Client Showcase #25

Earlier this year Portland-based design consultancy, XPLANE, hired Bonehook to help strengthen the firm’s copy muscles.

We were flattered by the request and also impressed by it. Think how much better all marketing communications would be if more of us bothered to ask our peers for their explicit opinions and expert help?

XPLANE, of course, has a keen interest in creating clear and compelling content.

For the past 24 years, XPLANE has accelerated business transformation initiatives by visualizing, clarifying, and explaining complex technologies, strategies, processes, and solutions.

One way that XPLANE delivers insights is via their Xplanations—the visual assets that result from a series of workshop sessions led by the XPLANE team. The outputs are co-created infographics that XPLANE’s clients then use to share their workshop discoveries with other stakeholders.

Bonehook’s role right now is working directly with teams at XPLANE to provide feedback on developing work. We’re also starting to help describe and promote the company’s various service offerings.

Next month, we will be conducting a two-hour workshop for the XPLANE team. Working title: Fundamentals of Copywriting for Non-Copywriters.

Start Building Bridges To Your Customer Communities

Companies turn to Bonehook for our expertise in strategic brand storytelling. What often begins as a simple request for a new website or print campaign evolves during the project, as we apply active listening and begin to hear the true requests. For instance, the client who asks for a new website may actually be seeking better-qualified leads (but not using those exact words).

It’s our job to hear what the real need is and offer the right solutions from there. Once we are able to listen and learn, we establish a framework for the partnership and set the groundwork for success. That’s when the brand invention, realignment, and amplification begins.

One of the challenges that we sometimes face serving small-to-medium sized businesses is the owners and managers prefer to jump right to the construction phase of what we do, skipping the planning and engineering phase altogether.

Clients in this category may see advertising and design shops as “the hired hands” they need to manipulate images and so on. These well-meaning but off-putting clients will try to write the headlines in the meeting, design the piece on the fly, and generally get in the way of the creation of the work we’ve been hired to create.

At Bonehook, our best clients value our thinking and our willingness to dig in and learn their businesses inside and out. That’s what real partnership consists of—knowledge gained through trust earned. What starts as a simple project soon flowers, and new projects are born during the discovery phase. Eventually, the client’s project-based thinking gets put on a shelf. In its place are quarterly planning, editorial calendars, weekly status calls, and the kind of proven routine that generates positive results.

There’s a good reason for applying this structural reality on the business relationship. Successful companies don’t drop in and out on their customers and prospects. To win consistently, they cultivate relationships. Think about your own best relationships and how much time and effort goes into establishing and maintaining them. The same is true for marketing communications. To keep people interested and actively sharing your company’s stories, the flow of material must be constant and compelling.

Companies generally don’t succeed by coming to us with piecemeal requests for prescribed communications pieces. They succeed by showing us their business problems and asking us to help them devise a plan to solve them.

Improve The Integrity of Your Data with Rova

I recently had the chance to speak to Joe Olsen, founder and CEO of Rova. I wore two hats during our chat—editor of and founding partner here at Bonehook.

Rova is a new software platform for client service teams that promises to improve an agency’s ability to track their own pipeline, build out client dashboards and more.

Olsen is a strong advocate for a much more methodical approach to offering and tracking strategic insights. As a former agency principal, he knows first hand how an agency’s creative product can be commoditized in today’s marketplace, where production is often housed separately from strategy and creative visioning.

On the Rova blog, the firm describes 5 Mistakes Growing Agencies Make, including not working the sales pipeline in a profitable manner.

Clients aren’t looking for AOR relationships these days. Why be locked into something with such a varied marketplace of niche players and varying prices? Agencies, especially mid-size and smaller shops, are more and more reliant on a project-to-project existence.

…When agencies engage clients in project one-offs, no one wins. It’s impossible to track and transform meaningful data from a one-off project into deep, actionable insight. The kind of ongoing analytics it takes to ensure what’s working and what’s not to determine next steps. Sell your work and justify your agency’s value with this perspective so you can plan for growth.

Rova positions its software as a bridge to deeper client engagements, where the one-off projects are minimized and the ongoing retainer work for the client is emphasized. To achieve this end, agency owners need to prove that their recommendations are working, and Rova’s tool and training support this mission.

Bonehook has yet to adopt the product, but we may in the future. Olsen says that agencies (who don’t want their work to be commoditized) know they need to do something, but they’re not sure what to do. This we do know…sophisticated tools or not, when applied properly data analytics opens the door to not just more work, but better work. When any agency successfully draws a direct line from bold creative work to greater client profits, they’ve on the high road to newfound respect for themselves and for the way marketing is practiced today. To our mind, marketing is an applied art enriched by science.

