Monthly Archive: October 2010

If You Want Work, Get To Work

Bonehook is a new company, but it’s one that receives a fair amount of interest from prospective employees, even though we have no employees, other than me. My team members are all contractors. It’s a model that keeps costs down and those savings are passed directly to our clients. It’s also a more flexible model for building brands, since each client team is put together specifically to solve a client’s particular marketing problems. The team I put together for our children’s hospital client in Tucson, for instance, is not the same team I put would together for a craft brewer or a high tech B2B client.

But let’s get back to the pursuit of a job, at Bonehook or anywhere else, for a minute.

As you can see from the above Twitter exchange, I get some horribly written job queries. Not only is the English poorly constructed, there’s no “reason why” or reason for me to care anywhere near these pieces. Instead I’m asked to read a bunch of gibberish about what the job seeker wants. I don’t care what a total stranger seeking a job with my company wants. I only care about how someone can help me and my clients achieve our various ends. It is the prospect’s job to identify what those ends are, and to convince me that even though I don’t have the budget to hire them, I really can’t do without them.

In other words, you have to care and then care some more. And you have to work and then work some more. When you care and you’ve done the work, you give yourself a chance. Of course, you also need to be insanely talented, easy to work with, trustworthy, emotionally intelligent, and a good person and you need to be able to express all that in your initial queries and in person.

Just last week I sat down with a college student looking for work, not at Bonehook, but in a related field here in Portland. I like the young man and it’s obvious that he’s intelligent. But he’s been late to two meetings with me and thus far there’s been no written thank you for my time. I’ve also critiqued aspiring copywriter’s portfolios and received no formal thanks. Sending out an email or snail mail after meeting with someone is standard operating procedure. It’s the basics and if you can’t handle the basics, you can’t handle much.

Shall we recap?

Seven Tips for Job Seekers

  • Show you care about the company you’re reaching out to
  • Do your homework
  • Don’t tell the employer what you want to do – tell them what you can do for them
  • Be polite, but be persuasive
  • Rid your queries of any spelling or grammar problems, a.k.a. sloppiness
  • Consider using a non-digital format for your query
  • Provided you get an interview, arrive early and send a thank you note within 48 hours

Thanks to Briana Bononcini for encouraging this post.

Facebook Is One Giant Recommendation Engine

I noticed recently that some of my social media-savvy Facebook friends are recommending New York Times articles and their recommendations are showing up inline, while I’m reading an article of choice on nytimes.com.

Here’s a closeup:

Clearly, this type of Facebook integration with a media site is just the beginning. We’ll soon see this feature on brand Web sites left and right. Because friends exert influence over who to vote for, what to wear, where to eat, and so on.

Sell Me Something, But Make It Worth Buying

John Gerzema of Young and Rubicam has co-authored a new book, Spend Shift: How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution is Changing the Way We Buy, Sell, and Live.

Inc. spoke to the author about the themes in the book and how the Great Recession is changing consumer buying habits, maybe for good.

Q. Many people have been financially devastated by the recession. Probably most were spooked by it. Is that enough to end consumerism as we know it?

A. When you consider layoffs, downsizing, delayed raises, and reduced hours, more than half of all American workers have suffered losses. This very real pain has driven us to reconsider our definition of the good life. People are finding happiness in old-fashioned virtues — thrift, do-it-yourself projects, self-improvement, faith, and community — and in activities and relationships outside the consumer realm. Our data show large numbers saying money is no longer as important to them. Seventy-six percent say the number of possessions they own doesn’t affect how happy they are.

Does it mean consumerism is dead? No. But we are moving from mindless to mindful consumption. That’s a fact of life when housing values will no longer provide an ATM to fund our spending and people are working longer to repair lost wealth. From now on, we will spend money that is ours, not the bank’s. Therefore, our purchases will become more considered.

Later in the interview Gerzema says, “Businesses have to make gestures that go beyond words. Persuasion no longer works.”

That’s a pretty radical statement from an ad guy. As an ad guy myself, I want to go along with his attack on persuasion, but I’d need to read the book before I could come around to this line of thinking. In other words, I need to be persuaded ;-0

What’s not in dispute is the fact that the job of persuasion has never been more difficult. Additionally, traditional advertising as a tool of persuasion has been diminished. The job is harder then ever and the tools we know best how to use are not as effective as they once were.

There’s no time to cry about it, marketers and their legions must adjust on the fly. In today’s awakened economy, where every purchase is carefully considered, I certainly want persuasion on my side. The thing is, persuasion isn’t found in a smart ad campaign alone, but in every move a company makes.

For me, there’s one famous company that is no longer persuasive.

Have you been in an Apple retail store lately? I was in one yesterday and not one staff member said hello to me or asked me if I had a need they might address. They were too busy, I guess. Then there’s the sticker shock on products I don’t really need. The Great Recession has kicked a lot of asses in this nation, mine included. I do need a computer, but I don’t need a new computer, nor every new variation of one that emerges from Cupertino.

Personally, I’m pleased by heightened consumer awareness–my own, and the heightened awareness in others. I don’t want to buy crap and I certainly do not want to help sell someone else’s crap. I’ve done it before–most ad people have. But that’s not what I’m doing now and I don’t see myself turning back. There’s no need when there are plenty of truly good businesses that need marketing communications help.

Nebraska, Utah and Oregon: Pioneering Places That Are Good For Business

Forbes is out with its fifth annual ranking of states that are best for business and careers. The study considers factors like business costs, regulatory environment and labor supply and it offers some interesting results.

