Memories of Ft. Wayne

Some years back, I was asked to give a talk at the Ft. Wayne Ad Club.

I have 2 vivid memories of the visit. The first was my client in Ft. Wayne, a large insurance company, had their LearJet pick me up in Chicago. On a trip that short, there’s press you back in your seat vertical climb, followed by descent. No time for level cruising. Also, the 16-year old Scotch and the mixed nuts (with no peanuts, mind you) made for a pleasant ride, however brief.

The second memory was after my little talk to the 30 or so assembled ad folk. I left the meeting with about 20 resumes which had been pressed into my hands. The get-me-out-of-here sentiment was palpable, which I understood because I had made a similar escape years earlier from the city of Nptryk (Nice Place To Raise Your Kids).

A client in Omaha once told me that all the mid-size, Midwest, mid-crisis cities were alike: put a bag over the head of Des Moines/Wichita/Tulsa and the other 99 names for Nptryk – you’ll find rusting factories, failing newspapers, a few billionaires, and many people who believe there’s something edible at the Olive Garden. The flight of manufacturing accelerated the downward spiral of these cities, but it was always true that some people felt compelled to leave. On graduation day, the prettiest girl in South Dakota will board the bus for the coast.

Can you answer 55 Questions?

We just designed and launched a new site for a new company which we named. Can you tell we’re feeling parental?

55 Questions is a particularly apt name, since its extraordinary founder, Dave Baney, uses the Socratic method to help CEOs and their management teams explore issues including finance, strategy, operations, marketing and branding, process, teamwork and most especially, accountability. Sometimes the questions are challenging, and lead to other questions that expose organizational weaknesses. Sometimes answers uncover strengths to be exploited. Either way, it’s transformative.

We feel very good about the direction of this site: clean, clear, interactive, more video/less text … and a very interesting Grow Your Business page with a Self-Diagnostic Quiz that we engineered. You should test it out, measuring your own company. If you need organizational help, call 55 Questions. If you need a strong clear brand like 55 Questions, call us.

More about “botcred”

We’ve been thinking more about botcred, the word we invented last week to describe the credibility you need to accumulate with search engine spiders, aka robots or bots.

The first response of human visitors when they encounter your website is a pre-conscious evaluation of the look and feel (i.e., “this looks like what I’m looking for”), and they’ll give you 4.5 seconds to make your brand narrative obvious and relevant.

It’s completely different with the search engine bots, who patiently begin reading code, testing the originality of your content, measuring the quality and quantity of inbound links, noting how many pages have changed since the last visit, when your url expires, and 200 other clues to your credibility.

In baseball terms, credibility with human visitors means a higher batting average: more frequent successes after they find you. But first you need botcred, to raise your visibility on search engine results: you’ll get found more often .. meaning more opportunities to bat.

“Look no further”

It’s always been a staple of advertising copy: “Look no further.”

This vaguely insulting bit of wishful thinking can literally translate into “Stop thinking! We’re afraid you’ll look at our competitors.”

Of course that is exactly what happens in making a sale. In true “Blink” style, if your presentation, or store atmosphere, or website evokes “Ah! Just what I was looking for,” the search ends.

The key word there was “evoke.”

Who are the Black Eyed Peas? As a brand, that is.

Excerpted from the Chicago Tribune today (August 12, 2010)

So, Bob Killian, CEO of Chicago-based Killian Branding, what do you think? “They are absolutely a brand! They have built themselves into this post-racial, non-threatening entity. And they have done it in a way that doesn’t seem artificial. It looks authentic. It doesn’t hurt that they are talented, but they are also a success partly because, like any good brand, there isn’t a lot of spontaneity there. Remember, every brand is a promise. Plus, they look like the poster children of what America expects its future to resemble. So naturally companies are delighted to be aligned with them.”

Stupid spam tricks…

Got a spam email today vainly trying to alarm us into buying some SEO service. When we considered the first two sentences, though, we were almost tempted to write back to the robot, addressed to Dear Dumbass. The email began:

I found your website ranked 4 for Advertising agency Chicago. If you are not on the first page or in the top 5, you are not being seen by your potential market or clients.”

A head scratcher. There are, by the way, more than 900 “Advertising Agencies and Counselors” in the local Yellow Pages. But do a Google search for Chicago ad agencies, and we’re normally in the top three, often with Burnett and DDB, both of which are hundreds of times our size. Sometimes we’re first, which we assume makes for head scratching at Burnett and DDB.

Wake me up when September … begins?

Conventional wisdom tells us that “nobody makes serious business decisions in August,” so wait until Labor Day to approach CEOs with matters that matter.


Maybe that’s true in France, where the whole nation goes on vacation, but any American CEO who goes passive for an entire month just isn’t serious enough about the company’s competitive opportunities. In a time of uncertainty, your brand is likely to have fearful and timid competitors. Why wait until September to step on their necks?

Net net? We’ll continue to talk about growth strategies, branding and disciplined aggressiveness, regardless of the temperatures. Yes, even if we have to meet with the CEO or CMO on the dock of their cabin.

“Ideas” are almost worthless.

Most of the jobseekers who write to us note with great enthusiasm that they are uniquely employable because they have “ideas.” Lots of them. We are seldom (okay, never) moved to action by this claim, partially because so many people claim it. One becomes skeptical.

Which brings us to Brainstorming, that good ol’ reliable exercise adored by many, misused by more. We are not going to claim that this engaging diversion is totally worthless, because a few good ideas have been known to emerge from this ideation process.

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But Brainstorming is a clear demonstration of the tiny value of “ideas.” Gather in one room a team of eager people (one from Sales, one from Operations, one from anything-but-Legal, a few from the highways and byways) and equip a moderator with plenty of markers, easel pages and wall space to hang them on. You know the drill.

In a few short hours, an energetic group can throw up (ahem) 200 or more scribbles, be glad they avoided writing TPS reports for a whole afternoon, and be ready for the pizza. Supply and demand tell us that goods that can be produced in quantity quickly have little market value.

So what is valuable here? The ideas? Nah. Gather another group, repeat the exercise, and you’ll get 200 more scribbles. Two or three a minute, with many many repeaters. Dross. Dreck. Detritus.

What is genuinely valuable here – potential gold – is the rare, skilled, strategic editor with the vision to flush 199 “ideas” down the toilet, and find the one worth pursuing.

A person with the talent to recognize, select, shape, nurture and implement a concept is worth ten thousand “hey-what-if” brain farts. As we often say, we don’t kill ideas – we execute them.

Of course, one might have the keys to a working Concept Dispenser….

The Cocktail Napkin Effect

We recently had the pleasure of doing a portfolio review of 17 would-be creatives who had just completed an undergraduate course. One reason it was a pleasure was the instructor’s wise limitation put on the students: no computers. Each ad in each campaign was drawn by hand, and hand-lettered. The quality of the artwork, as you might expect, was pretty low, but that focused the attention on concept, not execution. Thinking, not polish. It reminded us, once again, of the virtues of the humble cocktail napkin, subject of on of our all-time favorite White Papers.

Seeding Labs CEO named Global TED Fellow

Our favorite pro bono client, Nina Dudnik, has been named a 2010 Global TED Fellow for her inspiring work to equip and uplift scientists in the developing world. Learn more about Seeding Labs, and you’ll see why we’re so proud to be associated with her.