One of the challenges that comes with the democratization of camera technology is that anyone who can afford a video camera or smart phone can consider themselves filmmakers. “Do it yourself” starts to feel like an obligation because it seems so achievable. 

Running around swinging a camera, pointing-it here, there, and everywhere without the benefit of intentional lighting is a disease of the digital age.  

Just because one can record an image does not automatically make it good. What is good? Good is an image in service of a relevant story. Good is an image crafted to evoke the appropriate intention and mood of the scene. Good is a frame, designed to create the visual tension necessary to hold the gaze of the audience, to keep them in the story. 

Modern cameras and lenses have incredible capability to capture images in low light, some can practically see in the dark, but this does not forgive the need to understand how to light a scene. It is not simply about achieving exposure. 

Even without a proper light kit, the ability to utilize sunlight and practical sources in conjunction with modern camera technology will deliver impressive results. It just takes some knowledge of the principles and the forethought to put them to work.  

Great production is made with great preparation. 

There are countless on-line tutorials, so there are few excuses other than time and the will to do better. For many businesses who do not prioritize their content, the task often falls to younger staff that do not automatically show up with the full range of required skills. Taking this on internally seems efficient but it is anything but. 

The perceived need to keep up a steady stream of content takes precedent over quality. This is a significant misjudgment. The damage inflicted on a brand that churns out subpar content is like repeated exposure to radiation, you may not feel the effects right away, but eventually, it is going to kill you. 

The opportunity cost is real and often realized too late.  

Investing in quality content is not money wasted, it is an investment in the future of your business. Make your work stand out by making it better. Do not let it stand out because of its shoddy workmanship. 

There was a time when almost all media was inclusive. The old analogue days of 13 TV Channels, rooftop antennae, a handful of news programing and perhaps a few dozen major newspapers and magazines. There were some specialized publications, and radio stations were somewhat local, but they were the exceptions. Media was broadly casted by a limited number of producers, reaching millions of people.

Today almost all media is exclusive. Everyone is a specialist, if not due to content, then due to targeting. Even the national and international outlets cater to regional influence, and why not? Effective targeting is also about giving your audience what they want. Or what they think they want. Or what you think they want. Or what the AI predictive models think they want. It’s enough to make us toss our hands into the air and just default to something that feels safe for our brand. Something with hopefully broad appeal that we can run anywhere, hoping our audience will self-identify.

Our segmentation modeling is so divided, it’s become segmentation meddling. Exclusivity in media is a problematic reality if we stick to outdated norms of thinking. Let’s put aside the fact that it has created a platform for every nutjob with a computer and look at what it means for brands. A world of distractions in a distracted world.

Across the paid, owned and earned media landscape, there is now endless fractionalization of your audience which diminishes the reach of your brand. Not because the media is not reaching the target, but because the targets are polarized by the fragmentation.

This polarization is a buzzkill for what might otherwise be a campaign that would jump the chasm into popular culture.

What is popular culture when culture is now unpopular?

Cultural fragmentation may not impact too negatively on major legacy brands, assuming they stay out of harms way.  But for newer, smaller brands, success means obsessively focusing on a minimal viable audience. Connecting with this audience and delivering real value to these customers will motivate them as culture ambassadors for your brand. These ambassadors will help the brand bridge to additional culture communities as they share their experience.

Bridging is the major action of digital media. It amplifies the power of word-of-mouth, of shared positive brand experience and helps drive brand growth.

Specificity should be a core part of your strategic and creative development. Create for one specific group of potential customers and build from the core.

In truth, this thinking is nothing new. Perhaps it’s been forgotten. Some brands have not forgotten. Patagonia is one example of a brand that has always been entirely specific in its audience goals and campaign platform. It puts its values of honoring and protecting nature into all it does and communicates. Its current market value is $3 Billion and recently the founder, Yvon Chouinard determined to give it all away to help save our planet.

