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posted by Michael Powelson Feb 15,2017 @ 02:46PM

My Left-Hand Man

(Or, How Fatherhood Taught Me To Stop Explaining and Love the Brand)

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 Parents are a greedy lot.

And us newbies can be the worst offenders. By the time he was six months old, nearly every aspect of my son Charlie had been spoken for.

His chin? Mine.

Eyes? My wife’s.

We claimed his laugh to have once belonged to my mother and that a certain restlessness was all Maria’s dad. Even the name we’d chosen wasn’t truly his, but a derivative of his great grandfather.

On the surface, this seemed normal and harmless. But somewhere in that six-month delirium of cortisol and dopamine, Maria and I lost our grip. Charlie became not so much a baby, but a blank screen on which his parents could project a lifetime of family pride, doubt, vanity and loss. At every stage of development, each new wrinkle he showed was an invitation to fire up that projector and retrieve an old slide carousel from the hall closet of our memories.

It was heartwarming. And self-indulgent. And more than a little ridiculous. Fortunately, I had something to keep my sappy, sleep-deprived mind from completely scattering to the winds of nostalgia.

 

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For months I’d been working on a client project that was finally coming to fruition. It had begun as a purely theoretical effort — an exercise to show a non-profit, community hospital how broadly their brand might define itself. The goal was to prove to them just how unique they were. In today’s healthcare climate of corporate consolidation, their independent, indigenous spirit made for something bigger than a series of loosely connected service lines. They were doing more than mending injury or fighting disease. They were providing a real, omnipresent sense of support and security for a close-knit community.

Hokey as that may sound, it’s the God’s honest truth. Which always increases the pressure on a creative team to do that truth justice. As such, scripts were written with great care. A subtle, symbolic story arc emerged that blurred the line between caregivers and community members, showing how this place and its hospital are inextricably linked.

Preparing the presentation, I realized how attached we’d gotten to the concept and, for the first time, regretted that it was only an exercise to show our partners what could be. A shame that it would never be produced, I thought.

Enter the first link in a chain of surprises.

“We love this,” the marketing director said. “More importantly, we need this. Let’s go.”

So we went.

Locations were scouted, shooting boards prepared; FAA airspace was granted and a helicopter commissioned. The creative team’s vision was set to become reality.

Then reality decided it had something to say about the creative team’s vision.

Prior to the shoot, our client began to question the amputee athlete we’d centered the narrative around. They acknowledged this was more exception than rule where their patient population was concerned and felt more comfortable casting a weekend warrior who’d recently received physical therapy for hip pain. They then decided against using professional talent for other key scenes, opting for real patients instead.

Soon after, Hurricane Matthew buzz-sawed the Carolina coasts and chewed through the largest autumn watermelon farm on the eastern seaboard — nixing one of our most anticipated setups.

And on day one of production, a shrimp boat we were to film ran afoul of the tides and was prevented from entering the harbor.

I phoned my wife late one evening, midway through the shoot. She picked up on the third ring.

“Charlie’s a lefty,” she offered in place of ‘hello.’

“Huh?,” I said.

“I think he’s left-handed. Every time I give him a Cheerio he switches it to his left hand before lifting it to his mouth.”

“Hmm.”

“Yeah. Crazy, right? So how’s it going down there?”

“Eh. Okay I guess.”

“Real convincing,” she offered sarcastically.

“I dunno. It’s not exactly what I imagined.”

“That’s normal though, right? Organic approach and all that?”

“Yeah. But the scripting was pretty intentional on this one. I knew how the dots connected on paper. I could explain it. What we’re shooting — I just don’t know.

“Could be a good thing.”

“We’ll see."

 

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We started to see in the edit suite a few weeks later. Yes, some of the beats had morphed. And several of the scenarios had to be adjusted to accommodate a cast with no acting experience. But all in all, the spot began to hang together.

It’s been running for a couple weeks now. The audience response has been overwhelming. And I’d be lying if I claimed the concept’s evolution wasn’t a big reason why.

