Monthly Archive: February 2010

Respect The Craft, Respect The Craftsman

Advertising is often referred to by its makers as a craft. It’s an assessment I’m fully on board with, but it’s one that usually needs a bit of clarification for it to make perfect sense to someone outside the business.

Craftsmen start out as apprentices, they become journeymen and, if it’s in the cards, they eventually become masters of the craft. Some people like Alex Bogusky of Crispin Porter & Bogusky master the craft early (he became a creative director at 27). For others it’s a long, strenuous journey to arrive at mastery. Either way, if you’re any good at making ads, you’re part of this unnamed, but still very real, guild of craftsmen. You’re on a journey, constantly learning from the masters and incorporating new things into your practice.

For the moment, let’s compare our work to that of a haberdasher’s. When an expert tailor makes a suit, it’s meant to bring out the best in a man. The new suit flatters but it doesn’t “make the man,” as some have argued. The same is true of advertising. A company’s product or service offering is what it is. No new suit, or updated brand identity, changes that. In other words, you don’t go to a tailor in order to lose 50 pounds, you go to a tailor for a suit that fits, whatever your weight.

To play out the analogy a bit further, there’s an implicit trust developed between a man and his suit maker. The man may express his tastes in a suit and his preferences regarding fit, but ultimately the tailor has to make the suit. In advertising, it’s common for the client to request several rounds of changes based upon all sorts of feedback received in hallway chats and other questionable quarters. If the same client tried to steer his tailor in this fashion–and the tailor, wanting to be paid more than anything else, allowed himself to be so handled–he’d end up looking like a clown.

Great work that ends up moving the needle for a client is always a result of mutual respect and the kind of client/agent relationship that allows for constructive feedback and constant learning on both sides. One of the charter goals here at Bonehook is to do work for our friends and for people we want to be friends with. Partly, that’s to ensure we’re always working for good. And partly, it’s due to the fact that it’s the only way great work is consistently made.

I Iterate, Therefore I Am

I got an education in Iterative Marketing this week thanks to Dave Allen at Fight. Please see “Fighting Words,” my story on AdPulp for the full rundown.

Fight is a new strategic marketing agency that emerged last year after Allen and Justin Spohn left Portland-based Nemo to join with Rob Shields of Razorfish. Fight’s big client is Pacific Gas & Electric, and their main message to marketers is THE BIG IDEA’s time has come and gone, thanks to the rise of the Internet and the cultural impact created by that watershed event.

I’m making note of it here because I believe in supporting other creative professionals in Portland (and learning all I can from my colleagues). In days gone by my instinct might have been to compete, not to share ideas and the spotlight. Today, I think it’s clear we all need one another to survive, and no one firm can do everything right. For instance, I pride myself on my strategic abilities but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Fight as a strategic partner, if I felt that was the best solution for my client.

So, what’s Iterative Marketing and why should we care? It’s a process where a brand takes many small steps towards solving its marketing problems, versus large and expensive steps that can’t be tweaked midstream or easily undone. Each step allows for data gathering, analysis of said data and the ability to fix or change the creative on the fly. In other words, it’s the way things are built online. Take this site, or Fight’s for that matter. We’re up and running, but we’ll be making lots of improvements as we go.

Given the importance of ROI to every marketer, I believe we’re going to see and hear much more about this new framework. Personally, I came up in the industry at a time when THE BIG IDEA was sacred. But after discussing the matter with Allen, I am for the first time open to the concept that lots of small ideas, properly managed, can outperform one BIG IDEA.

It’s also interesting to see digital culture’s impact on business. Our clients and our agencies might come from the 20th century, or the 19th in some cases, but we’re in a new time now and it’s our job as communications professionals to understand what’s going on around us and to adapt our own businesses and our clients’ marketing to the new realities.

Exhibit A: The Bonehook “B”

I’m working with Portland-based designer Aaron Draplin on the development of Bonehook’s brand identity, and while we’re not all the way there just yet, he provided me with some incredible initial ideas.

Exhibit A:

[UPDATE] Draplin’s on business in Germany right now; yet, he somehow found time to get me round two. I’m honored to have such a hard working, and insanely talented designer on this job.

Portland Wants To Help, And Pretty Much Everyone But W+K Needs Help

Last night, I listened to Dan Wieden tell stories about his illustrious career at Jimmy Mak’s, the Pearl District jazz club. My full report is available on AdPulp, but I’d like to use this space to pursue an answer to a question from an audience member that Wieden failed to sufficiently address.

The question came from Sarah Harpole, a Senior Project Manager at Portland Development Commission, the city’s economic development arm. She asked Wieden how the city might better serve W+K and other creative firms in the city. Wieden said, “That would be a good idea.” An uncomfortable silence followed. I was sitting near Harpole, so after the talk I mentioned that I’d be happy to address her question.

This morning when I searched for the words, “Portland Creative Class” I found a page on PDC’s site devoted to the topic. There is some good data on this page (see below), but not much in the way of an argument for using our services.

