Monday, November 23, 2009

Smiling at advertising

The new American Express commercial “Don’t Take Chances. Take Charge" makes me smile.

It’s the spot featuring ‘smiles’ made of everyday items in places all around us like bathtubs, hangars, zippers and fences. It suggests that having confidence in your credit card is comforting and therefore smile inducing.

Every show I watch is Tivoed, so I have the option of avoiding commercials altogether. But when the AmEx commercial comes on I watch because it makes me smile and it makes my 5 year old son smile. It has even inspired the two of us to find our own smiles.

Gio and I have found smiles at breakfast, smiles on our bike commute and smiles in the bathroom. The “smile commercial” has put us on high alert. We look for smiles everywhere we go. In one afternoon at a park we found five smiles. Here are some of our smiles.

This commercial does not make me want to get an AmEx card. It does not even convince me that their card is better than any other credit card (I had to watch the commercial on YouTube to glean what the ‘marketing’ message was), but an ad that inspires me to mimic it is pretty impressive nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Power of Pink – How a cause co-opted a color and made a difference

This fall, while walking in my third Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk, I passed some of the time by really taking in our 2500 person pink parade. I began to wonder how breast cancer was able to successfully commandeer a color that every little girl, Crayola box wielding kid and femininity-flaunting woman could claim prior ownership to.

“Taking Pink” actually happened by accident in 1990 at The Komen Foundation’s Race for the Cure in Washington D.C. Event organizers randomly handed out pink visors to the 8500 participants. Some participants attached pink ribbons to themselves for the event and The Komen Foundation took note. A year later in the Race for the Cure in New York, The Komen Foundation handed out pink ribbons to every participant, from that day forward the pink ribbon has become the symbol of support for breast cancer awareness.

Fast forward 18 years and I am not sure anyone could have predicted how the pink ribbon and its signature color would affect people’s philanthropic activities and purchasing decisions.

We have all seen the sea of pink products in the stores leading up to Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. This year, you had the opportunity to purchase pink can openers, George Foreman Grills, Cartier watches, tic-tacs, chapstick, and Yoplait containers with pink lids, to name a few. Each of these companies has realized the power of cause-marketing and the benefits of aligning their company with the fight against breast cancer. They are also able to distinguish their products from their competitors and give their consumers an opportunity to support a cause by purchasing everyday items.

This cause-marketing has proven problematic for some companies. Take EsteĆ© Lauder and Yoplait as examples. Both companies have been contributing to the cause and promoting breast cancer awareness for years, but they do so by selling products that actually contribute to disease. EsteĆ© Lauder refuses to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, which ensures their products contain no chemicals, such as parabens, that are known or strongly suspected of contributing to the disease. Yoplait’s annual campaign, Save Lids to Save Lives, donates ten cents for every pink lid that is mailed into the company to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, up to a maximum amount. However, Yoplait makes yogurt from cows treated with rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), which recent studies have shown can be linked to an increased risk of breast, colon and prostate cancer.

These examples are in the minority, however, and don’t diminish the incredible impact that the pink movement has had on the average consumer and its ability to impact a purchasing decision that serves the greater good. When we see pink on a package or product that doesn’t normally sport pink, particularly during October, we know it means breast cancer support. And we can make the decision to purchase that product as a way of showing our support for that cause. Pink also compels masses of people who have been affected by this devastating disease to go to great lengths to raise money, awareness and commit to personal sacrifice as a means of personally having a hand in eliminating breast cancer as a life threatening disease.

For three days in fifteen cities across the US, thousands of women and men, wear pink as a badge of honor. Pink wings, boas, wigs, cowboy hats, leg warmers, beads that leave your skin pink, tattoos and pink bras outside of their shirts. Most importantly, the mood is decidedly pink, as well. Not dark and somber as you might expect when dealing with an often fatal disease. At these events, pink has become the color of survivorship, hope, resolve, celebration, honor, gratitude, fellowship, commitment and love.

