Larry Meltzer

The World on Your Doorstep

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Larry A. Meltzer, Agency Principal

Recently I interviewed a new grad from one of the public universities in the Dallas area. Of particular interest, this individual told me that the first comm class of every morning started with a current events quiz. The purpose of this exercise is to prompt students to read a physical newspaper every morning, since that’s probably the best way to gain a broad overview of what’s happening in the world – and to score well on the morning quiz!

Some might say this exercise is a relic of times gone by, especially in light of research indicating that half of Americans get their news from Facebook and 10% of Americans think Facebook is actually a news outlet. Anything that gets students – and adults – reading and learning about issues in the world around them is a good thing, but I wonder what we’re losing in terms of knowledge with the decline of print media.

There are advantages to online news consumption, of course:

  • There’s the immediacy factor. When news happens, boom, it’s right there in multimedia, so we read, see and hear about it, not only from news sources, but from those in our social networks.
  • The presentation of news online also offers outlets the ability to incorporate interactive graphics to help explain the story in a way that amplifies – or even replaces – the narrative.
  • There’s the general notion of a news encounter. We’re online, scrolling through our Facebook feeds, and interspersed with a photo of a friend’s lunch are news items that we might not otherwise have scanned.
  • There’s the consumption of news itself. With so few Americans subscribing to news – either in print or online – the availability of information provides access to news that individuals otherwise might not seek out.
  • And of course there’s an environmental benefit, with less paper being used to produce a print product with an extremely short life span.

But what do we lose with the move away from print?

  • We lose the pass-by effect that comes with reading a physical newspaper. We may not read every article, but by flipping through the pages, we’re taking in all the headlines as we evaluate what we want to know more about. So even without reading a story, we’re gaining topline knowledge of key issues or items considered important or relevant enough to put in print.
  • We also lose a depth of information. With all the events occurring around the world, we shortchange ourselves by not delving deep enough into the facts, implications and analyses. The convenience of a snapshot in our Facebook feeds can never compensate for that level of detail.
  • Encountering news – a benefit of online news consumption – also is not the same as following news. Stories and events often play themselves over time, revealing new layers and nuances that help us form opinions.
  • And finally, as the success metrics for media have become more focused on eyeballs and click-throughs, media are presenting stories online with which consumers have the propensity to engage. Sometimes, what consumers want to read, and what they should read, are vastly different.

Knowledge is cumulative. It builds over time through repeated exposure to facts and opinions, and we build our understanding through context and various points of view. A well-written article – whether in print or online – teaches you something. It might present something familiar from an unfamiliar angle.

At the end of the day, I’m not giving up my newspapers, although after the morning read, I’m constantly online, consuming news from these same outlets in their digital counterparts. News outlets deliver the world on your doorstep, so open the door and start reading!


Starting with a Clean Slate

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Larry A. Meltzer, Agency Principal

There are two parts to our business: The issues-driven and reputation-focused work that is largely directed by external factors, and the marketing-driven work that can have a much longer lead time. Summer hasn’t even officially started, but we’re already well under way in planning marketing-related for activities to support the year-end holidays, and even preliminary 2018 planning. One of the big questions in our business is: How do you come up with ideas?

I recently came across two articles that addressed the ideation issue, coming at it from two different perspectives. The first article suggests that busy people need a “Shultz Hour.” Of course, that needs a bit of explanation. George Shultz, who was secretary of state in the ‘80s, carved out an hour each week to sit in his office with the door closed, with a pad of paper and pen, and thought about the strategic aspects of his job. He instructed his assistant to interrupt him only if one of two people called:  The president. And perhaps equally importantly, his wife.

Shultz worked in an era before the interruptions and distractions of email, smartphones, Twitter and the like, but I’ve always been a firm believer in carving out some “alone time” to think about a creative problem or strategic issue, whether in my office, while exercising, or even if I’m just doing chores around the house.

The second article suggests a less conceptual approach to generating ideas:  Washing your hands. A group of psychologists conducted a study in which individuals were instructed to focus on a goal, and then to wash their hands. After the physical act of washing their hands, they were more easily reoriented toward a subsequent goal. The physical cleansing created a psychological separation from the previous activity, enabling the individuals to focus more clearly on a new goal.

