Author Archive

Tapping into Your Agency’s Extracurricular Skills

A former coworker recently contacted me to gain some insight on a project she just started.  She needed to create an award constructed out of sheet metal. It was really just, “do you know of a vendor that could help me out”, as she was finding nothing but dead ends.

With my natural ability to butt in, and my background in fabrication, I offered a few other approaches to production that could better meet her timeline and budget.

It got me thinking about my “extracurricular” activities and the skills I’ve acquired outside of advertising—and how much I rely on those skills to develop advertising for my clients, acquire new business and keep myself fresh to generate new ideas.

In a past life, I was in the automotive aftermarket industry, customizing cars, installing electronics, paint and body…just a lot of general fabrication. It involved an array of materials and skills. Acrylic, wood, fiberglass, metal, leather and vinyl…using them to mold, sculpt, weld and upholster…in vehicles that light up, make sound, go fast or just look good.

My past experience, and current hobby, allow me to build a better trade show booth for my clients. I not only understand the materials, but how to choose the right one for the job, how they are assembled, their durability and so on…not just how to apply a logo to a piece of foamcore that hangs in front of a curtain.

It also helps that I can understand and relate to our automotive clients as a consumer, as an industry “insider” and as their advertising agency.

So I looked around the agency and saw how much extracurricular talent we have. Musicians and actresses, engineers and electricians, contractors and craft mavens, movie makers and more…the list goes on.

And I realize how much we actually tap into our diverse interests…in the interest of our clients.

We’ve been able to enhance our strategy and work in new business pitches by transforming our office into a nine-foot-diameter artery (constructed from PVC and fabric, courtesy of the plumber and seamstress) leading our potential healthcare client into the “heart” of the agency, complete with red and white blood cells (balloons)—truly immersing ourselves in their brand.

Our copywriter has a passion for acting and the theatre. I can see firsthand how her creative outlets bring more creative output to the table—everyday.  Not only is she writing a script for the television spot, but also she sees the potential in an actor during casting to fulfill her creative vision more than anyone else could.

So, imagine a triathlete paramedic who moonlights as a lifeguard. That’s a pool I’d want my kids swimming in.

Now imagine how your agency uses their extracurricular skills to step up strategy, complement creative and raise results.

I’d like to hear about it.

“Non-traditional” Holiday Marketing

A few years back we began an initiative to maintain awareness of a brand using “non-traditional” holidays as the impetus for this outreach to their audience. To this day, the program continues with much success for our client—to the point that their clients wonder what we’ll do next.


It began with a traditional holiday card, singing the same ol’ sentiments, wishing their audience well for the holiday season and the new year. No sales pitch. No call to action, website or phone numbers.

It was expected. Probably hung in the doorway with all the others.

While fruit baskets, cookies, chocolate and other goodies took center stage. In all their holiday glory. Disappearing faster than your decision to re-gift that sleeveless holiday sweater, while the awareness lasted long enough to realize you wouldn’t get a second shot at that Harry & David gift basket.

Well, we couldn’t compete with such lavish gifts of well-wishery. We had a budget for a card. And direction from the client: “We’re doing a card.”

My problem is that we were just going along with what everyone else was doing. Getting lost in the surplus of snowmen, stars, holly and glitter. Taped to a doorway until our client’s sentiment was sent the way of file 13.


What I appreciated about the holiday card was that it wasn’t (directly) going after the sale. What if we just did it for another holiday? That alone would cut through the clutter. After all, who gets a card for Groundhog Day?

Basically our pitch to the client was pretty much as outlined above. Let’s pick another secular/unofficial holiday and execute on it. No hard sell. No call-to-action. But maybe a website [landing page].

So our little card for Groundhog Day was well received. A few “thank you” emails led to a series of cards produced that year, which translated to a bump in RFP submissions to the client. Nice. They noticed.

Now the client direction was “how can we take this to the next level.”

Yup. Music to my ears.

Push Play

Proposing another set of holidays, we prepared the client to take this initiative online. Now we could really implement a tracking mechanism, and offer more interaction with the brand. A veritable mix-tape of traditional printed cards driving traffic to a landing page, some e-cards to fill in and a dimensional mailing or two.