The truth is, allowing the vision to evolve and finding ways to make the changes work produced a more telling reflection of the community. The audience responded because we had offered it a mirror, not a projector.

In a song for his young son Sean, John Lennon famously wrote that “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” The experience on this spot leads me to think the same can be said for brands. Brands arise organically. Advertising doesn’t create them, it simply amplifies them in the direction of an audience. Marketing is a means, not an end.

As creatives, we can (and should) research and strategize and concept and script and explain until we’re convinced we’re offering clients the most insightful, dynamic work possible. But it's all for naught if we don’t recognize when to get out of the way and let the essence of a hospital, or a community, or a 6-month-old shine through.

 

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Two months later, Charlie’s still fielding his Cheerios on the left. And while Maria and I tried to find precedent for this on both sides of our families, we could not. He is the only southpaw for at least three generations. Which makes it damn near my favorite thing about him. On Saturday mornings, I like to grab a cup of coffee and pull his highchair into the living room where I can watch him eat. And wave. And conduct imaginary orchestras like only a baby can.

I know the more time passes, the more ways he’ll find to defy our explanations. “Who will he be?” I wonder. At six? Or 16? Or 22? What other wonderful things will he show us that we can’t account for or lay claim to?

We’ll see.

As Lennon said, “I can hardly wait.”

 

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 Special thanks to Greyhawk Films, our production partner on this spot.

posted by Jillian Owens Jan 26,2017 @ 11:57AM

Marketing & Roller Derby

As I approach the end of my second year here at Riggs, my brain keeps folding itself around the idea of challenges.

The path from my former career in nonprofit arts management to marketing wasn't an obvious (or a linear) one. As a digital marketer, my workday is filled with creative problem solving, analysis, testing, strategy building and a good bit of blogging. As anyone who’s had to suffer through my geeking out over the latest Google or Facebook algorithm change can attest, I love what I do. The constant flux and frantic need to stay ahead of digital trends is exciting, and I like to think I’m making the internet a less horrible, more helpful place, while helping our clients accomplish their goals.

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Talking about a few of my favorite things for AMA Columbia

My first several months at Riggs were amazing and overwhelming. I knew how to build followings on blogs and on social media—heck, that’s why I was there. But any ad agency vernacular beyond what I’d seen on Mad Men was beyond me. Gaining mastery of the constantly changing world of digital marketing was no small feat. Unless I wanted to go back to the pen-hoarding nonprofit sector, I had to learn fast.

It reminded me of the time I thought I should start playing roller derby. After being ousted by one team for being pretty terrible at the sport, I joined another where, for a long time, I sucked just as badly. I remember one practice where I finally snapped. I threw my helmet and skulked off into the hallway to loathe myself in private. My coach followed me and tried to cheer me up with platitudes like, “You’re getting better!” and “Don’t get discouraged!”

With my forehead still pressed against the cool cinderblock wall, I turned to face him slowly and said, “Do you have any idea how mentally exhausting it is to constantly try your best at something you’re horrible at?”

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My derby name was Thrill Kill Jill. Not kidding.

Eventually, I got better. I was never amazing, and I’m far better at marketing than I’ll ever be at blocking large muscular women on the flat track. But that experience with all of its struggles and humiliations shaped me.

Challenges are exciting and intimidating. Whether you’re tasked with creating a digital strategy for a client that will foster engagement or learning how to bake bread for the first time, there’s a fear of failure that you have to get over in order to produce truly awesome and creative work. Safe choices are tempting, but big risks can yield big results.

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Just a lil inspiration.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that when I started a hobby I was lousy at (roller derby), I was embracing failure in my everyday life and conditioning myself to be unafraid of it. That’s one of the reasons I began teaching myself how to sew, even though I failed spectacularly at it in the beginning. That’s why I enjoy tackling difficult recipes and love the challenge of morphing a potential kitchen disaster into something workable.

