Category Archives: Deep View

More in-depth analysis of a specific topic.

8 marketing lessons learned from buying a watch

A few days ago, I bought this:

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It’s a Hamilton Day Date Automatic, and I love it. I had been thinking about this purchase for nearly six months, so it was quite a milestone for me. Granted, it’s not an ultra luxury watch, but it’s special to me as it represents the culmination of a few achievements I’ve celebrated recently.

It wasn’t until after I purchased the watch that I started to think about the marketing surrounding the Hamilton brand and how I had moved through an extensive customer journey.  As a marketer, I am normally fairly aware of the tactics being used to target me, but this time around, I was pretty much oblivious to the journey until after the fact.

In retrospect, my purchase raises a number of interesting insights about the watch market and the role of various touch-points in influencing a purchasing decision.

My Journey through the Funnel: An Analysis

Awareness

Capture

That is my Victorinox 241404 Chrono Classic. I bought it before I moved to Hong Kong because I figured I needed a “grown-up” watch to compete in the high-powered world of public relations. I walked into Macy’s and checked out the watches and only saw one or two brands I even recognized. I owned a Swiss Army Knife, so Victorinox was at the top of my consideration set. Then it was a matter of picking one out that I thought looked cool.

Lesson 1: No matter what you sell, sometimes people will just buy whatever they’re familiar with, without research or extended consideration.

Fast forward about four years. My Victorinox has been sitting in my drawer, battery dead, for nearly two years. At some point, I had simply stopped wearing it or anything else on my wrist. This was a typical phenomenon. Young people like myself simply do not buy or wear watches the way generations have in the past.

In 2015, one of my clients launched a smartwatch–one of many new devices on the market designed to redefine wrist-wear. I was tasked with trialing the device for a month to learn more about its features and its role in everyday life. While I ultimately didn’t see the value in wearing a smart device that needed to be charged every two days (I’m not the only one), I did become re-accustomed to wearing something on my wrist. I wanted to make use of my old Victorinox.

I replaced the battery, and started to wear it again, but simply wasn’t happy with it. My sense of style had evolved since my senior year of college. And every time I saw a watch ad or someone wearing a Fitbit, I was reminded of that fact. The less I enjoyed wearing my current watch, the more I started to think about replacing it. Suddenly, it seemed as though watch ads were everywhere.

Lesson 2: Demand generation can come in multiple forms, but once the lever is pulled, marketing communications become immediately more visible to prospects.

One day, I was walking in the MTR (Hong Kong’s wonderful subway system) and noticed an ad for Hamilton, a brand only vaguely familiar to me. I noted three things about this ad:

  1. Its imagery evoked a sense of excitement and wonder by using vintage aviation as its visual focus.
  2. Its tagline, “American Spirit, Swiss Precision”, immediately and clearly positioned the brand as having American style (i.e. martial, simple, clean) with a Swiss movement ticking away inside.
  3. The hero product itself reflected my evolving preferences.

Ultimately, those three elements created a memorable experience at a touch point not typically associated with deep, meaningful engagement.

Lesson 3: OOH advertising for luxury brands need not be complicated, but it needs to be more than a product shot to be successful. It must also represent what it means to be a member of that luxury brand’s exclusive community of buyers.

In Hamilton’s case, its clear brand positioning is an evolution of the brand’s history as an American brand acquired by a Swiss company that would eventually become Swatch Group, the world’s leading watch manufacturer and marketer. Its American origin story differentiates from other European brands through its style, and its brand imagery occupies its own niche. The closest comparison would be Breitling, which focuses on modern aviation, with the addition of celebrity endorsement (John Travolta) and a modern military style.

At this point, I was aware of Hamilton and had a slight affinity towards it. Now to see if it’s any good.

Consideration

I’ve been burned before.

Shinola-Runwell-Watch

Before I started caring about watches again, I was interested in only one other watch brand, Shinola. American-made with a class style, in many ways Shinola is similar to Hamilton for its unique story and aesthetic.

However, when I researched the brand, I found that many people on social media felt that Shinolas were overpriced for their quartz movements and that its Detroit heritage story was all flash and no substance. I still like Shinola, but the divisive opinions about the brand online tempered my excitement. The fact that these are not sold in Hong Kong completely killed my enthusiasm.

Lesson 4: Brand belongs to both the company doing the selling and the person doing the buying. Storytelling is important, but remember your audience will interpret that story based on their own experiences.

For Hamilton, there were a few touch points I engaged with to determine a) whether or not Hamilton is a good brand and b) which model would be best for me. These were my criteria:

  • Automatic movement
  • Simple face with no chronograph
  • Leather or fabric bracelet
  • Face size between 40 and 42 mm
  • Sweeping second hand
  • Very easy to read dial
  • Well regarded brand

Note that this list of criteria is unique and would only make sense in a high consideration market. No one walks into a McDonald’s or buys a stick of deodorant with such an exhaustive list of desired features. Outside of luxury and fashion, we see similar trends in other high-priced, high-consideration industries, especially real estate and technology.

As Hamilton was high on my consideration list, I was able to visit http://www.hamiltonwatch.com/ and explore watches that met my criteria. From there, I narrowed down my search to its Khaki Field line, a mid-ranged series of watches inspired by watches given to soldiers.

The more watches I saw, the more I became convinced that I would be happy with Hamilton style. I subscribed to the brand’s Instagram and Facebook pages, and was surprised to discover that Hamilton had been featured prominently in recent Hollywood blockbusters Interstellar and The Martian.

watch-lovers-are-going-crazy-for-the-model-seen-in-interstellar
A scene from Interstellar. Note Matthew McConaughey wearing a Hamilton Day Date Pilot’s watch, similar to the one I ultimately purchased. Business Insider has an interesting article about how Hamilton placed their products into the film and how a major plot point centers around the watch–a notion that should send any marketer drooling!