In many ways, we’re merchants of ideas. Whether great ideas come from dedicated reflection time – or from clean hands! – it’s less about the source and more about the results. What tips do you have for generating ideas?


Let It Rain on My Parade

Larry A. Meltzer, Agency Principal

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Many marketers will say that digital is the new traditional.

There’s no arguing with the ability to deploy dollars in a more targeted way through digital channels, but some creative ideas can only come to life – and achieve maximum effectiveness – in the physical world.  The “tequila cloud” promoting travel to Mexico is one of those ideas that demonstrates the value of marketing in the physical world.

The goal of this German-based campaign was to promote travel to Mexico as a vacation destination. As part of a special exhibit in Berlin during the rainiest month of the year, whenever it rained in the city – which the ad agency said was frequently during the time of the exhibit – the tequila cloud also produced “rain” in the form of tequila raindrops. You can read more about how this was achieved here.

Could this same concept be produced in a digital environment? Sure, but the impact of watching a tequila cloud on a smartphone or small screen would likely have resulted in a ho-hum response, rather than an experience that prompts word-of-mouth pass-along. There is also some wisdom for marketers that rained from the tequila cloud. To wit, consider these three takeaways:

  • Experiences connect consumers to a brand. When you execute an idea that can stop people in their tracks, you really have an opportunity to connect a consumer to the brand. This type of experience defines and strengthens a brand in a way that online engagement can’t, because it has staying power in the real world.
  • Physical marketing lets you gauge emotions and reactions in real-time. While much of marketing is rooted in research and metrics, gut instinct based on experience still plays a role. When you can watch and gauge consumer reaction on the spot, you can dial up or down certain aspects to take advantage of consumer response.
  • Strong engagement gives you permission to grow a program. When you can see that consumers are engaged with your brand in the physical world, why not expand the concept further into the physical world, and into the digital world as well? This is where the blurring of traditional and digital proves that synergies do exist, and expansion of an engaging program delivers a longer shelf life and greater exposure.

When you’re brainstorming ideas for your next campaign, your head may be in the clouds, but sometimes it makes sense to have a campaign that’s rooted in the physical world.


All Agencies, Big and Small

Larry A. Meltzer, Agency Principal

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It’s the time of year when the agency holding companies officially put the previous financial year to bed, and the industry media compile their annual agency rankings. As a long-time veteran of the agency business, what strikes me every year is the way the descriptions of agencies have changed over the years – and this is true for both large and small agencies.

A scroll through the rankings – or indeed, an agency’s website – reveals prominent mentions of size (in terms of billings) and awards, as if size and awards are the best indicator of quality or fit for a client. What happened to pride of work? I suspect much of this is driven by the holding company model – holding companies, after all, are about maximizing the value of their portfolio of companies.

My own career has taken me through the doorways and hallways of agencies of all sizes, from largest-in-the-world and on down to the boutique agency that I now lead. If I had to distill down what I’ve learned about the pros and cons of big and small, I’d point to these five truths:

