood through multiple channels over time, including product placement, ads, word of mouth, and media mentions.”

And that is the power of PR to which I was referring in my aforementioned blog comment. It’s a complicated network of messages over time. It’s no wonder ROI is so crazy and unpredictable. You can only really ever bet on the largest category of subjects to respond to any certain mix of stimuli at any snapshot in time. And what a ridiculous bet that would be! You’d never take those odds in Vegas, ever.

And this is also why I think an integrated marketing approach is the best, most solid, and respectable approach to the bottom line of any organization. Ads alone won’t do it, PR alone may won’t do it, R&D won’t do it, the brand alone won’t do it. C’mon, if it were that easy, wouldn’t we have already done it?

And I hate to admit it, but blogs and podcats aren’t the answer either. New tools are fantastic resources and present outstanding opportunties to convey messages in different ways, but it comes down to the message and the audience. And that’s another great power of PR, it should be the steward of your organization/brand message. PR is more than publicity, it is the champion for your communication efforts. Call it marketing communication if you want, but you’re missing something. It’s the whole process of communicating to every possible public (think target audience) that needs to hear your message. I also feel that PR folk need to be able to be the unpopular kids at the table and keep the strategy on track, regardless of how new or cool something is. If it doesn’t fit the message, don’t do it. So, in conclusion, I’ll wrap up with Julia’s concluding statement:

“Don’t be afraid to admit that ads sometimes work and blogs sometimes don’t. In order to secure their future, PR pros need to be the bravest people in the room and tell it like it really is.”

How much for the inside of your eyelids?

We all knew this was coming, but it’s becoming more real. Not only are we constantly bombarded my by messages nearly every second, there appears to be some space we haven’t covered up yet.

The floor wasted on walking? No it’s ad space!

The handrail of the escaloter just for safety? No, it’s ad space!

The inside of your eyelids? Well, hmm, how much?

The toiletpaper just for – ah, well, there’s one place I’ll gladly accept an ad or two.

The International Herald Tribune‘s Louise Story wrote this article about it. It’s an interesting article that doesn’t go into much detail except that it hints at advertisers thinking this is a great idea and that people are already sick of it.

Reminds me of this scene from Minority Report. Scccaaaaaarrrrryyyy. (feed readers, click here)

The article states: “Some advertising executives say that as long as an advertisement is entertaining, people do not necessarily mind the intrusion — and may even welcome it” Of course! These are the people who have never had a second alone with their own thoughts! They’d be shocked if they were forced to just…*gasp* sit and think! The mere attention-span fragmenting concept puts some people into hysterics. I honestly don’t know how I’d live in a big city.

And what’s worse, is that communicators already know that no matter how stupid your message, it’s never going to get the attention you want. It’s the quality of the message that counts. Unfortunately, the further into this landscape of adscape we go, the harder it is to get real messages out. Thank God for our innate ability to ignore things.

And people, did I mention people?

Association of National Advertisers Steppin’ Up

Stuart Elliott is at it again. Using mainstream media to bring awareness of new media. His recent article covering last week’s 96th annual conference of the Association of National Advertisers made me feel like cheering. Some highlights, which do not preclude reading the article, include some big names from big brands. They see the trends and understand it. “Too late” some would say, but I don’t. Hell, a majority of PR people are just figuring this out.

Said Stephen F. Quinn, senior vice president for marketing at Wal-Mart Stores:

“Today, the customer is in charge,” Mr. Quinn said, “and whoever is best at putting the customer in charge makes all the money.”

Said James L. McDowell, managing director at Mini USA:

“It’s a great thing every day to wake up and see what consumers have done to the brand…”

Burger King is one brand that has been pushing the limits in the social media space. Said Russ Klein, president for global marketing, strategy and innovation at Burger King:

“It’s more important for us to be provocative than pleasant.”

And perhaps most importantly:

“We can’t manage what happens out there,” said Lawrence Flanagan, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at MasterCard Worldwide. “It has taken on a life of its own.”

Advertorial – acceptable or devil’s penmanship?

Is it pay-for-play, unethical, okay, or acceptable only under certain circumstances? I took a poll through the Bulldog Reporter this week and took a snap of the results. Sixty-eight percent of those who responded (no mention of how many people had weighed in) think pay-for-play marketing should never happen. I note that it includes ethical issues for both journalism and PR. Nice touch. Twenty percent indicated it would be done under certain circumstances. But who has the definition of pay-for-play? Lots of wiggle room, I’d imagine. I mean, c’mon Clinton taught us we can legally stretch the definition of any word.