Patagonia’s specificity of purpose, planning, action, and communication recently arrived in my mailbox in the form of a Patagonia publication, a magazine celebrating people and nature. This is no catalogue of merchandise but a catalog of beliefs and values, and it’s printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper. It’s a home run in my opinion. I’m a nature fan boy and have, over the years, purchased Patagonia clothing. I still have most of it. It wears like iron. Built to last, not to be discarded. The user experience of the product aligns completely with the mission and values of the company.

This alignment includes Patagonia’s use of media: specific, focused, and effective. You may point out that they use the mail channel to reach me. Why not?  It’s a great tactic when used correctly. The publication has value, will be passed on and then recycled. But there is a bit more to it. Within the pub, there are URL’s that lead us deeper into the stories. This publication is a well-integrated driver of brand engagement.

Exclusive media means exclusive opportunities to Head For The Heart.

What was true during the American Revolution is still true today and applies equally well to the media. Better together.

The hyperbolic segmentation of media is a landscape of diminishing returns. With some notable exceptions, media performance reviews leave more questions than answers.

The ideal scenario is one of ever improving ROI as refinements are made, not only in the creative, but critically in the media buy. To optimize results also means lowering costs.

Media technology companies have extraordinary ability to target and segment audiences and should generate strong results. At least that’s the goal. Conversely, too much segmentation can drive up costs, reduce ROI and add to the confusion.

Media-tech is very good but, in their ambition to drive their technology forward they have lost the thread. Media strategists and buyers have a tough challenge to untangle the gordian knot. Brands deserve optimized ROI, not more ways to spend money on media.

The right media mix is not a kitchen junk drawer of guess work. The right mix more closely resemble a well-organized silverware drawer.

Too often, media cannot explain itself and the default is to start faulting the creative work. It may indeed deserve the criticism, but it should not be the first place we look for improvement.

Here’s why, media spread sheets look like certainty but just as often, turn out to be an inexplicable hot mess. All you need do is ask a few probing questions. Don’t take my word for it.

Before the creative ever hit the media, it has been developed with audience insight and research and goes out into the world with some earned confidence.

Thanks to vast segmentation and targeting, media today needs to be considered within the discipline of direct response. Direct response methodology would employ control and test groups to refine the mix and optimize results to a final plan. Then, with incremental decisions, make adjustments with A/B splits of media and creative to achieve optimization.

This approach at first appears more costly but in the long run achieves optimization with assurance. Quarterly readouts of media performance are insufficient for the dynamic nature of media today. Monthly readouts in context of a rolling 30-day strategic plan that seeks optimization and learning offer brands increased efficiency and confidence.

If done correctly, ROI modeling utilizes segmentation as a tool and not an end in itself.

It was the second meeting. The first was a year ago. The client asked for the second meeting to discuss an update to their business challenges. The first meeting seemed to go well. The indications were positive.

During the first credentials meeting, the client was highly engaged, asked tough questions, agreed vigorously with the answers. They seemed sincere when they stated their intentions to move ahead. Over a period of weeks, a scope of work was defined and agreed. Timing was agreed. Before the engagement could begin in earnest, there were things the client needed to sort internally first. We stayed in touch. It’s not unusual.

The sorting took time. At the second meeting, it became clear that not only did the client agree with many of the ideas put forward in the initial scope, but they also implemented some of them. There were struggles of course. They realized they needed more specialized talent. Some of the internal sorting and prioritization of business challenges remain. Regardless, they’re ready to commit. Handshakes all around. Let’s get started. We dig in and start brainstorming.

During the meeting, an accounting was made of effort against the prior year’s scope. They had made little progress. Certain aspects of their business and the competitive landscape had shifted. Their business is a highly profitable emerging industry, extremely competitive with little differentiation in brands. The opportunity is ripe.

A stack of empty coffee cups indicated we’d been at it for hours when we arrived at a new plan. During this meeting, we employed proprietary methods and worked out preliminary strategies to their top challenges. At the client’s request, we agreed we would send over our strategy and planning slides the next day, including the scope of work and timing we just outlined.

