Needed Again? The Ad Campaign That Saved New York

It’s midsummer, yet we are at a moment in time when tourism and travel ad campaigns are practically at a standstill, due to COVID-19 and our economic shutdown. Here in New York, the lights of Broadway will be out for not just the rest of summer, but the entire year (subscription required). Who knows if New Year 2021 will bring the bright lights back – and if so, the audiences, with billions in the balance.

The city also was recently met with the passing of Milton Glaser, the founder and publisher of New York magazine, and the graphics genius behind the now-ubiquitous “I❤NY” graphic.

A wise soul never bets against New York.

Another advertising genius, Mary Wells Lawrence — the first woman to found, own, and manage a major advertising agency (Wells Rich Greene, in 1966) – was honored last week with a Cannes Lions “Lion of St. Mark” for lifetime achievement. Her agency – with Glaser’s design – literally took a “deteriorating” New York and launched a Broadway-focused campaign that began the city’s (and state’s) path toward the world giant of tourism that it is today.

Here are some samples of work from this campaign in the early 1980s – note the direct-response call to action. Also of note, Glaser developed the graphics pro bono, and the jingle also was donated by composer Steve Karmen.

A Campaign That Sparked Imagination, Captured a Moment, and Practically Created a Category

New York will need nothing short of another seminal ad campaign – or campaign extension — to revise its fortunes once again.

This work was indeed seminal. Until that time (campaign launch, 1976-77), there were few state-funded tourism campaigns that captured America’s imagination as much as “I❤NY” – only “Virginia is for Lovers” (1969) comes to mind. “I❤NYmay not have invented the category, but it took travel and tourism marketing to new heights in public consciousness.

Famously left for bankruptcy by President Gerald Ford, New York City’s perceived state in the mid-1970s was nothing short of disastrous. Depopulation, crime (Son of Sam), blackouts (and looting), decrepit public transit… one might argue the city barely functioned, if at all.

But New York always fights back. The truth is the city never lost its global mantle atop finance, fashion, night life, the arts, and retail, among other sectors. Broadway is uniquely New York and – other than London’s West End – there was no greater concentration of live theater in all its forms than the Big Apple, so of course Broadway was going to be the initial focus of an ad campaign, which happened to open the door to New York’s comeback.

And oh, did it work, perhaps far beyond tourism and economic revival. It created an energy and mystique for the city that touched a chord with many – not just to visit New York, but to come to the city and live, take a chance, and forge our path in the pursuit of happiness. (When our pop heroes of the time – Blondie, the Rolling Stones, Kiss (Ace Frehley), Michael Jackson – are singing in and about you, adding a dose of parody, it’s also hard not to notice.) What followed in New York City is truly remarkable – a booming economy that even periodic stock market corrections and September 11 could not dislodge. These latter events, merely interruptions.

That is, until now.

A New Marketing Challenge – Who Wants to Step Up?

Even prior to COVID-19, New York has had new images and realities to contend with: a population that peaked in 2016, even amid a wildly successful tech and biomedical boom; Gen Z and Millennials with vitality and genius who can’t afford the price of entry – or, worse, feel it’s not worth it; strangulation by repugnant and short-sighted immigration curtailment and visa restrictions that serve to fail the American Dream. And now, it was the epicenter of a pandemic, which has brought into question the safety of dense population centers everywhere.

So how will NYC & Company, the State of New York Division of Tourism, and Empire State Development perhaps unite to revive New York’s fortunes this go-around?

It’s time for a Next Generation to dream big, strategize, and present the next seminal campaign (extension) that will “save” New York. I ask, who’s going to do it? Where are the next Mary Wells Lawrence and Milton Glaser?

How about you? If you and your agency are creating successful work right now, you can prove it: The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) has now issued its 2021 International ECHO Awards call for entries. What makes the ANA ECHOs so unique is that each campaign is judged by peers based on data-informed strategy, creativity, and results in business outcomes that any c-suite would love. “Brilliant results. Executed brilliantly.”

Like the State and City of New York, thousands of brands right now need agency and marketing leadership that inspire, motivate, and move business and the economy. In both consumer and business markets, domestic and global, earning an ECHO shows data prowess in real campaigns that make a difference on the bottom line – attributes and outcomes that are in high demand. Take your best work from 2020 and enter, and I’m proud to say, I’ll have the opportunity to help judge that work this fall.

I’m eager to see the best. New York’s image curators ought to be watching as well.

WWTT? Coors Light’s New Campaign Calls It Like It Is — Times Are ‘Sucky’

Marketers have seen, and used, every available euphemism for COVID-19 in marketing messages. “Pandemic,” “crisis,” “uncertain times,” and “the new normal” are all accurate, but it’s beginning to sound a bit tired. Enter Coors Light’s new campaign, “#CouldUseABeer.”

Most marketers have seen, and used, every available euphemism for COVID-19 in marketing messages. “Pandemic,” “crisis,” “uncertain times,” and “the new normal” are all accurate, but it’s beginning to sound the same and a bit tired. Enter Coors Light’s new campaign, “#CouldUseABeer” and the fact that the brewer is calling these times like they really are: sucky.

As part of the ongoing “Made to Chill” program, Coors Light is giving away up to $1 million worth of beer via the new social media initiative. Legal-age drinkers can tweet at a friend, who can then receive a rebate equivalent to the price of a six-pack of Coors Light (in states where legal; Coors Light provides all promo rules here).

What went from a 93-year-old grandma becoming an Internet sensation when a photo of her holding a Coors Light and a dry erase board reading “I Need More Beer!” turned into the brewery answering her plea for a cold one. And then, from that point, further inspired Coors Light’s new campaign, “#CouldUseABeer.”

