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61547652_webBefore forming my own company, I belonged to advertising agency creative departments in Canada and the US. The creatives were the ones who took a blank piece of paper and turned it into advertising that ran on TV, radio or print. Creatives were the ones who performed the magic.

Ore so many creative people would have you believe.

From as early as when I was a Sr. V.P. Creative Director at JWT, NYC, my mantra was ‘creative is not a department’ and ‘creative’ people do not hold a monopoly on creative thinking.

To best serve a client, everyone involved in the process needs to be creative. I have been fortunate to work with some very creative media planners.

Working for Guardian Group of Funds (now part of BMO), it was a creative media planner who helped us take a relatively small player and make them look much bigger than they were. Guardians funds are sold exclusively through brokers. So Scott Stewart, my media planner, came up with an ingenious plan that bought everything all around Bay St: bus shelters, Elevator News Network, ParkAd. (Bay Street is the Wall Street of Canada.) The result was phenomenal awareness for a fraction of the money big players were spending.  Creative is not a department.

Creative research can be a creative person’s best tool despite how creative people often bemoan research. All it takes is the right question or questions. One of the most brilliant pieces of marketing/advertising research was done by Anheuser-Busch. They hired a psychologist to analysis drinking behaviour. Its was not about being blue collar or white collar, it had to do with mindset. They identified the reparative beer drinker: the one who has a beer after work to ‘repair’ themselves to get back to the person they were before they went to work. This is where the beer consumption volume was. The result of the study? “This Bud’s for you”; one for the most successful beer campaigns of all time. All based on research. Creative is not a department.

Perhaps the most potent potential of creative power is the art of creative thinking in the hands of a strong strategic planner. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more effective in marketing and communications than a crisp, insightful and focused strategy. Nothing. While I like to consider myself a strong creative person, I fully realize that power of great strategies. That’s why I spend as much time honing strategies as I do creative development. And no one appreciates a strong strategic planner more than I. And I am fortunate to work with one. He makes my job easy. All I have to do is be on strategy and I am all but guaranteed success. Because creative is not a department. It’s a way of problem-solving, no matter what the problem. Or department. In fact, any department that is not creative, is most likely a stagnant department.


Well, except for accounting. 

To be politically correct, I should say that all marketing clients are good clients. After all, they contribute to our revenue. So let’s just leave that some good clients are better than other good clients.

My partner and I serve a Canadian injection moulding manufacturer. Sounds exciting, huh? They are in the packaging business and their marketing need is to generate/accelerate sales leads. No surprise.

However, our first assignment was to help in creating a sales presentation they were making to a large packaged goods company in the States. The client was smart to bring communications people in to help with the presentation from structure and content to look and feel. In this process it was suggested that a video would add to the impact of the presentation.

Of a factory? A creative person’s nightmare, right? Shots of the factory and talking heads.

However, when we were being introduced to the company by the CEO (our client), the more he talked, the more I wanted to do the factory tour. He’s a natural. He is a sales person.

On the factory floor, I knew in less than two minutes what I wanted to do. (That’s one of the reasons I don’t like billing by the hour.) “Two minutes plus thirty years” a colleague responded when I told him the story.

The basic idea was to anthropomorphize the factory robotics and use type to deliver capabilities. You can see the video here. And the cost? I am embarrassed to tell you how much this didn’t cost him.

He loved it. And so our relationship began. But it wasn’t just that he loved it. You don’t think there were revisions and re-cuts? Of course there were. (I was surprised/impressed at how he took to the nuance of editing.) And what once cost thousands and thousands to do, I do in Final Cut Pro. Often on a laptop.

It was not just that this client liked our work. That’s pretty thin. He would often say, “You guys are the experts, I leave it to you” and the surprising thing about remarks like that is that it puts a lot more pressure on you to do the extraordinary. The result? You work harder. You work smarter. You bend over backwards to make sure that never once does this client ever doubt the trust they place in you. And you are always looking for ways to add value. Because the client is also willing to listen to new ideas. He will test ideas. He does not rubber stamp everything we do but when there is something that needs to be re-thought or revised, we are not treated as if we have done something wrong or failed but rather it’s like we have a collaborator.  (more…)

IBM (USA) Frito Lay (USA) Pepsico (Canada). I have had the privilege of working on major campaigns achieving major results for major brands.  All with the help of major budgets.

