Don’t Look Back, That’s Not Where We’re Headed

Nostalgia always reigns the week before New Year. Every news show edits their “Year in Review”, recounting whatever events of the past twelve months they deem significant. It’s a pleasant enough pastime.

But it’s largely irrelevant to an exponentially-evolving world. With almost 43% of the global population connected to the internet, we’ve seen more technological advances in the past ten years than in the past 10,000 years. And that pace is only increasing.

Yet despite this onslaught of constant change, the questions that lead to every human advance endure: “Why? Why not? What if?” If you ever wonder how to insure your work remains relevant and vital, start with those three simple questions.

Asking ‘why?’ drives our universal search for answers and understanding. Asking ‘why not?’ introduces healthy skepticism, the alternative perspectives that lead to stronger answers. And asking ‘what if?’ summons the imagination, the dreaming of potential and possibility that leads to every human innovation.

Just three questions, each with infinite answers. In a continually evolving society and marketplace, they provide the bedrock curiosity to keep Digital Kitchen relevant and remarkable for years to come.

Starting with 2017. Let’s have a great one…


If You Want to be the Expert, Act Like It

Back in the waning days of TV agency dominance, Kurt Karlenzig — a smart digital co-worker — discussed the ideal posture for anyone trying to drive digital adoption among clients:

You don’t want to be too far ahead, they’ll lose interest. But you can’t be behind them; they’ll resent or ignore you. The best position is just slightly ahead, leading but still accessible.”

That’s great advice for any relationship with a client. Clients hire us to add value, to provide informed, experienced points of view that they lack. In today’s hyper-fragmented media environment, the best clients realize they can’t be experts in all things, so they turn to partners like us to advice and educate them.

This is why we must agree upon a recommendation in every creative meeting.

When we leave that decision to the client, we position ourselves as vendors, just selling whatever they’ll buy. That’s irresponsible. Instead, we must be the experts, the advisors who have lived with the challenge, developing various solutions and a more informed perspective.

If we want to sell the best solution to clients, we must tell them what we think it is.


On Embracing Change

Change challenges all of us. It brings the unknown front and center, pushing us out of our comfort zone and demanding we rethink our expectations. Digital Kitchen has gone through a lot of change lately—as founder Don McNeil puts it “we’ve had more change in the last eighteen months than we did in our first eighteen years.” That can definitely be disorienting.

Still, change is the way of the world. It’s a constant. And the pace of change will only increase…

Here’s the future we are working toward: we will build on our unique legacy of high-impact, largely film-based, visual creativity as we embrace new disciplines and new types of client relationships. We will recalibrate our thinking and approach from one-and-done project work to ongoing, agency or resource of record creative relationships. That’s a different posture. That’s why we’re pushing for Group Account Directors and bringing more strategic rigor to our work.

Some have asked if we’re becoming a marketing firm and yes, we are definitely moving that way. The days of us being able to grow—or even sustain—our business solely as a production company are over. We need to embrace these changes.

Because all that said, I genuinely believe Digital Kitchen’s best days lie ahead of us.

I believe we will re-inspire the market with Social Impact work that changes expectations around how to build a brand.

I believe we can innovate to redefine, once again, what a marketing idea is today.

Because I believe in the fundamental Digital Kitchen belief that Every Brand Deserves a Main Title. And I want us to give it to them.


A Critical Note on the Importance of Context

Things change quickly in our digital world. Last week, Twitter announced they were cutting 9% of their staff and shuttering Vine. Apparently people did not really want to actively connect with brands via six second videos on an ongoing basis.

Vine was fun. Back in its heyday, it provided a lovely form of distraction, particularly in the hands of people like Brock Davis. But any rational consideration of its context, of how and when people used the platform, would categorize Vine as something for downtime, for filling in-between moments when you simply wanted distraction.

That’s hardly an ideal platform for a sales message. And no; companies won’t provide free social media platforms if they can’t figure out how to monetize them. In every case, that requires funding from marketing dollars.

