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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bob's Big Blue Blog has moved to http://bobsbigblueblog.wordpress.com/

Please visit my new site. Thank you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I interviewed the man who coined the term "Waverunner."

Yes, it’s true. Tom Thiede, President of Blue Horse, is the man who authored the name “Waverunner.” He also came up with the name “Blue Horse.” Of course, not every name stuck. Some of his less successful lobs were “Guzzler” for an SUV and “Pits” for a man’s cologne. But he’s still working, so someone must want to hear what he has to say.

I certainly do, so I invited him to wade in with some blog topics. In typical Tom Thiede form, he had a slew of suggestions. Rather than put a muzzle on his creativity, I thought I would simply share them, and invite your comments and reactions.

So here we go.

1. Given the world of podcasting, Web sites and blogs, what new avenues of social marketing can we foresee? Could we, Tom asks, set up curbside monitors with a thought for the day to which people can respond? Does anyone out there have some other forms to share?

2. Tom wonders why there is not a National Advertising Agency Day. Oh, sure there are parties in New York. There are always parties in New York. But what about a way to celebrate the true pioneers of our industry? Like the guys who invented “Limited Time Offer” and “Member, FDIC.”

3. How small is small? Everyone wants information in sound bites and video clips. :60’s became :30’s became :15’s became :10’s became product placements. How small can we crawl? Can we advertise on molecules?

4. In a world where all radio stations sound alike, how come there are more of them?

5. What’s the over/under on the death of the home phone?

6. Whatever happened to the anti-monopoly attitude of the government? AT&T was broken up. Now they’re back together! And even bigger! It used to be that no company could own more than seven TV and seven radio stations. Take a look at what Clear Channel now owns. Are we better off as a society? As a culture? As a former member of the League of Nations?

7. What do we have to do to end reality TV? Huh? What?

Tom was ready to continue, but clearly we have enough to engender some thoughtful debate, if not medication. I invite your comments.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Are you teetering on the brink of the abyss?

The deep, dark bottomless nothing? The dark side? The seductive, addicting evil?

I’m speaking of course, of e-mail.

During our merger discussions, we gave a lot of thought to how the Blue Horse and MMT cultures would blend. Anytime you take two companies with a plan to build a third, whether they are ad agencies or airlines, you have to spend a lot of time mulling cultural consequences.

One of the key factors we considered was that both companies, MMT and Blue Horse, are very employee-friendly places to work. Part of that is just the nature of the people who populate them. But an equal (if not larger) part is a very real belief that our cultures encourage productivity and quality. They reward emotional participation. We want to foster pride in one’s performance.

To do that, we need honesty (not every performance is a good one) and open communication (not every management decision is a smart one). And when “stuff happens,” we want everyone to lend a hand and to do it in a very professional way.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

All of us have gotten e-mails from bosses or co-workers that read like a single spaced letter from a law firm with designs on our property. Sometimes the tone was unintentional, but given the medium, it still reads like a grand jury indictment.

But sometimes the writer uses e-mail to “put in writing” the most outlandish and unsubstantiated versions of the “facts” in order to reinforce their own opinions and to try to establish a pecking order.

And sometimes the whole thing borders on the psychotic. Someday, somewhere, someone will write a book entitled “E-Mails From Hell” and I’ll bet we all have a few saved in a file that we could contribute. I have a couple from a previous life that are truly hilarious now. But at the time, they did a lot of damage and in a very cowardly manner. They’re clearly more demeaning to the sender than to the recipient.

One of the things we’ve done at Blue Horse and which we’ll continue at Blue Horse/MMT is to outlaw nasty e-mails. Yup, just outlaw them. Like smoking, bringing in firearms and leaving your lunch in the refrigerator for two weeks. Around here, it’s a spoken rule that if you need to spend a couple of hours writing and sending a nasty e-mail (and you all know one when you get one), you need to have a face-to-face meeting with the intended recipient.

To go one step further, we make it a practice to use e-mails to positively reinforce, applaud and encourage people. To us, that’s the kind of communication that should be in writing for all to see.

E-mail is a wonderful way to communicate. If communication is, in fact, your goal. But if you have a beef, or you don’t understand, or you just think something ought to be handled a different way, e-mails can be gasoline on a candle. Anytime these start to fly, everyone – management and employees – needs to put an end to it.

“We just don’t do that around here,” can and should be said by anyone. “Now, let’s talk about this.”

Talking, especially about tough subjects, is harder than hiding behind a computer screen. And sometimes talking isn’t going to settle the issue either. But for a company to truly be a group of individuals who share a common goal, talking should be the place to start rather than the last resort.

So the next time you feel like leaping into the abyss, I hope this causes you to take a deep breath and perhaps get up off your chair to go see someone instead.

Besides, we can all use the exercise.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Announcing Blue Horse/MMT. Now the truth can be told!