Thanks to Susan G. Komen, the color pink has become a powerful communication tool, the symbol of a great fight, profit generator and educator. As October comes to a close, many might be happy to see the pink products replaced with holiday items, but for this marketing professional and breast cancer awareness advocate, I will always be amazed at the power of the pastel and how it has compelled me to change.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Looking Forward

The end of an experiment

At the beginning of May this year, Estipona Group set out on a six-month virtual agency experiment. As we approach the end of the “experiment,” I have looked at the data and reached a conclusion. My business can flourish in a virtual environment.

As for proof of our success, I point to our efficiency rate as an agency. Prior to going virtual, we worked one month with the new web-based software. During that month the software measured the team’s efficiency rate at 100%. The software derived this number based on estimates compared to actual hours spent on a job. From the beginning of May to the end of September, our average efficiency rate has been 148%.

Another indicator of success is our collective improved quality of life. While I have no scientific numbers to support this, I can personally say that I spend more time with my family and feel less anxiety than I did five months ago. While I may find myself working the same amount of hours, I am able to better break up my time to accommodate my family. As for the other members of EG, I just noticed that Paige is no longer screaming at me everyday so I can just take that as a sign of improvement.

Finally, you can’t argue with the bottom line. In the five months that we have been away from the traditional office environment the company has been able to save $50,000 in office related expenses. This has definitely assisted in improving our margin during a time when others are seeing a decrease in margins.

So what have I learned during this experiment?

I’ve learned that clients don’t care where you do business as long as the work is on strategy, on time and on budget.

I’ve learned that to make a virtual environment work you must work twice as hard on your communication skills.

I’ve learned that technology does not always work the way you planned, so you better have a back-up plan.

I’ve learned that you don’t need a fancy building to do insanely great work.

Finally, I’ve learned that I am lucky enough to be surrounded by some of the best people in the world – people who I am proud to have on my team.

This is not the end, just the beginning.

While the experiment has ended, I believe that this is only the beginning of a new journey for Estipona Group. The one common theme in this economy that I have notice is that ALL THE INDUSTRY FORMULAS ARE BROKEN. Just because something worked in the past, doesn’t mean it will work today. With that in mind, we have two choices, either sit back and wait while others create the new formula or be proactive and create a new formula that works for us. Obviously, we have chosen the latter.

While it is still early, we have seen others in the industry taking a similar approach. We know of at least one established ad agency that had decide to go virtual since our experiment began and we see others in other industries moving in the same direction. Last week, the RGJ reported Deloitte & Touche Reno, an established accounting firm, has announced that their 18 office staff will be moving virtual. While this may not indicate an overwhelming trend, it is evidence that perhaps we are on to something with larger implications than our own little agency.

So from this day forward, our blog will no longer be titled “the six-month virtual ad agency experiment.” Moving forward, our new title will be “EG Hatching – Ideas and observations about modern-day marketing”.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

So, you have a brain tumor, now what?

This is part two in a three-part series documenting Stan Davis' brain tumor diagnosis. Stan is a patient of Dr. Hilari Fleming of Sierra Neurosurgery Group. In this segment, we learn about his treatment decision and follow him right into the treatment room.
Diagnosis Brain Tumor: One man's story

Part II - Treatment

Thursday, September 3, 2009

"Out of home" advertising

Out of home advertising is the category name our industry give to stuff like billboards, bus shelter posters and other communcations you're likely to see on the streets.

This human-propelled, mobile billboard was spotted off Highway 50 in Carson City.

It was quite a sight as it was pedaled past a group of teens in a parking lot on lunch break form the local high school.

The biggest draw back I see is that you really need to be pretty close (within 20 feet or so) to actually read it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Coming to the smartphone party, late

I wasn't exactly a trend setter on this one. A few weeks ago I finally got a smartphone (Blackberry Storm). I admit I was late to this party. At a recent advertising association board meeting, my colleagues looked at me with horror (or was it pity) when I said I couldn't tweet because I didn't have internet on my phone. I knew it was time and apparently my old Motorola Q did too, because it stopped holding a charge.