Sure, this campaign isn’t necessarily changing lives drastically … it’s not providing PPE for healthcare workers, but it’s staying true to Coors Light and the brewer’s product.

Chris Steele, marketing director for Coors Light, commented:

“A lot of times, when you see someone working hard, doing something really good, you want to recognize them and you take them out for a beer. That’s not really possible right now, but we want to help people get that brief moment of pause and enjoyment that Coors Light provides.”

Coors Light’s new campaign features 15- and 45-second ads narrated by  Paul Giamatti who reminds us that Americans have dealt with really had times before, and during those times, beer kinda helped.

The marketing is relevant, and in my opinion, the message is spot on. These times DO SUCK. They’re hard and they’re scary, and the only thing we can do is take care ourselves and our loved ones, and make it through to the other side. And if responsibly enjoying a cold beer helps, I say go for it.

Because I’d rather see an ad from Coors Light — a beer I don’t drink — being unapologetically themselves than to have to sit through some somber ad telling me for the umpteenth time that some brand is “there for me.”

Better yet, if you want to talk about a brand offering value to its audience, Coors Light also has shared recipes for beer-battered waffles and beer bread for home chefs to try out. And on a philanthropic note, the brewer hosted a pre-NFL football draft happy hour with pro football MVP Patrick Mahomes and college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit on April 22. As a thank you for their participation, Coors Light made donations to the charities of choice for both men.

I think it’s amazing when brands step up and show how they can affect positive change during a catastrophic event such as this. But I also think it’s pretty great when a brand finds ways to just be there for their audiences, bring some joy and fun, and stay relevant.

What do you think marketers? Drop me a line in the comments below, and in the meantime, check out this really handy infographic from our friends at Hero’s Journey Content about how you can be a bit more creative when talking about these “sucky” times.

30 New Ways to Say Unprecedented
Credit: Hero’s Journey Content

Video Advertising Perspectives from Tim Hawthorne, an Entrepreneur Long Before Streaming Video

I thought it would be a wonderful idea to talk to one of the original greats in video advertising, Tim Hawthorne, founder of Hawthorne Advertising, who will be bestowed a “Lifetime Achievement” honor by Marketing EDGE as part of its EDGE Awards.

While we all hunker down, work from home, and stream video content, I thought it would be a wonderful idea to talk to one of the original greats in long-form video advertising, Tim Hawthorne, founder of Hawthorne Advertising. On June 1, Tim will be bestowed a “Lifetime Achievement” honor by Marketing EDGE in New York as part of its EDGE Awards. Here, he shares valuable perspective on a video advertising career in an increasingly rich, ubiquitous medium for consumers, brands, and marketers.

A ‘Love Story’ for Film

Chet: Tim, first of all, congratulations! I’m so happy to see you recognized by Marketing EDGE – with its mission of marketing education and professional development, bringing the best and brightest into the marketing field. When you graduated from college – Harvard University no less, in 1973 (really, I mean, “Love Story“) – did you have any inkling that you would build a career of first in direct-response television (DRTV) and video advertising?

Tim Hawthorne, founder and strategic advisor, Hawthorne Advertising (Fairfield, Iowa), will be honored on June 1, during Marketing EDGE’s EDGE Awards in New York.

Tim:  No, I had no idea in 1968 as I matriculated to Harvard that I would eventually become a pioneer of direct response television marketing. (First of all, yes, “Love Story” for sure. I was wandering through the Harvard Yard in the fall of 1969 when they were shooting exteriors. Not sure, but I might be one of those students hurriedly rushing to class in the background.)

It was turbulent times while I attended Harvard – 1968-1973.  (I’m actually Class of ’68 but took a year off after my sophomore year to teach school in Ethiopia with the Harvard Africa Volunteer Project, so I graduated in ’73.) Initially, I intended to study chemistry, then switched to social psychology, influenced by the turbulent social times in the late 60s. But after getting my hands on a still camera in Ethiopia, I decided I’d take a still photography/documentary filmmaking course when I reentered Harvard in the fall of ’71. I was fascinated with the process of editing film, and then determined I’d pursue a career in filmmaking.

Searching for a job post-graduation in my hometown of Minneapolis, I was fortunate to be hired by the investigative documentary unit of the local CBS station, WCCO-TV. I worked there for almost five years, advancing from production assistant to editor to cinematographer, learning the craft of long-form storytelling. Our unit produced amazing documentaries that were often the No. 1 rated television programs in the Minneapolis/St. Paul market and won multiple awards, including the du Pont-Columbia and Peabody awards. I then became a producer/director/writer when I moved to the NBC affiliate in Philadelphia and eventually worked for a number of LA-based network primetime reality-based shows such as “Real People” and “That’s Incredible.”

Chet: Did you grow up having a love for industrial films of the 50s and 60s – which I think were a great precursor to the infomercial age and video advertising?

Tim:  No, I didn’t have any particular love for industrial films (which in the 50s, 60s, and 70s were the height of boring and simplistic video communications!) It’s my background in documentaries – telling a long form story on people and subjects – that seemed a natural basis on which to pioneer telling long-form consumer product stories.

Like many consumers, I’ve never liked being “sold” especially when I’ve felt manipulated. And of course, short-form TV commercial brand selling is very much about manipulating emotions (via humor, poignancy, excitement) and associating strong positive images (sex, strength, beauty) with a product – a very subtle and often deceptive way of selling.

Infomercial or long-form advertising has always been based on factual selling – the exposition of features and benefits – of course, in as entertaining a way as possible. But at least the channel is up-front about its message:  Here’s a product, here’s what it can do, and here are the benefits to you. This “truth in advertising” has always appealed to me. Producing documentaries is also about discovering the truth about a person, group, or issue.