Lesson 5: Product placement is perhaps less useful as an awareness driver than it is as a consideration driver.

When we’re watching a movie or TV show, we are typically focused on the story. As such, it’s easy to ignore placements, but when we get to the consideration phase, placements help us associate the brand with stories we are already familiar with. Omega’s work with Daniel Craig and the James Bond franchise is an excellent example of this. Rather than just having the placement do its work in the films, traditional advertising featuring Bond wearing an Omega reinforced the brand’s emerging mystique.

For my last criterion, I needed to determine whether or not Hamilton was a brand that would hold its value over the long term. I didn’t want to buy something flimsy or something that carried a negative reputation. And for that, I couldn’t find my answer on Hamilton’s owned properties (e.g. social, web). I had to look at reviews and watch communities.

Lesson 6: Social validation is a critical driver of any luxury product. Encouraging positive conversations about the brand should be a marketing objective for perception-driven luxury brands.

I discovered quickly that Hamilton’s biggest “uncommunicated” message (i.e. the one that isn’t communicated in its billboards or website) is its value. Many watch enthusiasts are vocal about their appreciation for Hamilton’s Jazzmaster and Khaki lines of products, saying that they are the best “bang for the buck” in the mid-range. Beyond this, many watch lovers post fond testimonials for the brand, highlighting its quality and long-term durability.

Both sides of the brand equation satisfied, I committed mentally to buying a Hamilton… when the time was right.

Lesson 7: Purchase isn’t always going to be immediate, particularly with higher cost/consideration items. Then the challenge becomes to present the customer with as many reaffirmations of their commitment as possible.

Purchase

I decided I wanted a Hamilton around December last year, but I had other non-luxury expenses to take care of–getting married being the most critical.

So I waited. And waited. During this time, I continued to be exposed to a number of touch points which carried forward my interest in the brand, subtly reminding me that the product was out there waiting for me:

  • POSM: Point of sale merchandising promoting Hamilton products is distinctive, consisting of orange and black signage with aviation models or equipment. Every time I passed a watch store, I checked for the Hamilton signage so I could look at the products first-hand.
  • Social Media: Instagram and Facebook served as a the primary, regular sources of Hamilton promotional material, but I also explored Pinterest and YouTube. These platforms did nothing to diminish the value of the brand for me–which is a fear some luxury marketers have when they consider using social media.
  • Complementary Retailers: While I waited for the right time to buy a new watch, I decided to enhance my much-scorned Victorinox by purchasing new NATO straps online and subsequently following that retailer on Instagram. The owner of that online storefront posts a new picture every day with different brands using colorful or interesting straps. I learned a lot about different brands through this, but continued to pay special attention to the Hamiltons that would pop up from time to time.

Not all paths lead to purchase however. There were a handful of barriers to purchase for me.

  • Many stores in Hong Kong only sell the higher end range of Hamilton watches, a reflection of the cultural preferences in the city regarding style. Finding a store that sold Khaki Field watches was extremely difficult.
  • While Hamilton has an online store, I did not feel comfortable ordering a watch online, especially one that I had not seen in person. This is a common phenomenon in the luxury industry.
  • Many brick and mortar retailers in Hong Kong are run by sales people whose salaries are commission based. Walking into these stores often feels like being eyed by hungry vultures. Occasionally, I would avoid looking at their offerings because I knew the sales staff would be pushy. This is not Hamilton’s fault as the sales people have no brand preference (outside of wanting to sell you a very expensive watch), but because it is not a high tier luxury brand, they cannot have their own flagship stores the way Omega, IWC and Rolex do.

Eventually, the stars aligned and I decided to pull the trigger on the Hamilton that met all my criteria.

Lesson 8: Barriers to purchase should be actively sought out by the brand, and minimized as much as possible.

Loyalty

Now that I’ve purchased a Hamilton watch, I feel happy about my decision. I even posted about it on watch enthusiast forums and received compliments (and validation).

hamilton-box_large
Hamilton’s “unboxing” experience is simple, but lacks a call to action reinforcing brand loyalty at a critical time.

Will this be my last watch? Absolutely not. This leads us to our final view of the marketing funnel: loyalty.

I will continue to enjoy my watch for the near term, but when I get a significant promotion or a new job, then I may again decide to purchase another watch. Will I choose a Hamilton or will I choose a different brand?

At the moment, in spite of my current sanctification with Hamilton, I may very well decide to switch to a different brand to diversify my collection. Indeed, Hamilton is best known for its range of products between US$500-2000. If I want to buy something really luxurious, I’ll have to switch away.

But does it have to be that way? Loyalty for luxury can be built by allowing the customer to feel connected to the brand in a way that extends beyond products. Here, loyalty programs should not be about discounts but about exclusivity. Offering Hamilton users access to exclusive communities or content would be an important step for the brand to influence second sales as well as advocacy in an industry that we have already seen is susceptible to that.

A few recommendations for Hamilton

Being a marketer and having gone through the marketing funnel, I noted a few areas that could be improved to enhance the experience.

