Why Award Shows Matter


Advertising award shows.

I’ve heard everything there is to say about them. “Advertising awards shows are all about the industry celebrating itself.” “I don’t enter award shows, because they not really about our clients’ business.” Or my favorite one: “It’s just a beauty contest – and the best work really never wins.”

But advertising award shows do matter. They matter on many levels.  Here are my top three reasons why award shows matter.

  • Celebration of Work. I never understood this complaint.  Why shouldn’t we celebrate the work we create? Advertising is like most businesses ­– we look ahead. Far ahead. We’re currently working on products that won’t launch until 2020 and 2021.  When you work on one project for two, three or four years before launch – when your peers recognize it as breakthrough work – damn right we should celebrate.  Unlike non-healthcare advertising, we toil for years on a product waiting for clinical trial data to be released. Waiting for the FDA to approve a product (or not). Waiting for the office of OPDP to review our work before it can be published. (By the way – I was going to spell out the acronym OPDP – but then I thought if you don’t know what it stands for – you won’t care.)  The healthcare advertising community is incredibly small. Everyone knows everyone else. We enjoy celebrating our friends and co-workers and former co-worker’s successes. If one agency or one campaign elevates the work of the entire healthcare industry – we all benefit.
  • Talent. Talent. Adverting award shows help us find, recruit and retain the top creative, planning, account and activation talent from around the world. And in an incredibly small industry – the agency that has the best talent usually wins. How do I know this is true?  After Cannes this year – a year when our healthcare network won more awards than ever before – I was contacted by creative talent from all over the globe. London. Dubai. San Paolo. Not to mention New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and even Columbus, Ohio. I’ve also had students emailing from all the top portfolio schools.  Never before has working in healthcare advertising been viewed equally as working in non-healthcare advertising. It was only 4 years ago when I did a poll among college students entering the workforce. At that time 89% of advertising students said they would only work in healthcare advertising if they had no other choice.  Clearly that has changed. Finding the best talent has become (slightly) easier. And by continuing to create amazing work will hopefully keep them.
  • Award shows motivate us to create better work. We hate losing. When was the last time you heard a co-worker say ‘I don’t want to win new business?’ That never happens.  As creative people we want to win all the time. So when our work doesn’t win in award shows – we don’t say ‘I don’t want to win awards’ – we say ‘Damn, that work was better – what do I have to do to make my work better.” By elevating the work, by challenging our own processes, by understanding what makes people change behavior all over the world, by not settling for just something that’s really good but great – that what makes us excited to come to work every day. And those nuggets can be found everywhere. In the back room of a focus group. Deep within a products data. By spending time listening or observing trends online. By looking at new thinking in other industries. By recognizing that you don’t have it all figured out.  Award shows make us challenge everything. Because we want to be the best in the world. And we hate losing.

So, if you’re one of the people who think that award shows don’t matter, don’t enter. Just know that while you may be saving the entry fees, you’re also missing  the opportunities. To shine. To inspire. To elevate an industry.



When Good Isn’t Good Enough

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I recently had a client say something very disturbing to me at the end of a creative review. He mentioned that he loved a specific idea that we had just presented. It was new, innovative and impactful. But then he said the following ‘my fear is that it won’t live past testing.’


If the work is connecting with the audience, is creating the type of behavior we desire and is differentiating in the category (and industry), why would it not live past research? His response: ‘people like what they’ve seen before, safe, easy to accept and non-confrontational.’ In short – work that’s good, yet comfortable.

I didn’t get in to advertising to do comfortable work.

The story I told him about another campaign is 100% true. I will leave out the names of the players – but I swear this is exactly how this played out.

The year was 2001. I was working on a large national business. We tested three campaigns all over the nation. Qual. Quant. Big cities. Small cities. I presented storyboards, animatics and scripts. After the research was over, it was clear there were two campaigns that could be produced and would do well in the marketplace. But with all research, there had to be one winner.