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Looks like a doughsaster right?

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 But that doughspolsion yielded the best loaf of bread I've ever made.

Creative problem solvers learn this skill through failure, repetition and a certain fearlessness. That's what I strive for.  That's what (at least in my mind) separates the remarkable marketers from the mehketers.

That's what I want to be. 

posted by Teresa Coles Dec 01,2016 @ 03:10PM

Gain the secret weapon to building successful brands

Now that I have your attention, here’s a pop quiz. Pick one:
The most successful organizations — and their subsequent brands — are those that:

  • Have a multi-million dollar marketing budget
  • Have a culture that is synonymous with their brand promise
  • Have a diversified portfolio of products and services.

If you picked #1 or #3, let me know how that works out for you. While #1 is reserved for the Cokes and Targets of the world, many business leaders are disciples of #3 and are convinced that their success is dependent on diversification (also known as “we specialize in everything”).

If you picked #2, you’re a step ahead. Whether you’re an international retailer, a regional manufacturing operation, or a professional services firm down the street, your brand will only achieve its potential when everyone in your organization is part of a culture that is fully aligned with your external brand promise. That’s the mark of a healthy, leaderly and responsible brand.

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Back in the day, this was referred to as “building brands from the inside out.” While this concept still rings true, its executional requirements have evolved significantly. In the past, it was good enough for business leaders to talk about the fact that the company needed to deliver a customer experience that was “on brand.” In some cases, they went so far as to provide customer service training to teach employees specific service standards.

Fast forward to a day in which consumers’ knowledge, expectations and control are growing by the moment. This begets an environment in which the internal flaws and service shortcomings of an organization can pop to the surface at any time, exposing a gap between inner organizational reality and the external brand promise.

Moreover, we know for a fact today that employees are more and more discerning in their choice of employers and in their expectations surrounding that experience. They need to know what the company stands for. What it is setting out to do in the world. And what their place in that mission looks like. This is culture building, which is the direct route to operational excellence and a brand that is truly believable.

Look around, and you can see the direct connection between well-defined cultures and their highly distinctive brands: Apple vs. Dell. Southwest Airlines vs. United. BMW vs. Cadillac. These are organizations that understand the power of aligning culture, business strategy, and external brand marketing. They are not three linear business tactics. They are one collective strategy.

The good news is that entrepreneurs get this and are building businesses from the ground up based on this trifecta. But how do leaders in established organizations harness this imperative when there are so many competing initiatives going on in the organization?

Start with a vision.

This is not the benign statement at the top of a document in a matted frame. This is real vision, as defined by leadership and reinforced every day in language, tone and demeanor. It’s the Northern Star of the organization, and the CEO is the flag bearer.

Establish brand values.

These are not words like “integrity” or “commitment” or “quality” that sit right underneath the vision and mission statements on the aforementioned document. These are actionable, teachable and distinctive behavioral standards that let employees know what their brand stands for and what it’s striving to become. Employees need to understand how this journey benefits them and what their direct responsibility is in contributing to the organization’s vision.

Connect brand values to the business strategy.

Successful companies use these shared brand values to power its business operations, enhance innovation and set the business apart from competitors. It stands to reason that if everyone in the organization is united by and held accountable to actionable brand values, operational effectiveness is sure to follow.

Execute brand marketing that demonstrates all of the above.

When a company’s organizational health and business strategy are in complete alignment, a resounding brand promise can ensue. This promise can be easily internalized by staffers, because they understand it’s a reflection of them, the culture they’re part of, and the business strategy they help to execute every day.

*This post was originally published on Columbia Regional Business Report

posted by Cathy Monetti Nov 28,2016 @ 03:30PM

Humanitarian. Oh, yes.

Like so many, I awoke on Friday to the sad news the great South Carolina humanitarian Judy Davis had died. It was a shock that hit me hard, and I spent the day with Judy and her family on my mind and my own heart in rather a state of disbelief. The question is ages-old, and yet I wrestled: How could this happen to someone so vital? So generous? So good? How could our city sustain such a devastating loss?