  • hamiltonwatch.com and shop.hamiltonwatch.com are split into distinct sites with identical styles. For some reason, traveling between these sites is difficult. If you’re exploring hamiltonwatch.com, it should be easy to get to the ecommerce platform, but currently it is not. When you land on a product page, you only get a description, pictures and the user manual. Even if the typical customer doesn’t purchase online, there should still be a more direct way of doing so. This may be a function of my IP address being located in Hong Kong, but even then, the store finder should be more visible to complete the journey.
  • The unboxing experience was adequate but lacks meaningful resolution. There’s nothing effecting advocacy or loyalty. At the very least, there should be some sort of compelling call to action that encourages buyers to provide their email addresses for future brand communication. Hamilton could incentivize with this value-added services such as extended warranty protection.
  • As previously mentioned, post-purchase content reinforcing exclusivity can be employed post-purchase to validate the sale and encourage repeat purchases.
  • I noted in my research that Hamilton’s CEO claims that the brand has achieved over 400 product placements in Hollywood. A chronicle of this would be very interesting content on their website, although it would have to be managed against the way the brand wants to position itself (it would be too easy to make Hamilton a “Hollywood” watch, for better or worse).
  • In terms of products, I was surprised that Hamilton hasn’t stepped into the smartwatch space considering its heritage with electric watches. Hamilton is likely evaluating the staying power of smartwatches as a trend, but the pedigree of the brand lends itself well to experimenting with the space. Given the popularity of aftermarket straps, there may be an interesting space for Hamilton to occupy with smart bands (similar to what Montblanc is doing).

Final thoughts

When I was going through the process of buying a watch, I wasn’t thinking about it as a marketer. This retrospective analysis has uncovered some interesting insights regarding marketing channels and branding in the digital age.

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The final product.

Of course, I can only offer anecdotes supported by my professional experience, but it still a useful analysis that may offer a human layer to the statistics we see everyday in research reports and press releases. Indeed, we are all consumers who should be asking: what can I learn from my most recent customer journey?

 

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A love letter to a direct response print ad

 

The day is January 4, the first workday of 2016. It’s 9:30 am and I’ve mercifully found a seat on Hong Kong’s ever-crowded MTR. It’ll be about 20 minutes to get from Sheung Wan to Quarry Bay so I have some time to kill. I pull out my tablet and open the digitized National Geographic magazine. This month’s issue is about National Parks. Sounds relaxing.

The train gently bounces and grinds along its tracks. People get on and off at the big stops. I ignore them. All I see are short stories about African prison camps and the functions of differently shaped butterfly wings.

And then I stop.

I’m fixed on a long-form, full-page advertisement for a watch. About a third of the page is devoted to the product itself, The Stauer Urban Blue. The rest is text—a full-on sales pitch on the merits of this watch and why I should buy it immediately. I don’t think the watch is particularly attractive, but I admit that it is visually arresting. This clearly isn’t an ad for me, but it has a certain magic that gives me pause.

The ad, in all its glory
The ad, in all its glory

The Generation Y digital native I look at every morning in the mirror screams at me: What garbage! After all, it breaks all the new rules of marketing: It’s long. It’s dense. It’s a hard sell. The headline is corny. It throws every promotional tactic at the reader and then some. It’s the direct response ad to end all direct response ads.

But I love this ad. I love it because there’s a lot to learn from it.

 

In Defense of the Hard Sell

Truth be told, I’ve always had a soft spot for these sorts of ads even before I entered the industry. Unlike the majority of advertisements of the digital age, hard selling ads make no excuses for what they are. One moment you’re reading about endangered whales, and the next you’re reading about why you’d be a fool not to buy this handsome blue wristwatch.

Print ads like this are a rare breed, and they belong to a family of marketing tactics which I admire for their directness (which makes sense considering they’re called “direct response” ads): Promotional eDM’s. Direct Mailers. Infomercials. Advertorials. None of them truly operate under the modern concept of content marketing, nor do they need to. They presume an already interested audience and in doing so, get right to the point. This doesn’t mean they ignore emotion though. Quite the contrary!

The Ronco Rotisserie and BBQ infomercial is a good example of a purposeful piece of marketing that works only because its audience comes to the table with at least a mild willingness to hear a sales pitch. And for his part, Ron Popeil puts on a good show, mixing enthusiasm, product features and an endearingly excited audience into a product that all leads to closing the sales loop.  The lyrical repetition of “set it and forget it!” is enough to keep one up at night.

Comparatively, the Stauer print ad is much simpler, but it manages to do a lot of interesting things on a single page. It’s tempting to view this ad as an amateur marketing manager’s insane attempt to move product; it would clearly give a creative director a heart attack. But I’d argue that this ad is actually well crafted for its purpose and deserves a closer examination.

1. Layout

 

The layout of this ad is its opening gambit, quickly sorting its audience
The layout of this ad is its opening gambit, quickly sorting its audience

 

The layout of this ad is fairly typical for its type. About 40% of the vertical space is devoted to a picture of the product itself (A), which serves as a quick segregation for the audience. As watches are primarily fashion accessories, no amount of salesmanship copy will convince someone who thinks that the watch is ugly to go ahead and buy it.

If the look is appealing however, the audience is immediately drawn to the dense body copy with sales points (B). Even if the audience is on the fence about the product, it is at least visually interesting enough to potentially push people into sales territory. The selection of a blue-faced product on a light brown background creates dramatic contrast. Blue is used elsewhere within the text to highlight key selling points (which we will discuss).

Lastly, because this ad sits in a text-heavy publication, the barrier to entry to read the ad text is relatively low compared to online or OOH mediums. The fact that at first glance it looks like another article certainly helps. This is important because Stauer’s business model is based on delivering at least half the sales pitch in its advertising materials, primarily in magazines. The second half comes with online or telephone conversion.

2. The Story

Perhaps the most interesting component of this ad is its copy direction. Once again, my Gen Y sensibilities want to cut this text to be below 140 characters and maybe include a hashtag for good measure. But good copy doesn’t draw attention to itself for its brevity.  It speaks to the target audience in a way that is persuasive, both logically and emotionally–in exactly as many words as it takes to seal the deal.

