Congratulations CES for becoming the hottest, consumer advertising buy on the planet

(Author’s Note: Originally written Jan 5, 2010 – but even more true today.)

CES has descended upon the psyche of the tech world so that it dominates most reports and tweets and attention.

We all wait with bated breath for the declared best new product, most innovative game, most outrageous consumer electronic gadget. We are, in effect, like kids with our noses up against the window pane of the biggest toy store in the world.

I should say that the hyper cool nature of CES is a fairly recent phenomenon. Back when I worked at AT&T, CES was an annual ritual that, frankly, rather inconveniently put a crimp on holiday festivities since many of us had to go the Las Vegas a week before to setup. There went New Year’s plans *sigh*. Sure it was fun to see what ingenious gadget was coming into the market, but make no mistake about it; CES was a serious B2B trade show where manufacturers worked hard to woo retailers into carrying their stuff. While there was some consumer coverage, mostly it was confined to the B2B press.

Then, somewhere in the last 4 years, I think driven by the gaming industry, Google, Apple and social media, it took on the glamour of the Oscars for tech set. If a product was even mentioned in a “from CES” report, that was cause for celebration (“I am so honored even to be nominated” kind of thing). CES went from being a B2B event to the event that plays itself out directly to consumers. That shift, in effect, caused CES to become the biggest consumer trade event of all time – even if every consumer is attending by proxy via social media.

But there’s more to it than that because at the current level of consumer exposure to the show, CES has transcended the trade show segment and was elevated to become a premier consumer media buy, kinda like SuperBowl. Think about with me. A media buy in SuperBowl was a strategy companies used to catapult themselves – think GoDaddy. This media buy cost a few million bucks, but if played right – you were made. I think CES has taken on that same level of media potential if you account for all the primary, secondary and tertiary coverage that live streaming and social media provide. And instead of a few thirty second spots, you get three days to strut your stuff. Make no mistake about – doing CES right is a multi-million affair. But the pay-off could be huge. In fact, it would not shock me if I learned that CES exceeded SuperBowl in the number of impressions delivered.

That’s awe inspiring. Never before has a trade show had that kind of reach and coverage. It seems cosmically fitting that new technology, e.g. social media, would elevate the very essence of CES itself.

Welcome to the year of living intelligently with technology.

Judy Shapiro

 


Is it possible for agencies to embrace marketing “complexity”?

The ad business is going through a change not seen in 3 decades.

For 3 decades there were three chairs at the marketing table — agencies, brands and the media. All 3 parts technologically evolved in a symbiotic “one:many” model to grow the business. Agencies “produced once and ran many times”; brands (one) had a message to get out to many and each media property created its media content for many people.

But Internet was a fourth chair that came to the table. It started to dominate the other three chairs utterly disrupting the “one:many” efficient, profitable marketing model in favor of a “many:many” model brought on by social media and mobile technologies.

As technology continued to evolve much faster than the other chairs at the table, the result of this disequilibrium was first felt by the media which suffered a near fatal blow. Agencies, now are feeling the full brunt of this dynamic largely because the “complexity” of social media is taking more and more of the traditional ad budgets.

So while the business has gotten more complex, agencies are trapped in an old “one:many” business model and have no clear way to evolve. Clients do not pay often for agency’s’ technological learning curves (how many agency folks were at TechCrunch Disrupt for instance???). And agencies can not charge $10,000 for a bunch of twitter updates (if you want to sleep peacefully at night).

That’s why in this new scenario even agencies that want to embrace complexity — can not because the profitable “one:many” marketing business model does not support the “many:many” business model. Case in point. Digital media buying agencies are paid as a percentage of billings, but since there are few billings in social media — they do not create those types of programs for their clients. There is no incentive for a digital agency to develop a program with no/ low billings and high complexity – now is there?

So before agencies can embrace marketing complexity – we have to figure out how to make money at it. Talk about complex.

Judy Shapiro

Whatever.

Pity the poor agency person pitching me. I have actually felt sorry for them at times, until they start their pitch and then I remember why agencies infuriate me.

You see, I spent a dozen years at an agency before jumping to the client side. I know all the agency speak phrases that are meant to pacify clients that ask too many questions. I’ve been reminded of those phrases lately because I have been hearing lots of these phrases in lots of agency pitches in the past four months.

