Don’t Be That Client

Leading agency relationships is not an easy task and something we  continually work to make better. The biggest advice I give when asked about it is don’t be an asshole client. It’s pretty straight forward when you think about the concept of treating an agency partner how you’d want to be treated.  True, you are paying for their services and expectations are high, however there are plenty of inputs and outputs to manage to get the most out of the investment. A couple of suggestions:

1. Look in the mirror. As easy as it is to call out an agency partner and make them the target for attacks, don’t forget to look in the mirror. There is something to be said for garbage in, garbage out. Make sure you’re process, briefs, research practices, etc. are in order as a complement to what the agency is bringing to the mix.

2. Write it out. Literally. Put on paper the expectations you have when looking to the agency partnership, especially after leading a review. It may not be a formal part of the contract but it should be formally known. This should also be supported by and drive how evaluations of the partnership go. Call out your working style around things like process, documentation, risk, comm’s, etc.

3. Candor. Candor is defined as “the quality of being open and honest in expression”. It’s so basic but so incredibly important. Creatives can be challenging, however in most cases the issues are with a lack of communication and more importantly a lack of dialogue. Dialogue is so important to get issues out, address them and not hold grudges as decisions are made.

Ultimately, by being a good client it helps when things don’t go well and stressful situations like tight deadlines or pivots in strategy come into play. If the relationship is built on trust and transparency from jumpstreet, that’s fantastic. However, its not just limited to the start of a partnership. If things get rocky, those are times where the three points above can be even more impactful. Suck it up, be a leader and head first into the hard spots of the relationship and commit to making it right. When it works, those times can be even more impactful.

The Importance of WAGAS

With the Big Game finishing up this weekend and the annual blitz of brands jockeying for consumer’s hearts and minds, it’s worth taking a look at one of my favorite terms, WAGAS. Its a filter I use when evaluating content, creative, etc. that stands for Would Anyone Give A Shit. Somewhat crass but it’s needed to be a no-nonsense filter on if what you’re working on will resonate. WAGAS is the filter that ties together areas including:

  • the Hook = WAGAS starts strong and typically has something in the immediate moments to grab a consumers attention. That initial grab is important, however if it doesn’t deliver after the hook is set the effects can be really bad. This is where dogsploitation, e.g. cute lab puppies and horses or Kate Upton can get immediate attention but they need a payoff.
  • Value Exchange + Social Currency = Is there a fair exchange in the consumer’s time or mindshare and what the brand is delivering. This could be done across a variety of measures, however one of the most popular is social currency. That is, something delivered from the brand that enhances the consumer’s role in their network(s). It could be a reference that supports conversation, connection, identity, advocacy, etc. From the ads this weekend, it could be a funny reference like the polar bear in the sombrero or a great line from the Dodge commercial, e.g. “Don’t Bitch”. WAGAS works great when that value exchange happens and a consumers gets something they can take with them for their time spent with the brand.
  • Investment = As part of the value exchange, if its a worthwhile transaction there should be an investment the consumer takes on, in many cases as a call-to-action. Could be as simple as a hashtag, link, sharing, etc. This is a best-case scenario as the consumer is doing something on behalf of the brand. A filter used frequently is “why would they care, why would they share” which takes the hint from WAGAS-worthy content and connects it to the investment of an action on behalf of the brand. This is the difference in consumer tweets “powering a car” in a race vs. just “who we think will win” with little payoff.

WAGAS isn’t about being “cool”, WAGAS is about being remarkable, that is someone would want to make a remark about it. It’s not always easy to achieve WAGAS but worth pursuing.


Good People and Bad Process

One of the most frustrating and unfortunately common things in business is when good people follow bad process. In the ideal state, process is established to deliver repeatable success. Process can often be looked at in waterfall terms, meaning step 1, then step 2, options reviewed and step 3, etc. Looking at today’s business environment where change is constant, process should be looked at in a more agile-way. That is, finding opportunities to review process and ensure its efficient more frequently. It’s hard, especially for established businesses where process has meant continued success over an extended period of time. Even with success, innovate or die. There’s no need to get complacent, challenge your processes. Stress test them often and don’t take them for granted. Processes are only as good as the means to ensure they’re up-to-date.

Friends don’t let friends follow bad process.

What I Wish I’d Known in College

Jason Loehr, circa 1997Some of the most rewarding work I’m involved with is my role on the Advisory Board for WKU’s School of Journalism, specifically the Dept. of Advertising. My man Cliff Shaluta runs the show and has been a mentor and friend for a long time. He continues to fight the good fight for bringing the best possible education and experiences for students amid the political bs that challenges higher education.

Recently, I was asked to come back to campus to talk with the Ad majors and faculty about my experiences in the “real world”. It’s a super cool opportunity anytime they ask and I’m always quick to respond.

