Successful Grassroots Advertising In Its Most Simplistic Form

rockyWith all the technology available to advertisers these days, the only media worth investing in is the one that works. It is a concept that agencies and their clients learn right away if they are to succeed, but this ideology works on all levels. This week’s article was inspired by events far “Beyond Madison Avenue” in Eastern Long Island, where a family took to a grassroots campaign to find their missing puppy. What was to follow would be considered a success in any circle in the creative world.

It started with a simple question, “Did they ever find that dog?” I saw the posters a few weeks ago in my parents’ neighborhood while visiting them, and as I was driving, a poster on a telephone pole caught my eye. My mother informed me that they did, in fact, find the puppy and told me that a family not far from where the puppy lived found him howling in the middle of their backyard at 1 a.m. He’d been missing for almost a week. I was kind of surprised that the family who found the puppy called the owners at that hour to retrieve the pet and wondered how they knew the number offhand. That’s when I learned of the details of the campaign that saved Rocky.

The day that Rocky wandered off from his family, he escaped through the backyard into a nature preserve behind his family’s property. Immediately after failing to find him, Rocky’s family started posting flyers around the area. They were literally everywhere, and you couldn’t get very far without seeing one of them. There were so many posts on trees, telephone poles and in windows that the community immediately knew of Rocky.  That alone would have been a successful campaign, but the dedication to the people in the area sparked even greater efforts

Neighbors took to social networking, specifically Facebook and Twitter, to grow the word and the virtual net to find the missing dog, and after five days, there he was, hungry, dehydrated, scared and infested with fleas and ticks. All the family that found him had to do was turn on their computer or look at the flyer in front of their house to know who to call. The campaign was now an undisputed success, but the story didn’t end there.

In an effort to let the community know that Rocky was home safe, his owners went back out to the streets and posted neon pink tape over every sign they posted with the word “Found” across it accompanied by a smiley face. Again the neighbors reacted, this time calling up and asking about the dog’s health, updating their social efforts accordingly in an effort to spread the good news, and that is where things started really paying off for the now locally famous pup. Families started dropping off treats and baskets to the dog they all have become attached to over the week of his absence.

How does this relate to advertising? Imagine if Rocky was a brand. The passion and effort that went into his return could ignite any product. It is a factor sometimes missed when making things look cool. Sometimes, just a heartfelt, clear message is all you need to drive passions and create a loyal following. As far as Rocky is concerned, he is still catching up on his sleep and struggling to find the time to eat his way through all of his gift baskets. As a creative, it is nice to know that success doesn’t always have to be measured in dollars and cents, and for some of the negative things that can be said about the industry, in its simplistic form, it can be one of the most powerful tools in helping us to become better people.

Staying calm through deadlines

deadlinesAny deadline can make for a stressful situation, but for creatives, it is a little different. Unlike other office jobs, where most of the work is presented and has to be dealt with in a manner to complete a particular project, a creative usually has to rely on their imagination to get them through. And, as all creatives know, the mind does not necessarily deliver what we want it to and when we need it to.

Knowing this does not make the process any easier, and one of the biggest obstacles a creative can face is the self-manifested pressure of a looming deadline, which is compounded by the thought of, “How am I going to get through this?” It is this thought alone that can assure a deadline is missed or met, but there are ways to remove the panic factor and help the flow of creativity. For me, this starts with a list.

Even if you have someone to map out your priorities for you, making your own list is a good psychological practice. In my current position, I get each individual job request in its own physical folder. I can look over at the organizer on my desk at any time of day and see a thick stack of folders, which can not only come across as intimidating, but also create a lot of unnecessary stress. By making a handwritten list as to what each of those folders represent, I can now focus on the one sheet of assignments I have to complete for the day rather than the 20 folders they are housed in.

A mistake I used to make was talking about how much work I had to other coworkers. Once you mention such a thing out loud, you give it a life, and at that point you are not only making yourself verbally aware that you have a lot of work to get through, but you are now making your coworkers get involved in a conversation which will make them aware of how much work they have as well. If you feel you have the time to break away from your list of tasks, keep the conversations light or non-work related. Taking yourself out of a project for a minute has a way of refreshing your creativity and breathing new air into a room.

Aside from making a list and keeping the mood light in the office, I believe what works best for me when it comes to staying calm through a deadline-riddled day is to keep a realistic perspective on what is expected of you. Most of the time, clients and managers understand the capabilities of their team, and although conflicting schedules may make some deadlines way rougher than others, there is rarely a task a focused mind cannot accomplish. Complete things in the order in which they are needed, rather than find solutions for all things at once — which usually never happens.

~Originally written for @TalentZoo

Managing the Project

pmBeing happy in your work goes a long way in being happy in your life, and I am now open to the fact that there is a seed to a positive work environment. Although in the past I have primarily been against project managers, I am willing to admit that the right person for the job can make all the difference in the world. However, until recently, I have only ever worked with one project manager that knew their job well enough to keep the work moving smoothly, but that was so long ago that I had just about lost all of my faith in the position.

