Dear Democrats, Please Don’t Be Eli

I recently rewatched the film There Will Be Blood starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a focused and ruthless oil man. At the end of the film, there’s a scene that’s hard to watch, but it’s worth paying attention to.

The Eli character is an ego-fueled preacher on hard times. He wants money from his former benefactor. But the benefactor has always despised the preacher’s weakness, pious blather, and his failure to face the facts of his own life. Eli refuses to see how the ground under his feet has been eroded by “the long straws” of those more eager and willing to do what it takes to win, and this flaw is his ultimate undoing.

Right now, Democrats are desperate, like Eli. Yet too many Dems want to think of themselves as better people than their Republican counterparts. They want to play fair, all the while fooling themselves that you can enter or survive a knife fight this way.

When Democrats fundamentally misread the threat, their failure puts us all in harm’s way. Why is this? No one wants to sound alarmist or crazy. It might hurt their professional reputations, or make someone they care about angry.

When Will Candidates Recognize That They’re Also A Brand?

It’s imperative to boil down a candidate’s message to one thought. Few politicians manage to do this well. One exception was President Johnson in 1964. With the help of Doyle Dane & Benrbach—the best ad agency in the country at that time—Johnson’s team was able to portray Goldwater as lethal.

When we consider Trump today, we can choose from dangerous, ill-informed, criminal, unAmerican, sexist, racist, and so on. The trick for the Dems is to choose the right pain point—the one American voters care most about—and deliver ads that relentlessly exploit his, and the GOP’s weaknesses.

Like A Winning Company, Design Your Path To Victory

I hope that candidates from coast-to-coast are studying Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s historic win in New York and asking themselves what they might learn. There are quite a few political lessons to focus on, but there’s also a communications lesson.

For starters, take a look at the sea of political signs at a polling station or in a supporter’s yard. The visual identity and approach to copy from most candidates and ballot initiatives are stale. It’s a sea of red-white-and-blue with bold lettering. A brand that stands out must veer from this framework. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign materials are mostly purple and look nothing like what we’ve come to expect. Her showcase video also is a moving story that helps voters in her district relate to her. Most voters can’t see themselves as a candidate for Congress. Ocasio-Cortez just changed that score for good.

Make Likeability Your “X” Factor

There are thousands of candidates running for office in 2018. Only a fraction will find their voice and be unafraid and vulnerable in public. Even fewer will properly invest in their own brand identity so it pays off at the ballot box, even though elevating brand standards in political campaigns is a clear way to raise the overall discourse and help attract interest from sideline sitters.

Again, we have an opportunity to learn from Republicans. In Austin, Texas, Gerald Daugherty, a Travis County Commissioner used humor to his advantage and was re-elected.

For an audience that is used to watching King of the Hill reruns, a candidate’s talking points ought to be more like punchlines. I know our current predicament as a nation is not funny. I’m saying that fighting corruption can be. Instead of debating the points, point by point, we can find a way to make light of it, while pointing out the much better alternatives that exist in every district across our beautiful land.

What Bonehook Is Doing To Help Progressives Win

We have four months to wake people up. I know there are thousands of people like me in the ad business who want to help, and who are uniquely prepared to help. Let’s do this right and uplift the long-shots and outsiders with laser-focused messaging and brilliant design.

If you’re a staffer on a campaign and you’ve read this far, thank you. Please reach out to me ask for our support today. I started my communications career on Capitol Hill in D.C. 31 years ago. I know how to help raise money and attract voter attention for your campaign.

Bonehook will rock your campaign materials, and give you a fighting chance to win. I do realize that we’re not the same old or expected choice. Either was DDB in ’64, and either are you!

Top Performing Teams Are Forward And Fearless

Are you part of a highly functional team where everyone trusts one another and holds one another accountable for the team’s results? If yes, you’re the exception, not the rule, in today’s business environment.

Patrick Lencioni is a business writer and consultant with several important titles to his credit. His book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, is a refreshing run through of business fundamentals, and how most of us fail to practice them on a consistent basis.

The agency business, in particular, suffers under the needless weight of dysfunctional teams. Let’s examine the underlying problems in light of Lencioni’s five dysfunctions.