They couldn’t stop us. Oh, they tried, but it was inevitable. Agency X has happened.

Blue Horse and Marx McClellan Thrun have joined forces. And what a force we’ll be!

Here’s the story. Last year, I renewed an old friendship with Rick Thrun. He and I worked together on a number of projects here in Milwaukee. A few awards were won and lots of fun was had. But we went our separate ways. Rick, an amazing illustrator, opted to stay in Milwaukee. I headed south to the wilds of Leo Burnett. Eventually Rick teamed up with Jeff McClellan. Rick and Jeff, together with Laura Marx, created and grew a terrific shop that consistently turned out wonderful break-through work for a select group of very smart clients.

Both organizations, Blue Horse and MMT, were casting about for new partners who could add to our respective talents. The more the two groups talked, the more we liked what was developing. We worked on a number of projects together. We talked, we examined, we strategized, and we plotted.

The business model at Blue Horse has been to become an architect or general contractor for our clients. We offered up some key core expertise, such as creative, media, client service and public relations. What we don’t have in-house, we have created partnerships to address. For example, we partner with LayerOne for e-commerce.

Our thinking is to deliver best-in-category talent on a very cost effective basis. The result is that we can match any agency our size and most who are considerably bigger, in terms of ability and experience. But we can customize the team for any assignment. So our clients don’t pay for overhead. They pay for results.

That business model will continue for Blue Horse/MMT. But our core creative product is now considerably stronger. It has more people, more depth and more experience than ever. And of course, we continue to offer depth in media as well as terrific people in public relations and client service.

Our mission is a simple one. We describe it as “Create. Collaborate. Integrate.” It means the best thinking coming from a team of great talent applied across all media. We continue to acknowledge the reality that consumers own brands, that they are the boss. And because of that, we’re here to make our clients look good with the boss.

We’re not the stars of the show. Our clients are. We are dedicated to making them a success.

Create. Collaborate. Integrate.

Sounds like a plan.

Monday, June 11, 2007

What is this "agency X" thing all about?

Obviously, something is going on. Rumors have reached our offices of clandestine meetings, groups of renegade executives, student intern unrest, dogs brought into offices and all sorts of unexplained and sinister goings on.

Faced with these events, I feel I must make some statement about what we know and what we don’t. But let me first say that I will do so only under strict federal guidelines and procedures. That is to say, only some of this will be the truth.

AgencyX is indeed real. And yes, it does represent a movement toward some sort of unified effort to dramatically change the status quo. It’s been created and nurtured by key individuals who had been competitors but who have come to realize the immense power they can wield if they join together.

Some of these individuals can be likened to “sleeper” agents. They have not seen nor communicated with each other for twenty or even thirty years! During that time, they have recruited others into their philosophies and organizations. And now they have re-connected and drawn up their insidious plans.

Why now? Good question. It could’ve been some sort of innocuous signal such as the rise of the Milwaukee Brewers. But their record of late tends to lessen that possibility. It could be the cicadas. Then again, what’s with all those flavored vodkas? Something out there – something so obvious yet so subtle – has triggered these Agency X agents to
come together.

We can only watch and wait.

And keep the champagne on ice.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Congratulations are in order.

When I first met Steve Johnstone, I couldn’t help but notice some of the very interesting photographs on his office wall. One showed some Brewers answering questions in the locker room after a game and if you looked hard enough, there was a young Steve Johnstone looking on.

And over there a picture of Jimmy Carter and with him – Steve Johnstone.

And over there was a wall full of Kentucky Derby photos – pictures of the winners’ circle and in all of them, a smiling Steve Johnstone.
Wait a minute. I didn’t know Steve owned horses. And that they all won the Kentucky Derby!

Little did I know that standing there in Steve’s office, I was standing in the shadow of greatness. No, Steve wasn’t a horse owner (who would be dumb enough to do that?).

Steve was a party crasher.

A four-star, big-time, your-face-goes-in-the-guest-photo-here uninvited interloper, able to appear and disappear at will. Never caught, never shown the door. And never having paid an entry fee. (Here he is pictured at the Blue Horse holiday party -- which he was invited to. He's second from the left.)

Steve was obviously a man of wit, charm and looks. And these talents serve him well in his current above-board occupation, that of Executive Vice President and Director of Public Relations here at Blue Horse. His job is to get his clients up front and he does an even better job with them than he has done with himself.

In fact, Steve’s done so well, there’s now a party being held that he won’t have to crash. Because he’s the guest of honor.

Steve has been named recipient of the 2007 Dorothy Thomas Black Award, sponsored by the Public Relations Society of America – Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter. This wonderful award will be presented during PRSA’s Paragon Awards dinner on May 17th.