Working on Macs my entire professional career, I yearned for an iphone with its seamless connectivity and uber-coolness. No unreliable patch software required for syncing like I'd dealt with for two years on my Q. But alas, being stuck with Verizon I opted to get a Blackberry. I didn't do any research, didn't read reviews, I went in pretty much blind. And for the first week I hated it. But now I am in LOVE.

Syncing software is required, but
Pocketmac seems to keep things working together - and it was free! I am, I admit, a bit addicted to the immediacy the Blackberry offers, but I did learn to turn off the alert that bongs me each time an heiress from Zambia want to bequeath me her fortune or the cycling club listserv posts race results. And the Facebook app that came loaded right on the phone offers me one too many distracting options when I really should be focused on: a) child's karate lesson b) grocery shopping c) making dinner d)
(gulp!) driving (choose one).

Like many other aspects of being virtual, my Smartphone has the potential to make me a 24/7 workaholic. Then again, it also enables me to convey the appearance of working no matter what I'm doing. Like right now....

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Making movies about brain tumors

What started out as a project to find patient testimonials for a group of neurosurgeons has morphed into a mini-documentary about one man dealing with his brain tumor. This first segment deals with the Diagnosis.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Some times it turns out just like you hoped

Great client (Reno Philharmonic) + awesome shooter/editor (Andrew Johnson, IMED Design) + great concept + willing talent (Conductor Laura Jackson) = fun, engaging commercial promoting the new classical music season of an orchestra.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Virtually on vacation

I took a few days off for Mother's Day and went to visit my parents in Prescott, Arizona with my 5 year old son. Before leaving my home office, with a few clicks I was able to forward my office phone to my cell, load working files onto a USB for my laptop and bookmark our online server.

Packed up and checked in at Reno Tahoe airport with an hour to spare, I plugged into one of their laptop wifi bars. I answered client emails and began negotiating an ad buy. Once in Arizona, I was wified into my Dad's house, got ads approved and to the pub and secured a last minute ad buy with a client.

This was not arduous work, but it was work. And because it was so easy to check in, catch up and tune in, I kept doing it. I checked work email every day, even on the weekend, and called co-workers and clients. As far as my clients were concerned, I wasn't even on vacation (although I had told them I would be). But the fact is, I never really felt completely on vacation.

Having a virtual office made leaving home and continuing to work seamless for me for the first time. But it also deprived me of a full on four-day break from work. Of course I only have myself to blame. Next time, I may opt for a total vacation instead of a virtual one.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Virtual office status meeting week two.

We had kind of a hard time staying on subject.
Guess we were making up for all those hours we aren't able to goof off together. Virtual goofing has not yet been perfected.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Insanely Great vs. Insane

This seems to be the most fitting tile for our going virtual endeavor. Over the last month as I have been talking to people about going virtual, I seem to get two different reactions. There are those that think the plan is ingenious, and there are those that think we are insane.

The fact is, there is only a hairline of a difference separating the two. At Estipona Group we’ve made doing insanely great work a corporate mantra. That leaves us very little room for error. The rewards, however, are plentiful and worth the effort for both our clients and ourselves.

While saving money played a role in the decision, going virtual wasn’t simply a cost cutting measure. It was also part of an historic evolution of our industry and this company. In 1993 when I founded the company, the advertising industry was just starting to embrace the computer. While the computer had played a role, it really didn’t take hold until that year. I saw a lot of talented people lose their jobs as staff needs were diminished and some refused to change the way they worked. Suddenly, a senior art director, art director, junior art director and production artist could be one person. That worked to the advantage of my one-man agency just getting started and using technology as part of my strategy for growth.