Here are some examples:

Labor Day
This execution was created within a series of traditional “pop-up” printed cards. User opens the card and the interior comes to life, much like a children’s book. Dad is golfing in the backyard, Junior is jumping in the pool, Mom is getting burgers ready for the grill. A quick message from our client wishing them a relaxing long weekend and driving them to a landing page. The landing page mirrors the card, but plays on interaction. Click on Dad and get a mini-golf game, click on Junior for a swan dive or cannonball into the pool. All branded, and without any sales messaging. (We did provide a link to the client website)

halloweenpromoA dimensional piece was mailed about three weeks prior to the “holiday.” It consisted of an inflatable pumpkin and a sticker sheet with Jack O’Lantern eyes, noses and mouths. On the back of the pumpkin was our client’s logo and website link. Essentially, the audience had a few minutes of fun creating the custom pumpkin, then decorated their office with it (pumpkin facing “out” to show off their work) and ultimately stared at our client’s logo and website for about two weeks. (We even donated the overruns of stickers with some paper plates to a local school to do a fun Halloween craft)

Fourth of July
This execution was solely electronic, and featured an “asteroids”-style game where Uncle Sam shot down floating hot dogs. It kept high scores, and encouraged some friendly competition when emailed to a friend—and further developing our client’s email database.


The response was overwhelming by any effort. In reviewing analytics, some of the online “cards” resulted in engaging viewers with the brand for over 15 minutes. We heard some of the dimensional pieces had a shelf life of over two weeks—staying put on desks and shelves as conversation starters with associates of the addressee.The tracking mechanisms for each “mailing” were somewhat elementary (defined by budget and agency recommendation). We did see measurable results, to the tune of:

  • Increased inquiries about service offerings
  • More RFP submissions
  • Growth of indirect contacts within the vertical channel

Even a bump in correspondence with their audience, even if it’s only a “what am I getting for Arbor Day?”-type questions. I am comfortable saying we raised some awareness.

So we turned the ubiquitous holiday card into a program that returns more and more each time our client invests in it.

Here are some things to consider if you’d like to try something similar:

  • Skip the usual. Don’t do a postcard because that’s what you’d normally do
  • Timing is everything. Pick an unusual time of the year, a holiday, birthday, astrological division
  • What’s in it for them? Notice this doesn’t say “what’s in it for you?”—play down your product/service and turn up the volume on just saying “hi” or giving your audience something that is unrelated to your product/service
  • Theme. a common thread tying your efforts together help to build awareness from your audience. And this doesn’t mean because you put your widget on a “baseball card” that someone will want to collect them all. Perhaps each execution is pink, or square, electronic or dimensional…
  • Commit to the whole program. You may need to gain some momentum before you see results, so create a plan and stick to it. The first isn’t any good without the second and third.

Here’s some holidays we haven’t been able to work into our program, but sound like there’s a lot to work with:

  • No Pants Day – First Friday of May
  • International Talk Like a Pirate Day – September 19
  • National Ammo Day – November 19
  • Monkey Day – December 14

I love to hear your efforts, especially if it’s on one of the above!

Handwork vs. Technology

Recently we developed a campaign for a financial industry client that involved illustration as a foundation for the visual imagery and it got me thinking.

Thinking about how much we rely on technology as a tool for design, writing, even to read this blog.  Thinking about how much I appreciate “handwork.” Thinking of the time, talent and dedication it requires to create something with your hands.

That’s the reason I got into the world of advertising. Well, not directly. But my passion for illustration and fine arts led me down the path to art and creative direction.

I enjoyed the process of creation—the idea, the execution, the results. And the tools…oh the tools. Pencils, pens, erasers, papers, knives. Things that spray from cans. You had rulers, big tables to work on. And the stuff you created took hours upon hours until it was just right.

And it was YOURS. Even if you gave it away for an ad, a t-shirt or a book cover—You did it.

So now it’s hours and hours behind a box of knowledge. The glare from the screen. The hum of the cooling fans, slowly bringing you into a state of consciousness somewhere between jet lag and REM sleep.