Absence of Trust

In order to develop trust, we must be willing to be vulnerable in front of our peers. But being open and vulnerable is totally unnatural at work. Experience has shown that vulnerability is a weakness. For instance, go ahead and admit to your boss or your client that you’re not good at something. Maybe they’re the understanding type who lavishes praise and encouragement, or maybe they will show their fangs and quickly look to replace you. In a hostile setting like this, it’s nearly impossible to make something of lasting value for customers. To do so, you need to endow the love you have for the client and their customers into the efforts. When you fail to take this high road, it shows. Painfully so.

Fear of Conflict

Conflict is the nature of things in the agency biz; nevertheless, agency people and clients shy away from conflict, just like everyone else today. People seem to believe that conflict is too hard. Conflict upsets people and feelings get hurt. Grudges form and all sorts of bad office politics descend to ruin what might have been a good thing. The key is being able to tell the difference between healthy conflict and unhealthy conflict. Unhealthy conflict is when team members bitch and moan and blame one another, instead of focusing on the problems before them. Healthy conflict is heated debate about the best path forward, that leaves everyone feeling good, heard, and respected. There’s a massive difference between the two and everyone in the room needs to know which is which.

Lack of Commitment

In the agency business, lack of commitment rears its ugly head in so many ways. We lack commitment to one another and to the campaigns we create. Both people and campaigns come and go, like the wind. Chief Marketing Officers last but a season or two before they’re dismissed. Lead agencies share their client’s brand caretaking duties with consultants and other specialist shops. No one seems committed to much of anything outside their own career trajectories and interests. Caring about the right things is what fixes this. Paying obsessive attention the needs of the customer is always the right thing to do. Even when a team lacks trust, fears conflict, and fails to commit to one another, the team can still commit to serving the customer above all else.

Avoidance of Accountability

Lack of personal and professional accountability is a problem that’s presently plaguing many parts of our culture. In business, it goes well beyond not being accountable for “making your numbers.” People have difficulty replying to an email today. It’s hard to say for sure what’s at the root of this, but it’s easy to point out how the problem negatively impacts people and the bottom line. Lack of communication is a form of being unaccountable. Because we work behind our screens for much of the day, there’s an illusion of distance and separateness. Thankfully, it’s not real. You can’t just check out and get away with it. Passive behaviors and pass-the-buck mentalities have no place on a high performing team. Members of high performing teams know the role they play and how to be effective in that role.

Inattention to Results

Measurable, repeatable steps to grow the business are in vogue for good reason. Clients spend a lot of money to reach their intended audiences, and as with any investment, they need to track the progress and evaluate the returns. To do that successfully, clients and agency both need agreement on which metrics matter most and then a plan to track them, analyze them, and act upon the findings. Creative agencies are notoriously bad at making direct links from their work to client profits. Clients are equally hampered by their desperate need for quarterly results. It’s a natural tension and one that can be used to propel the brand forward. It is possible to lift sales and grow revenue while winning hearts and minds, but it’s not easy. You’ll need to bring your best ideas to the table and run your team like a pro.

Patrick Lencioni’s book is called a “fable” for good reason. He weaves a tale that is familiar, but also somewhat unreal. For most teams, getting any one of the five dysfunctions ironed out is huge progress. Nevertheless, it’s good to see where the high bar is, and aim to clear it. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable is a helpful reminder of how things ought to work on a team, and how they do work when everyone’s pulling together towards a common goal.

Bonehook Takes Its Own “Brand Reinvention” Advice, Moves To Austin

Big news in Bonehook land…we up and moved ourselves and our company to Austin, Texas. Austin is where the sun shines, where people are warm and genuine, and where economic opportunity is abundant.


While many companies do not make it past their first few years, Bonehook’s ninth birthday is coming up in April. As a gift to ourselves, we moved to a vibrant city. This geographical pivot is more than a change of address. Place shapes culture, and for anyone working in culture-shaping industries, location is a critical factor. While it’s true that you can “bloom where you’re planted,” it’s also true that climate and culture control what kind of growth is possible.

What will this new chapter bring for us and our existing and future clients? That’s what we’re here to discover! In Portland, small is beautiful and we lived that truth. Today, it’s time to recreate ourselves and our company. Ultimately, our core responsibility is to generate business-building ideas. We do this for our clients in a variety of ways, and when it’s needed, we do it for ourselves. This is one of those times, and we’re thrilled to have this opportunity to reinvent our company and recharge our creative engines.