Timeless New Business Commandments

Ad legend, David Ogilvy, wrote the book on advertising. He did so decades ago, but thankfully universal truths wither not.

Mr. Ogilvy had a keen sense of the big picture, including the specific operational needs of his agency. I particularly value his insights into the delicate dance of bringing on new clients.

    1) Regard the hunt for new clients as a sport.

    2) Never work for a client so big you can’t afford to lose them.

    3) Take immense pain in selecting your clients.

    4) Only add one new client every two years.

    5) Only seek clients with a product or service you are proud of.

    6) Only accept a client if you can improve their existing work.

    7) Don’t take on clients whose business is dying.

    8) Only work for clients who want you to make a profit.

    9) Don’t publicly pursue clients.

    10) Avoid contests in which more than four other agencies are involved.

    11) Getting new clients is a solo performance.

    12) Remain flexible when selling clients.

    13) Tell prospects about your weaknesses.

    14) Don’t get bogged down in case studies or research numbers.

    15) Explicitly tell clients why they should hire you.

    16) Don’t pay an outside source a commission for new business.

    17) Beware of clients who have no budget but a great idea.

    18) Don’t underestimate personality.

    19) Fire clients at least 5 times more often than you get fired.

    20) Use what you specialize in to find new clients.

I highlighted the most important point made by Mr. Ogilvy above. “Only work for clients who want you to make a profit.”

This is both a brilliant insight and perfect rule to apply. If clients don’t care about your profitability, they don’t care about your survival. These clients are not on the “partner” page. They see the agency as skilled hands that exist to output materials to their liking. They do not see the agency as a strategic partner deeply committed to their mission and marketplace success. In other words, these type of clients are highly toxic and must be properly disposed of.

I also love number 13 in the list above, “Tell prospects about your weaknesses.” Every business and every person in it has professional and perhaps personal weaknesses. Denying this is denying reality and that’s no way to conduct an honest business relationship. By forming a team built on trust, we uplift one another and cover each other’s weaknesses.

Whatever values you bring to the new business process, it’s crucial to have a guiding set of principles. Many firms inside and outside of Marcom abandon their values as soon as it becomes difficult, or expensive, to maintain them. At this point, a mission or values statement is null and void. There’s no reason to have one, as it is just another mask to obscure the real motive, which is almost universally a preference for profits over all else, including people.

Ultimately, it’s an honor for an agency to serve clients and represent their customers’ concerns and point of view. Not every agency sees customer advocacy as part of the job, but that’s to their detriment. Happy customers make for happy clients, and that’s the opening for risk taking and profit making that we all seek. You don’t win hearts and minds with the safe play. You take a stand and make a case.

Hats off to Client Giant for promoting this helpful list.

Client Showcase #24

Danville Services brings joy to people with disabilities. This company of 1200 dedicated people leads with its heart and we are proud to partner with them on key communications initiatives like the launch of their new website.

Taking care of people with disabilities requires patience, compassion and integrity. Many of the roles are entry-level positions but the responsibilities are always immense. By using a combination of custom photographic assets and iconography, we are able to relay the power of the Danville story in ways that words alone can’t touch. Even when it comes to describing the scope of services provided—96 residential and day programs across four western states—it’s best to bring the facts to life in a visual way.

Scrutinize Your Brand Communications Before Someone Else Does

Integrated marketers work to ensure that every customer touchpoint is maximized for the customer’s benefit. When all the touchpoints eventually line up, you can display them on a customer journey map and begin to visualize in greater detail what moves customers to buy.

According to McKinsey:

In most companies, there are a handful of critical customer journeys. Understanding them, customer segment by customer segment, helps a business to maintain focus, have a positive impact on customer satisfaction, and begin the process of redesigning functions around customer needs.

“Redesigning functions around customer needs,” it must be noted, is for the brave of brand heart. Many people prefer to approach their ever delicate sales and marketing problems with a jackhammer.

If you’re concentrating on what you want to say instead of what your customers need to hear, you’re doing it wrong. If you won’t admit that you’re capable of doing it wrong, you’re also doing it wrong. Saying so isn’t a blame game, it’s a reminder to look at your own Marcom practices and see the parts that need improvement.

Novelist, Barbara Kingsolver, recently argued that “politeness is no substitute for morality, and won’t save us in the end.” She was talking about politics, but the same holds true for our businesses. The best work in all fields is the result of ruthless and steady scrutiny and a willingness to re-examine time-tested concepts.

If you’re ready to do it right in 2017 and beyond, let’s outline the opportunities and a plan of action. It all starts with a brisk walk in your customer’s shoes. To schedule the first in a series of brand communications walks, give me a ring at 503-970-3862 or send a note to