The research company recommended campaign A. The reasons were simple; people really liked it. It was consistently at the top in rank order of the campaigns. It was fun, easy to remember and said great things about the company and product. People felt it was ‘confident’ and ‘gutsy.’ Exactly what you want a campaign to be. As an agency, we did our homework and knew that we could create endless executions and that it would work across all audiences.

But campaign B also had good points. People couldn’t get it out of their head. It was sticky. Some people loved it. Some people hated it. But everyone remembered it. And the best part about it, people wanted to see more executions. But it also had some issues. People said that it only worked with a lot of executions. They would get tired of the individual executions quickly – which meant it would be costly to produce and maintain.

So the research company’s vote was solidly behind campaign A.

Where it got tricky was that the CMO and I both believed in campaign B. It was a bigger idea. I could be rolled out for years. And the best part, it differentiated the company from its competition better than campaign A.

So when we brought both campaigns to the CEO of the company, we recommended campaign B – even though the research said to produce the other work.

The CEO completely agreed.

In the meeting – the CMO said something that I will never forget, and I repeat time and time again. He said, “Research is only one data point. Our experience is a data point. Our common sense is a data point. The experience of our agency is a data point. And they all are important. But research isn’t the only data point. And people who make all their decisions based 100% on research will eventually fail. Because they’ll accept a good idea while overlooking potentially a great idea.”

Campaign B ran for over 10 years. We produced over 100 TV commercials, print, out-of-home, events and radio. The tagline is engraved in bronze on the Advertising Walk of Fame on Madison Avenue in New York City. It won countless awards. But most importantly, it proved to me that they only way to get to great – is not to settle for good.

Even when the data says that good is good enough.




You can learn a lot from a 30 minute coffee chat

About three months ago, I realized that I hadn’t spent as much time as I’d like with some of our creative team members.  So I decided to do something about it.  I decided to meet with everyone — over 250 people — over coffee for 30 minutes.  The questions were simple: what’s working?  What’s not working? What would you like to be doing more in 2018? What can I do to help?

coffee barI learned a lot (so far — I’m not finished).  The most important thing I learned was location is everything.  The first few meetings I held in my office — and they felt a little forced.  Not relaxed. Not free-flowing.  And that’s when I realized — I had to move the meeting from my office to a neutral location.  Coming to my office felt like you were being summoned to the Vice Principals office.  Something bad was coming. Everyone was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

That’s when I moved the meetings to the coffee bar. Yes, we have a coffee bar in our office. There are four high-top cafe tables. I’ve been having the meetings there — in full view of everyone in the office.  And magically, the conversations were loose. Fun.  Energetic. And dare I say, productive for everyone.

But most importantly, I’ve learned a lot.  And those learnings are setting multiple work streams in motion.  New agency projects have begun. New opportunities for team members have unfolded. And (hopefully) a more open line of communication between me and the rest of the group has emerged.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Everyone feels like they could be doing more. “Challenge me.” “Make me accountable.” “Let me take risks and fail.” “Help me learn by doing.” “Don’t assume that lack of experience means lack of ability.” These are the common requests I’ve been hearing. Virtually every person has said some variation of these words. “I can offer more. Put me to the test and I won’t let you down.” And the most important part — these requests are coming from people who are the busiest. Who are working the hardest. Who probably don’t really have the time to do more. But they’re willing to do more if it means more ownership.  I love this.  I love the concept of ownership and accountability.
  2. Everyone wants to be a part of the new business process. Pitching is incredibly hard work. But its also the one time when you can do work exactly like you want. You can create concepts without thinking about legal and regulatory approvals. You can just create great ideas. And everyone wants in.  Luckily, we can always use more help in new business. Welcome to the party.
  3. Everyone wants someone to go to when they’re stuck, have a question or just need something. This was an interesting comment.  One part mentoring program. One part ‘Genius Bar’. One part wise sage. I didn’t realize how many people just needed help with a lot of simple agency stuff.  These are ‘part time’ relationships. Not really long-term mentors. But someone they can turn to when they have a stupid question.  And I realized that realistically, that person can’t be me.