What I have found to be true over the years is that titles are a great incentive to get people on board for one task while making them think they are something completely different. For instance, a college graduate looking to make it in the advertising world may be reluctant to take on a personal assistant position, but if you re-label that job as something different, not only does it look good on a resume for the employee, it also gets the employer what they want as well.

However, in some rare circumstances there comes a job description for a project manager that actually covers the responsibilities of the position and even more uncommon situations, that description is actually the job of the person hired for it. So who is qualified for a position that decides the workflow of many other positions?  At my current job, the project manager was once a fellow designer.

Could there be a more perfect evolution to a career path for someone who has spent so much time at one company, because they love it, but at some point decided that they have reached every goal from the creative aspect they wanted to? I believe not. Imagine receiving scheduling direction from someone who had actually done the job in the past.

From the view of the designer, there is someone to know how much work you should be able to handle. There is also the ability to understand a client’s likes and dislikes through someone who has been there before you, which goes a long way in making the process go smoother. From the perspective of management, it helps to have someone who can communicate on the level of both clients and designers, as well as give realistic deadlines, as opposed to guessing how long a job should take which happens far too often with many other project managers I have encountered.

I am sure that my current PM is not the only good one in the industry, but this woman’s abilities in her position has made all of us better at our jobs, and in doing so, has created a less stressful, happier environment. In all fairness, maybe the deconstruction of the project manager position is caused by those in charge who feel that since these people communicate between so many people that they would make good personal assistants, abandoning the fact that project managers are to oversee a project’s success as opposed to an individual’s needs.

No matter the reason, success is based on the individual, and if you’re not sure of what all the pieces do, applying for the position that holds them all together is probably not the best career path, but that’s just my opinion.

My five steps to staying creatively relevant

5StepCreativeTrying to stay creative after being any place long enough is not always easy.  Let’s face it, we all have a style, and when designing for a specific company or brand over the years, there is a cycle that will repeat itself over time. However, there are ways to combat that repetitiveness and at least prolong the restart of the inevitable cycle, which could help in expanding your creative longevity. These are five tips that I have found helpful to stay fresh and relevant within a brand setting.

1)   Research
We are at a point where there is pretty much no stone left unturned. No matter what new or existing product you get assigned, chances are it exists in that exact form or at least in some variation. What this means for the designer is that some of your work is already done for you. This is not to say pick the best deign and run with it for your needs, but by researching the competition, you will have a better understanding of varied target markets, strategy scope and future directions. By understanding this data from a visual perspective, you will have the opportunity to break away from the existing expectations of an audience by amplifying what works to your benefit.

2)   Exploration of layout option
One way to assure a look gets stale fast is by being slave to a template. Because you may be required to adhere to a set of branding guidelines, you are not required to just recycle what someone has done before you as a creative, which is more of a production task. If you are a designer, it is your responsibility to offer new avenues of distributing information through your creativity. Always seek a variety of layout options for your clients, and save them all — they could come in handy in the future. I like to design six layout options as a starting point and see where the information takes me.

3)   The visual word
Just because words are the literal message, as opposed to the visual message designers are responsible for, does not mean that they should be neglected. A designer’s job is to hook the eye of a targeted individual. Copy is the essence of detail that a potential client needs to make their final purchasing decision. By pushing the boundaries of type, you are finding a way to draw your audience to the literal message. Always supply alternate type styles when possible in a presentation environment.

4)   Shake the rainbow
Color can be tricky, especially when a company may have an existing branded palette you are restricted to. Any color combination can be creatively presented by the adjustment of balance. By presenting colors through various assets, the entire mood of a design can be set. Experiment with type color, borders, text blocks and accents. Expand on what exists, and offer solutions with exaggerated options. The use of color experimentation alone can make a good project great.

5)   Reaction
After all the pieces are in place comes the most important factor in designing for creative functionality: Listening to your audience. What they say may not always be what you want to hear, but in the end, good commercial design is measured by the public’s reaction to it, not your personal preference. Listen to what your audience says about your work and adjust what needs to be accordingly. You are, after all, designing for a purpose, so be open to what your audience needs from you and give them what they want. In the end, your relevance to a project will still shine through.

~Originally written for @TalentZoo

Sir Paul the car salesman

McCaSure, all car owners have decent arguments on why their vehicles are cool, but in case there was any question as to how cool Open Road VW/Audi dealership at 802 11th Ave. in New York found a way to set the bar with the help of none other than Paul McCartney. As part of Sir Paul’s promotion for his latest album, “New,” the New York-based car dealership worked out a unique cross promotion with rock royalty.

Imagine sitting in a new car, windows rolled down, listening to Paul McCartney on the radio. For seasoned McCartney fans such as myself, listening to MACCA in this fashion was once the most popular way to crank his music, but with changing times, listening to FM radio is not as hip as it once was thanks to digital downloads, but this promotion captured something special: Nostalgia.

This was McCartney’s first body of new work in six years, which is enough to get fans excited, but to turn the excitement into potential sales dollars for the dealership was brilliant. Finding unique ways to get people into cars has not always been an easy task for the industry. This promotion offers some much-needed creativity into the world of auto advertising.