Copy

The opening paragraph leverages an emotional argument to engage readers; the following paragraphs provide the key selling points.

The emotional argument revolves around the idea that although watches are useful devices, they are prone to a certain cosmopolitanism that is unappealing and even downright un-American:

  • “Why shell out big money so some foreign company can sponsor another yacht race?” [We don’t like the way things are these days.]
  • “So while we’re busy revolutionizing the watch industry to bring you more real value, you can take your stand against overpriced watches…” [We’re taking back the industry!]
  • “Take a stand against overpriced watches in impeccable style. Call today” [Come with us and make a statement!]

The call to action isn’t “buy this watch.” It’s far more emotional. Buying this watch is a statement to the world that you’re fighting against the tide of a society going in the wrong direction. Sound familiar?

Make America Great Again

No one denies that this is a hollow message for most young people, but it’s a great one for people who remember “the simpler times”:

  • “You need a new watch… the one you are wearing was made when Nixon was in office.” [This ad isn’t for young people]
  • “…[other brands] that add zeros just because of a high falootin’ name are an insult to your logic” [Your generation has brains; also, you can use the word “falootin'” without an ounce of irony.]

The call to action is another sign that the target audience is older and more traditionally inclined. The largest call to action here is a phone number, with the website occupying a much smaller section under the company’s physical address.

Interestingly, there is a bit of copy here which actually dissuades the audience from using the website to make the purchase:

  • “Special price only for customers using the offer code versus the price on Stauer.com without your offer code.” [Make this purchase over the phone… where we can pitch you person-to-person… and maybe up/cross-sell you more stuff]

Granted, this piece of copy is in the form of a disclaimer, but it’s an interesting choice from the company’s perspective. Clearly they believe they will be able to do more with leads generated via phone calls than online, because there is a sales agent on the other end of the line. In addition, if our audience is as old as we think they are, then they are not digital natives. They may not be as comfortable buying products online as they are over the phone.

The rest of the copy deals with specific product benefits and leverages authority figures and testimonials to support its cause:

Despite the copy's conviction that the watch industry is plagued by too much luxury, it is more than willing to draw on industry authority to make the claim that blue is very stylish.
Despite the copy’s conviction that the watch industry is plagued by too much luxury, it is more than willing to draw on industry authority to make the claim that blue is very stylish. This claim may help diminish fears that a non-traditional blue face will be obsolete in a few years.

 

Testimonials provide social proof that the product quality is guaranteed. They are the old school equivalent of Amazon ads. By themselves, they are not particularly effective (after all, they could be cherry-picked statements from customers), but as part of the total package, testimonials reinforce the main argument.
Testimonials provide social proof that the product quality is guaranteed. They are the old school equivalent of Amazon reviews. By themselves, they are not particularly effective (after all, they could be cherry-picked statements from customers), but as part of the total package, testimonials reinforce the main message.

 

The final interesting feature of the copy is its repetition. Not only are the key selling points clearly reiterated in bullet-point form at the bottom of the ad (perhaps employed to catch a casual reader’s eye who may have ignored the key visual at the top), but the copy’s key message is also repeated relentlessly over its few paragraphs. “Take a stand” is the key message and that’s what the author wants the audience to take away.

For better or worse, the copy tells a compelling story to a specific audience and gives them the best possible way of completing the sales cycle.

Not everything is perfect though. If there’s one thing this ad gets wrong, it’s the headline:

Headline

There’s a strange disparity between the visual, the headline and the body copy. The visual and the headline match in terms of the “blue” and “face” puns, but there are two problems:

  1. Being blue in the face is not a good thing unless you love being choked (hey, I’m not here to judge)
  2. The headline does not match the copy at all.

The second point is critical because the entire sales pitch is predicated on a very clear argument: you don’t have to buy an over-priced (foreign) watch to get style and quality. The headline is probably referring to other over-priced watches, but headlines should generally address whatever the key visual is. There’s too much confusion.

The headline is a misstep considering the repetition of “take a stand” throughout the body. While it appears in the sub-headline, it’s not obvious enough. Then again, when I first read this ad, I actually skipped the headline entirely. The product picture was enough to push me into the body copy where all the interesting product features are.

3. The Tactics

Sprinkled throughout this ad are clever tactics that reinforce concepts such as incentives, exclusivity and authority.

The incentive here, a free pair of sunglasses, is here to help “sweeten the pot” and potentially help drive purchase from gift-buyers. It’s not hard to imagine Ms. Gretchen Bund thinking about what to buy her husband for his 65th birthday. She thinks he might like the watch, but knows he needs a pair of sunglasses. The inclusion of the sunglasses helps mitigate buyer risk, especially if there are questions about suitability or quality.

For $49 (plus shipping and processing) I get a watch that sticks it to foreigners and a free pair of sunglasses? Sign me up!

 

incentive

Cynics need not apply however, as more discriminating consumers should fairly ask how Stauer could possibly make any money by selling a $300 combo at a 83% discount. It seems likely that the total package is actually worth far less than that, but… it’s such a good deal! What do I have to lose?

Exclusivity is another psychological trigger that often pops up in direct, hard-sale marketing techniques. In Robert B. Cialdini’s Influence he presents compelling evidence that persuasion can be dramatically more effective if the thing you’re trying to sell is exclusive and–here’s the important part–limited.

Note the example below:

exclusive

What’s limited to the first 1900 responders? The ad never says, but clearly this deal could go away any moment. Creating urgency among an audience is often enough to push people off the fence. Of course this won’t work on people who aren’t very interested because they may (rightly) see this as a trick. But for those who are interested, this tactic can create satisfaction after the sale is complete. I am one of the lucky ones to have gotten this deal!

insider

Similarly, the insider offer code creates an air of exclusivity. This isn’t just an ad; it’s an inside deal. Because you read National Geographic, you are part of a special club.