Now I feel like I moved some stuff around on the screen. Set some type. Blah.  My Mac drew the perfect circle, I just told it how big I wanted it.

Technology has overtaken the true art of handwork.

Things are slick. And glossy. And exact.

Handwork Flourishes

Wall-to-wall handwork.

Yee-Haw Industries: Wall-to-wall handwork.

I recently took an unexpected trip to Knoxville, TN.  While there, I was hoping to get a few minutes to visit an old friend. Yee-Haw Industries. (I’m really not their friend… but I enjoy their work so much, their handwork, that I’d be their friend.)

Yee-Haw Industries  is primarily a letterpress printer—the “old” kind of printing with wood type, lead type, hand-cranked printing presses. Think old west meets deep south and they made a circus poster.

Old wooden floor. smells of  paper and ink and the solvent you clean the press blankets with. They had the big tables and the wood cabinets. Stuff made of cast iron.

I think the only need for electricity was for the coffee maker and the lights.

Cabinet after cabinet of lead and wood type.

Yee-Haw Industries: Cabinet after cabinet of lead and wood type.

Everything in there was done by hand.  It was a museum of fine art, design and typography with people touching the exhibits. It was wonderful.

You can see the skill, determination and passion in every print they create. The lines are rough. The ink is a little heavy here and a little light there. Technique, limitation of the process or human error? Who cares—I loved every minute detail of it.

And they OWN it. It’s THEIRS. The style, the techniques—even when they give it away for a poster or a note card, they did it.

Give Them a Hand

So I bring this back to that campaign we developed for the financial client.

Part of our pitch was that the (uniquely) illustrative nature of the campaign was representative of their  history, tradition and the relationships forged with their customers.  Like they did it back then. And do today. I explained (and truly believe) that the consumer will make an emotional connection through the illustration to the brand. And that ‘s (part of) the battle.

They liked it. It’s going to run. I think they saw through our dog and pony show  and made an emotional connection with the artwork. The handwork. It represented them and related to their audience.

And most of all, THEY could OWN it.

Have you noticed a return to handwork? Or has it never gone away? And, what is unique about your campaign—how do you OWN it?

I’d like to hear your responses.

What children’s programming taught me about advertising.

As a father of 13 month old twins and an imaginative five year old, I’m fortunate enough to be immersed in a perspective of discovery and creativity that only a child can possess.  And over the past five years I’ve shared the delight of children’s programming with my kids, realizing that I enjoy it not only for the time with my children, but for the inspiration they can provide to the creative adult.

(Judgemental commenters are thwarted here: I do not equate quality time with my children as sitting in front of the TV with them. But any time with them I do enjoy.)

So an article came out last week in Advertising Age Mediaworks about what I felt was my own little creative secret, “Yo Gabba Gabba!”—one of my favorites, uhh, my twins’ favorites.

I won’t elaborate on the details, you can find them here. But what I like is the simplicity of the concept. That I will tell you about. That’s what is inspiring.  And the two pitchmen in my head present it like this:

“So this tall hipster guy, dressed in a scandinavian track suit a la 1976, has this awesome boom box. A boom box that opens to reveal a collection of the best in Japanese-like collectible figurines, action figures if you will. And when he pulls the figures from their form-fitting foamy boom box case, and puts each of them into their own little environment on top of a table—they come to life. And teach your kids.”

That’s it. Action figures that come to life once you pull them out of their case.  I’d go on to tell you about the set, the guests,  etc., but here’s my take-away:

Keep it simple.

What happens to imaginary  friends when they’re not wanted anymore? They go here.

Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.  That simple. A foster home for imaginary friends.

Simple. Original. Yet anything goes. Have you ever seen a palm tree with lips, and speaks kinda like a chicken? Can you imagine one? Yes you can. How creative is that?

Perhaps it just needs to be that simple for kids to understand and become engaged. Then you can add the talking palm tree or the one-eyed alien (Muno is my fav).

You’re saying “So that’s how this translates to advertising.”

Simplicity in the idea provides a strong foundation for growing it. So let’s keep it simple.