We shook hands and said our goodbyes. We followed up the next day as requested.

The client for their part did not return a single call or email. Crickets. Ghosted.

Clients milking agencies for ideas free of charge is nothing new. The new business model, be it pitching ideas based on a client supplied brief, written RFP, credentials presentation or some combination thereof, has corrupted the industry over many decades.  Agencies put forth tons of time and effort and expense to demonstrate their skills with little to no comparative investment required by the client. The bigger the client, the bigger the investment, the bigger the risk.

There was a period when budgets were large enough and the cost of delivery manageable enough that, while painfully unfair, the winning agency had a chance of doing great work and making a decent profit too, even after absorbing new business costs. These days, the margins are razor thin, the cost of delivery extraordinary.

The agency world needs a contemporary model of new business engagement, one that respects both parties equally. It has been my experience that while procurement can do an amazing job of minimizing some of the risk of the agency selection process, in some cases, they have elevated the take.

Let me explain: A group of say 6-7 agencies are asked to respond in writing to an RFP. This is an extraordinary amount of work. It takes countless staff hours to do effectively. From the written submissions, a passel of agencies, say 4-5, is selected to come in and give a credential presentation. This is also a heavy lift and not something you just pull out of the drawer.  Finally, a subset of the group, say 3, is then asked to make the final pitch. This is a scorching amount of work. The total time invested across all agencies is almost incalculable.

It’s nothing for agency costs to run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars to make it all happen. By the time an agency is selected, the client is in possession of extraordinary amounts of work and critical, creative thinking from the best minds in the business. All for the cost of lunch and perhaps travel accommodation.

Clients should expect to pay for this work. Period. At a bare minimum, the agencies not selected should be compensated commensurate with their time and effort for each phase.

This would improve the agency selection process for both parties. The agencies will recognize value from their efforts. In recognizing the value, clients will engage more proactively in the process. And in the taking the work will have paid, at least nominally, for the all the ideas now informing their thinking.

That’s an outcome that offers a margin of comfort for everyone involved.

To the untrained observer, walking a tightrope seems like a high-risk activity. To the well-trained acrobatic artist, the tightrope is a platform for their creativity. The risks are well-calculated and the practice so refined, that confidence brings buoyancy to their work.

In the world of ideas, clients and agencies must come to a mutual understanding of well-calculated risk. The goal is break-through creative that challenges norms, animates the brand and motivates the audience.

For many clients, there’s also an additional objective; “not to do any worse than the past brand manager or campaign.” There’s nothing wrong with a good dose of self-preservation.

To the unprepared client, work that appears as if on a tightrope is going to incite fear of doing worse. To the agency, it’s the platform from which to demonstrate their hard-won skills and highly developed talents.

It takes a trusting client-agency relationship to explore boundaries and push the limits of creativity. The goal is to see the tightrope not as a high-risk activity, but as a well-calculated and desirable achievement that will deliver growth for their brand.

Confidence is the glue that binds us to big ideas.

Brands such as Spectrum are, for all intents and purposes, monopolies. Their monopolistic stature affords them the illusion that they do not need to be the best in total quality.

I finally cut the cable cord and will just go forward with Spectrum internet service. The value proposition of cable TV evaporated long ago. I’m old enough to remember the promise that cable TV would be ad free with great quality programming, and it was… for a brief time. Advertising on Netflix? Stay tuned.

Dealing with Spectrum requires dogged determination. I called and spoke to an account representative and reduced my service to internet only. I could have likely completed this on the website, but it was not entirely clear to me how to accomplish the task. The phone seemed the only option. Now I know why. The call involved nearly 40 minutes in various stages of hold patterns and over 30 minutes of actual conversation. Finally, my cable service was gone, leaving internet only and netting me nearly $100 a month in my pocket. The agent instructed me to simply unplug the DVR and return it to a Spectrum store. There’s one nearby and I could just drop it off.