In 1984, having moved from LA to Iowa for lifestyle reasons (wanting to raise our daughter Jessica in the Midwest where I grew up), I was open for new opportunities.  A local real estate investment entrepreneur heard of my background and approached me about producing a long-form commercial. It would be an hour long … and a challenge. That was November 1984, one of the first infomercials on air. Within 12 months, the infomercial had grossed more than $60 million dollars and dominated the long-form air waves. Fairfield Television Enterprise was the company I formed to market the infomercial and over 18 months we revolutionized long-form TV direct response.

Chet: How did early success stories translate to business growth? Were there mentors you paid close attention to? (Alvin Eicoff comes to mind).

Tim:  Eighteen months after launching Ed Beckley’s real estate investment infomercial, I became disillusioned with the way the company was moving forward. I resigned in April 1986 and took a couple of months off before starting Hawthorne Communications, later to become Hawthorne Direct, and then become Hawthorne Advertising. In late June 1986, I was a one-person company with the goal to persuade Fortune 500 companies to add long-form TV commercials to their marketing mix. We were the first infomercial ad agency in the world and I was confident that virtually all products had, somewhere at their hearts, a fascinating story we tell and hold viewers’ attention for 28 minutes and 30 seconds.

The agency had a singular focus: TV long-form advertising. There was no road map for the industry. We invented it as we went along. Certainly Al Eicoff was the reigning master of DRTV (and his book “Or Your Money Back” a short-form DRTV bible) but his company focused on short-form DRTV (2 minutes or less). So I and my growing team began to innovate, and I began to write about and present the long form story to marketing groups and corporations literally around the world. There was no road map; we were the trailblazers.

A Litany of Firsts and Video Advertising Innovations

Chet: Trailblazer indeed. What are some of the innovations you have brought to the field of DRTV, infomercials, and more recently digital video programming? How has digital disruption affected the traditional DRTV and broadcast channel, from a marketing perspective?

Tim: I’ve been called a “leading architect” of the DRTV industry by producing an impressive string of “firsts”:

  • Co-founder and president of the first infomercial direct marketer to break the $50 million revenue per year mark, Fairfield Television Enterprises
  • Founder and chairman of the first infomercial advertising agency, Hawthorne Communications
  • Produced the first infomercial for: a Fortune 500 company – Time Life; a major music company – Time Life Music; a major credit card company – Discover Card; a major health insurance company – Blue Cross Blue Shield; and a retail driving campaign for a brand name product – Braun
  • Infomercial Agency of Record for the first infomercial for: a major computer company – Apple Computers; and a major weight loss company – Weight Watchers
  • Infomercial Agency of Record for the first “promo-mercial” – a half-hour promotion for a primetime TV series (NBC’s “JAG”)
  • Published the industry’s first newsletter: “The 1-800 Report”
  • Published the industry’s first hard-bound textbook on infomercials: “The Complete Guide to Infomercial Marketing”
  • Created the first long-form TV media buying computer analysis system – “Time Track”
  • Purchased the first long-term cable TV bulk media contract: Discover Network, for $50 per half hour, six hours per night
  • Established the first infomercial agency/traditional agency alliance with Earl Palmer Brown

As for innovations to digital video, Hawthorne was one of the first agencies to actively use video promotion on websites (late 1990s) and we pioneered the “drive online direct sales” with short-form TV commercials, which were designed to motivate new visitors to our web-based clients.

Yes, the digital economy has significantly disrupted DRTV, as it has the television entertainment model as a whole. With a 35% drop in primetime adult (18-49) viewership from 2015-2019, the era of aggregating mass audiences on broadcast TV is long over.

A Family Affair – and an Investment in the Future

Chet: Was it a great leap – or expansion – from Fairfield, Iowa (hey, I’m from Nebraska) to Los Angeles? What brought Hawthorne Advertising to LA (and beyond)? Was there a talent pool you needed there?

Tim: From the beginning, Hawthorne was somewhat disadvantaged being a national advertising agency headquartered in a small Iowa town. We did have a small LA office (two staff) from the early 90s to keep in touch with our West Coast clients. But when Jessica (my daughter) came on board in March 2007, she brought an energy and vision to the company previously unknown.

Her goal was to build the LA office and lead the company into a digital future. And she has done that in spades, making LA our headquarters, while our Iowa office strongly administratively supports LA to this day. Our LA office certainly had access to talent we always struggled to persuade to move to Iowa, as you, being a Nebraskan, are probably aware of. It was a brilliant move by Jessica which has allowed the company to continue to thrive going into our 35th year.

June 2011 Cover - Response Magazine
Tim Hawthorne and Jessica Hawthorne-Castro share the cover of Response Magazine (June 2011) on the 25th Anniversary of the Hawthorne Advertising agency.

Chet: Well now we know why Marketing EDGE named Jessica Hawthorne-Castro a 2015 Rising Stars honoree. (You must be very proud!)

Tim: Yes, I’m very proud of Jessica’s ownership and leadership of the company. And it wasn’t by design. Jessica was a thriving talent agent at Endeavor, one of the few women agents at that male-dominated business with six years’ tenure. But she recognized that industry was missing certain business and spiritual values important to her. In February 2007, I coincidentally asked her if she had time to monitor a commercial talent audition in LA that we needed someone to attend. She did it, enjoyed it, and said she would be open to coming on board at Hawthorne. Over the next five years she soaked up the business, brought much-needed youthfulness to our efforts, advanced from client service associate to CEO, and built our LA office to 50-plus employees, while transforming the agency to a digital foundation.