I miss the days when agencies prepared real proposals (“pitches”) with real tactics and costs. I don’t think most of these creative directors even know what a storyboard is anymore. Pitches nowadays seem to be have the “same” vague, unclear promises such as one promise that came from a social media agency where they claimed that “our article will be seen by 60 million people with hundreds of back links back to your site”.

Oh my — such big promises. It would make any inexperienced marketer sign up. I would.  But when you pick apart what exactly will they do get this level of activity, well the vague plans become even vaguer.

“Ah” – you say – “but my big agency does campaign plans, strategies and analysis”. I bet they do. And I bet you have lots of great looking strategic documents with very little specific results to show for it. And worse, the cost actually makes you think twice every time you pick up the phone. Unfortunately, based on feedback from my friends at large companies like Siemens and Avaya, I know full well that big agencies simply move too slow, are too late in picking up new tech trends and cost too much. Pity – because Paltalk is exactly the type of client where agencies can do the most good.

So after hearing countless pitches, I have come to the conclusion that either agencies are too clever for me or they never encountered a client who is an “Industry veteran” (as Forbes described me when I started at Paltalk), who knows what she wants and knows that agencies should be able to deliver it. When I question proposals (gasp — how dare I), I keep getting a vague air of “Trust us … you can’t get it … you’re not cool … only we cool agency types can get it”. This attitude is what gets my blood boiling. To add insult to injury, they act like clients should be grateful that they (said agency) even agrees to service them at all!

So what’s to be done? I love this industry too much to leave well enough alone. I propose that agencies must do nothing less than change their business model and it involves evolving to mirror the business of marketing that clients have to confront today!

But how? Well, here are my top 10 things that agencies can start doing differently. They are specific and actionable. I propose them because in these tough economic times, agencies need to either evolve or many will die.

The Agency 10 Step Recovery Plan.

1) Never confuse desired outcome with what you will actually do.

Promising results is fine .. but be clear and specific how you intend to do it. Is it too much to ask for details so when you say, we will have a blog campaign, that you explain how much time will be spent on blog postings. Don’t just promise results and leave the details as a vague “whatever”.

2) Be honest.

Stuff happens in any campaign. But when things go wrong in digital campaigns it is too easy to blame the client’s infrastructure. At least come to the table about what happened but don’t just shrug and say “whatever” (yes an agency person actually said that to me recently when I asked them about a troubling stat.)

3) Know what you know and make sure your client understands that.

Too often in an effort to be efficient, clients ask agencies to stretch beyond their competence – to the frustration of all. Much of digital marketing is technologically challenging – so don’t set yourself up to fail. Passing on business short term will win credibility in the long term.

4) Don’t propose campaigns you know are highly unlikely to be technically feasible.

Ok – this is one of my pet peeves. I ask an agency pitch me on a program with a clear deadline. Yet they insist on presenting ideas that can not be executed within the time frame I have. When I ask why they presented this idea, the answer is often “so you can see our depth”. All I can think is “whatever”.

5) Think about the business end game.

Agencies always “talk the talk” but they actually rarely “walk the walk”. Remember, clients pay agencies to deliver tangible business results – not just to do cool interactive stuff that no one associates with your brand. I even had one large digital agency tell me that they thought creating a highly viral campaign with a strong branding component was not possible. The best viral stuff can not be branded, they said. Obviously, my reaction to this agency was thanks very much but “whatever”.  I kept looking.

6) Create a campaign that engages the entire interaction lifecyle.

For some reason, agencies seem to stop short in their campaigns as though their job is done once the person has clicked or registered or done whatever action the campaign required. I rarely see thinking beyond the direct call to action. I am suggesting that agencies need to consider the full lifecycle management of the prospect; even they don’t have responsibility for executing the full plan. It would be nice to see how the concept extends beyond the banner campaign.

7)  Be humble.

The arrogance of interactive agencies sometimes amuses me but mostly just irritates me, especially since there is often a startling lack of business results to show for their arrogance. Again, recent experience had one agency tell me that they wanted to advertise with a banner campaign an interactive viral promotion to encourage consumer usage of the viral interactive device. When I asked how could you “advertise” a viral campaign that relies on the unexpected nature of the “gag”, I was told I didn’t get it. Another “whatever” moment.