What’s most interesting about the offer code is that it potentially creates a barrier to entry for the customer. But that barrier is clearly outweighed by the sense of exclusivity, likely because it reassures customers that this isn’t a scam. By using a code, the customer really thinks that their deal is unique, when in fact I’m quite sure the sales people wouldn’t care if the customer actually lost that code–which more than anything else is designed to help their marketing department track leads for A/B testing.

Finally, just in case customers are worried that a direct response company might not be 100% wholesome, Stauer provides a pair of blue seals of approval (contrasting with the brown background) from the Best Business Bureau and Consumer Affairs.

safe

Neither of these accreditations are particularly impressive, but again, they are the subtle nudge a customer might need to place their call to order.

 

Final Thoughts

I think any marketer can appreciate the multiple layers this ad operates on and why even though direct marketing is considered by many to be an outmoded marketing format, it still has a lot of lessons to share. We get so caught up in elegant digital and creative solutions to marketing problems, that we leverage those solutions on platforms where they are not as effective. Sometimes sales information is exactly what the customer wants. At that point, branded nonsense is harmful.

For instance, there are brand websites that look more like billboards than information hubs. There are print ads with no words and no meaningful information for the customer. There are point of sale merchandising products that do little to support purchase. The point of marketing is to make products and services more available to customers. At an awareness level, a creative core message is paramount. At a consideration level, there’s an argument to be had: this is why my product suits your needs.

There’s a good reason why I’ve devoted over 2000 words to the Stauer print ad.

It’s

  1. the right message
  2. for the right product
  3. in the right format
  4. for the right audience.

The marketing industry as a whole needs to examine work like this in addition to the Cannes winners because ultimately we’re in the business of making stuff more available to customers–wherever they are, whatever they’re doing. Good work doesn’t always call attention to itself.

Similarities between Ad Agencies and Football Clubs

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time playing Football Manager 2014. Be warned, this entire article is a convoluted soccer analogy. 

Believe it or not, this is a game--a game people pay real money to play.
Believe it or not, this is a game–a game people pay real money to play.

 

Football Manager is a simulation game that lets the player control every aspect of a professional soccer club, including signing and managing players, developing tactics, talking to the media and more. Featuring real teams and real players, the game is highly regarded as one of the world’s most detailed simulations. It’s even used by some professional clubs as a scouting tool.

And for a lot of reasons, agencies and football clubs seem to have a lot in common.

The similarities between football and agency life are purely within the realm of “shower thoughts” but a quick analysis of those similarities reveals some interesting realities about operating any sort of organization. The terminology is different, but the behaviors are the same.

Formations

On the pitch, 11 soccer players try to score goals against an opposing team. Simple to explain, but hard to get right. Agencies actually operate in a similar way. In an agency, staff work against deadlines, conflicting demands and other challenges to successfully launch ads, campaigns and other items.

On the pitch, players have different roles and responsibilities, and we can see analogues in the agency world:

  • Defenders and Goalkeepers: Defenders make sure the other team doesn’t score. In an agency, that role typically falls to account services, who work to manage client relationships and set up the activities that have an impact up-field.
  • Midfielders: They control the pitch and the tempo. Working with all functions, project managers ensure that everyone has what they need to succeed, but can fall back to defend when good situations turn bad.
  • Wingers: Fast movers along the edges, strategists and account planners set up creatives for great executions. A good creative brief is like an accurate cross into a small opening.
  • Strikers: The goal scorers. Like the tip of the spear, creatives are the ones who produce the final product. With everyone else supporting creative, there are plenty of opportunities to score. But at the end of the day, it’s up to creative to execute.

Bearing these roles in mind, agency problems can arise when there’s a lack of chemistry or communication between functions. Other problems can arise when there aren’t enough “players” for a position. One midfielder isn’t enough to manage an entire field of play. Likewise, one project manager isn’t enough to run an entire agency’s accounts.

Player Attributes

In the sporting world, assigning players and coaches various stats for different skills is an effective way of measuring the strength of your team and identifying weaknesses.

In the agency world, we can potentially measure the skill of employees based on what they know (technical skills), how they think and interact with people (mental) and how they present themselves to others (physical). Below is a non-exhaustive shortlist of the skills we can use to measure the individual skills of agency people.

  • Creative Tools – The ability to use tools such as Illustrator and Photoshop
  • PM Tools – The ability to use Project Management tools and systems
  • Office Suite – The ability to use Microsoft Office tools, such as Word, Excel and Powerpoint
  • Business Acumen – Knowledge and understanding of client and internal business matters
  • Social Contacts – The number of valuable contacts you have; important for business development and solving business problems
  • Intelligence – How much you know about things in general–not necessarily related to marketing
  • Adaptability – How quickly you learn new things
  • Determination – How much passion you have for completing tasks
  • Idea Generation – Ability to creatively approach problems
  • Empathy – Ability to understand other people’s emotions and motivations
  • Leadership – How effective you are at organizing and motivating people to complete specific objectives
  • Ambition – How much desire you have to advance
  • Persuasion – Ability to convince people that your idea is the best idea
  • Style – How well you present yourself
  • Intimidation – How approachable you are
  • Energy – Your ability to keep on going
  • Health – How frequently you get sick (lower rank = more sick days)

Beyond all this is a measure of perceived value–how much a given employee believes he or she is worth to the agency. The higher this value, the higher salary the employee will demand.

