How does a company get its name? Is it through rigorous, consumer-based testing? Or conceived over a beer? Or by hiring an expert? If you are a start-up, you often don’t have the big budgets or time to conduct months of expensive research to identify the absolute best name. To better understand one of the earliest, and most important decisions entrepreneurs will make, the choice of the firm’s name, I sought insight from several agencies. Below are some of the inventive ways that companies arrived at their names.
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The strangest thing about walking into an agency these days is that you can hear a pin drop.
The confluence of open-floor plans, rampant headphone use, and a generation of phone-averse millennials has created a workplace where silence, not noise, is the new normal. Ironically, the library-like environments can be traced, in no small part, to agencies latching onto trendy ideas around collaboration.
Open office plans, popularized in Silicon Valley, were adopted en masse by ad agencies through the 2000s. But people sitting next to each other without office walls don’t necessarily collaborate more. In fact, they often collaborate less, as they re-create private space with headphones.
“It’s a funny thing,” said Michael Epstein, chief client officer at Carat USA. “With an open floor plan, you’d think it would be wildly disruptive with people constantly talking to each other. More often, you see them with headphones on.”
Rich Silverstein, co-chairman at Goodby Silverstein and Partners, said that he thinks headphones were invented by money-crunching CFOs to make people believe they have their own office. “Headphones are the greatest invention for office space ever,” he said.
Not all of this is bad, of course. Agencies have long rewarded fast talkers; headphones are the new way of burrowing more deeply into work. You could argue it’s the mark of a doer.
“Headphones are a way of announcing to the world, ‘Don’t talk to me, I’m actually working’,” said Dave Snyder, executive creative director at Firstborn.
Of course, this isn’t always the case. Some at agencies say headphones are a convenient way to cut themselves off, which often becomes an all-day habit rather than an as-needed mode. (As Digiday alum John McDermott wrote in MEL last week, there are many negative effects on efficiency and creativity in the workplace because of headphones.)
When Vann Graves, now founder of small shop FL&G, started in the business at BBDO, folks had offices. Junior people started in a bullpen or a big table on the floor. Having an office was a rite of passage, he said. But being junior and working at a big table with other people was helpful, he said. But it was also OK to go find a quiet space to have a private conversation or a meeting.
Open floor plans mean fewer private spaces — so in the absence of a place to go “be collaborative,” people just put their headphones on. “It got quieter because if you try to talk, people tell you to ‘shut up,’” said Graves.
There is also, of course, the millennial factor. These born-multitaskers are used to a work culture where open floor-plans are the norm. Their instinct is to put on headphones. “That’s just what they’ve always been exposed to,” said Graves.
One agency exec who said he did not want to be named because “it’s my problem, not theirs,” said he struggles with having a team who is sitting physically near him but never really available because of their headphones habit.
“I used to think they were uncommunicative, but truth was they were IM-ing and texting and Snapping each other the whole time. Just doing it silently.” As Snyder at Firstborn puts it, collaboration doesn’t have to mean two people talking physically. As mystifying this is to executives with flecks of gray in their hair, their young colleagues shrug and send off a Snap to someone sitting 10 feet away.
Silverstein says that back in the day, offices defined people: what they hung on walls, the books they had, what was on their desks. “Everyone insisted on having their own,” he said. Today, space isn’t what defines people, he said. “Sardines would all be happy if they had headphones.” But agencies need to be loud, said Silverstein.
Another thing that changed collaboration levels was a shift in roles. Previously, there may have been a different art director and a different writer working together. Now, roles have blurred; one person wears many hats. “I am the AD and I’m the writer, so I’m going to put headphones to block out the noise and so I lose out on the collaboration thing.”
For Steve Williams, CEO at Maxus Americas, it may also be cultural. He said in the U.S., the agency world is more low-key and lacking in energy at least from an office-space perspective. “There is a lot of hankering for private space and thinking spaces.” And since few agencies have the rooms, headphones go on.
Maxus is about to redesign its offices and Williams says he will focus on a “strategic” open-plan environment with plenty of huddle rooms. “Is it getting quieter in the workplace? Yes. But you can’t dictate a culture.”
While headphone use on one hand is considered polite, studies have shown that it increases feelings of isolation. A study by professors Sigal Barsade and Hakan Ozcelik from Wharton and Cal State, respectively, found a couple of years ago that isolated employees often feel like they belong less at work, which in turn affects output. And a different study from Isaac Kohane, a director at Harvard Medical School, found that innovation and creativity are directly linked to physical proximity — which headphones figuratively, at least, decrease.