But advertorials? Who would argue that advertorials are unethical? I’m a big fan of advertorials used in certain circumstances. They’re tools of communication just like blogs or brochures. In some situations, it’s the best way to get the message out. Didn’t Johnson & Johnson put out advertorials during their mid-80s poison crisis? It was a way for them to get their story out in the days before the web.

But this NYT article from Maria Aspan indicates the blurry line some people are walking. The article details how the writer of an advertorial was paid for it, but also listed as a contributing editor in the publication. Not to mention the “this is a paid advertisement” was barely visible to the naked eye.

Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, a journalism organization [said] “As a member of the audience, how do I know where his loyalties are when I see his byline on something else?”

Purposefully deceptive? How does this compare to ghost writing? It doesn’t, if you ask me. But when you’re a contributing writer of a rag and are also paid to write ads for the same – that does sound a bit odd. As PR pros we’re bound to run into pesky predicaments every once in a while. Part of our jobs is to write.

I mean, right there in the PRSA Code of Ethics it clearly states:

A member shall:
• Be honest and accurate in all communications.
• Act promptly to correct erroneous communications for which the
member is responsible.
• Investigate the truthfulness and accuracy of information released
on behalf of those represented.
• Reveal the sponsors for causes and interests represented.
• Disclose financial interest (such as stock ownership) in a client’s
• Avoid deceptive practices.

I mean, I’m just telling you what it says. But so very few of the people who engage in PR practices are members of PRSA, IABC, or CIPR. So, there’s a loop hole.

To me, this whole thing goes back to definitions. PR is so inaccurately defined so often. PR is practiced by people who don’t understand it fully. PR is not solely publicity, but I’d wager most of the self-proclaimed PR pros out there do only that. PR is not just getting coverage for clients at any cost. Because there is a cost. And people are watching. Would there be a PR Watch organization if we stuck to a code of ethics?

Update: Robert French has a nice little discussion about online pay for play here.

See Value in Letting Go

This article from the New York Times (By STUART ELLIOTT Published: June 13, 2006) put a smile on my face. Letting agencies make strategic decisions for the company? Sounds good to me. I mean, agencies are supposed to know their stuff, so why not let them go about doing it?

Last year when I was in England, CEO of Edelman London, Stuart Smith, gave me an analogy that I've used often since. He referred to agency work as having both "arms and legs" and "brains" that are offered as part of the services. Sometimes organizations just need help with the tasks at hand, writing, creating, building things – that's the "arms and legs." The "brains" come in when an organization needs help with the strategic planning. Some companies need one or the other, some utilize both. But it has always seemed to me that a smart thing to do would be to hire an agency with proven strengths and let it do its job. Allow it to develop strategies with you, not just do things you tell them to. I mean, I would personally never hire a contractor to remodel my kitchen based solely on my design…I mean, I know nothing about…uh, buildin' stuff. That said, I would never let my contractor rebuild my kitchen without my input. I would utilize both the contractor's brain and her arms and legs to get the job done.

From the article:

One change is meant to help General Mills adapt to the new-media landscape as it tries to reach consumers using nontraditional approaches like the Internet, e-mail marketing and branded entertainment.

"The old media are alive and well, but the new media are in a very steep growth curve," said Jeffrey Merrihue, chief executive at Accenture Marketing Sciences in London, a unit of Accenture.

"You need to plan to take advantage of the opportunities and prepare for a future when the new media are more and more important," Mr. Merrihue said. 

This article shows just another way in which new media channels have allowed good companies to find ways to use them. They might not understand the medium completely, but there are those who do. And letting those people do what they know how to do is a great start for both the organization and the representative agency.


I am really looking forward to this. Live-action commercials on stage before shows? The USA Today article goes into detail:

"I don't know why nobody has thought of it before, to have a live ad on stage for theater," said McLynn, who will perform before a production of "Saturday Night Fever" at the Gaiety.

"It will be a real thrill for the people who are here, as 1,500 people are going to have been at a world first, they will be able to go home and say not only did I see a great show last night, but I saw the first-ever live ad."

I think they can really get away with this. It's truly surprising that noone has made this popular before. Perhaps it was too sacred a place, but I think they can make a go of it if it's done properly. By "properly" I mean, of course, cleverly with humor and panache – and with the right product. Mr. Clean products? I don't think so. Trips to London? Could work…I'm hoping YouTube gets ahold of one of these as I'm keen to see what they look like.

My guess is that the novelty of them will make them permissable for a while, and by the time people get tired of them, they'll be commonplace.

Hat tip to Population Statistic, thanks, Costa.

This is acceptable, in stark contrast to this article from The NY Times about people who buy movie tickets online getting text requests on their phones to review movies they've seen. Now that's intrusive and people won't stand for it for very long. That's one to watch, too.