Saturday, June 27, 2009

Should Agencies Be Entering Award Shows?

The expensive-to-enter, and even-more-expensive-to-attend Cannes Lions festival is currently underway in the south of France. Meanwhile, the economy forces agencies to continue handing out pink slips. So it’s not surprising that there’s been a lot of press decrying the importance of award shows.

Bob Garfield recently stated that Cannes doesn’t matter any more. And Jeff Goodby wrote an article for Ad Age called “We Are Becoming Irrelevant Award-Chasers.”

Goodby argues that the famousness of a campaign should be the focus of agencies, and not how many gold baubles it’s received. He writes, “It’s fast becoming clear that the majority of things we’re rewarding, as an industry, are either small or marginal efforts for legitimate clients, things we made for real clients that the clients seem not to have ever heard of, or out-and-out fakes.” He thinks we should demand that awards judges take into account the sheer “famousness” of a piece of work, not just whether or not it worked.

In April, a one-post blog called A Year Without Award Shows appeared, hoping to rally agencies to the cause of boycotting the expensive shows in light of the struggling economy.

And in Jim Aitchison’s book Cutting Edge Advertising, Indra Sinha says, “If you had a moratorium on awards for ten years, if you said there will be no awards for the next ten years, and said that after those ten years there will be awards for the most new and original things that had emerged, then you might find that within those years all the new ways of expressing ourselves will just come out, because there would no longer be any compulsion to impress juries who are steeped in the old, conventional ways.”

Will agencies of the future stop submitting work to awards shows? I doubt it. They’re too much fun to win, and sometimes fairly fun to attend. But if I were an agency head, I’d have to think very hard about spending $350 per print campaign, unless it had already been written up in industry pubs and celebrated throughout the industry on “free” sites like Creativity or Ads of the World.

Years ago, Fallon decided not to enter the local Minneapolis award show, claiming they wanted to focus on national and international shows. The other shops in Minneapolis were pretty bummed. It was like the Lakers deciding not to participate in the NBA Playoffs. The championship trophy comes with a big, fat asterisk.

The only way award shows could be made irrelevant would be for the Goodbys, Fallons, Crispins and Widens of the industry to issue a joint statement of intent to abstain from further shows.

If I were an agency principal, I'd love to say, "We're not going to enter award shows any more. We're going to spend that money on raises and talent. At the very least, we'll have a better summer party." But then I limit the talent who wants to work for us. And I probably limit the press that's written about us. All of which will have some effect on the business we're able to attract.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Agencies That Make Things Other Than Ads

What happens when ad agencies start to make more than ads? Like pizza and lip balm? The July/August issue of Fast Company features excepts from a panel organized by consulting group PSFK and moderated by Fast Company writer Danielle Sacks. Panel participants included representatives from BBH Labs, Fuseproject, Anomaly, and Trumpet, all of which have created consumer products ranging from healthy pizza to ready-to-eat vegetarian meals to lip balm.

So why would agencies want to develop consumer products? Ben Malbon from BBH Labs says “By creating our own brands, we wanted to make ourselves recession-proof – or at least more recession-proof than other agencies.”

Robbie Vitrano of Trumpet says, “It was sort of inevitable. What an agency does-which is essentially to determine a unique positioning and dvine a go-to-market strategy – is pretty valuable to investors and also to a startup company.”

“I think it makes you better,” says Anamoly’s Carl Johnson. And Malbon adds, “You get exposure to the full gory detail of how clients make and lose money.” BBH likes to have employees spend time at Zag (BBH’s offshoot for commercial products) so they can return to the agency and “be able to have a much smarter conversation with a client’s marketing director, or CFO.

Because most agencies have such a strong understanding of branding and product design, it makes sense that any products they develop could be branded from the ground up. In fact Johnson points out Anomaly hasn’t bought a single ad in sport of any of their products. “Why would we?” he asks. “You can do so much if you know what you’re doing with product placement, sponsorship, digital PR…It makes you much better at grinding out media without paying.”

Building brands, creating new products and making extra money all seem like worthy pursuits for an ad agency. But what about the fox and the hedgehog theory of business? Are these agencies diluting their core creative product by diverting resources into product development? BBH is at least insulating their agency side, having created Zag.

Seems to me it’s not necessarily the future of ad agencies. But definitely a viable option for entrepreneurial agency heads. It’s definitely something agency principals would have to invest in. Product development isn’t really a skill set most writers, art directors or planners come to the job with.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

BAD's 20:20:20

Most agencies make money either by fees or commissions. With a fee, the client company and the agency decide on an hourly fee before beginning a project. With a commissioned project, the client and agency decide on a percentage that will be a proportion of the media cost (typically 15%), so at the end of the project the client receives a bill for media with the agency’s fee bundled in.

Big Agency Defectors (BAD) is a new agency in Santa Monica with a new way of billing that is neither fee nor commission. It’s called 20:20:20. Their website states:

Our process and fee structure is very straightforward and allows first-time clients to dip their toes into the water without making a major financial commitment. There are three phases of creative development, each with a bite-sized fee attached. We call it 20:20:20.

Phase 1 – we develop three creative routes for a fee of $20k.

Phase 2 – we blow out any one of these creative routes as TV scripts, print ads, outdoor, digital - or whatever else makes sense for the goals and the agreed budget - for a fee of $20k per route.

Phase 3 – for any ads produced we charge a 20% markup of production.

If you don’t want to move forward from one phase to the next, that’s no problem. At the very least you’ll have some fresh thinking about your brand. But we think you’ll like what you see and want to go further. Our fee structure rewards us for getting the ideas into production. This means doing great work right from the start.

I think about all the time I’ve put toward pitching a piece of business that resulted in nothing but burnt feelings and a drawer full of concepts I might hope to one day repurpose. If the agency had made $20k for a two-week pitch, it at least would have gone to a nicer summer party. 20:20:20 seems a great way for an agency to stop giving away so much for free.