Open Road VW/Audi offered two listening sessions for the event on the roof of its dealership in “New”-themed cars to commemorate the album. Each of the two sessions were open to the first 100 attendees, which was a little different approach than the West Coast had in regard to its auto-related listening party.

Los Angeles-based Vineland Drive-In in City of Industry, Calif., had its own version of the “New” listening party by inviting the first 400 automobiles to enter the venue to hear McCartney’s latest work on the Drive-In’s FM transmitter. Although the L.A. event was not tied to an auto-sales promotion, the event gave those 400 people the chance to listen to the former Beatle’s new work the way he intended it to be, behind the wheel with the windows down. Plus, each attendee received a commemorative poster.

So what does the artist think of the promotion? On his website, McCartney said, “I love listening to music in the car … It’s like listening with a huge pair of headphones! You’re in there, and the sound is wrapped around you … It’s great.”  Sir Paul’s latest album “New” will be released on Oct. 15.

Creative Co-Workers, Your Other Family

familyIf you are a professional creative, you know that there are many factors that can contribute to your success. Like everything in life, it is through a strong support group that helps determine our success. But unlike other fields, the creative industry is all too often a dysfunctional world that leads us to rely on our extended family members a little more than most career paths.

It is not that we creatives cannot be independent individuals in our craft, but to be truly successful in the creative world, especially in advertising, the best executions are team-built. In the midst of a campaign pitch through launch, chances are you will be spending more time with copywriters, art directors, creative directors, designers, programmers, freelancers and account reps than you will your own family. This can take a toll on your psyche after a while as hours turn into days and days turn into weeks, but as patience starts to dwindle the thing to remember is each of these people you are around is a cog in the process and with out them, the execution will falter.

That is not to say that, like in any family, there is a crazy uncle who shows up at an important event and tends to throw a wrench into the mix. His flailing around and knocking a dais table over is comparable to a mistake in the scheduling process, which could cause a creative team’s blood pressure to spike. The difference is with family, we have the luxury of not inviting that uncle to the next party in hopes that he will get upset and disappear until the next time he shows up to make a spectacle out of himself, where as coworkers are not so easily removed from our lives.

The fact of the matter is we have to work to live, and so do the people we are working with. Unfortunately, we cannot choose our families, and unless you are running your own business, you usually cannot choose your coworkers either. This is not to say that you cannot find another position if you are not truly happy, but the same players usually exist in every environment. Different people with the same traits exist in every aspect of our lives.

There is, however, a unicorn scenario: A perfect team is assembled comprised of a group who have all been through the same tribulations as you. In this rare instance, things tend to flow so easily until one of the team members leave, which opens a space for a contaminating factor to join the mix, such as the return of a creepy cousin you may not have heard from in years.

If you are lucky enough to marry into a perfect creative situation, respect your new family, and remember when things are not going the way you want them to, things could be a lot worse. There are always those companies that have no problems locking their employees under the stairs as a completely acceptable creative environment.

Creative Presentations: Quantity vs. Quality

QualityYou can learn a lot as a creative freelancer. The work can be as diverse as the daily operations of the client’s you are contracting for. It is those little differences between companies that opens up the discussion about which methods of creative flow are effective and which are not.

Recently I have had the opportunity to work with a client whom I cannot get enough of. My direct report is a creative who believes that design is as important as the money that it generates. There are no cut corners, and what is expected is top-quality work over quantity of concepts. This is very different from what I have experienced in recent months where the goal was to blitz the client with a large amount of designs and hope some would stick, but which is a better approach?

Well, my earlier clients as mentioned would argue quantity offers the client the ability to choose from a large pool of comps, covering all of their possible needs. How big is the “creative pool” which I mention? Approximately 30 designs per designer, multiplied by four designers. Does this mean that we would submit 120 designs per client? No, that would be crazy! We would submit between 40 and 60 of those ideas. Which seems like a crazy amount when considering how difficult it is to get face time with decision makers, who usually make a lot more decisions than just creative ones on a daily basis.

On the other hand, my recent employer believes in quality, a system I, too, am far more comfortable with. One designer per project, six designs per round. Is six designs enough to present, considering some agencies are submitting ten times that amount?

The short answer answer is yes. What this method does is force the creative to do something all creatives should do: Listen, take notes on the small details of a job and ask the questions that are gong to make those six designs exactly what the client wants. Preparing better in meetings helps set up a quicker execution in the development phase, pretty much every time.

By supplying a client with upward of 30 creative options for their needs, you tend to cause more confusion. Maybe the client who had a direction in mind which was executed to their specifications perfectly, but now there are five additional options making them second-guess their decision. Not that this is a bad thing from a creative perspective, but this will now become a time hindrance as you are now asked to create additional ideas for people who, as mentioned above, usually don’t have time, and will almost always tend to go back to their first decision.

Also what a large presentation does is it takes most of the pressure off the account directors and puts it on the creative staff. If you have a day to put a presentation together, it makes a lot more sense to generate six fantastic designs based on what the client requested as opposed to 30 in the same amount of time because you are held to a quantity quota. At the end of the day both agencies are successful at what they do regardless of the methods on how they got there. The difference is in the employees of those agencies and which one produces the work they are more proud of.

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