Ken Lloyd, a professor and author of a book on office culture said some research that headphones contribute to employees missing conversations and sensing less engagement in their work, as well as feeling less connected at work. The buzzword in HR circles is “employee engagement.” Headphones wouldn’t seem to encourage that, as they disengage from their surroundings and coworkers.
Another reason for quieter offices is a shift in communication strategies, say executives. At the Digiday Agency Summit in March, plenty of agency execs groused about phone-phobic millennials who don’t want to talk to clients in the time-honored way: long, intensive conference calls. And calls are a way of life: Carly Carson, an account director at PMG, said that account services used to go through specific phone training that showed how to write call recaps, kick of phone meetings. “They almost prepared us with a script of sorts.” That has come less in handy — Carson said she communicates less on the phone than ever before.
Workplace collaboration services like Slack have rolled out at agencies like Firstborn and R/GA that have meant client and internal communication text-based. Kim Sivillo, a managing director at iProspect, has found more employees are now texting clients. She herself has five different messaging platforms on her computer — each client prefers different ones, from AIM to Slack to Facebook Messenger.
“Clients are expecting real-time responses, so phone calls are on their way out,” she said. “And it’s not just millennials. Every time my phone rings, I look at it and say, ‘Who? Why are you calling me!’”
By Shareen Pathak Published - Digiday - April 18, 2016
Four Reasons Why a Production Structure Will Help Agencies Succeed
The idea that the agency model is "broken" is something that's been kicked around the advertising world for a while now, with few concrete ideas to suggest what might replace it -- until recently. During a spirited speech at the Association of National Advertisers' Masters of Marketing conference this October, PepsiCo president Brad Jakeman called out ad holding companies' lack of interest in acquiring content studios and the apparent reluctance of advertising veterans to move away from traditional platforms like TV.
While I'm not on board with the argument that the advertising world hasn't caught up to our digital reality, I can't disagree that the agency model is overdue for a full overhaul. It goes without saying that the days of producing a TV spot with some print and digital work to back it up are over, yet this is the workflow many agencies are still structured for. Brands are now expected to produce thousands of pieces of content in an endless cycle, on a fraction of the budget they might have had for a campaign 20 years ago. This is a state of affairs that most agencies completely understand, but are not set up to accomplish in the most effective, efficient way.
It's time for a better, smarter way of doing business. Today's client needs call for a model that grafts the creative assets of the traditional agency onto the structure and technical capabilities of a production company. Where planning was once integral to the usefulness of an agency, these days things move so quickly that the ability to be flexible and react instantly is often a more valuable and useful skill. This is what the production structure and mindset allows for. Here's what else it brings to agencies:
1. A production model allows agencies to bring content to market quickly. There's no waiting for back-and-forth with third-party production companies. There's no drawn-out approval process, no time spent briefing someone else's creatives, no worry that your team won't mesh with someone else's. You control the creative process and the production schedule, from start to finish.
2. It enhances the creative process by allowing for experimentation. Just as startups innovate through rapid prototyping and endless testing, agencies with production capabilities built in can keep pushing their ideas forward, and discard what doesn't work, without paying a third party for the project.
3. The agency production model allows you to produce a huge variety and volume of content across platforms. Delivering beyond the brief and showing your client that you're capable of iterating and pushing your creative in many different directions is hugely valuable.
4. It allows agencies to react to what's happening in the news and in culture in real time. It's not enough to just create content for your clients -- it needs to be relevant. This is crucial for brands trying to gain earned media and have a voice in the larger cultural conversation.
The agencies that are well placed in this era are those that were born from production companies in the first place, and later evolved into creative agencies. They have built their creative process off a production foundation and now are finding that they are well-suited to the current climate. But that's not to say that traditional agencies can't catch up. In fact, some larger agencies are wisely beefing up their production capabilities by building studios and hiring in-house production teams. In the coming years, those that don't or can't do the same will likely find themselves left behind.
By Vann Graves. Published - AdAge - November 04, 2015.
More than two decades ago, at a time when our industry was just a little simpler, I joined BBDO New York as a completely green, yet unwaveringly optimistic, creative intern. I was lucky enough to be ushered into this crazy business by the late Phil Dusenberry — the legendary man behind campaigns like GE’s "We Bring Good Things to Life" and Pepsi’s "The Choice of a New Generation," and certainly one of the industry’s greatest creative leaders.