Give me $50 million and you will be astounded at what I can do for you.

Then we have Houseboat Holidays, a small, family-owned business in Gananoque, Ontario, boasting a fleet of 23 boats: a company we help more for love than money.

We have been frequent users of their product since 1994.

Houseboat Holidays has a seasonal business needing to make a year’s revenue in a scant six months, with shoulder seasons hard to sell. Like many SME’s, their marketing budget has been small, scattered and without a coordinated plan.

Their limited marketing dollars has been fifty dollars here, five hundred dollars there, a few thousand here and there and there you are: you have loaded your shotgun, hoped for the best and pulled the trigger. Often the ‘advertising’ was for regional guides: the kind you pick up where you arrive to an area. But anyone arriving will already have accommodation planned so a houseboat is irrelevant, as is the advertising in those guides. We took them out of all but free guides. Their marketing dollars are too precious to waste even a dollar.

SME’s are susceptible to shotgun marketing. Rarely do they see any tangible evidence in their ROI. Nor do they have the time to manage it. Most SME owners and managers are busy running their businesses.

It’s the SMEs, more than the blue chip giants, who need innovative, insightful and creative selling plans. Marketing dollars need to be measured and with today’s technology, they can be.

Today, Houseboat Holidays’ promotional life has changed as have the buying habits of their prospective clients. The middle class is shrinking and the choices for vacation destinations is growing, creating incredibly fierce competition.

Renting boats through the months of July and August is not a challenge (although they are experiencing more last-minute bookings than they had in the past.) We re-engineered their website making it an SEO-friendly, information-laden resource and established a social media platform. These have resulted in bookings.

The challenge is renting boats in the shoulder seasons: May, June, September and October.

With a little research we learned that Houseboat Holidays had almost no awareness in Kingston, Ontario, just a twenty minute drive from Gananoque. There was the shoulder season opportunity. Here is the plan:

  1. Watch the weather. If forecasts predict good weather for the coming weekend, use Facebook and Goggle ads targeted to specific demographics in Kingston.
  2. Run those ads on Wednesday and Thursday only: a time when people are making weekend plans.

It is targeted, timely and takes advantage of low-hanging fruit.

From brochures to an online presence, we have dramatically improved their creative product and have provided a money-saving, highly-focused selling plan.

We also went outside conventional thinking and put them on AirBnB, Facebook page, Instagram and  Trip Advisor. Used properly, they work. Houseboat Holidays saw rentals from Europeans looking for a unique Canadian experience. 

SME’s need blue chip thinking applied to comparatively shoe-string budgets. In fact, SMEs need to work dollar for dollar, much harder than corporate enterprises.

LowerWorks is the ‘go-to’ team for SMEs. Whether it is making a sales presentation stronger, a corporate video (we excel in broadcast) or help identifying new market opportunities, LowerWorks can help.

We understand SMEs and service their communication and marketing needs exceptionally well. We have the people, the experience and the skill sets to bring innovation and results to SMEs’ marketing budgets.

We are an SME engineered to succeed. We welcome the opportunity to help you do the same.

Creative people often balk at research, claiming focus groups have killed more great ideas than all the clients combined. There might be some truth to that: focus groups can be dangerous. But research has much more to offer than focus groups. Intelligent research, grounded in science, can be the creative person’s most powerful weapon. But it does come with one caveat: creative people need to read the research. Don’t accept someone’s synopsis of the research. Read it. Consider a U&A (Usage and Attitude) study. Given that the sample base is statistically significant, that report can include powerful nuggets many overlook. That was how I managed to solve a big problem for Frito Lay’s Doritos. Looking at the study and knowing where Doritos enjoyed good market share (the Southwest USA) and where it didn’t (Northeast USA) resulted in an insight. In regions outside the direct influence of Mexican cuisine (at the time), consumers had no idea what a tortilla chip was. And ingredients-based TV campaign broke the barrier to sales. Today, everyone knows what a tortilla chip is. And Doritos enjoys a strong, global market share.

The true talent of a creative person exhibits itself when that person applies their creativity to research learning. It’s a matter of finding creative way to connect the dots.