  • There’s a place for big, and there’s a sweet spot for small.  Big agencies do a great job with big clients. They’re structured to serve the broad needs of the multinationals that aren’t particularly price sensitive. But as the big agencies have grown bigger, and their cost structures size them out of certain assignments, there has been a clearer bifurcation of the market, delineating a real sweet spot for small agencies – not just in terms of company size or budget, but in terms of the type of senior-level talent and attention that really lives the client’s business in a way that a big agency can’t match.
  • To get to the soul of an agency, ask them to describe it.  Big agencies are proud of their size, and that tends to be the fallback description, along with awards. But most clients with whom I’ve worked over the years are more interested in what we’ve done for them, rather than the accolades we’ve received or the billings we’ve racked up. Small agencies, however, because they can’t fall back on size, tend to describe the work they do, and the results they’ve delivered for clients.
  • Big agencies are like accounting firms; small agencies are like investment firms. Every business need to generate a certain return to exist, but the big agencies for which I’ve worked have been like accounting firms, driven by the numbers rather than by delivering good work. Small agencies, on the other hand, are like investment firms, with the investment in this case being the clients and the people. Since there’s more at stake in a client relationship for a small agency, they tend to over-index on client service and the focus on results.
  • Big agencies give you access to talent; small agencies give you a talented team. True, big agencies have a deeper bench of talent across the network, which, of course, comes with a cost. Clients can tap into and out of this talent based on need. Small agencies, on the other hand, provide access to a talented team on a full-time basis. There can be a greater personal and professional integration between agency and client teams, with both focused on delivering great results.
  • Big agencies will sell you what they have; small agencies will sell you what you need. It stands to reason: If you have a lemonade stand, you’ll sell lemonade. In the same way, big agency employees are trained to sell what the agency offers, sometimes trying to fit the proverbial square peg in the round hole. They want to keep the revenue within their four walls. Small agencies, however, typically take a best-of-breed approach, and assemble the resources appropriate to the client need, agnostic of the source.

It’s a big world filled with big and small agencies and big and small clients. At the end of the day, an agency is best judged not by its size, but by the size of its ideas and the size of the results it can deliver for clients.


New Pros Meet Old Pros

As we get ready to welcome new summer interns and new pros into the workplace, the advice in this Ad Age article penned by one of our agency principals is worth reading again.

http://adage.com/article/small-agency-diary/classroom-office-expectation-meets-reality/305654/

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From the Classroom to the Office: Where Expectation Meets Reality

What Agencies and Marketers Can Learn from Young Professionals

By . Published on August 31, 2016

Recently I had the opportunity to query some young professionals who are about a year into their careers, asking them about their perceptions and expectations as they approached graduation and after they entered the communications and marketing professions.

These young pros — all now in agency settings, both big and small and from all regions of the country — made some surprising comments about the transition from the classroom to the office. Their comments may be hiding some insight into the way that universities and employers can do a better job of preparing and onboarding these new professionals.

Overall, young pros didn’t seem to fully understand what was waiting for them in the professional world — work traits, managerial expectations and the actual type of work — aspects of the job that those of us in the field for a few years or more take for granted. Their comments tended to center around three areas:

1. Pace of the job. Not surprisingly, the majority of the new pros remarked about how stressful the job is. Several students said they didn’t expect the pace of the job to be so “incredibly fast,” and how “you have to shift gears frequently and in different directions.” One remarked, “We thought we worked hard when we were in college, but it’s nothing compared to what we have to do in the real world.” Another noted the difficulty in balancing multiple clients along with the need to constantly prioritize and re-prioritize.

2. Expectations of quality. Young pros said they weren’t prepared for the level of quality required in an agency setting. “I’ve really learned the importance of the term ‘client-ready.’ For example, while you’re in school, you can get a few things wrong and still get an A or a B, but at the agency, when you’re going to present something to a client, every detail must be perfect.” They also were surprised by the variety of writing styles required for different clients and different situations. “I thought I was a really good writer coming out of school, but I realize that my writing style was great for doing college assignments but not particularly well suited for the real world.”

What lessons can we learn from these comments?

First, agencies, corporate communications departments and universities should consider closer partnerships. Together, we can work to bridge the divide between what students believe their future professional career holds and the hard and soft skills needed to succeed. For example, we know of one local agency that recently accepted a marketing professor as a summer intern, giving him current on-the-job experience to take back to the classroom.

Second, agencies and corporate departments should ensure their orientation programs focus not just on the skills of the profession, but also on how to juggle multiple clients, priorities and — importantly — personalities. Our agency, for example, takes on a pro bono project during each intern period, guiding interns through the account management process in a way that would not be possible with an ongoing account.

And finally, agencies and corporate departments should take another look at their intern programs, and see if there are ways to make them more valuable. Nearly every student agreed on the importance of at least one internship before getting a first job, but many said they found internships to be siloed, gaining experience in only one or two aspects of the business instead of a more rounded experience through exposure across the organization.