Phil must have instantly picked up on my determined enthusiasm, as he didn’t waste a minute instilling in me the importance of independence when it comes to fostering great creativity. A certain amount of independence is absolutely critical to it. This is still true today, even as the advertising industry has evolved and gotten more complex. Undeniably, every creative still has an innate desire to craft things without others telling them what to do. This eventually turns into a desire to strike out on one’s own. Even Phil tried his hand at this in 1969. After his initial seven-year stint as a copywriter at BBDO, he left the agency to start Dusenberry Ruriani & Kornhauser, returning to BBDO in 1977. He came back, because, despite its "bigness," BBDO ultimately offered him the perfect balance of creative freedom and opportunity. It was home, and Phil was fulfilled.
For a very long time, I was creatively fulfilled there too. I spent 15 years at BBDO, and I got to work alongside some of the best in the business. The mentorship of these brilliant creative minds is precisely what got me to VP, Creative Director by the time I left. Later, I spent six years at McCann New York, where I got to work on massive clients like Coke, MasterCard and American Airlines. Many of these accounts were equally as inspiring to me on a personal level as they were impressive. There aren’t many other places where you can work on a piece of business like the U.S. Army after you’ve already dreamed up loads of creative ideas from actually being on active duty. I was on a high, and I wasn’t coming down anytime soon.
Fast forward to 2015, when life and love kicked in. My best friend and devoted wife landed her dream job in Chattanooga, Tenn. It was my turn to be her biggest cheerleader. Fortuitously, Chattanooga was an emerging hub for startups, bubbling with the same spirit of possibility that I displayed on my first day at BBDO. Phil’s simple lesson came flooding back: "It’s all about the work, the work, the work," and soon, the indie itch started to emerge. However, I wasn’t ready to go all in yet — that was a big step.
Leaving McCann was terrifying, and I wanted to create a situation that gave me the best of two worlds — a welcoming, established home and a place where I could produce and practice my craft on my own. I was thrilled when an opportunity arose for a job as President and CCO at Fancy Rhino, a young production company that had gotten a successful start a few years before in the documentary space. I was at a place where I saw the potential to creatively shape a company – not just its clients – and suddenly, the pull to do my own thing started to grow.
I stayed at Fancy Rhino for about a year. During that time, my indie itch only got stronger. I began to realize that while my opportunity there was great, it was not a perfect fit. With a final push from Shelley Prevost, the CEO of our first client, Torch, it felt like it was now or never. So, I reached out to a few friends (now my founding team), and they agreed that it was time to create something that we believed in. A year away from big agency life had opened my eyes. I was ready to take the plunge.
By that time, I knew that a different kind of agency model was essential to making creativity work in a rapidly shifting marketplace, and I knew that this model would not come to full fruition until I built it from scratch. Marketers today are demanding high quality, shareable content, in every form. And they are demanding it faster than ever before. However, it takes a certain type of creative agency to understand that content is not just content for its own sake — when executed properly, it is a highly effective creative solution to a business problem. It also takes a certain type of creative agency to bring quality content to market quickly and efficiently enough to meet these demands.
My founding team, formed with former colleagues of similar mindset, will be armed with a skillset rooted in both production and creative. Using our agility and technical capabilities to encourage experimentation with content, our goal is to integrate production seamlessly into the brand building process. We will have the freedom to deliver beyond a client’s brief and to demonstrate that we can steer our creative in many different directions.
My hope in starting my own agency is that other entrepreneurially-minded creatives might also be inspired by the prospect that, amidst the noise of technology and new media, creativity does still matter; that an efficient structure enables it; and that this noise is actually an opportunity, not a hindrance. Every day, threats to the agency model are bemoaned and dissected; so-called "in-house agencies" are becoming the norm to solving the problem of efficiency, and the agency world is pointing its fingers at Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and publishers for encroaching on a space that we used to own. But we need to stop pointing fingers and realize that agencies can have a model that’s special and capable of bringing big ideas to life – as long as we’re willing to rethink how we operate those agencies.
In the spirit of honoring the bold creative ideas I’ll be asking my clients to trust me with, I’m putting my money where my mouth is and asking the industry to help me name my new agency. And in a nod to the entrepreneurial drive that I credit to my creative friends and mentors, I’ve asked a few of them to throw their suggestions in the hat. The name will be decided through a poll that will be featured here tomorrow. I couldn’t be more thrilled and excited to be able to strike out on my own in an industry that truly never shies away from possibility.
By Vann Graves Published - Campaign - February 24, 2016