In the 90s the Internet, like the computer, was a major game changer for our industry. It has replaced or supplemented many of the traditional media such as TV, Radio and Print. These media have traditionally provided these agencies with the bulk of their income, media and print commissions specifically. As their share of the marketing budget has shrunk to support online marketing, agency revenue derived from TV, Radio and Print has also shrunk.

Fast forward to today. About 50% of our services revolve around the Internet. Consequently, our revenue from other media has decreased. So, even as we grow, the work we do has lower margins in comparison to traditional media. One might conclude that we just need to charge more for our services. But I don’t believe across the board fee increases are prudent, sustainable or even possible in the current economic climate.

Internet and email, web-based servers, ichat, video chat–communication and collaboration technology has evolved to the point where now we can work very effectively in a virtual world, and it is pretty much seamless for our clients. We can even do interactive presentations over the web as if the client was in front of us.

At the end of the day, the choice to go virtual seemed logical. Still does. I do not have a crystal ball to tell me what’s around the corner. All I have is history and experience to go on and everything points to another major shift in our industry. While going virtual may not be the only answer it is at least a new strategy and course. A course I’m willing to try for the next 6 months because as you know insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Ed looking dapper in scrubs

I generously let Ed do this 6am scout of a new surgical suite for a still and video shoot. Doesn't he look cute in scrubs, and sleepy?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Can working from home make me a better mom?

All working parents struggle with the juggle - trying to be committed and devoted to both our jobs and our families. At the same time. While working from home doesn't add more hours to an over full day, it appears to offer the promise of making my schedule and my life a bit more flexible.

Last Thursday, during the course of the day I was able to do a load of laundry, empty the dishwasher, stir the compost pile and think about dinner in between client calls and brainstorming sessions. I forwarded my office phone to my cell, left my home office at 3:30pm to pick up vegetables from the community farm program and take my son to his 4:45 karate lessons. After karate lessons, I got dinner on the table before my 5 year old had to beg me for a pre dinner "snack", played Legos and read to him before bed.

Last Thursday was a virtual office day. In my former, bricks and mortar office life, I would wait until the end of the workday to pick up my veggie basket. This always stressed me out as I faced 5pm rush hour traffic, crowds at the co-op and the pressing need to get to my son's pre-school by 5:30 or face late pick-up fees. In my former office life, my husband, who is self-employed, took my son to karate lessons because I didn't have time.

Now typically all these tasks don't fall on my shoulders alone, but my husband was out of town last week for a family emergency. In my virtual office life I was able to get done what needed to get done and have the leisure to play with my son in the evening instead of telling him, "Sorry, mommy has chores to do," which is something I have been saying to him a lot.

After my son went to bed last Thursday I got back on the computer for about an hour and a half to answer emails and do some more work. I didn't do this because my boss is a time sheet natzi. Our office has always been a place where we could come and go as we needed as long as we got our work done. Yet, I never really felt comfortable taking off when there was work to do and other people in the office working. In my virtual office life I do.

My colleagues and I have good work ethics. We will continue to get done what needs to get done and take care of our clients. Working from home just allows us the freedom to manage the needs of our job and the needs of our families creatively.

Technical Difficulties

Day three of the experiment and I am finally reliably connected.  I had several ideas for what to title this post.  Standing over shoulders, Why is this not working! and This computer is going out the window. 

For some reason day one at home for me revealed that my high speed DSL connection had an incredibly weak signal.  So if my IP phone was in use, nothing else could be used.  If I wanted to send an email, it had to be text only and my phone wasn't going to be working.  If someone called in on my phone while I was working in our online agency software it would quit the program to power the phone.  I think it would be honest to say I was not happy with my productivity.  

After standing over the DSL man and Edward's shoulders for a total of 5 hours in two days I am absolutely thrilled to be working from home.  What's better is that it wasn't user error, just an evil set of circumstances with my computer/DSL line that caused my problems.