The maturity and drive to succeed of new grads entering the profession is encouraging. Now it’s up to those of us in the workplace to guide their transition and growth.

 


One for the Ages

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Larry A. Meltzer, Agency Principal

Marketing is a young man’s game. Or so we’ve heard. We’ve also heard, “With age comes wisdom.” How to balance these divergent points of view?

Maybe the answer is in the question: It requires balance. As a society – and even as a profession – we’re quick to dismiss “older” workers. They’re not as fast. They’re out of touch with new technologies. They don’t present the image we want to portray.

And then someone comes along who not only proves us wrong, but blows these perceptions completely out of the water. Meet John Goodenough, recently profiled in the New York Times Sunday Review. His surname is a bit of a misnomer. He’s beyond “good enough.”

The batteries that power our laptops, phones, and even electric vehicles? He invented the technology. And he just filed a patent on a new kind of battery that has the potential to revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-powered vehicles. Oh, and did I mention that he’s 94?

The story of Mr. Goodenough should give us pause as an industry to re-consider our biases against middle-aged or older workers. It seems there are a few factors that stand out that suggest why this group of professionals can contribute in a way that may be different from young pros. Consider:

  • Knowledge is cumulative. We pick up much of our early professional learning in college, and then integrate that with real-world experience as we begin our careers. Our minds begin absorbing knowledge, but as we venture farther out into the world, our life experiences add to our knowledge, giving us a wider and deeper level of information on which to draw.
  • They think about things longer. Maybe the perception that middle-aged workers don’t move as fast as younger workers is a good thing. There’s more patience, and less of a rush to judgment. We think about things for greater periods of time, and we put things down and pick them up later, letting our minds work out potential solutions to problems or challenges, rather than running with the first answer. (Maybe that’s why we rarely see a 25-year-old judge?)
  • There’s an openness to new ideas.  As we gain more experience, our narrow vision slowly begins to widen, and we allow ourselves to take in convergent points of view and new ideas. It’s the natural course of evolution, but rather than a physical evolution, it’s a cognitive evolution.

Or maybe, as Mr. Goodenough posited, the real reason may be entirely different. In his own words: “You no longer worry about keeping your job.”

At the end of the day, a balanced workplace – with different generations bringing different experiences that lead to different ideas – should be the end game of what was typically thought of as the young man’s game. Are you game?

 

 

 

 

 

 


Good P.R.? Spread It Around!

 

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Larry A. Meltzer, Agency Principal

If you’re not fortunate enough to live in a market served by In-N-Out Burger, you’re missing out on not only some of the best fast food around, but also a front seat to some of the most fervent and loyal customers of any brand. In the past few weeks alone, the chain has been in the news for the positive relationship that grandparents built with their granddaughter through weekly photos at the restaurant, and for a California couple who held their wedding reception at an In-N-Out location. After all, nothing sets a couple on the road to wedded bliss like a double-double and animal fries!

You can’t buy p.r. like this. But can you foster it? Yes, but it requires that a brand be quick on the uptake, and also display a deft touch. Looking at brands that do this right, we see a few commonalities:

  • Embrace it. It’s great to celebrate when this type of user-generated content goes viral, but go beyond – participate in it. Embed it on your brand’s website for a period. Engage with the participants to bolster the good feelings, and find a way to enlist them as brand ambassadors.
  • Sread it around. While a brand doesn’t want to appear as if it’s taking over the user-generated content, you can make sure your influencers – both external and internal – know about it. Encourage them to share it with their networks as a way to spread the message organically.
  • Build on it. What else can you do to put a halo around your brand while interest is heightened? Create a hashtag around it as way to invite others to participate in the fun. In the case of the wedding, create a “wedding package” so others can follow in the bride-and-groom’s footsteps, or hold a contest to find other newlyweds looking for an unusual reception venue.

As marketers, we tend to lean in where we have control. But if you loosen the reins a bit when others control the message, in a positive way that engages a broader audience, the results can be a viral ride that reflects well on your brand.

Disclaimer:  Our firm has done work with In-N-Out Burger.