Meg Whitman Reminds Me of Us

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingNo, not the former eBay chief/billionaire business woman part.  That is completely foreign to me.

What reminds Meg Whitman of us was watching her quest to become the governor of California as it dragged on and on these past couple of months.  The media loved talking about how she spent a record-breaking $141.5 million of her own money chasing something that candidly, probably wasn’t the best fit for her anyway. Nevertheless, once she made that her mission, she invested countless hours and nearly all of her personal energy pursuing the privilege of leading the government of the nation’s most populous state.

On the surface of it, that sounds pretty good.  But when you look a bit deeper, you realize that California is wracked by all sorts of problems: an economy battered by the recession and the fallout from a housing industry gone bust, an unemployment rate of 12.5%, 1.4 million jobs lost in the past two years, swelling immigration and unsustainable budget deficits that will demand aggressive spending cuts.  Meg spent a record amount of money trying to get…that?  Why would anyone want that?

But looking back at some (key word: some) of the new business leads we’ve chased over the years, we advertising agencies have done the exact same thing.  We have poured our hearts and souls–and considerable cash–into the pursuit of new business leads for broken, dysfunctional businesses: CMO’s at war with their board members, management at war with their franchisees, businesses whose relevance had passed.  All of these potential clients invited us to pitch their business, to offer up free ideas and the investment of our nights and weekends to chase what could at best, only prove to be pyrrhic victories.

So yes, this morning,  I feel kinda bad for Meg.  Billionaire or not, you don’t plow through that kind of cash and not feel at least sorta awful.  For her sake, I wish she would have won.

But then again, I can’t help but wonder exactly what she would’ve won.

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Regarding Convergence, Award Shows and Advertising Advertising Agencies

Advertising awards work an awful lot like brand reputation ads for agencies. In the best case, they draw attention to creative accomplishments, reinforcing and creating regard for an agency’s product.  At worst, they fail to engage any sort of relevant target market and merely serve as an expensive exercise in self-congratulation.  Of course, most fall somewhere in the muddled middle, much like most brand reputation advertising on television, garnering some attention but not nearly as much among the right kind of people as an agency might hope.

Apparently, E79 Got Authorization from the One Show

Apparently, E79 Got Authorization from the One Show

Over the past three weeks, Element 79 has enjoyed a very nice run among the major shows, winning an Interactive Silver Pencil from the One Show for our Tostitos web work, a Silver Addy for a Tiger Woods’ online game we developed for his Gatorade line, and a series of Silvers and Bronze awards at the New York Festivals as well, all for our digital work.  

To us, this is a validation of sorts.  Awards from more discriminating shows like these help drive home how we have worked digital convergence here at Element 79, moving beyond our reputation for television creative to demonstrate integrated creative thinking and execution across multiple platforms.  We are very proud of that.

But the truth is, awards shows alone make for a woefully incomplete media buy when you want to influence hearts and minds within the industry. Advertising our agency demands a much more coordinated effort emphasizing digital and word of mouth.  We need the right people to understand who we are and what we can do, and those people probably do not subscribe to awards show mailing lists.  They do however, trust their friends’ opinions, notice interesting work as they surf the web or cable and read trade stories about new business wins.  Those are channels we must work if we want to avoid becoming the proverbial cobbler who shoes the village yet lets his own children run barefoot.  In a world as fragmented and distracted as ours, no advertiser can rely on any one specific medium to carry their message and incite interaction among their most valuable customers, not even ad agencies.

Not even ad agencies with a gleaming new shelfload of shiny new objects.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

You Know, Clients Can Be Really, Really Helpful

Seriously.  And for far more than mere budgets and fees.  As smart as we advertising people like to consider ourselves, clients know far, far more about their own business, and occasionally, about ours as well.

Ahh Questions: The Leading Cause of Answers

Ahh Questions: The Leading Cause of Answers

At Element 79, we try to tap into that client knowledge with a simple new business exercise called–rather unimaginatively–“What You Want.” After presenting some quantitative findings or syndicated research insights or online survey results, we move to more personal, more opinion-based topics looking for more human gut responses. Anyone can answer questions like “The thing agencies never seem to understand about my business is ____” or “I really hate it when agencies  ____ .”

Just last week, we met with a potential client who gave us a tremendous idea.  When we asked “What was the best thing you ever got out of a past agency relationship,” he replied “One of my prior agencies used to send monthly updates and as a part of them, they would always include a list of things we could do better.”

What a terrific idea: actionable, pragmatic and admirably direct.  If we did that with every client, we would have a regular, scheduled opportunity to both address nagging issues before they blow up, and to introduce innovative ideas that serve the brand, whether or not they lie beyond our scope.  I would love to work with this potential client in the future, but I’m copping his idea today.

Yes, great ideas can come from anywhere.  You just gotta remember to ask the questions. 

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79