I have a stunning view of Mt. Rose from my office window so I am definitely in a brighter mood while at my computer.  I am the only member of this agency that has small children at home during the day so I am sure that will present it's own set of challenges in the days ahead. But, for today they stayed in another part of the house with their daddy, aside from the occasional visit to kiss me or tell me, "I just love you".  I definitely won't complain about that!

Friday, May 1, 2009

I now know why I haven't moved in 14 years

I had hoped that I would begin my first blog talking about how we came to the decision to go virtual. Unfortunately, I'm not in the mood to talk about that right now. I realized that after 14 years in one place, a business can amass a ton of junk. Somehow we were able to store junk in every nook and cranny. The little here and little there has taken three weeks to clean up. I hope this weekend will be my last tour of duty at 777 Sinclair as we remove the furniture that we were lucky enough to sell.

Aside from the cleaning and clearing, dealing with new the technology has been challenging. As Brian mentioned in his post, we've instituted about four major pieces of technology. In each case we've had some challenges implementing them. Nothing major, but all in all, it has caused me a huge amount of stress. We had the opportunity to test it out in our office for the last week and a half and we believe that all the kinks have been worked out. The technology now appears to be working great.

While the new technology is going well, the connectivity from home has been a bit slow and that is why this blog is late in posting. A couple of us, myself and Brandi, have been experiencing technical difficulties to say the least. Brandi as we speak right now, is waiting for AT&T to come fix her dsl line. It's frayed and is causing on and off connectivity issues. I, on the other hand, found myself up until 2:30 am this morning wrestling with a new modem that wouldn't talk to the router. At the end of it all, the culprit was one small field that I had filled out that apparently should have been left empty. I figured this out around 10:30 am. Needless to say, it's been a long first 24 hours of being virtual.

I want to thank all our clients and vendors for their support in this endeavor. We were concerned their might be some opposition or concern with our move, but we have received nothing but well wishes from most and envy from some. I also have to thank my staff for the insanely great work they have been doing. Last week was a crazy week. We had three major creative presentations, a major proposal, packing and working with new technology. Despite a month's worth of work crammed into one week, I am proud to say that not a single ball was dropped. I'm definitely thankful for this team and the work they do.

I know this post sounds a bit whinny, but I'm entitled to whine a little bit, as I have been working endlessly for the last three weeks. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I am extremely happy about that. After moving for the last three weeks, I hope that I don't have to do it again for another 14 years.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tele-commuting; day 1

Day 1 of the 6 month experiment went well. I already had a workspace set up at home as you can see in the photo. Fitting another computer in there wasn't a problem.
I was able to get quite a bit of work done and keep in contact with coworkers and clients via phone, email and ichat. The technology is living up to the hype.
We've have: Google calendar to keep on top of everyone's schedule, Egnyte for online file storage, FunctionPoint for agency project management, a VoiceOver IP phone, email and ichat. That pretty much covers all our bases.
The personal benefits of working from home are already bearing fruit as I did some laundry and made a batch of granola this morning.
The only downside, so far is the barking dog next door.


Home sweet home

I started my day pedaling my child to his preschool with the trail bike, pedaling downtown to an appointment and pedaling back to my home office to start my work day.

I didn't have to throw together "office clothes" to change into, put on make up or pack a lunch because today is my first day working from home. I think its working out quite nicely.

We have technology in place so that my co-workers and I can communicate and collaborate as if we were all still sharing a physical space. I think I've actually talked more to my boss Edward (via ichat mostly, also phone and email) today than we usually do - but he's usually away from the office more than he is today.

I've written copy, assigned tasks, talked to clients, created estimates, and done all sorts of other ad agency type stuff today and I believe I've been pretty productive. I also got to graze all day long and, as any of my co-workers will attest, this is a BIG deal for me. I really like food and need lots of it to be happy. I have spent many a whiny day at the old physical office whinning about how hungry I was.

So, day one into this 6-month experiment is coming to close and so far so good.