8)  Be a technology leader to your client.

Delivering a traditional ad campaign is well understood by agencies and hence they often do a good job on these campaigns. Its all falls apart when the clients need integrated digital marketing campaigns. Then it gets messy. Very messy. Agencies do not integrate new technologies into their business model easily. Why? Because technology proficiency comes with depth, experience and time. Agency fee structures never ever supported this level of depth.

Clients always had to push agencies to adopt new technologies and nothing has changed. But clients need more guidance than ever – like what to do when PPC effectiveness really does start to decline. When will agencies finally step up to the plate and start leading their clients through the increasingly complex technology marketing game.

9) Clean house.

Start improving the level of skill and experience you hire to represent your agency. Stop hiring “children” who can talk the cool talk but who never lived through a tough business cycle. In the “old days” only the best MBAs from the best business schools were in account management. Real clients deserve real business smarts, not kids.

10) Execute!

Good ideas are nice … but execution is paramount. It is amazing how often campaigns are not to be completely executed. There are hitches, glitches and hiccups. Often, it is the result of a lack of homework and project management on the part of the agency. I find this the most baffling, largely because there is no excuse for it.

I am tired of feeling”whatever” when dealing with some marketing agencies. I want to be inspired. I want an agency to move me. And I have not found the right partner.

But take heart. I usually get what I want. I just have to work a bit harder at it.

Judy Shapiro

The downside of doing the corporate “Let’s throw it up against the blogging wall to see what sticks” approach to digital marketing

 

I come from a simpler marketing time.

 

As David Meerman Scott explained in his recent book, The New Rules of Marketing & PR, I was one of those cool agency folks who, “…sit in hip offices dreaming up ways to interrupt people so that they pay attention to a one-way message”.

 

I worked at a large ad agency (NWAyer) on accounts like DeBeers – diamonds is forever, AT&T – Reach out and touch someone and I even got to bring back Punchy of Hawaiian Punch fame when P&G bought the brand in the 1980s.

 

They were simpler days because marketing was able to be planned. You wanted “awareness” there were relatively few ways to do it and it costs money. Lots of it.

 

And so we cool agency folks became insulated and complacent. I remember when “Prodigy” did a major presentation at the agency and people bet on how fast it would fail (if you know what Prodigy is – please raise your hand and email me. If you don’t – never mind). My agency colleagues were only half right. Prodigy did fail – but the concept of connectivity lived on to what we now know and love as the Internet.

 

Now however, a corporate marketing exec type has to integrate traditional media with all these emerging concepts and make sense of it. Worse, any program he does now involves legions of people NOT from marketing. A corp marketing exec needs people from development and database management and web deployment teams and on and on. Gone are the “one department decision/ deployment” days.  

 

And if that wasn’t enough – agencies that know digital marketing tend to be run by twenty something’s who are just bigger kids just with bigger toys. They never had to stand in front of the CEO or CFO and explain why you needed another $50,000 to talk to people who aren’t even reporters!

 

Well it’s enough to make any corp marketing exec cry. I know because enough of my friends are in those roles and they come crying to me.

 

But there’s hope.

 

The trick now is for companies to find ways to plan these programs within predictable parameters just like a good old fashioned media plans because corporate budget are not known to be nimble. “But wait”, I hear you say, “viral IS UNPREDICTABLE”. The paradox of social marketing is that it often catches you unprepared and by the time you get your budget act together, well, your moment is gone.

 

The way to manage that within a corporate environment is to create a platform that organizes content distribution (which is the heart and soul of digital marketing) across media within a “campaign” model. Rather than throwing lots of social marketing toys onto the scene to see what sticks, plan campaigns around content distribution and key phrases that coordinate across functions – SEM, PR, article syndication and so forth within a specific timeframe that can be planned. This approach won’t cover all unexpected activities, but it beats trying to get any CFO to warm up to the idea of spending $50K so you can have a presence on Facebook.

 

Trust me – it ain’t pretty.

 

Judy Shapiro  
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