We started the year with a clear directive for our future. We express it in two words: Reach Higher. For us, reaching higher means holding ourselves accountable to higher standards of personal and professional conduct. It means not accepting less or leaning on excuses. Reaching higher also means we have total confidence in our marketplace value and our ability to team successfully with like-minded marketing pros.

It’s no secret that the agency business is currently reeling. There are myriad reasons for this development, including agency rates, bad attitudes, and a general cluelessness about how to conduct business. It seems that every time we start a new client relationship, we need to begin with a hard reset. We say we are sorry for what happened before, but we’re not those people and we don’t work that way.

As your trusted marketing partner, we actually care about your budget, and we care that our ideas motivate your customers and prospects to act. Our peers often care about the industry awards they win. We think industry awards are shiny objects of distraction and that winning hearts and minds is the true goal. If you share this thinking, please reach out to us. We want to be on your winning team.

Story Is Fuel; A Marketer Never Wants To Run Out of Fuel

Whatever business you’re in, it pays to define your offering in a way that brings customers in the door. We do this all day long for our clients, but sometimes we struggle to do it for ourselves.

This we do know…most business owners and/or marketing directors who are considering hiring an agency want to know what the agency’s area of specialization is, in the hope that it intersects with their own needs. They don’t want to hear a list of things the agency can do or did do. They want to hold onto one idea in their minds about the agency. Therefore every agency needs to answer this most difficult and most essential question: What’s the one thing that you do best?

What is Bonehook’s one thing? Out of all the things that we do, which one do we do best?

Answer: Copywriting.

While we regularly manage a wide variety of clients needs, at the core of our company there is the writing practice. Writing, like design, is fundamental to brand communications. The right words, distilled from strategic sessions and “walking a mile in the customer’s shoes,” turn our clients’ brand stories from esoteric things on PowerPoint slides into copy that drives people to consider, buy, and share.

Focus on the Value Exchange

Is placing writing at the core of our business a true differentiator? That’s for our client’s to answer in a definitive sense, but yes, it works for us.

What we do best is help clients figure out what needs to be communicated and how. The when and where is pretty simple. The tricky one is “why?” Why should a person give their time and attention to an ad or branded content? We believe there must be a value exchange, or there is no valid reason. Clients must provide content that matters to the audience. That’s how attention is earned, day in and day out.

Over the years, we have developed a systems approach to content delivery. We create editorial calendars for our clients, and in essence, they become subscribers to our content services, which are fashioned to the needs of the audience. The mix is typically writing, graphic design, and video for client websites and social channels.

Custom Content Packages Available

Bonehook is a marketing company that operates more like a media company. Our clients “subscribe” to content packages that we custom make for them. A base content package might contain the following:

    1) Two-three blog posts per month
    2) Weekly social media support across all channels
    3) Creation of a monthly email newsletter
    4) Writing, shooting, and editing video once a quarter
    5) Research, writing, and design of one case study per quarter

Our packages start at $2500/month and are adjusted from there, based on a client’s exact needs, which may also include the production of elements like brand advertising, direct mail, and collateral on a project basis.

Multiple Operational Points of Difference

No one factor is the deciding factor when it comes to the client/agency dance. There are many considerations, and most clients we work with look for a lot more than the obvious expert. Clients want a partner with integrity that they can trust with their trade secrets, and they also want someone they like to work with. Put that in your pipeline.

Can we say we are more likeable, or easy to work with, than the next agency? Sure, we can say it and it may even be true half the time. We can also say we run shorter meetings, get right back to people, deliver on time and on budget, and all these things will also be true every time. Our goal is to provide the work in an efficient, cost-effective manner and we do. We’re running a business here!

We Teach Our Clients To Fish

Copywriting is a highly specialized trade that people spend years, even decades, perfecting. Because we place writing at the center of the agency, we want to make the fundamentals of copywriting well understood. To this end, we offer ancillary services to our clients in the form of copy or content audits of existing materials, as well as workshops designed to build the team’s copy muscles.

The legendary Leo Burnett once said, “I have learned that you can’t have good advertising without a good client, that you can’t keep a good client without good advertising, and no client will ever buy better advertising than he understands or has an appetite for.” Burnett was an insightful man with a keen business mind. Our twist on his original thinking is that appetites change and tastes, like habits, can be cultivated.