Anyone who has worked in the beer category has undoubtedly sat through many nights of painful focus groups. Generally, a focus group is a terrible way to evaluate creative approaches. There are too many variables. The style of the moderator. The impact of a dominant subject (people can either galvanize to their POV because they like the person or they can oppose anything the dominant subject says because they don’t like them or find them too abrasive.) For focus groups to be statistically significant, there must be many, often expensive, groups held before one should be making financial decisions based on the groups’ findings.

However, the proverbial light bulb can be triggered by focus groups, not necessarily because of the outcome of the groups, but because of the dynamics of the group. Such was the case in a beer launch I created. Labatt was launching a beer in January (huh?) in an attempt to disrupt Molson at the beginning of the baseball season. Baseball season is a long way off from January but given the lead time just to achieve awareness, mid-January was targeted as the launch date.

And so came the focus groups on this particular beer. Anyone who has sat through beer focus groups would agree that if there is one thing consistent from one group to another, regardless of the beer, is that beer drinkers consider themselves experts in beer.  So armed with that insight and knowing that the objective was to disrupt Molson, where does that take you? What would you do?

It took me to a question. If beer drinkers consider themselves experts and we want to disrupt the category, why are we launching one beer? Why not two beers and create a beer battle between ourselves?

While not an initially easy sell to Labatt, they ultimately agreed and Canada’s first beer battle was launched. While creating awareness can take months, in some parts of the country, this beer launched gained a 7 point share market in three weeks. Unheard of. And for that success I thank research. If I had not attended those focus groups, this never would have happened.

Creative people can continue to believe research is a blight. Or they can embrace it and harness an exceptionally powerful tool. Research has no bounds when you add creative interpretation.


Wow! You guys are great!

Customer reviews are becoming more and more important in the online retail sector. On some sites, such as AirBnB and TripAdvisor, they push to get you do these reviews.

I use online resources and like most people, I do look at reviews and comments. However, I am becoming skeptical and I am learning things to be wary of and I thought it only appropriate to share this. (Please feel free to leave gushing, positive comments below.)

The first thing to raise alarms is use of the word “wow”. I can’t remember that last time I heard a human being use the word, useless it was used with no further comment. Wow. End of story. But, “Wow! You guys really nailed it.” is suspect. Even Mickey Rooney would have had a hard time delivering those words and if you don’t know who Mickey Rooney was, consider yourself blessed.

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latinLatin was the language of the educated throughout the middle ages.  It separated the intelligentsia, aristocrats and royalty from the masses. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the Catholic church ended delivering sermons in Latin.

Today, the language that will separate “intelligentsia”, technology and business leaders is code. It should be taught in our schools from grade one. :”Reading. Writing. ‘Arithmetic. Code.” It is the new international language (although much of code uses english..even that will dissipate). We will speak in symbols, construct language through code and those not fluent in some form of code will be new world serfs.

Teach your children code. Give them a fighting chance in the new world. We’re in it.

How ‘bout those bitcoins?

Winning new business is the life blood of advertising agencies. Whenever agencies, (be they full service, tradition media agencies or digital agencies) pitch for a new piece of business, they pull out their best people, their strongest case studies and prepare the presentation, tailoring it as best they can to what they believe the prospective client wants/needs.

I know. I’ve been in those meetings. IBM at Wells Rich Greene, Taco Bell at BBDO Atlanta, Financial clients in Canada. I have done many.
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One of the fundamental weaknesses in many approaches to measuring purchase intent is inherent in the very thing we are trying to predict: human behaviour.

Focus groups and surveys, both elaborate and simple, are staples in market research. Make an online purchase and more than likely, within 48 hours (sometimes 48 seconds) you will receive an email asking for your feedback on your ‘experience’. There are two important aspects to this. The obvious is to identify your level of satisfaction with the process and your likelihood of purchasing from the company again.
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A ‘cloud’ is little more than a server with Herculean connectivity.  For those old enough to know what a ‘mainframe’ was, this is it, delivered through the internet.

That people bought into the term ‘cloud’ as if it were some kind of new internet, technological magic, took me by surprise. The term is brilliant because it implies that what ever it is, it is just out there ‘somewhere’. A cloud can be white, fluffy and almost dream-like.
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