Everyone in an agency would possess a ranking from 0 to 20. John Smith might have a 20  in Persuasion and a 0 in Ambition. He would be completely switched off, which is a shame because he could convince a client to accept really bold creative. Someone with 0 in Persuasion but 20 in Ambition would be relentlessly tone deaf, and frustrated at his inability to advance inside the organization.

Let’s play a quick game.

I’ve randomly generated faces (using this hilarious and amazing site: http://www.morphases.com/editor/) and random statistics for each of those attributes. Let’s judge six candidates as if we’re looking to staff an agency:

1

Creative Tools 3
PM Tools 14
Office Suite 11
Business Acumen 16
Social Contacts 15
Intelligence 19
Adaptability 7
Determination 16
Idea Generation 10
Empathy 14
Leadership 10
Ambition 4
Persuasion 17
Style 19
Intimidation 18
Energy 3
Health 15
Perceived Value (1-5) 3.06

 

Scout’s Notes: First, let’s not judge a book by its cover. I’m sure Ellie is more beautiful on the inside than on the outside. Now then, we’ll assume she sent her CV to our fake agency looking for any suitable job, so let’s see what she’s good at (>15):

  • Business Acumen – 16
  • Intelligence – 19
  • Determination – 16
  • Persuasion – 17
  • Style – 19
  • Intimidation – 18

Ellie is very smart and has the right skills for a good accounts person. He’s persuasive, stylish and intimidating, which means most clients wouldn’t mess with her. The fact that she’s got good business acumen means she can back her arguments up with solid knowledge. Now for her weaknesses (<5):

  • Creative Tools – 3
  • Ambition – 4
  • Energy – 3

Not many weaknesses. As an accounts person, she wouldn’t need to use creative software and the lack of energy and ambition might even be a good thing… under the right circumstances. Her lack of ambition means that she’ll likely want to stay in her current role for a long time, which means that turnover shouldn’t be a big problem. That said, she’ll never be an all-star. More of a solid performer.

And with a 3.06 PV rating (out of 5), she’ll be a little expensive, but as a long term investment, she’s worth it.

Hired.

2

Creative Tools 18
PM Tools 3
Office Suite 17
Business Acumen 0
Social Contacts 4
Intelligence 1
Adaptability 8
Determination 6
Idea Generation 14
Empathy 2
Leadership 1
Ambition 14
Persuasion 10
Style 20
Intimidation 2
Energy 12
Health 12
Perceived Value (1-5) 2.12

 

Scout’s Notes: Marica, Marica, Marica… Great mullet. But is she an appropriate candidate? Let’s look at the good:

  • Creative Tools – 18
  • Office Suite – 17
  • Style – 20

That style ranking… Mullets are in apparently.  Now for the bad:

  • PM Tools – 3
  • Business Acumen – 0
  • Social Contacts – 4
  • Empathy – 2
  • Leadership – 1
  • Intimidation – 2

This person doesn’t even know what a business is. Her average stats across the board really don’t do her any favors in any of the other categories.

Utterly forgettable intern candidate. Pass.

3

Creative Tools 8
PM Tools 8
Office Suite 4
Business Acumen 7
Social Contacts 6
Intelligence 11
Adaptability 11
Determination 9
Idea Generation 16
Empathy 4
Leadership 4
Ambition 12
Persuasion 7
Style 7
Intimidation 7
Energy 11
Health 2
Perceived Value (1-5) 1.97

 

Scout’s Notes: Aside from his broken nose, Egbert could be a hero in disguise. Let’s see his positives:

Uh oh. Literally no stats above 12.  What are his particular weaknesses?

  • Office Suite – 4
  • Empathy – 4
  • Leadership – 4
  • Health – 2

Most of his other skills are below 10. Sickly. Poor leadership. Not good at Microsoft Word.

Poor Egbert.

Recommended to competing agency. Pass.

4

Creative Tools 9
PM Tools 16
Office Suite 18
Business Acumen 13
Social Contacts 9
Intelligence 13
Adaptability 8
Determination 18
Idea Generation 5
Empathy 6
Leadership 19
Ambition 6
Persuasion 2
Style 1
Intimidation 14
Energy 1
Health 15
Perceived Value (1-5) 2.54

Scout’s Notes: The random faces all have such strange noses. Maybe the applicants all came from a highly irradiated place. Pripyat, perhaps. At any rate, let’s meet Ellie:

  • Office Suite – 18
  • PM Tools – 16
  • Determination – 18
  • Leadership – 19

We might have a PM here. Let’s look at the downside:

  • Persuasion – 2
  • Style – 1
  • Energy – 1

Despite the fact that she might shut down after 11am each day, her determination means that the job will get done… eventually. Not a bad choice for a PM, since client-facing responsibilities would not necessarily be a major part of the job. Her PV of 2.54 makes her a reasonable addition to our team.

Hired.

5

Creative Tools 14
PM Tools 5
Office Suite 12
Business Acumen 7
Social Contacts 10
Intelligence 6
Adaptability 18
Determination 19
Idea Generation 20
Empathy 17
Leadership 18
Ambition 15
Persuasion 14
Style 6
Intimidation 18
Energy 8
Health 18
Perceived Value (1-5) 3.31

 

Scout’s Notes: Look at this guy! Exhausted maybe, but has potential. On to the good stuff:

  • Adaptability – 18
  • Determination – 19
  • Idea Generation – 20
  • Empathy – 17
  • Leadership – 18
  • Intimidation – 18
  • Health – 18

And weaknesses?

None. While he’s not particularly intelligent, he could make a world-class creative director. He’s always changing his style to reflect the world around him, determined to get the job done and can lead others to greatness. His PV of 3.31 means that he’ll be a bit expensive, but with those stats, he’ll be worth it. And he almost never gets sick!