Chet: As an author of several business books on DRTV and infomercial formats, and likely a bevy of company alumni in the field today, you’ve contributed so much to the professional development of data-driven marketers, marketing measurement, attribution and the like. What part of giving back to the field do you find most gratifying? Is there a particular “lifetime” achievement you’re most proud of?

Tim: My greatest achievement? Creating a company that has endured for 35 years and allowed hundreds of staff to learn, thrive, and grow in marketing knowledge and experience, while realizing greater personal achievement and confidence. We created a company that was a home for our staff to do great work amid friendship and respect. Undoubtedly my greatest achievement, far beyond any creative work for a client.

Thank you Tim – and we’re so happy to celebrate your contributions at the EDGE Awards come June 1.  And much more video success ahead!




What I Hope to Learn in Orlando’s Magic ‘Data’ Kingdom

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) inaugural 2020 Masters of Data and Technology Conference kicks off today. It will be interesting to learn how brands see themselves transformed by all the digital (and offline) data surrounding prospects and customers at this Magic Data Kingdom in Orlando.

As I get ready to embark to the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) inaugural 2020 Masters of Data and Technology Conference (beginning today), I’m very curious to listen in and learn how brands see themselves transformed by all the digital (and offline) data surrounding prospects and customers.  With CMOs telling ANA that this topic area is a strategic priority, I don’t think I’ll be disappointed this week in Orlando’s Magic Data Kingdom.

Are “they” — the brands — finding answers to these questions?

  • Do they have command of data in all the channels of customer engagement?
  • Are they deriving new sources of customer intelligence that had previously gone untapped?
  • Can they accurately map customer journeys — and their motivations along the way?
  • Are they truly able to identify customers across platforms accurately with confidence?
  • How do data science and creativity come together to make more effective advertising — and meet business real-world objectives?
  • What disruptions are shaking the foundations of B2C and B2B engagement today?
  • Are investments in data and technology paying dividends to brands and businesses in increased customer value? Do customers, too, value the data exchange?
  • Is there a talent pool in adequate to deliver data-derived, positive business outcomes? What more resources or tools might they need?
  • What impacts do barriers on open data flows — walled gardens, browser defaults, privacy legislation, “techlash” — have on relevance, competition, diversity in content and other business, economic and social concerns? How can these be managed?
  • Are “brand” people and “data” people truly becoming one in the same in marketing, and in business?

Admittedly, that’s a lot of questions — and perhaps the answers to some of these may be elusive. However, it’s the dialogue among industry peers here that will matter.

The mere emergence of this conference — “new” in the ANA lexicon — is perhaps a manifestation of where the Data & Marketing Association (acquired by ANA in 2018) hoped to achieve in its previous annual conferences and run-up to acquisition. The full promise of data-driven marketing — and “growth” in an Information Economy — can only happen when brands themselves (and, yes, their agencies and ad tech partners, too) have command of data and tech disciplines, and consumers continue to be willing partners in the exchange.

Imagination lives beyond the domain of the Magic Kingdom (where we all can take inspiration from Disney, nearby). Likewise, aspirations can be achieved. Let’s listen in and learn as ANA takes rein of this brands- and data-welcomed knowledge share. Growth is a beautiful thing.


To Find Your 2020 Agency Partner, Look Beyond ‘Agency of the Year’

There’s no shortage of agency rankings, highlighting the “agency of the year” for advertising agencies, PR firms, marketing technology vendors, and more. Accolades are important, but often to the agencies themselves, where recognition serves as a recruiting tool and validation.

There’s no shortage of agency rankings, highlighting the “agency of the year” for advertising agencies, PR firms, marketing technology vendors, and more. Accolades are important, but often to the agencies themselves, where recognition serves as a recruiting tool and validation.

When selecting agency partners, you should focus less on who’s the “best” and more on what a great agency partner means for your brand. Look beyond “agency of the year” and strive instead for compatibility.

Finding Your Agency Mate

Before even beginning the search, you need clear goals and must identify what you are trying to achieve by bringing in an outside resource.

Word of mouth, reputation, and recommendations can help narrow the field to a shortlist of potential partners. But what happens next?

5 Focus Areas for Agency Selection

From my experience on both the client and agency side, I recommend focusing on five areas as you assess potential partners: cultural fit, talent, success metrics, adaptability, and unique, specialized expertise.

Cultural Fit

Cultural fit is perhaps the most challenging criteria to define. Agency-client compatibility requires a set of shared beliefs and behaviors. If you aren’t able to see eye-to-eye with your agency, you won’t be able to work together successfully.

Assessing cultural fit requires spending time in-person with the agency team, ideally in their office, and getting to know individuals across levels and functions. There may be people outside of the day-to-day agency team who could shed light on the company culture, including HR and communications. Speaking to client references is another important culture check.


Strong agencies attract strong talent — at all levels. You need a consistent, tenured team that understands your business. If talent comes and goes, it is a huge strain on the relationship, because you need to invest time and energy in building new relationships at your agency partners.

During the selection process, ask about the average tenure at the agency and learn about their recruiting and training policies. These questions will help you uncover how the agency hires, invests in and retains talented employees.

Success Metrics

Great relationships are formed when the agency and client are jointly successful. Yet success can mean different things to different people. A shared point of view when it comes to measuring success is fundamental to closely aligned agency-client relationships.

Review how the agency has measured success with other clients and research the latest measures being used in your industry and adjacent industries.


If you want the relationship to be long-term, then the agency must be adaptable. Leaders change. Mandates evolve. The industry transforms. Agencies that are flexible and adaptable can serve their clients, regardless of the circumstances.

Request specific examples of long-standing client relationships and ask about the evolution of those relationships. Discuss scenarios that illustrate how their mandate might shift over time and see how the agency would respond to those hypothetical situations.

