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But I first had to take care of the world I know February 8, 2010

Posted by David Gillespie in advertising, business strategy.
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7 comments
Budd Carrell

Bud Caddell, as surrounded by Post-It notes.

So nothing like 2 hours in customs and then more hours sitting on the runway because it’s snowing at your destination, but it gave me time to read through this thought-provoking article from Bud Caddell on the future of the ad agency.

First off, it’s great; it doesn’t claim all the answers but it probes in all the right places. And for whatever reason I was thinking about this a lot over the weekend, and you should totally read Bud’s piece first, because this is my take, and there are a bunch of synergies.

1. We do not need more web shops.

Now, I say that with a lot of friends running their own places, so let me qualify that statement. Most companies only need some simple hosting, a WordPress install, and should spend the majority of their money on design. To saddle people with cumbersome, proprietary content-management systems and code re-written from the ground up when someone else’s plugin will do exactly what you want is morally bankrupt.

On top of that, it can be done more cheaply and to a reasonable level of quality for around US$20 an hour. Sad for some, but it is the modern equivalent of the industrial revolution. And the money is best spent elsewhere.

2. This is “elsewhere”.

Content. Content content content. I recently did an audit for a company and came out of it with the exact thing I expected: they didn’t give their customers anything other than coupons, so subsequently that’s all they talked about.

3. Everything gets easier.

This is the biggest truism, and it exists as uch inside the ad industry as it does outside it: everything, I do not care what it is, will get easier. It will happen in manufacturing as much as it will happen with technology, so companies whose existence relies on technology have but one choice: to make problems that are difficult easy for the people facing them.

Agencies with big technical production capabilities need to send the work out to be done more cheaply, take the best and brightest they have and remake that department as a research & development arm. There is no reason Foursquare could not have been created by Zagat’s; but nobody was working on that kind of problem. Not hard enough anyway. The digital shops need to go back to their engineering roots; they need to sit a bunch of curious minds from across the board together and be inventors; that work is far too important to leave to agencies – and they’re not going to do it anyway.

4. No points for second place.

One of Al Ries22 Immutable Laws of Marketing said it was better to be first in a new category than 2nd in an old one; that is basically positioning but it speaks to a fundamental truth: marketers need to stop inventing problems for products to solve and focus on creating products that get back to the existing ones, which I suppose just echoes what I said in point 1 more generally. And particularly in the CPG space, they need to udnerstand the conversation around the product is always more interesting than the product itself (e.g. baby formula or parenthood? Which is more interesting?).

5. What we used to call digital will lead, and it won’t survive without traditional talent.

Bear with me: it doesn’t make sense to talk about “digital” anymore, it’s too ubiquitous to mean anything. What we’re really looking at is a kind of “curation of connections”, which happen in various places. Great strategists can lead that, but they’re going to need content produced – and occasionally a short, branded spot or a still image. One thing traditional advertising still has over new media is the ability to tell a story in a heartbeat; we’ll always need that sort of eye, but there’s no longer any reason for it to lead, its importance is decreasing by the day.

6. This only applies to the companies that don’t create true value.

Apple, Zappos, and the other handful of brands that create products and services so compelling they don’t need to market the way everyone else does are going to continue to chart their own course. Long term, companies are better off focusing on that than trying to advertise their way into people’s wallets, as that stops working the second the ad stops.

So, in summation: the agency will be replaced by strategists defining touch points and curating content for those points, and that can be a 3rd party or it can be a savvy brand manager. Regardless of who it is, a lot of people currently in agency land are simply not capable of that. It isn’t a sell, it’s leading by being meaningful, and advertising just isn’t good at that.

Web shops who want to remain web shops need to use the cheapest technologies available, and make their own approach more turn-key. If they don’t, they will lose out to overseas suppliers who can do it all cheaper (and likely faster). The whole notion of a “digital” agency needs to be ditched, we’re talking user-experience and connections, regardless of whether that happens virtually or in the real world. The shops who don’t want to do that need to be inventors.

And brands that don’t want to deal with either need to create products so compelling and in-tune with their customer base they largely sell themselves. Advertising was always the price you paid for being boring, and shortly it may not be a price you can pay at all.