In particular, the data indicates that Bonehook is in the right place at the right time. Our biggest client is headquartered in Utah (#1), our design needs are being met by friends and colleagues in Nebraska (#9) and of course, we’re based here in Oregon (#6).

I also find it interesting how the Forbes study flies in the face of popular sentiment about Oregon’s business climate. Word on the street is there are too few good jobs in Oregon and the jobs that are available don’t pay very well. There are plenty of facts that back this assertion up, but it’s also obvious there are more than two sides to this important economic story.

Oregon State University economist Patrick Emerson believes Oregon’s labor supply ranked high not only for worker availability during high unemployment, but also for good-quality labor. He told The Oregonian that growth prospects scored high because of the high-tech sector and the growth of East Asia, which is a big Oregon export market.

“This is just another piece of evidence,” he said, “that Oregon is still quite a competitive place to do business.”

Like An Old House, Brands Need A Lot Of Care, Or They Fall Apart

Umair Haque is a smart guy. He studied neuroscience at McGill, picked up an MBA at London Business School and he did postgraduate work in economics, strategy, and innovation at Oxford. Today he writes for Harvard Business Review and he’s the director of Havas Media Lab, a think tank within the agency holding company.

Ed Cotton of Butler Shine Stern & Partners says Haque “appears to be fighting a one man war with corporate America over their lack of insight and creativity.”

Indeed. Haque’s latest piece in HBR takes The Gap and Best Buy down a whole flight of pegs for failing to recognize how important design is to the enterprise.

Like most companies, the Gap just doesn’t understand the game-changing power of design.

Most companies see design as a superficial afterthought on which a few pennies are spent if there are a few bucks left in the budget.

Haque then uses Apple’s investment in design as a counterpoint to the unimaginative.

Taking design as seriously as most companies take (yawn) “strategy” creates more value for Apple in a year than most companies create…ever.

When you think about it, Apple chose an industry that was bereft of design altogether. Walk into Best Buy today and you walk into design desolation, aesthetic aridity, a dystopia of designlessness. There’s not a drop of joy, delight, amazement, or just plain well-though-out usability in sight; it’s a little bit like the emotional equivalent of taking a holiday in Sparta. And unless you’re a masochist, you’re probably not going to pay much of a premium for that.

This is all music to my ears, of course. For I’m in the business of selling design.

If you have a minute, I’d like to tell you a story about how I–a copywriter by trade–arrived at this place.

The journey towards design actually started a long time ago. Every copywriter quickly learns that his or her ideas (and words) aren’t worth a dime without truly exceptional visual solutions. So, from the very beginning, I became totally dependent on design, and the graphic artists and art directors who adeptly employ it.

Then, in November 2001 I met and started to work with Cathy Solarana. Cathy is a great designer and my design education, care of Cathy, had begun in earnest.

In 2005, I joined BFG Communications in Hilton Head Island, and quickly realized that BFG is, at its core, a design shop. One situated across the river and through the trees from Savannah College of Art & Design, where the great majority of BFG’s designers went to school.

Fast forward to 2009 and the creation of Bonehook. I had to decide between positioning myself as a freelance copywriter/creative director and starting my own shop. To borrow an analogy from the building industry, it’s like being a general contractor or an architect. They’re both great paths, but they’re two different choices.

I chose the brand builder path. No writer, strategist, account guy walks this path alone. To invent brands and reinvent them, one needs superior design. Design is fundamental. If the brand identity is wrong and the packaging is off there’s little point in investing in advertising, PR, social media and the like.

Like a beautiful building, a well-constructed and well cared for brand is something to behold. Don’t you want that for your company? I do, and I want it for my friends who run businesses.

Will Make Custom Communications For Food

Matt Herrmann, exec VP-chief strategy officer at McCann West, is a humanist. He’s also an ad man.

Writing in Advertising Age, he argues that machines are simply not capable of creating compelling advertising.

BETC Euro RSCG in Paris has made a software program called CAI (Creative Artificial Intelligence) that, after giving it some data on your target, product, and a basic strategy, spits out some mediocre print ads — no cantankerous copywriter required.

Stephane Xiberras, president and executive creative director at BETC Euro RSCG, said, “CAI creates something that resembles advertising, but that fundamentally isn’t, in the sense that it lacks essential qualities: novelty, inventiveness and the unexpected. In short, anything that only a human being is capable of producing. CAI is a fascinating but dangerous machine because it synthesizes the nemesis of our creative profession: standardized or formatted thinking.”

Herrmann concludes:

Our value as strategists and creatives is inextricably bound to our native understanding of humanity and our instinctual drive to make innovative and beautiful communication. And there’s value beyond just trying to win awards with that work; we’re ensuring the future viability of our industry against simplistic, mechanistic communication that can be easily duplicated, and easily dismissed. So go out there and make one amazing thing today.

People inside the ad business, and some outside of it, badly want there to a formula for producing great ads. But there isn’t one. The best work that communicates something powerful and lasting is created by chance, not by formula. Of course, the more chances the creative team takes, and the deeper they delve into the client’s particular marketing problems, the better chance that the work will be excellent.

I’ve never felt like what I do for a living could be automated. I don’t think that now. But it’s happened to a lot of people over the years, many of them skilled craftsmen. And when people who make beautiful things by hand are replaced by a machine that doesn’t, what ad man’s job is truly safe?