Unique, Specialized Expertise

Most agencies have a secret sauce — something that sets them apart. If the agency has expertise specific to your industry or competitive set, you will need to decide if the institutional knowledge outweighs the potential client conflicts.

Throughout your discussions with possible partners, dig deep into their unique and specialized capabilities — technologies, data, processes, knowledge, etc. These differentiators could be the determining factor in selecting your agency partner.

Keep an Open Mind

As you search for agency resources, consider unconventional solutions. An agency isn’t always the answer. For example, ask yourself, should I build this capability in-house? Additionally, for some brands, a consultant or group of consultants can provide a nimble, strategic support model.

Don’t get caught up in the “best agency” hype. Seek a partner that is best for you.

Wunderman’s Lesson: Marketing Isn’t a Product, It’s a Partnership

Over the past few years, relations between ad agencies and clients have been in an even greater state of flux than usual. The nature of just what a marketing agency is and what it does has many definitions. But the key issue is whether the agency, internal or external, is a strategic partner or just another supplier.

Over the past few years, relations between ad agencies and clients have been in an even greater state of flux than usual.

The nature of just what an agency is and what it does has many definitions. But the key issue is whether the agency, internal or external, is a strategic partner or just another supplier. Occupied with headcounts and finance, the suits in the C-suites often don’t understand the difference. And that spells trouble and bad work ahead.

I well remember a client lunch many years ago.

The location was a private room in an excellent restaurant in Lille, France. At the head of the table sat the president of La Redoute, France’s dominant mail order catalog company. Alongside were his recently appointed commercial director and some associates. Facing him from the other end was Lester Wunderman, flanked by Jean Larue, the CEO of the Wunderman French company, and myself. The atmosphere was polite, but tense.

La Redoute was our largest French client, by far; and until the arrival of the new commercial director, relations had been excellent and the measurable results of the work above anyone’s expectations. Drunk on his new power, the new commercial director, an ex-underwear buyer for a competitive mail-order company, was threatening to put the La Redoute advertising business up for review and search for new agencies he insisted “would be less expensive.” No doubt, that’s how he bought underwear. Our problem was that if we lost this business, we would essentially have to start the agency over, from scratch.

The arguments in French and English went back and forth over dessert and cheese, and were getting contentious — until Lester Wunderman held up one hand to silence the room and spoke for the first time. La Redoute, he said, was one of his favorite clients, because they had had the courage to invest in an innovative strategic partnership with the agency and great creative work. It had paid off handsomely.

“Now everything seems to have changed” he said. “We are no longer being seen as partners and are being treated no differently than the hundreds of salesmen for suppliers (fournisseurs) of goods, who pitch their products to the company every day.” Then, switching to French, he pronounced emphatically: “Nous ne sommes pas des fournisseurs!” (We are not suppliers). He then thanked the La Redoute president for hosting the lunch, rose and headed for the door.

Before he could reach it, the president had jumped up, taken him by the arm to sit next to him and, full of warmth and Gallic charm, asserted that there was obviously a misunderstanding, which he would personally and immediately put right. Summoning a waiter, an excellent Cognac was rapidly ordered and served.

The lesson was lost on no one.

Creating marketing excellence lives in a different universe than purchasing paperclips or underwear. In today’s fast-changing and highly competitive commercial environment, replete with excellent metrics, cost is only one factor in the multiple equations that measure success or failure. Head counts are no doubt very important, but companies and agencies would do well to chase value — rather than delude themselves into thinking they are saving a few pennies.

How does the CEO or finance chief know whether what they are paying for is worth the price? There is no easy way to tell, until the return on the marketing investment (ROMI) has been determined. The La Redoute president saw in Lester Wunderman’s demeanor and words about not being a fournisseur, that genius, pride, and integrity had a value that was unquantifiable.

Relations between agencies and their clients have always been sensitive, and moving the work inside the client company may superficially solve certain problems — but probably won’t. “Who knows best is a constant battle, which pits egos and backgrounds against one another in sometimes near-lethal confrontations. Imagine the argument over strategy between a 20-something data maven and a 40-something traditional creative director.

Agency reps who had never heard the word “data,” and whose attitude to “below-the-line” was, at best, dismissive, have been driven by technologies that are profoundly changing the whole concept of advertising, whether they like it or not. Below the line, as evidenced by the absorption of prestigious brand agencies like J. Walter Thompson into direct marketing groups like Wunderman, is more and more where the action is.

Many major companies have tried to solve this problem by building internal agencies with special skills dedicated to their businesses — with varying degrees of success. According to Forbes, ”64% of corporate America have in-house agencies today. Just 10 years ago, that number was 42%.”

The challenge will be if CEOs and finance chiefs can put their macro equations on performance aside and concentrate on building marketing excellence. If they do, they will no doubt see improved ROMIs, whether their marketing is internal or with outside agencies. Or probably better, with both.

Remembering Lester Wunderman, Direct Marketing Pioneer

Lester Wunderman, who passed away at 98 last week, was a quiet giant among visionary innovators. And if the marketing universe looks almost totally different today than it did in the “Mad Men” age of the 1960s, Lester deserves the lion’s share of the credit.

Lester Wunderman, who passed away at 98 last week, was a quiet giant among visionary innovators. And if the marketing universe looks almost totally different today than it did in the “Mad Men” age of the 1960s, Lester deserves the lion’s share of the credit. That he recently saw the legendary J. Walter Thompson merged into Wunderman must have given him no small pleasure.

When in 1958 with his brother and two other partners, he opened the mail order and direct mail agency Wunderman, Ricotta & Kline, in modest Union Square premises, relatively few companies were using the mail order channel and those who were, such as “The Book of The Month Club,” were doing their own marketing. Columbia House, the club division of Columbia Records, was one of the first and for many years, the leading client.