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I’ll send an S.O.S. to the world November 4, 2009

Posted by David Gillespie in advertising.
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Tomorrow I’m teaching a course at the agency I work at, titled (long before I arrived) “Today’s Digital Consumer”. The first thing I’ll be doing is pulling out “Digital” from the topic heading, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has read Digital Strangelove.

I’m wrestling with theory vs. practice right now though; it could be a very practical talk, or it could be one of big ideas, and I’m not sure where the common ground is. I feel like it’s a moment for practical advice, for saying things people can take away and do. I also feel like advertising spends too much time just doing, and not enough time thinking about how it should be done.

Regardless, I’m thankful to have an audience that stretches across a variety of disciplines, from media planning to print production, and I’m hoping what comes out of it is a practical discussion, a lively debate and some points of view that challenge my own. It isn’t about being right, it’s about being least wrong, and I’m viewing all of this space right now with a smile and a shrug and a sly nod to a future version of myself who is already looking back and saying “Remember when…”

Image courtesy of the gracious and lovely Hugh Macleod.

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You gave you away October 21, 2009

Posted by David Gillespie in business strategy.
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3 comments

A few days ago I posted a presentation on where I think this space is headed. On slide 191 (yes 191) I mention something called The Three Musketeers rule, All For One or One For All. The former is siloed value creation, the latter creates value for an ecosystem.

I realised in the shower last night (keep it clean people) I had actually been thinking about this since November when I drew the below image:

I believe the Internet is, on a DNA-level, structured to create value for an ecosystem, and I believe this is why we’re seeing traditional business having a hard time playing in the new landscape, with models being destroyed and a new kind of value creation making waves.

This is also why I’m still on the fence about Facebook over the long term. Nobody can deny their growth or do anything other than applaud getting to profitability. But I feel on an instinctive level the model is All For One, it’s old media dressed up in shiny new threads, it’s a system that creates value for Facebook alone, and it’s questionable if any value is created outside of its walls.

In the presentation I included a slide of companies who are operating with a One For All approach:

Looking for a model?

Looking for a model?

If over time it transitions into One For All it will be interesting to watch. As it stands now, I can’t help but feel it is organised against the natural order of the Internet, which is open and connected. We’re seeing what happens when you do that across all kinds of industries, and it being an Internet darling does not exclude it from the same principles.

Even Rome fell people.

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We off that October 5, 2009

Posted by David Gillespie in creativity, music, philosophy.
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4 comments

While looking at Katie Chatfield’s blog last night and thinking about the various ways I’d like to be like her when I grow up (I’m sure she’d say she’d like to be like her when she grows up too), I stumbled back across a post she’d made in May of this year on “done”. I liked it so much at the time I printed it out and stuck it on the glass door to my office, though I’m not sure anyone else got it (complete aside, taking the time to turn something in bits into atoms surely has to be the most you can like something, ever).

Re-blogged below for the sake of further cementing its awesome-ness, here it is in full:

Something I preach and rarely practice is the importance of just doing, and not waiting for perfect because perfect never happens. My musical self, all nerves and insecurity, decided to make good on threats to be less hypocritical, and found once it started it was actually fine and better than expected.

Done is the engine of more, and the important thing is to have done it, not talked about it. If Nike’s slogan had been “Just practice and be ready to do it at some point”, then odds are they wouldn’t be the rock star brand that they are.

The point of done is not to finish, but to get other things done. Amen.

(and we’re done!)

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Strategy | Intent | Persistence (and tigers and bears OH MY!) December 8, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in advertising, business strategy, digital strategy, industry news, intent, philosophy, work/life.
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2 comments

Digital strategy is a business decision, not a marketing decision. That doesn’t mean your marketing team shouldn’t be in the room, it means everyone else should be there with them.

Julian Cole wrote a piece a few months back saying “Don’t trust an agency with your digital strategy.” It does then beg the question (if I may, for a moment, speak client-side) “Then whom shall I trust in your festering cesspool of sharks, narcissists and hopeless egomaniacs?

Good question.