The Dorothy Thomas Black Memorial Award is given to an individual who has demonstrated sustained superior performance in creating public relations understanding of issues through sound application of public relations.

In a career that spans more than 38 years, Steve has fostered exceptional PR practices on behalf of a wide variety of businesses, ranging from modest start-ups to the world’s largest corporations. He holds an APR from the Public Relations Society of America. He’s a member of the counselors Academy and has been a delegate to several national PRSA conventions. What’s more, Steve has been a founding member of the SE Wisconsin Cultural Diversity Committee, a program organized to help promote public relations careers for minorities.

Today, Steve serves as a director of the Black Public Relations Society of America’s local chapter. A fellow director, Jacqueline Crymes, said this about Steve: “…Steve has been quietly leading a diversity initiative for public relations as long as I have known him. He is genuine in his desire and concern to help young (and not so young) multi-cultural prospects pursue a career in public relations. The richness of talent our local public relations community enjoys today was made possible in part by leaders such as Steve.”

Kathy Gaillard of Mosaic Communications, Inc. puts it this way: “With Steve, diversity within the industry is not an afterthought; it’s good business and makes good business sense. I believe that Steve has undoubtedly had the most influence on the increased number of individuals of color who working within the PR industry in Milwaukee.”

Steve is much loved by his clients. He is also much loved here at Blue Horse. And not just for his snappy ties. For who he is, what he’s done and what he continues to do. We’re very proud of him and happy for him. He is smart, savvy, genuine and works his tail off.

And while it may sound strange for a party-crasher, he’s one of the most ethical people you’ll ever meet.

So please join us in offering him congratulations. Oh, and ask to see his latest Derby picture – the one from Sports Illustrated no less. Steve, being the mentor that he is, showed his niece how to crash the winner’s circle. That’s her just off to the left in her beautiful Derby bonnet.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

So, how many minority employees are at your company?

If you’re in the ad industry, not enough. In New York, certainly not enough to avoid legal action.

Not that there haven’t been attempts. I can recall many years ago in Chicago when efforts were made to include minority-owned companies when bidding commercial shoots. The reluctance to hire such companies always came under the guise of “I’m all for it, but not on my job.” That was because every job was the one job that no one could afford to do less than his or her best on. So anything risky was unacceptable.

At least that was the party line.

Somewhere along the way however, the bigger risk began to be producing work that didn’t work with minorities. Customers began to take ownership of brands. And customers weren’t the same white, upper-middle class types who historically populated ad agencies.

So, it’s no surprise to see the pressure build (See Alfred Lawson’s principles of Pressure and Suction – they pretty much explain the universe).

Now one would think that given the need for minority talent and experience, agencies would throw the doors open. And some have. But many who have done so have witnessed a puzzling response.

Not too many minority employees are strolling through the open door. (That includes the door to the PR shop, too. Check out Tannette Johnson-Elie's column in the April 4, 2007 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=586268

Yes, there are more Black and Hispanic radio stations, more publications, and more minority agencies. But attracting minorities to mainline agencies remains problematic. And while much of the blame falls on those who might not want to share the wealth (see New York, but also see right here), a great deal of the non-response comes from minorities themselves.

Last year, we visited with a dean at a local university to discuss minority talent recruitment. Surprisingly, we heard that even the university itself was having problems recruiting minorities into the journalism and marketing programs. “If you find a way to get the ‘help wanted’ message out," said the perplexed dean, “please let me know what it is.”

We knew that in advertising, as in journalism, changing economics (read “profit squeeze”) have left fewer dollars to spend on bench strength. Budgets for interns and learning programs have dropped. Clients don’t want to pay for “unnecessary” personnel. So, ironically, in the face of a greater need, there’s a smaller spend.

This, in turn, contributes to minorities not being able to see any role models in our industry. They simply don’t know that there are careers to be made and jobs to be had.
They see it in sports, sure. They see it in entertainment. But unless it’s demonstrated, shown and exhibited, how are they to know?

Clearly, this is a circle that needs to be broken. And there are people trying.

Case in point: Here in Milwaukee, Strive Media Institute is currently raising funds to build a new high school. Strive offers high school students the preparation needed to excel in media-based careers. After their high school day is over, Strive students come to “work” as editors, writers, producers and designers in print, video and broadcast. For more than 17 years, Strive has done an outstanding job in teaching and showing young people what our business is all about. It offers guidance and training before college - and that goes a long way toward enabling minorities and marketing to meet at the pass.

Or more specifically, at a job.

If you’d like to know more about Strive Media and hopefully help in their capital campaign to launch a high school focused on Communication Arts, contact Matthew Johnson, Executive Director at (414) 374-3511, or Strive’s Board President Susie Falk, a VP here at Blue Horse (414) 291-7620. Or visit Strive’s website at http://www.strivemedia.com/

And if you have even more ideas, let’s hear ‘em.