Eras are measured and defined by the magnitude of change that takes place within them and the visionary drivers of that change, whose innovations give the landscape a whole new look. Now, after years as secondary citizens in the marketing community, direct and data-driven marketing have taken “pride of place.” Lester always said it was just a matter of time.

Quoting Publicis Groupe Chief Growth Officer, Rishad Tobaccowala on the reason, MediaPost wrote:

“… conventional brand-building media models aren’t working as well as they used to. It’s because big brands are realizing that the only way to have a relationship with and understand their consumers, is to cut out the middlemen and have a relationship with them directly.”

The essence of marketing has now come full circle from the door-to-door peddler and personal selling to mass marketing and back again to the personal selling Wunderman always championed; albeit, with technologies never dreamed about in the 1950s. In a 1967 speech at MIT, Lester insisted on giving the industry a proper name, and “direct marketing” replaced direct mail, mail order and a host of others. Invited to give a keynote speech to the then U.S. Direct Mail Marketing Association, Lester accepted — but on the condition that the association change its name to the Direct Marketing Association. It was noisy fight but Wunderman won. That he would then become the “Father of Direct Marketing” was obvious.

For over the last half century, Lester was my closest friend and my guru. His humanity went hand-in-hand with his vision. “There is nothing that will not change,” he would say to anyone lucky enough to hear him. “Nudge that change in the right direction, take chances and measure, always measure your success or failure.” Having spent considerable time with his beloved Dogon tribe in Mali, even earning the honor of becoming a tribal Chief, Lester never lost touch with what he saw as real, a primitive understanding of human behavior and a profound respect for human values.

He knew instinctively (and proved over and over again) that a one-to-one relationship between people, be they partners, friends, acquaintances, customers or prospects, had to be more enriching than any distant relationship. His endless curiosity demanded that he know as much as possible about them and as the computer gradually replaced the mechanical card systems, the possibilities to capture data and use it to better serve customers and clients exploded. As increased streams of data became accessible, clients might scream about the cost of keeping and managing it, but that didn‘t deter Lester, who coined one of his best and most lasting perceptions: “Data is an expense” he said. “Knowledge is a bargain.”

Increased knowledge became an endless quest for Lester, and it was a gospel he shared domestically and internationally. Born one summer evening over a bottle of very good wine in my London garden, Wunderman Worldwide was designed to make this knowledge and its marketing uses available to young, ambitious, like-minded marketers — first in the U.K., France and Germany and, if successful, in any countries where it might be wanted. There are now 175 Wunderman offices in 60 countries.

The road to this success was hardly a smooth one. The acquisition by Young & Rubicam in 1973 was more a marriage of convenience than of love: Y&R needed to be seen to have the direct marketing skills it lacked, even if it had a very limited passion for the discipline. WRK wanted access to blue chip clients who were beginning to seriously examine direct marketing.

For reasons never made clear to Wunderman or the industry and breaking every classic rule of branding, Y&R management created a new brand, Impiric, and folded all its non-traditional businesses under this rubric. Overnight, the Wunderman brand was erased from the door. Lester was both personally heartbroken and professionally angry seeing years of brand-building disappear on what seemed little more than a whim.

Fortunately, just a few years later when Sir Martin Sorrel’s WPP acquired Y&R, he searched for the Wunderman company and found it buried under Impiric. As confused by Impiric as everyone else, he telephoned Lester, invited him to meet and, over lunch, both proudly restored the Wunderman brand and appointed Lester Chairman Emeritus of the company for life.

In an Ad Age interview in 2010, newly anointed by WPP, Lester said:

“For me, who started one little office with my brother and myself down on Union Square, to be the chairman of a company that is global, and practicing a high state of art all over the world, I can’t tell you what a revelation, in my lifetime, [it is] to see us go from kind of the horse-and-buggy form of advertising to the Internet. It’s just miraculous. The things we know about people, our ability to make messages more relevant and timely — advertising is just more efficient than it used to be.”

Lester’s creativity and his inventions are legendary. Eager never to leave a client or prospect without something new and unexpected, many of Wunderman’s greatest breakthroughs were brilliant adrenalin-driven responses to momentary problems. With a furious Columbia House client in the WRK conference room throwing on the table “take ones” millions of which had been printed and few “taken,” Lester, coolly walked over to the conference room magazine rack, picked up a copy of TV Guide, put one of the take ones in the center (where it almost fit) and announced that at that very moment the media department was booking this position exclusively for Columbia and all the take ones would be used. That position became one of the most productive DM media buys of its generation.

The Wunderman credo never changed, whether the means of accomplishing it was consumer loyalty programs, subscription club models, newspaper inserts supported by TV spots and toll-free 1-800 customer service numbers. Get as close to the customer as possible, listen to his voice and establish a one-to-one relationship. At an industry conference when others were droning on about postal regulations, out of nowhere, Lester proposed the idea of an intelligent mailbox for each consumer, a mailbox that knew what was wanted and only permitted those special messages access. Today we call it our “inbox.”

An avid tennis player, Lester never let work get totally in the way of play and, until recently, he found time weekly to play singles with the pro from his tennis club. On winter business trips abroad, he could almost certainly be found on weekends skiing in St. Moritz or Davos and in the summer at his beautiful house in Mogins, France. About 43 years ago, when he was courting his wife Suzanne who became both his companion and muse, he interrupted an otherwise important business meeting to carefully write down the recipe for a special dressing he wanted to prepare for the dinner’s arugula salad. The important things for Lester always took priority.