If they stopped to think about it, most advertisers would understand that people won’t find meaningful engagement with their brands in just six seconds (entertainment brands are one critical exception). A fascinating study released this Spring from Mondelez and Droga5 comparing commercial cuts of :15, :30, and 2:00 lengths found the :15 worked the least and was skipped the most.

My point isn’t to argue for longer film; it’s to emphasize the critical importance of context –in message, platform, and timing. Understanding Context, like understanding your Audience, is crucial.

Platforms may come and go—and increasingly quickly in this modern era—but the power of an amazing creative experience at the ideal time will resonate powerfully as long as there are sentient beings to feel them.



The Best Business Development Plan is Great Work

Creative enterprises develop business three ways: through personal relationships, by expanding existing relationships, and by attracting new clients. And the best way to attract new clients is with great, noticed work.

Digital Kitchen has a considerable creative legacy, but like anything of value, it requires constant maintenance and upkeep. So when we’re not producing a lot of work, our reputation dims.

Great, ambitious work must always be our focus because it attracts great, ambitious clients, the ones looking to innovate beyond expectations.


Always Content, Never Content

For twenty-one years, and long before the rest of the industry recognized the label, Digital Kitchen has stood for content: exceptional filmed content, from programming to on-air to online and in-store. Digital Kitchen content puts us in a singular position within the industry and aligns perfectly with where the market is going as social and online video continue to grow in importance.

But there’s a danger that comes with this kind of marketplace advantage: if we are not mindful, pride can slip into self-satisfaction.

At DK, we must always view “content” as a noun. The second it becomes an adjective, we start to lose.

  • We lose our hunger for innovation.
  • We lose our edge in leveraging technology.
  • We lose the aggressive pursuit of excellence that differentiates our best work in the marketplace. And provides real, measurable value to the clients we serve.

So we must never be content. But we must always push our content.

That’s where our Relevance lives.


We Are All Personal Brands. Sort Of…

Few professions seem to enjoy self abuse more than advertising and marketing. Our ingrained habit of coining pseudo-scientific catchphrases in hopes of increasing the perception of this as a serious business only adds fuel to that fire.

To wit: the notion of” personal branding.” We have no intention of jumping into that blackhole. Suffice it to say that the intended effect of this post on the Fetrow Ryan personal brand amounts to nothing more than “hey, those guys like to laugh too.”

Of course, if you want to assume we are manic about staying abreast of pop culture and filmed content, that would also be fine.  Enjoy, won’t you?

Dennis & Mike

A Different Agency Model: the Resource of Record

A friend of ours leads the Consumer Packaged Goods consultancy practice for Ernst and Young in Chicago. Recently, two separate clients asked him “how do we cut our marketing budgets in half?

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 8.51.16 AMIn. Half.

That is terrifying. For two reasons…

First, because the ad industry clearly lacks the perceived value we hoped it had earned.

And second, because no agency participated in those conversations. Which again shows how completely strategy has migrated from  ad agencies to consultants.

This is yet more evidence that the AOR model is fast fading. As fewer and fewer clients invest in one-stop shopping for their marketing, more and more engage a number of specialists.

The upside? Clients can leverage category excellence in everything from SEO and social to content and design.

The downside? Clients must now act as creative directors. And that’s not a muscle they’ve spent much time developing.

Which is why we’re forging a new model to create value for brands: the Resource of Record. It’s efficient, it’s effective, and it’s creative centric.

As a Resource of Record, a creative agency can assign one or two creative directors to be deeply knowledgeable about and dedicated to a specific brand. Which vastly reduces overhead. And saves clients money.

But then, beyond their brand responsibilities, those dedicated creatives also partner with clients to review programs and work from other specialist marketers to insure everything ladders back up to the brand in the most creatively-engaging manner possible. 

Given their focus on tactical expertise, most people who specialize in CRM or in-store engagement are less adept at pure brand work.

The emerging opportunity is to cross-pollinate, to upgrade creative and infuse a singular brand voice and tone into every touchpoint.

A Resource of Record lets clients do this far more efficiently with a partner they trust. And at a cost of three or four billable days a month.