Hired!

6

 

Creative Tools 3
PM Tools 18
Office Suite 9
Business Acumen 6
Social Contacts 4
Intelligence 1
Adaptability 3
Determination 13
Idea Generation 3
Empathy 9
Leadership 7
Ambition 5
Persuasion 8
Style 8
Intimidation 2
Energy 0
Health 8
Perceived Value (1-5) 1.57

 

Scout’s Notes: Ezra, something tells me you’ve gone through life rather misunderstood. Was it your eyes? Your teeth? Your lack of energy? Probably the teeth. Any redeeming characteristics?

  • PM Tools – 18

On the other hand:

  • Creative Tools – 3
  • Social Contacts – 4
  • Intelligence – 1
  • Adaptability – 3
  • Idea Generation – 3
  • Intimidation – 2
  • Energy – 0

Dumb, stubborn and listless. Ezra’s best ideas come out of his nose, which might be why he doesn’t have many friends. I’m sorry Ezra, but we can’t hire y–

What’s that? His father is the Global Head of Retail?

You’ll make a fine account planner, son. Hired.


Of course, not all statistics are created equal, but the exercise above illustrates an important factor in any organization’s staffing requirements: if you’ve got a limited budget, then you will have to make tradeoffs somewhere. Let’s say you have a budget that equates to a total PV of 3.5. With the candidates above, you could hire the amazing creative, Jian or you could hire two less skilled options, Ezra and Egbert. Do you need manpower (adding depth to the roster) or a single key addition to fill a gap (a play maker)?

The skills above refer to current skills, not potential ones. Ezra might very well be the world’s greatest strategist, but his stats wouldn’t reflect this. He might have potential value that is difficult to measure. In addition, some skills are very difficult to assess up front. Things like style or intelligence can be measured in an interview, but leadership could take months to manifest. That’s why a an all-star hire could turn out to be a flop.

And this, folks, is why we have probation periods.

Transfers

Nothing else in the soccer world reminds me of agency life quite as much as transfers. Players are rarely loyal to their clubs the moment a good offer pops up. The same thing happens in agencies. When someone calls in sick, transfer rumors abound.  It doesn’t hurt that a fifth of the articles in industry publications are about senior transfers between agencies. Can you believe FC BBDO traded John to Saachi Utd? I’m shocked! I thought he was going to Real Edelman. 

Some people criticize soccer for the mercenary attitude of its top players, but at least the sport is honest about its disloyalty. A good manager is better off accepting reality, and view his or her team as a soccer team than as an American football team–which is bound by longer term contracts and team-loyalty. That recognition allows him or her to continuously develop the team to endure past turnover.

Star Players

I like agency life and I like soccer. Sure they’re both frustrating sometimes, but it can also be really rewarding when everything clicks into place and something great is produced.

I write this article today as the Philadelphia Union has defeated FC Dallas to go to the finals of the US Open Cup. In the semi-final match, Philly’s goalkeeper Zach MacMath saved two penalties which led the Union to its victory. Sometimes, no matter how strong your team is as a whole, a single player can make all the difference.

In the agency world, this is true too. Great ideas usually come from a single person. Committee-style brainstorming is often ineffective as it becomes a contest for people to decide who in the room is the smartest.

The agency world also hosts an incredible amount of self-styled experts and charlatans who rest on past successes or uncertain qualifications. Finding these weak links is very important. After all, with a great defense, a goalkeeper might go untested until it’s penalty time.

The Right Team

An all-star striker won’t accomplish much without the support of the rest of the team. Similarly, a well functioning office need not be comprised of amazing players; what’s more important is that the players play together effectively.

That last sentence is fodder for an inspirational poster, but it ought to be an uncomfortable reality for some people. If you are a brilliant writer, but don’t work well with others, then you are not necessarily as valuable to the agency as you might think.

In Football Manager, I can get an accurate appraisal of players and their collaborative qualities. Real life is much harder. But by thinking of the organizational systems common to both football and agencies, we can better approach the problems we frequently face within agency environments.

This was a silly article. Hope you enjoyed it.

Can PR agencies replace ad agencies?

The marketing space is unsettled these days, and it’s no wonder why. The boundaries between traditionally separate entities are functionally indistinguishable as far as consumers are concerned. The average consumer doesn’t care where a piece of content comes from so long as it’s interesting.

This helps explain the rationale behind why so many traditional PR agencies are increasingly offering advertising-type services; one key way to capture the attention of your audience is to create something relevant, rather than having to wait for a client to do something interesting enough to warrant attention. Why wait for an opportunity when you can create one?

The rationale is sound enough, but this inevitably leads to PR agencies competing in the same space as advertisers—a group that has been in the business of content development from the very beginning. Can PR agencies replace ad agencies?

No, they cannot.

Why PR agencies shouldn’t play in advertising

The biggest challenge facing PR agencies is a structural one. PR agencies simply aren’t organized to produce excellent creative work.

PR agencies swell with ranks of junior account executives who retain duties similar to one another including media relations, report compilation, media strategy, etc. A key feature of successful advertisers is the delegation of responsibilities to suit individual strengths. A PR account executive on the other hand must be a jack-of-all-trades; trouble arises when those “trades” continue to increase in number. Not only is the media landscape becoming more complex, requiring more attention and care, but the other non-core expectations placed on them also increase daily. With PR agencies making concerted efforts to act like ad agencies, does senior management expect their account executives to serve quadruple duty as project managers, account service, strategists and creatives?