Lester Wunderman was a unique gentleman in an industry not over-populated with them. Read his books, “Being Direct” and “Frontiers of Direct Marketing,” or look deeply at his photographs of the Dogon tribe — his brothers, (in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan) and talk to those direct marketing practitioners who have worked for or with him. You cannot miss his special magical quality.

We have lost a great guru and friend, and he will be sadly missed. We are lucky that his wisdom and teachings are indelibly woven into the fabric of two generations of U.S. and overseas marketers.

Lester Wunderman Rosenwald
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald. The two of us in 1997 at the DMA Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Lester (Right) and Me (Left).

How Do Agencies Succeed in Changing Times?

The marketing and advertising industry, like many other industries, appears to be in a constant state of flux. So why do some advertising agencies succeed while others fail?

I love the marketing and advertising industry. And like other industries, it appears to be in a constant state of flux. So why do some advertising agencies succeed while others fail?

In business school you’re taught the concept of competitive landscape, the notion that this landscape is dynamic and ever changing. And that competitive advantage is fickle and fleeting. Your competitors are lurking and there’s a constant threat of losing your position in the ecosystem. The companies that succeed in this environment are the ones who continuously evolve and grow. This concept has proven itself to me time and again.

I’ve worked in the advertising industry +20 years. And I believe my professional experience has many parallels with changes in the industry. I’m an accountant by trade, started my career at a privately held marketing firm, followed by many years  in the holding company environment, and now am the CFO at an independent agency. Over the years, I’ve watched the industry that I love evolve into various renditions of itself.

I witnessed an industry predominately comprised of small independently owned agencies, transform via acquisitions and mergers into a handful of publicly traded holding companies. Unfortunately, these agencies have become so large and complex, they’ve struggled to react to client and market demands. And recently,  like my career the industry has come full circle with the return of the small independent agency structure.

And still there is more change in the horizon.  New players such as media giants, consultancies, and in house marketing departments have entered the space and are competing for marketing dollars. Have you ever wondered why agencies like DDB, BBDO, Ogilvy have succeeded with longevity?  Why have they dominated the industry for so many years while so many others have sailed away in the night?

  • These organizations understand what differentiates them from other players and are smart enough not to become complacent. They cultivate, invest in, nurture those differentiations and do not stray very far from their core capabilities. I once worked for an agency, founded in 1903, which originally specialized in tombstone print advertisement. Up until about the 1990’s, tombstone advertising was a very lucrative business and the agency’s client list included many large financial institutions on Wall Street. However, tombstone advertising was a dying art doomed for extinction with the prevalence of Internet technology. But when I joined the agency in 2013, it had successfully evolved to a B2B specialist with a niche in the financial sector. The +115 year old agency is a good example of the importance of nurturing and cultivating ones craft, it didn’t straying from its core capabilities and continues to service many of the same financial institutions at an  expanded capacity.  Evolution is key.
  • Standards need to be high. “If you have passion for what you do, the company you keep, the life you live, it will be reflected in whatever you create. Passion is like that; it springs out, jumps, unpredictable and unplanned, into everything we touch.” — R.D. Laing. These organizations have very high standards for the company they keep, services they provide and are passionate about the work they produce. My first Omnicom agency experience was invaluable in so many ways. Largely, because of the smart, talented, accomplished, passionate individuals that I had the pleasure to work with. Our leadership team of four, consisted of me, an Wharton MBA, NYU MBA and Oxford University graduate.  No, an Ivy League degree  wasn’t a prerequisite for the job. However the agency employed a rigorous screening process and were very selective with hires.  It was truly a special environment where each day was filled with opportunity to grow as a professional, collaborate with extremely talented colleagues and learn from super accomplished senior talent. The agency was successful in many ways, but largely for developing exemplary talent many of whom now hold senior leadership roles at various agencies across the country.
  • Lastly, there is a plan. It’s too easy to lose focus, the most successful leaders and organizations stay focused on the north star.  Successful agencies develop, communicate and deploy a well thought out strategic plan that is flexible and nimble enough to easily and quickly adjust. Generally, the leaders of these organizations are well liked and respected. They communicate their vision and strategy and inspire large groups of people to work towards that shared vision.  There is intention behind every decision, every purchase, every hire, every client interaction.

I believe the advertising industry is at a crossroads. With recent senior leadership changes at several of the holding companies, changing client demands and structures, with a steady growth of internal marketing departments. Which agencies will prevail and succeed in this next phase?


10 Tips Judging Marketing Awards Allow Me to Teach Brands

I’m judging marketing awards during the dog days of August, with steaming heat in New York City. It’s been a challenge this week choosing which campaigns will win recognition on Oct. 7 in Las Vegas. Earning my vote takes some doing. Here’s how marketers did it.

I’m judging marketing awards during the dog days of August, with steaming heat in New York City. There’s no better time than now to gather 100 or more data-driven marketing storytellers, strategists and creatives to judge this year’s Data and Marketing Association’s International ECHO Awards. (DMA is now a division of Association of National Advertisers).

It’s been a challenge this week choosing which campaigns will win recognition on Oct. 7 in Las Vegas. Earning my vote takes some doing.


