Cotton Candy @ The Amusement Park –
Great is a word no creative agency wants to hear. Why, cause great is either overused or misused or miss represented by cheap imitators. They use the word to describe their work as if it were a daily vitamin they pop once a day.
But for the sake of this blog I am using the word Great anyway.
And over the past 40 years there is less than a handful of ad agencies that I feel are worthy of that word, Great.
Webster’s defines great as remarkable, in magnitude, degree or effectiveness, full of emotion, eminent, distinguished, aristocratic, grand, remarkably superior in character or quality, remarkably skilled, first rate = Great.
It will come as no surprise to those who have respect for the history of this game who are the deserving recipients that should have Great attached to their brand. Having said that, I will bypass the oldest agency battle between NWAyer in 1869 and JWT in 1877, as well as the brilliance of Bill Bernbach founding partner of the infamous Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) in 1949. I am headed forward to 1968 and beyond where the brands had taken an even broader step towards entertainment. Agency’s that understood the importance of being socially relevant then and how they have moved through decades while inhaling the explosion of technology and fearlessly exploring those canvases to capture their audiences by exposing their creative brilliance. In fact I would argue that today’s technology has made it easier than it had been in the earlier days when the Madd Men were defining advertising.
The main goal was to reach your audience at a time and place so that message would be accepted. Today it’s easy. We can now attach it to their hip. All that is needed now is an excuse to have your message welcomed. The Legendary Hal Riney once told me “Advertising should be welcomed into your home not forced on you like some rapist”. Do you have something that they would want to hear about and is it said in a way it engages them enough to want to remember the message and emotionally connect to it?
These are the only agencies that I believe have done that from birth and deserve the word great attached to their brand.
1- the infamous Chiat Day, who’s Apple 1984 became the icon of great work and the set the standard for Super Bowl ads, which many say still has not yet been matched. Jay Chiat’s motto, “good enough is not good enough,” emphasized hard work and long hours and I remember the famous T-shirts that the employees wore in the 80’s that said “Chiat Day & Night”. It was well known through the industry that if you work there you better not have a life outside of the agency. Today their work is still led by the legendary Global Creative Director Lee Clow. Fresh as ever, they’ve adapted to the new media as just one more piece of the big picture from showing off the “Energizer Bunny” to the launch and rebirth of Apple, where even Steve Jobs acknowledged them as such.
Relevant then and even more relevant now is number 2- First they met and worked at the “Lunch Hour”, a freelance agency and in 1981 they founded Fallon McElliot & Rice promising “To be the premier creative agency in the nation that produces extraordinarily effective work for a short list of blue chip clients.” Today it is simply called Fallon. The early days of “Perception/Reality” ran in the Rolling Stone convincing high-end advertisers to place ads in the periodical, to today’s rebellious Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas “Just the right amount of wrong”. This agency had a team of originals that went on to legendary status throughout the entertainment industry continuing to carryon the high standards that were embedded in their creative souls while working in the cold tundra of Minneapolis Minnesota.
My next is 3- Goodby Berlin & Silverstein now Goodby Silverstein. They formed their own boutique in 1983 in the heart of San Francisco where they were fostered by the icon Hal Riney and went on to creating brilliant campaigns like the infamous “Got Milk” and for today’s NBA “There can be only one” an integrated campaign that is recognized by their piers as a Social Media master piece engaging their customers media touch points from TV, print, Outdoor, Micro Sites, T-shirts to the NBA finals program. If you haven’t seen it then you may have been introduced to it in Time Magazine and on SNL. It is what a great campaign does; it touches society in a way that it becomes a modern day “Keep on Truckin’ “. The success was reinforced when the numbers came in that said viewer ship of NBA was up 61%.
Last but not least is 4-Weiden & Kennedy founded in Portland, Oregon April 1982 by Dan Wieden and David Kennedy. They started with a small client called Nike. Enough said. They have crossed all platforms with socially engaging campaigns and have since been named interactive agency of the year. If you watched their web site’s timeline of creative you know they understand that they are in the entertainment business. Winners of several Emmys for Nike alone and in 2002 they were named as the most awarded agency in the world. In 2010 named Agency of the year for their work on Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”. Bringing a brand that was all but dead to the icon status of a pop culture. Even Andy Warhol would have loved this one.
Ok, so what is it that they have in common. No, not the talent, no not the cities they were founded in, no not the dedication and ambition or philosophy or mission or being risk takers or leaders. No. Great agencies have all of that above, as part of their DNA, but the one piece that connects that molecule chain is their client. Yes, that is what I said, The Client.
James Patterson (yes the best selling author who was Chairman North America JWT) gave me advice during an interview in 1991. “You’re only as good as your client will let you to be”. That is the key to becoming a great agency. You can have all the ingredients listed above in your company, but if your client list has the wrong CMO or CEO or VP of Marketing you have a hard road to plow my friend. Imagine Apple when it launched without Steve Jobs, Nike with the likes of Andrew Mason of Groupon who is a perennially on the top ten worst CEO list year after year or, Bob Parsons of Go Daddy leading “Got Milk”. I don’t think the end results would be nearly as powerful or legendary. Do you? Ogilvy said, “Clients get the work they deserve”, and he’s right. Great agencies and great clients make history together creating great campaigns. Smart clients are brave visionary souls that encourage creativity to push the work to the highest level. They understand that creative isn’t just exclusive to an art director or a writer, but on all levels of craftsmanship within any agency. When I see a great campaign I first applaud the agency for being strong enough to create it, then having the savvy to produce and talent execute it. And then I salute the brilliant client who worked with the agency and knew how and when to let them perform their art.
We all have files filled with ideas that never made it because the client was afraid or just had no vision or just not bright enough to know a good idea from a bad one. I once had a client ask me if they could hang the work we had done on their wall of shame. That wall of shame was filled with great ideas they could not sell through to their management. To them, it was shame they couldn’t sell it. So they wanted to keep the work in front of them to be reminded of the kind of work they wanted to be associated with. I’m sure there are thousands of stories like that, but it is a reminder of just how rare it is to have the pleasure of working with a really great client.
So hats off to great clients, they’re the real heroes of great work. Now good luck finding one.