  • 1,500 firms and a total of 14,000 employees.
  • Revenues of $2 billion and a payroll of $976,808,000.
  • Average creative services wage $66,663/year compared to regional average wage of $40,639.
  • Greater percent of freelancers or self-employed professionals than other industry clusters.
  • More than half of the state’s graphic design firms are concentrated in the Portland metro area.

My suggestion to Harpole and the city is to build on this good start. Develop a Portland creative class brand and launch a site (and a campaign) that makes the case for employing Portland-based firms. It’s not an original idea. Savannah, GA, for instance, supports local firms with their Creative Coast initiative. Unlike Savannah, Portland is well known for being attractive to well-educated, young workers. But that doesn’t mean we can leave it at that.

Consider the work Rick Turoczy performs on behalf of the city’s tech community. He’s a one man publicity machine for his industry and there’s little doubt he’s creating value for the companies he reports on. The city could pretty easily adopt Turoczy’s Silicon Florist model, staff it with an editor and fund it properly so said editor can pay writers to report on the entire scope of creative industries, and Portland businesses within those industries.

Naturally, I’d be honored to work with the city on a project of this nature.

Fielding Questions from the Academy

Sean Trapani, Professor of Advertising at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), found an old short story I wrote about an aspiring copywriter who has dreams of working at Wieden + Kennedy. The good professor figures it’s a tale his students ought to read, which is flattering.

Trapani also asked me to address the following five questions for his students’ benefit.

1) What have you found to be the biggest truth & biggest myth about copywriting?

Copywriting, like all writing, is driven by a purpose. It’s not a creative exercise, rather a means to an end, the end in this case being greater awareness and recall for one’s client. Coming from this place, I’d say the biggest truth in copy is the need to remove the writer from the room. Writers, with all their skill, will undoubtedly get in the way of the work and fail to remember the objective. Put another way, it’ important to be an ad man first and a writer second. The biggest fallacy in copy, of course, flows from this truth. Copy isn’t about clever word play, it’s about solving marketing problems.

2) Do you have a routine before you start working on an ad; a process?

The process is very straightforward. Learn all you can about the client’s business and even more about the client’s customers and prospects. Since the job is to find a way to connect with these customers and future customers in a way that creates lasting bonds, it’s imperative to “walk a mile in the customer’s shoes.” What the customer wants from a company might be totally different from what the company and its agency wants to deliver. But it can’t be, not if the advertising is expected to work. So the hard work of research has to happen on the ground well before strategies can be drafted, or creative concepts delivered. Once it’s time to think stuff up, my process is remove myself from the machine and think on my feet. When thoughts arise that might be worth noting, I like to write them down on a piece of paper.

3) When you’ve written something, how do “know” it’s good?

Copywriters are craftsmen. After years of dedication to the craft, good writers develop an ear for great copy. Great copy flows like a river, naturally and confidently toward its destination.

4) Whose work (advertising or otherwise) should every aspiring copywriter know?

You have to be a student of the business. Anything short of that leads directly to The Hackery. My own career has been deeply impacted by the work of Janet Champ at Wieden + Kennedy. I never would have become a copywriter if she hadn’t brought the poetry of the womens movement to Nike. For me, that was the example I needed to grasp copy’s immense power, and advertising’s importance in our culture. And even though I’ve never come close to making that kind of impact as a copywriter, I’m driven by the belief that my chance to do so is near and that it’s on me to be ready. But don’t mooch my idol, there are plenty of other inspiring people in advertising and the larger communications field.

5) This new media world looks to be a wild ride. Where the heck are we (copywriting) going?

The Web is a copywriter’s dream come true because it’s a great place to connect with people via story. It’s the digital campfire–an ancient archetype in the modern world–and storytellers are the keepers of this fire. All of which makes it correct to say this is the most exciting time ever to be in advertising, and it’s only going to get better from here.

Time For Wine Marketing To Move From The Cottage To The Estate

In my desire to learn as much as I can about the wine industry, I came across this list of the Top Ten Wine Companies in the U.S. and some of their leading wine brands.


Source: Marin Institute

One thing that occurs to me as I look over this list is how different wine is from beer and spirits, in that, many major wine brands don’t feel big. Take the brands in Altria’s portfolio—Conn Creek, Villa Mt. Eden, Distant Bay and Chateau St. Michelle—maybe you’ve heard of them, maybe you haven’t. To me, this remote brand recall indicates a need for an industry-wide investment in marketing communications. From the major producers on down.

Personally, I prefer to consume wine from a wide variety of small, mostly local, producers. But my tastes don’t matter. One of the truths of the modern marketplace is lots of people prefer to consistently shop for what they know. Discovery isn’t this group’s motive in the wine aisle. Price and brand awareness help steer this shopper to a purchase.

One note of encouragement for the small to mid-sized producer is the fact that the race for consumer mindshare in wine is wide open. There are a handful of household names—Robert Mondavi, Beringer, Clos Du Bois and Gallo—everyone else can use a smart mix of content, word of mouth, experiential and old school advertising to help create brand preference in a category that can be confusing and overwhelming for many shoppers.

[DISCLOSURE: Bonehook is currently working with MAS Wine Company on business development initiatives.]