A single unit needs to own a company’s strategy, and they need to be able to talk about each channel with authority. That sounds like a no-brainer I know, so I’m going to put this out there and see how it feels: you won’t find it anywhere where the last name of an ad giant from yester-year hangs their name on the front door. That isn’t because they don’t have intelligent folk from all disciplines working for them, that is because their business models and internal practices will not permit the structural changes required to achieve genuine innovation and next-generation creativity for their client’s businesses, let alone their own.

If anyone is hearing that for the first time, I promise I’m not the first.

I can’t say I know all of the answers, or even any of them. But not enough people are asking the question. Or questions; you can phrase them in a myriad of ways, let’s maybe start with something like this: why does Clemenger BBDO in Melbourne now have four people in its planning department, none of them digital natives? Tim, who worked there as a member of the planning team up until a week ago, had this to say:

I’ve been arguing for a long time now that as product, advertising, sales and service, all get closer together, advertising agencies really need to become creative marketing consultancies…some drastic restructuring needs to take place.

Drastic restructuring then did take place, though perhaps not along the lines he was thinking.

David Armano has talked about a move away from the silver bullet, much like Tim has. I took a personality test recently that told me I rated close to 0 when it came to perfectionism, but was a polar opposite when it came to creativity and a love of thinking. Call me biased (I won’t argue), but that sounds like something very different to where we’re currently at, and given that test it is no wonder I’m a fan of this new direction. I’m also a fan of offering substance, something advertising doesn’t do very well at all.

I’ve talked a lot about intent, and I think this chart speaks to the heart of the same thing I’m on about. It is also the same thing Seth Godin means when he says the following:

Persistence isn’t using the same tactics over and over. That’s just annoying.

Persistence is having the same goal over and over.

My friend Michael Hewitt-Gleeson calls it SDNT: Start Do Notice Think.

I call it intent, and when I talk about it, I talk about constanty refining the work we’re doing to ensure the outcome is matching the intent; if it isn’t we change it until it is.

Intent is at the heart of everything we do, and the group that owns your strategy should have it etched onto their brains, directing nothing less than strategy that delivers the intended result tomorrow better than it did today. Starting here I’m advocating a move away from the single-minded proposition to the statement of intent; it is fluid and flexible, and it ensures the goal is forever just over the horizon. It will keep you and your organisation passionate and motivated and restless.

And that is how it should be.

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Draw a line December 1, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in work/life.
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3 comments

When making a decision, you can get there in two ways:

  1. You can define what you want.
  2. OR

  3. You can define what you don’t want.

Now, those two things are not the same, and one is far more limiting than the other. Take a look at the two, odds are your natural reaction will be the same as everyone else’s. It’s unfortunate for us, but human nature is to go with the first option and be blinded by what we want, as opposed to what we don’t want.

Look at this image:

Decisions decisions...

Here we have a visualisation – say the circle is the entire range of possibility. In the one on the left  we’ve nailed down exactly what we want, which is shown by being coloured in. In the one on the right however, we’ve nailed down exactly what we don’t want and filled that space in. In the first diagram, the remaining space may as well not exist, because we don’t consider it. In the second, while what we want takes up slightly more space, what is left over is nothing less than a far larger opportunity for success.

The next time you’re working through an issue, a brief, a life-changing decision, try focussing instead on what you’re not willing to accept, decide what you’re not willing to compromise on.

Draw a line, and then revel in the opportunity left over. You might be surprised.

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I know what you’re about to say like your hype man October 12, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in branding, conversation, digital strategy, marketing.
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I was going to spend the week talking about story-telling in interactive mediums and the ways brands can leverage it, and I’l get to that, but I’ve woken up with something on my mind that I want to get to first.

Over the weekend when not lying in the park or dining with friends I was working on my latest (overdue) column for Marketing Magazine. It will be out in their December/January issue and I was talking about brands finding their voice online, which I’m quite excited about, I look forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts when it comes out.

I feel though like that’s the running part, and we’re struggling to get the walking right; we’re doing that because the fundamentals of success in business and marketing are shifting and we’re not keeping pace with it. I harp on about it, but only because I think it is important enough to do so: intent. Intent, intent, intent, intent, intent, intent, intent, intent.