When you concentrate on building your team’s copy muscles, you gain the distinct advantage of having people on your team trained to recognize stories inside the company that best illustrate the brand’s values. We love to find the answer to the communications riddle inside the product or service itself, as it provides the authentic connection that people seek.

Every Company Has A Story To Tell

Every company has a core brand story to tell because every company has founders, a mission, a team, customers, products and services. Sometimes clients come to the table with pre-conceived ideas about what and how to promote a new offering. It’s our job to listen intently and weigh the ideas. Bonehook’s true value-add is our proven ability to take it all in—the client’s wants and the customer’s needs—and piece together a strong communications plan that moves the needle for the client by consistently providing valuable information to the customers.

We are eager to hear from you about where you are in the brand storytelling process.

    1) Do you have an active content strategy to guide your decisions?
    2) Do you have a framework established for content production and distribution?
    3) Do you have a team of writers to run with your ideas and make them shine?

We get excited when people ask for help with this essential work. If you have a good sense of where you want to go with your company’s communications in 2018, but you’re unsure of the best path to get you there, let’s chat. We’re currently looking to work with two to three new clients in 2018.

Send a note to to open the conversation.

Client Showcase #26

HealthCo Information Systems is a value-added reseller of GE Healthcare’s Centricity Practice Solution, an industry-leading electronic medical records software suite for ambulatory clinics.

GE Healthcare’s EMR software has traditionally been presented to prospects and customers in a binary fashion, with clinical and practice management functionality shown as two distinct spheres that when combined make a whole. The reality is a bit more complex.

With the executive team’s help, we identified nine product categories and nearly three dozen different solutions. We then designed, wrote and organized the material into a physical binder and a brochure that members of the sales team can now use to make presentations inside the clinic. We also made the assets available to the team in digital format, so they can easily send new product fact sheets before, during, or after touching base with customers.

We Trust Our Team To Perform…To Our Standards On Their Terms

Talent rules the Bonehook roost. That’s how it works in a business that relies on the daily contributions of committed, talented people.

Of course, we understand that some companies fail to live up to this new workplace rule. As with many progressive workplace issues, there’s perception and there’s reality.

Sadly, there are companies who choose to talk a good game and leave it at that. Let’s look away from them and toward something better.

“Let My People Go Surfing”

New research featured in Campaign indicates that 25% of all full-time workers would specifically prefer to work part-time for part-time wages if it did not affect their pay per hour or career progression.

Karen Mattison, joint chief executive of the talent agency, Timewise, said:

“The data proves, once and for all, that how people in the UK work, has changed. Flexibility is the new form, and people of all ages, both men and women, expect it. Nearly 9 in 10 of full-time workers either have some form of flexibility, or they want it. And when it comes to Gen Y – those at the forefront of the marketing and advertising sectors, they are leading the charge.”

According to Mattisson, it is now the flexible jobs market that needs to catch-up. “Flexible working policies are no longer enough, agencies and businesses alike need to implement robust flexible working strategies,” she explained.

Managers and owners will decide which “robust flexible working strategies” to implement, but the point is clear—make your company people-powered and people-centred, or suffer the consequences. At Bonehook, we’re already focused on making our client’s communications audience-centric. Making the way we work, work for our team is my job and Darby’s job, and it’s one of the jobs we love to do.

Clearly, one of the great joys of growing a company is building the team. Along with winning new business, finding talented people who work well and thrive in our system is essential to our success.

Remember To Grease The Wheel With Gratitude

Earlier this week, I watched a video featuring CNBC contributor, Suzy Welch. She argues that there are two key ingredients one needs to succeed at work: Grit and Gravitas.

Her points are well made. What she’s missing is Gratitude. When you have all three Gs working for you, you’re rocking the spot.

Suzy Welch: The two G’s guaranteed to get you promoted from CNBC.

We are grateful for the people who hire us, recommend us, and work with us to solve communications problems for our clients. Even though Bonehook is small, our ecosystem of vendors, clients, co-workers and contacts continues to grow. I’d like to think our respect for talented and intelligent people has something to do with it.

A lot of ad people say, “It’s all about the work.” What they don’t say is, “We’re perfectly willing to make you unhappy in order to make us famous and rich.”

Our thought is simple—people who are overworked and unhappy at work are no good to themselves or anyone else. I’m often reminding myself and wanting to say to our team, “Go outside and play!” Because that’s how you loosen up and find a way to pull amazing ideas out of thin air.