During one of the Q&A’s, had an interesting question on “what would be the three things you wish you’d studied or done in preparation for your career experiences”. Good question. I don’t remember exactly what my response was, but here are my thoughts as a follow-up:

1. Finance – Math is hard. Working with financials is such a critical task, especially in leadership roles. The concepts of budgets, forecasts, pro forma’s, etc. are all skills I was able to learn and adapt, especially with my MBA studies. The practical experience of trial by fire worked for me, it would have been even better to have better experiences in my undergrad studies.

2. Psychology – The basic details of a Psych 100-style class are great, taking it a step or two further would have been even better. I’m fortunate to have focused in this space recently during my times in healthcare, especially behavior change, engagement, human factors, etc. In undergrad, it may not have had the impact, but the exposure and interest would have been beneficial. The approaches and tactics of psychology are key building blocks to much of the work in experience design, engagement strategies and more. It’s been written in articles from the NY Times to Gallup that successful leaders, especially CEO’s, have a great appreciation and knowledge of psychology in their ascent up the corporate ladder.

3. Sales – It’s one thing to sell ideas and concepts to peers or others inside organizations. It’s another level altogether when it comes to selling a product or service, more importantly in selling the greatest product of all, yourself. In my career transitions between client and agency work, the pressure, environment, tactics and general experiences with sales have been diverse and powerful. I’m very grateful for that diversity, adding to that experience in undergrad years would have been even more helpful.

I did leave the students with one quote that I’ve reinforced to my teams over the years. “It’s not about the what, it’s about the how”. Too many times I’ve seen great ideas and good answers to questions fall on deaf ears or backfire altogether because of a failure in how the information was communicated.

It’s such a competitive market right now for jobs and talent. Experiences are important, especially coming out of college. Being able to take on any experiences while in school is extremely valuable, being able to hit the ground running. Two other things I mentioned to the students were to spend time learning about emotional intelligence and to not jump straight into grad school. Emotional intelligence is important to help with working in teams, leading and especially in dealing with the corporate world. Grad school was so much more valuable to me after experiences in my career. I found myself applying what I learned on a regular basis. Without that experience I just don’t see as much impact.

Very rewarding stuff. I’m sure there are other things that come to mind. What else am I missing for these future leaders of tomorrow? Add your comments in.

The Buttons Facebook Needs…

Facebook is a cultural phenomenon and the key conversation in social business. Its role in design is also changing strategies and approaches across experiences, offline and online. Of particular significance is that cute little thumb icon and those four little letters, “like”. People like lots of things. According to sites like, over 70 million people “like” things every day. Ironically, one of the most “liked” things is actually Facebook itself, with over 35 million fans. Data is still rolling on the effectiveness of a “like”, especially with regard to ROI. Facebook continues to introduce innovative ways for business to measure success, including an updated Insights dashboard last year.

We know that Facebook “likes” business and business “likes” Facebook, but what about design? Mark Cuban had a fantastic post last year on design and the “like” button. Mashable also had its own perspective recently on the impact the “like” button is having across the Web. Here’s my own spin… the buttons that Facebook needs but doesn’t have today. Here’s a few:

Dislike. This one is pretty obvious but is really needed. Even a simple thumbs down as an alternative to the thumbs up. I’m not trying to spread Hatorade across the Internets, it’s more of providing a forum for the other side of positive feedback, especially for businesses.

Love. Anyone who has checked out Seth Godin’s work on permission marketing, knows there’s levels of engagement, especially between a brand and a consumer. Like may be a good measure in that relationship, but there are those consumers as you move up the engagement curve that want more. Godin refers to these at the “Intravenous” level. They’re chips are all in. For those consumers, it’s not about like, it is about love. I may “like” Camping World and TaylorMade Golf but I “love” the Budos Band and Adriana Lima, nice.

Terminator. We know an important role of YouTube, Facebook and other social resources is to introduce new ways to destroy time throughout the day. What better way to help out your network than calling it out in advance by marking it with the “terminator”. This way you can aggregate all of your time-destroying resources into a single feed. I realize it may just be easier to follow Charlie Sheen’s Twitter feed, yet this would be a great complement.

Skittles. This one has two strategies. One, “skittles” is one of my favorite words. I see the opportunities for a “skittles” button in showing your appreciation for things that are cool or different in interesting ways. Tag that cool photo or piece of digital art from Huck Gee with some “skittles”. Two, let the brands create their own buttons. Facebook embraces open-source, so why not open it up to the very brands that using it as a platform. The idea of integrating Facebook deeper into existing Web experiences continues to be a focus for Facebook. Maybe this is a next step to explore.

We can’t get too crazy here. The user experience of Facebook is already challenging at times and we don’t want to make it more unusable. Still, a little can go a long way toward more engagement and integration of Facebook into the Web.

So there’s a few buttons to consider. What do you think? Any buttons you’d like to see added to the mix?