While you’re at your desk this week, in each situation I want you to ask yourself “What’s my intent here?”. We make sales calls under the guise of building relationships, we dump on other agencies under the guise of offering advice. We put energy into things that distract us from our main purpose in the hopes that people won’t really get what we’re on about.

And then we go do it with the brands we’re supposed to be building.

Let’s all agree, week beginning Monday October 13th, 2008 to gut-check what the intent is in the work we do this week. Let’s not discuss “new ways to talk to our customers” when the reality is we need email addresses added to a database. By stripping away the stuff we cloak our actions with, we get to the heart of the matter much faster.

And I promise, the campaigns you run are going to be all the more effective for it.

Image courtesy of The Alieness Gisela Giardino, with thanks to compfight.

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Checking your ego at the door January 23, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in philosophy, Video Games, work/life.
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2 comments

I try to avoid writing about games here as my involvement in the industry now is very much as an outsider. I still keep an eye on the conversations going on though and one that never fails to amaze me is the “code vs. art” debate and how people struggle to get teams talking to each other. You can liken it to “creatives vs. suits” in advertising or “sales vs. anyone not sales” in many other organisations, the song remains the same; a notion of “otherness” is allowed to develop in a team or company and it poisons the culture of that place, pitting people on the same side against each other.

I lead four different teams as Producer while in the games industry, and they were all marked by a feeling of inclusiveness, a notion that we were all in it together. Often it had little do to with the organisation, I distinctly recall a senior artist from another part of the company walking into the room where my team was housed (numbering around 30+ at the time) and remarking that it felt like a different company. Each team I have looked after had that same feeling, and it never took any effort to maintain.

The key is pretty simple: everyone checks their ego at the door. I affectionately called it “the no assholes rule”, long before a book of the same name was released, and it gets brought about in a couple ways.

The first is quite simple: hire good people. That statement is a little intangible and open to interpretation though, so I’ll clarify: do not hire people you would not be willing to spend 100 hours a week with, because at some point you will. Assuming you have a high enough barrier to entry for your company (be it a programming test, past sales figures, whatever) then all candidates who reach that mark can be judged based on the personality fit for your team. I have passed up programmers who were great on paper because I knew they would either be difficult to work with or not get along with certain team members. It is a very straight forward exercise placing morale above ability; you can learn new skills in a job, but if you’re an asshole, you’re probably going to stay an asshole.  I should add this has nothing to do with race or culture, my last team had eight different nationalities on it, and we all still catch up whenever I am back in town.

The second is in many ways simpler than the first. As the title to this post says, check your ego at the door. Any industry is rife with stories of senior figures who refused to spend time in the trenches; these teams are without fail mired in low morale and bitterness towards management. I would outline weeks in advance the weeknights (and on occasion weekends) when we would need to work back, but when those days arrived I went from being the team lead to the servant. If your people are working extra hours because of you, you owe it to them to make that stay as comfortable as possible. If it means driving half an hour across town to get a certain meal for someone, so be it. Talk, in that environment, is less than cheap, it is worthless.

Leading by example and showing a willingness to do anything in order to get a project across the line and a team to work together is the only way to ensure different units within a team with each other from day dot. Producers, Group Directors, CEOs, whatever, they all set the tone for the people they are responsible for. Titles (and the egos they stoke) come and go; checking both at the door on a daily basis means you can do the things that matter most. And your team stays talking long after you have left the room.

Talking to the hand that feeds… November 27, 2007

Posted by David Gillespie in marketing.
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My company has two very distinct audiences that we talk to. One we can talk to in a highly irreverent fashion and it doesn’t matter too much, in fact it is encouraged.

The other audience though is actually the one that keeps us in business. There is a significant premium on their time and as a result I am extraordinarily cautious when we talk to them and in the way we talk to them. I’m trying to put myself in their shoes, feel their pressures and think about what would be relevant to their day to day life. I think I’m more empathetic than most (thank you many years as a struggling actor) and can usually put myself inside a situation fairly easily. What I find when I’m there though is I don’t know if I really want to hear from my company; if I’m even remotely right, then that has serious ramifications for more than just a semi-regular newsletter.

Do you receive news from people you spend money with? If so, do they make it worth your while? If not, how could they?

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