PR Comic

The answer is obviously no. Even though you will often hear about the opportunities afforded to junior staff to push the envelope, no one honestly expects account executives to make good creatives.  The solution then is obvious: hire creatives separately.

Then you hit a wall. Where do you place these creatives? If you hire a junior creative, that creative is likely to become a designer—not a professional responsible for idea creation. Account executives will inevitably come to the designer with task briefs, not strategy briefs. And many of those task briefs will be to “freshen up this PowerPoint presentation.” This is not an ideal environment for creating award-winning campaigns rivaling those of shops with existing structures in place to foster creativity.

But what if you hire a senior creative? Do you plan on giving that creative a team? The business realities of most PR agencies would suggest no, you wouldn’t. Hiring a senior creative is expensive. Giving that creative a small team is even more expensive. Finally, refocusing your business development on securing paid-media projects is another major investment. This is to say nothing of the investment required on project delivery and strategy—both key components in securing your bottom line and rationalizing your activities to a numbers-conscious CMO. Doing all this at once would be a risk for any business.

Then again, if you don’t do this all at once, you end up with a creative team catering to the needs of the big money makers for the agency: earned media. Almost immediately, a strategic hire for any agency must prove his or her worth. If he or she isn’t given the resources to pursue the agency’s publicly-stated strategic goals, then the senior creative must target lower-end activities in support of the agency’s bread-and-butter operations. Suddenly the agency’s Facebook posts look a lot prettier, but it will still struggle to develop creative targeting the paid space—an area with which they are generally unfamiliar.

Similar problems face strategists in senior roles within PR agencies. They can propose effective solutions to their clients’ business problems, but their own agency may very well lack the capacity to launch integrated marketing campaigns. Theoretically, these agencies could start launching them (we all have to start somewhere), but without a nice case study to back up the proposal, PR agencies will find themselves outclassed by more experienced ad agencies.

Then there’s pricing. The advertising world is already cost competitive for quality work. A PR agency might risk trying to win a pitch by offering a 10% discount on the work in order to build experience, but what are the odds that their first effort will be successful enough to develop future business? It’s a precarious situation for the PR agency’s MD who must meet certain revenue and margin figures each year.

Another over-looked but important reason why PR doesn’t adequately match against advertising is culture. PR is an industry which hinges on real time events. Crises, media updates, Twitter feeds and other sources of fast moving data mean that there’s little time in PR to sit down and strategize and even less time to sit down and brainstorm with colleagues or subject experts–especially if clients aren’t paying for it.

The best ad agencies work in a different way, because in truth, there’s no such thing as an advertising emergency. An ad that goes out a week from now will likely have the same impact as an ad that goes out two weeks from now. That’s not to suggest that ad agencies are all relaxed environments; they’re not, but at least there’s more emphasis on strategically sound delivery as opposed to immediate delivery, which is an absolute requirement in the earned media world.

Where the real value of PR lies

Competitive advantage is a wonderful thing. I wouldn’t hire a plumber to fix my car even though plumbers and mechanics can both be described as contractors. In the same way, I wouldn’t ask an SEO expert to conduct media relations for me.

The desire to compete with PR agencies is understandable, but what exactly do PR agencies bring to the table that is new? Ad agencies have always been very good at telling interesting stories. As much as PR people love to talk about storytelling, the old guard excels at building brands from the ground up. If ad agencies make the noise, PR agencies can amplify it, serving as an ROI multiplier.

But continuing to hammer away at media relations is a sure path to ensuring that your service offering is commoditized (though I’d argue that may already be the case). What can PR agencies do to expand their revenue (and keep the holding company happy)?

  • Measurement. PR value has always been a nebulous topic. Front page coverage on Time magazine is obviously valuable, but what’s the dollar value? How can a CMO, CFO or CEO justify the expensive of media relations when they don’t have a clearer recognition of ROI? A sure way to increase revenue for PR is to convincingly demonstrate the real value of positive PR coverage, i.e. how such coverage impacts sales. This is where analytics comes in. Without them, it’s far easier to slash a PR budget than it is to slash a paid media budget for which analytics are bountiful.
  • Journalistic Content. If PR account executives know one thing, it’s journalism. By regularly scouring the media landscape, PR people are intimately familiar with the types of journalistic content that appeals to a large audience. If PR wants to expand into paid media, it ought to do so in areas it’s already familiar with, such as advertorials, not sponsored videos, banner ads or complex campaign activations requiring heavy creative support.
  • Real Time Response. Encompassing customer service and crisis communications, real time response is definitely a competitive advantage for PR agencies. Given that pretty much all PR executives are plugged into real time data streams, it makes sense that PR own that particular space. Leave brand building to the ad agencies which have spent over a century crafting enduring, heritage brands. But when there’s a crisis? I’m hiring a PR agency.
  • Specialization. Some industries get more value out of PR than others. Finance in particular is an ever-important sector for the PR agency because the key stakeholders in finance read news. For them, a press release is far more relevant than an equivalent release targeting buyers of shampoo. Tech, finance and several other industries require specialists to effectively reach their target audiences. Rather than trying to be a panacea for all marketing problems, PR should focus on areas where they have the greatest effect on the customer journey.

The areas above represent PR agencies’ competitive strengths–areas where traditional advertising agencies couldn’t possibly hope to compete in a meaningful way. Edelman itself has come out in support of the idea of strengthening PR’s core proficiencies. To quote president and CEO of Edelman, Richard Edelman:

We are playing a broader role, but we have to focus in our area of comparable advantage. Clients want specialist expertise and the opportunity to choose best in class partners. We are happy to work with advertising agencies, CRM and media buying firms for the betterment of clients.

At the end of the day, no one goes to ad agencies for media relations. Why would I go to a PR agency for an ad?