The Resource of Record model discourages tired agency practices like adding offerings, layers and complexity to increase hours and expand their slice of the marketing pie. Instead, it embraces assigning specialties to the best practitioners but efficiently aligns and enhances all of them around one creative brand.

Clients have tried to do something similar in the past by bringing creative resources into their companies. Those initiatives rarely worked, as quality and retention pose huge obstacles.

Making a creative leader a consulting resource deftly avoids those issues as it vastly improves brand impact. And it goes a long way toward that hoped for result of radically-reducing marketing costs without compromising effectiveness. After all, if you save money but don’t earn anyone’s attention, you’re actually wasting money.

So today’s question is: do you need an entire agency? Or a focused resource?

Mike & Dennis

Today’s Terrifying Media Reality: It’s ALL E-E-E-E!

It’s Earned-Earned-Earned-Earned.Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 8.23.54 AM

By 2010, most advertisers and agencies had woken up to recognize the convergence of Paid, Owned and Earned content. Many even added Shared to that troika. This construct still forms the basis of most media plans.

Unfortunately, it’s garbage.

The notion that Paid or Owned media reach like they did before the digital revolution is adorable. They simply don’t. And that’s an unsettling realization for brand managers.


You can’t buy attention anywhere anymore. You can invest millions in air time and it will work, but not like it did ten years ago…unless you treat your paid content like earned content. Only then will it be shared, forwarded and commented on, extending it’s reach and engagement. And here’s a fun fact: adblocking grew by 41% YoY in the past twelve months. Yikes.

Brands must migrate to better, more attention getting creative ideas. And that reality totally upends a brand manager’s traditional definition of risk; what might have been considered ‘taking a chance’  five years ago is now the most prudent choice because it has a higher likelihood of earning attention.

Today, all content must stand on its own to really reach people. Does it intrigue, captivate, and delight? Does it provoke, inform, or galvanize? Does it beg to be passed along to other specific people?

If it does, your content will work brilliantly. If it doesn’t, you’re wasting money. And trusting a model that’s no longer relevant.

This may sound like a radical notion in these days when brands falls over themselves to embrace big data as their savior. But big data is only a means; it is not an end.

We can use data to lead the metaphoric horses of our target audience, but to get them to drink?

We have to earn that. Every day. Every time.

By Mike & Dennis

Middle of the Road Messages Get Stuck In Traffic

Everyone recognizes how the content revolution has forced the agency model to change. Our industry must adapt to making new things in new ways to better serve the explosion of content platforms. We must evolve to produce ideas Faster and Cheaper.

But advertisers must also change. And that’s getting far less discussion.

Today’s sheer volume of content radically changes the context for commercial messages. YouTube claims that people upload 300 hours of video every minute–with this much choice, there’s simply no need to sit through anything uninteresting. ‘Commercial breaks’ are a thing of the past.

Today, the rarest commodity of all is attention.

Advertisers must adjust to recognize that those Faster and Cheaper ideas must also be Louder. Is what you’re saying or how you’re saying it enough to keep your audience engaged? It better be.

One way to make ideas Louder is to make them resonate more powerfully with a specific market. This is the best kind of messaging; deeply personalized and deeply engaging. And many advertisers are already pursuing this.

But another solution is to become more extreme, in both what you say and how you say it. In this case, clinging to the time-honored code of broadcast standards and practices will make advertisers fall behind the national digital conversation.

Consider Josh Ostrovsky, whose Instagram posts boast 5.7 million followers. In just the past year, he’s launched a wine, published a book, guest stared on VH1, walked the runway at Fashion Week and signed with CAA, all thanks to his appropriated/curated web jokes.Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 8.28.52 AM

He refers to himself as “The Fat Jew”, which is outlandishly offensive to advertisers. But not to his rabid daily audience.

And that’s why we think advertising could be getting a whole lot more interesting pretty soon. Because if advertisers want their hard-earned dollars to earn notice in a landscape dominated by Grumpy Cats and Kardashians, we’re all gonna have to find a lot more interesting things to say. And a lot more interesting ways to say them.

Dennis & Mike