Davis, Judith (web).jpgShe was one of the great ones, is the thing. For years, Judy was a calming voice of reason in important conversations all around our city. From boardrooms to lunch tables, she was an eternal optimist and a tireless advocate in efforts to improve whatever needed improving. She fought hard, but she did it with such grace and elegance you hardly noticed. She was a motivator, too, serving as a mentor to so many and sharing her gifts as a keynote speaker at one time or another at nearly every event in our community.

But there was something else about Judy Davis--a quiet quality that endeared her to me and countless others. She always made me feel like I was the special one. She'd smile that bright smile, and her eyes would sparkle, and for that moment she gave the immeasurable gift of validation, so beautifully articulated by Oprah Winfrey as the greatest gift one human can give to another:

I see you.
I hear you.
What you say matters.

 Oh, Judy. You were one in a million, and I'm so thankful to have spent time in your orbit. 

 

It was my honor to serve with Judy on the Central Carolina Community Foundation board and I thank them for use of their photo. 

Read more about Judy Davis here. 

posted by Julie Turner Nov 10,2016 @ 02:05PM

Brands and Viral Dreams

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It’s interesting how something becomes a viral sensation. From the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge which raised more than $115 million to #pantsuitnation a Facebook group of Clinton supporters that mushroomed from one to 3.2 million members in the days before the election, the Internet is an undeniable flashpoint in modern marketing.

While it’s every brand’s dream to ride the million-viewer wave, it’s a luxury few will ever enjoy. Those that crack the code know what makes people want to share their content: emotion. The emotional arc can be anything from laugh out loud hilarity or empowering self-awareness. It’s the secret viral ingredient.

One brand that’s masterful at viral sharing is Budweiser. We’ve all likely shared or watched their heartwarming Clydesdale commercials but two of their commercials stick out in my mind as favorites.

Harry’s Last Call
Budweiser paid homage to the Cubs’ World Series win earlier this month in a heartwarming way. The brand re-ran a decades-old commercial featuring the team’s patron saint Harry Caray. Then, seemingly just hours later, they released another two-minute video of Caray “calling” the final out of Game 7 over footage of Cubs fans in the moments before, during and after the historic win.

The brand’s marketing team came up with the idea 10 days before the game and secured permission from Caray’s estate and from the WGN network, the rights holder of the Cubs audio. After splicing together audio from previous games, the fan footage was captured during Game 7 near Wrigley Field. The commercial was approved at 5:30 a.m. Thursday morning and tweeted by the brand a few hours later.

It’s natural for Budweiser to be a part of huge events like the World Series, but my personal favorite viral sensation from the brand happened late one cold snowy night in Canada in 2012.

Flash Fans
Budweiser Canada contacted two rec hockey leagues asking them to participate in a documentary they were filming. During the spot you see the players preparing themselves and their equipment for the game, heading to the rink, donning their gear. And then something surprising begins to unfold.

The brand knows how passionate hockey fans are and that’s what they wanted to show the world in this spot designed to give a Canadian beer league hockey team an extraordinary hockey experience complete with 600 fanatical fans, spotlights, play-by-play announcers and a confetti cannon. The brand also released a great behind the scenes video.

Brands dream of creating viral content that puts their brand in a spotlight but they will fail to catch fire. Their focus is off. It’s not about the brand here; it’s about tipping your hat to the enduring spirit of a Cubs fan or the unglorified recreational league hockey player.

Most brands would never dream of footing the bill to dress a skating rink for a hockey game, and hire hundreds of extras, a production team, two skating mascots, foam fingers, puck hats and who knows what else to set the stage. Even more, to be second fiddle. And, honestly, you don’t need a million-dollar production team to create something meaningful.

Brands need to see beyond themselves and beyond the risks of their ideas. That’s where the glory is.

 

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