So, I went to “just drop it off.” I was not advised that I should call the store and make an appointment. I was number 12 in line and most people did not have an appointment. Twenty minutes later I was still number 12. At approximately 40 minutes, somehow, I had dropped down to number 13. I was listening to a podcast and the episode, at 43 minutes in length, seemed like it should get me to the service desk. No so.

The staff are exceedingly nice. Well trained to keep smiling, try to solve problems and sell, sell, sell. Most of my conversation on the phone was about various ways to lower my bill and keep me as a cable customer. When I finally reached the bottom of the sales ladder and I remained uninterested, the agent jumped to offering mobile service. At the Spectrum store, I was not getting out of there without the same mobile pitch.

As nice as the people truly are, the user experience stinks. I’m certain I would have been at the store much longer than 1 hour and 45 minutes were it not for the fact that a great number of the people (appointments or not) simply gave up and left. Customer retention through attrition.

Customer experience design is brand engagement. All the shiny, happy service agents in the world will not make up for a poorly designed brand experience. Why would I buy mobile service from a brand that demonstrates such little regard for my time?

A brand is more than a name or logo, a brand is an exchange in value.

Occasionally, rummaging through the back of the drawer turns up a gem. In this case, a merger pencil.  To me the no.3 lead was always the perfect choice, especially during a merger or IPO; no.2 was always a bit too soft. This was the mighty tool, long before we had computers on every desk. This, a blank sheet of paper and a cup of coffee was the ideal way to start any project. It still is a superior set of tools.

I have lived and worked through a number of mergers and IPO’s in my agency life and at this point, I can say with some degree of confidence that they are events that do little to elevate or even maintain the level and quality of the work. In fact, with rare exception, it is quite the opposite.

In the near term these events do very little to help most of the agency client base, save perhaps the largest.

Many years down the road, organizations like Wire and Plastic Products have turned up as global agency juggernaut WPP.  Sir Martin sure knows what he’s doing in this regard.  Before building WPP into one of the world’s top agency networks he was finance director of Saatchi & Saatchi  — note the pencil.

The team at WPP seem to have it all worked out, not so for the failed Publicis-Omnicom courtship. Was the proposed merger only love at first bite?

What’s working brilliantly for WPP did not turn out so well at the time for Saatchi & Saatchi. As the go-go 80’s imploded there was all kinds of intrigue and mayhem and loss of business as the operation began to unravel. Yet, it was fabulous to be there because at the time, it was the place to be…until it wasn’t. I should note that for many years now Saatchi & Saatchi is back on high ground and has been knocking out some great work, but it was a long road back.

Mergers and IPO’s come down to winners and losers. All the bather about a “merging of equals” or how being a publicly traded company will not change the culture are fantasies of good will.

When a merger works, it works because the dominant agency is a top-ranked creative powerhouse and that is the driving culture.

The executive team is identified and the agenda is supported and maintained throughout the process, across the entire new organization with no excuses and with respect all around. We see little turnover of talent and business. The goal is to deliver the same great product across the globe as well as around the block. A rising tide lifts all boats.

When it doesn’t work, it’s because the merger or IPO is an exercise in financial control designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many.

This unleashes all kinds of grief and stress because this agenda does not always align well with doing what’s right for your clients.  As a result, we see years of management change, talent flight and loss of accounts.

On the occasion of the pencil seen above, Saatchi & Saatchi Dorland was the UK based network agency and Saatchi & Saatchi Compton was the US arm. They merged DFS and Dorland to create DFS-Dorland which existed for a fairly brief period before they combined all of us into my very special Yellow no.3 pencil.

I save these pencils as Momento mori, small monuments of remembrance to the fact that even the best of hard work and talent can be defeated by the ephemeral trappings of scale for the sake of scale.

Pencils remain the most enduring way to put ideas to paper regardless of the names changing over the door.