1. Measurement Matters. Great creativity abounds. Yet, what matters to most CMOs is defining what business objective is achieved or surpassed through any campaign. If strategy and creative are stellar, but results toward an objective are nebulous or not addressed at all, then I’m going to discount the campaign’s overall score.
2. Talking to the Category Matters. Many award shows allow an entry to be submitted in more than one category. In that regard, ECHOs are no different. But just don’t check a box when entering. Instead, tailor the single entry campaign description to address in a meaningful way all the categories that are checked. For example, if “customer acquisition” is one of the checked categories speak to customer acquisition in the strategy and results. Show how the creative makes it easy for the customer to engage.
3. Creative Matters All of the Creative. I love a good video that summarizes a campaign entry it’s helpful for the judges in a pinch. But don’t solely rely on the video as a surrogate for showing all of a campaign’s creative elements. Judges don’t want to read or hear about a direct mail piece they want to see the actual direct mail piece (or PDF). Likewise, the mobile app, the landing page, the display ads and so on. Don’t leave a judge guessing which components worked and which may not have.
4. Set a Stage for Strategy. Open with a pain point, an opportunity statement, or some salient market research. Provide the context for the entry with a candid discussion you’ll get rewarded for brutal honesty. If a prior campaign flunked and this marked a turnaround, then say so. We’ve all been there. On the other hand, if a new campaign establishes a new control, hallelujah!
5. Let’s Get Technical. And Let Me Hear Your Data Talk. ECHOs are all about data-inspired creative and accountability. Tell me the customer and prospect data integration story the tech platforms, the analytics, and the personalization techniques. I get high when the love for strategy shows in the data discussion and how that strategy shapes creative and gets validated in results.
6. Make America Great Again … No, Not That One. Courageous clients and out-of-the-box thinking seem to co-thrive in many, many places around the globe. Because I don’t know who will be named ECHO winners this year I can only say from prior years that some innovative strategies are in play … petroleum made from beer:

Empowered sick kids:

And an 800 number answered by a nation’s citizens:

There are many well-executed U.S.-based campaigns with solid results but that extra magical mojo still seems to be shaken, not stirred in cocktails elsewhere. Bring it back home. Be a risk-taker. Let’s get the U.S. Navy more cryptologists.
7. What Was the Budget (Range)? Judges scratch their heads when key elements used to determine return on (marketing) investment are absent, or when no ROI or cost data are shared at all. No one expects proprietary information to be disclosed but there are ways to convey cost or ROI data (cost per acquisition, cost per conversion, cost improvement) in ways that are indexed or objective specific. Judges love understanding if and when campaigns truly break even.
8. Proofread and Check Your Math. I’m one of those people who shudders when The New York Times or New Yorker has a spelling or usage error. (You’d think I’d live my own life mistake-free, well hardly.) I can’t be the only stickler left on this planet, am I? In the rush to get entries in the door ahead of deadlines, errors do get through sometimes slight, but sometimes it’s more substantial “engagement” math off by a power of ten! No wonder the return on investment was so good … or was it?
9. Camaraderie and Conversation Among Peers Are Really Cool. When you judge Round 1 (online and alone), you get to see clever campaigns and a store of ideas to apply in your own marketing. When you are lucky to be chosen to judge Round 2 (face-to-face in New York), wow! You still cast your votes alone but only after a lively discussion, debate and worldwide reality check. It’s an 8-hour day (or three in a row), but with plenty of meal-time and after-hour networking, too. It’s a true marketing exchange and the points of view are well-articulated. Discussions open eyes and minds.
10. Awards Matter, as Do the Entries. There will be Gold, Silver, Bronze and Finalist ECHOs named plus a Diamond ECHO for top campaign overall. Still, there was at least one great idea in nearly every individual entry I saw.

Collectively, I also saw something else, which too often gets overlooked and underappreciated. Advertising and today, that also means the data that fuels it may seem to serve brands. And it does. But this week while judging marketing awards I saw a lot more. Advertising (and data) also creates customers. It creates commerce. It moves markets. It creates and serves audiences. It informs. It finances. It employs. It empowers. It inspires. Advertising is essential, yet we cannot take any of it for granted. Awards call attention to great work, by great people, achieving spectacular returns and those extend way beyond the brand. It’s good to be a judge.

Walk a Mile in Your Client’s Shoes

Agency folks love to complain about the pace of our work, the numerous bosses (AKA “clients”), the often restricted budgets, creative latitude and so on. It is human nature to bemoan the challenges we face personally, but to serve the interests of our clients we also have to factor in the obstacles our clients must, in turn, surmount.

Hipster shoesAgency folks love to complain about the pace of our work, the numerous bosses (AKA “clients”), the often restricted budgets, creative latitude and so on. It is human nature to bemoan the challenges we face personally, but to serve the interests of our clients we also have to factor in the obstacles our clients must, in turn, surmount.

The worst thing an agency partner can do is bring no ideas. The second worse thing is to present an idea, concept or approach to a client that does not fit their strategy or creates a headache disproportionate to the potential upside and opportunity. It’s the headache that often gets discounted or ignored. You’re just bad at your job if you are off strategy — but the risk-reward balancing trick is tough to achieve for anyone without a crystal ball and even tougher without the consideration of internal decision factors that the client may not explicitly divulge. This is where perceptive agency partners take a walk in their clients’ shoes.

Agencies are regularly tasked with helping their clients locate the edge that is relevant, strategic and effective for clients without pushing them over that edge. It’s the proverbial fine line that is influenced by factors well beyond those commonly found in a plan or brief. Marketers confront pressures unique to their particular environment when making difficult and finessed decisions regarding budgets, partners and opportunities. This allows them to make the best decision for their business in that space and time. It may not be the optimal decision according to a sterile predictive model but none of us live in that sterile world.

How can we factor in the real world issues that can and should influence marketing decisions?

Some Things We Can Glean From Historical Response

Have similar recommendations met with resistance or delay in the past? What was the underlying reason for that resistance? Is it likely to change or is it endemic to the organization or industry?

Industry factors like regulatory constraints should be pretty straight forward and clearly considered but companies and individuals have different appetites for risk that also need to be considered. You can moderate the tendency to play it too safe over time by building trust, gaining proof points with successful recommendations and a thorough, objective examination and presentation of your plans.