There are more micro-suggestions on how to make things better. I’ll save those for another day. But once I’ve finished meeting with everyone here, I plan on taking this on the road. Listening to people from our other network agencies. To colleges and universities around the nation on what students are looking for in a new career. And I plan on attending multiple conferences to hear some of the best and the brightest in the industry on how to make our working environment even better.  Our agency philosophy is ‘Never Finished.’  And when it comes to learning — that couldn’t be more true.

Thank you




What I Learned in 2015

I learned a lot from 2015.

I learned that falling down is easy. Getting up is hard.

I learned that great ideas will come from the most unexpected places.

I learned to accept the ‘new normal’ that surrounds me every day.

I learned that it’s OK to let go.

I learned that wearing cashmere sweaters invites people to hug you.

I learned that the little detail could save someone’s life.

I learned that the toughest conversations could lead to renewed hope.

I learned to accept help.

I learned to enjoy the moment instead of just the achievement.

I learned how to put down my phone.

I learned how to stop making goals that are impossible to reach.

I learned who my true friends are.

I learned to fingerpick my guitar.

I learned the simple enjoyment of splitting wood.

I learned that 600 miles is not too far to drive for a football game.

I learned that I don’t mind hanging curtains.

I learned that I have the greatest team in the world.

I learned that awards don’t mean everything.

I learned that giving back is more important than just giving.

I learned that no matter how hard I try, I still over react to stupid stuff.

I learned to appreciate my time on this planet – as it could be taken away in the blink of an eye.

Thank you for making this year a wonderful learning experience. Thank you for helping me get back on my feet. And thank you for being there when I needed it most.  I will never forget this year. Or the lessons I learned.

Warmest wishes for a happy holiday season.





SCAD Grad Gives Recruiting Advice

Recently, I asked one of our copywriters — Kristine Brown to guest write for this blog entry.  I asked her to write about anything that she thought would be helpful to students graduating college and entering the workforce. These are her words. But what Kristine doesn’t mention is that since she’s joined the agency she has produced her first TV campaign, an internal promotional campaign, attended a brainstorming session in Amsterdam and created countless ideas that have helped us win new business.  It seems we both chose wisely.  Enjoy Kristine’s entry.

My Recruiting Advice by Kristine Brown

Being recruited is a whirlwind of confusion, anxiety, and what if. What if I pick the wrong agency? What if I hate the office? What if my boss is mean to me? What if I don’t like the accounts i’m working on? What if the agency is boring? What if!

There is no easy answer to calming the what if’s other than asking the questions you want answered, doing your own research, and trusting your gut.

My recruiting journey started out like any other recruiting story. I was primed and prepped to enter the consumer world of advertising. My teachers had trained me to write witty body copy about chapstick and window cleaners. I met with numerous recruiters who promised me big brand names paired with beer carts and ping-pong tables. Yes that sounded great, but they never spoke about the agency life, or whom I would be working for, or what I would be doing, or how I would grow. My teachers repeatedly said, “ you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you”, but I never left an interview really knowing what I was signing up for. Before I knew it those same recruiters were emailing me. Pressuring me to accept offers that just had too many what ifs attached them.

That of course changed when I met my current boss. He was my last interview I had while attending SCAD. I will never forget how he stopped my perfectly planned presentation 30 seconds in to ask me if I already had job. At the time I did, I had accepted an internship that I had been pressured into taking. And it was secretly freaking me out. Rich was the first person I interviewed with that spoke to me honestly about his agency, the expectations of the position, and the work he believed in. I could tell right away he was genuinely interested in furthering my career. And that was something very new.

I was lucky enough visit FCB Health and meet the creatives I would be working with. Meeting possible mentors and late night pitch buddies made it all very real for me. I realized I had found my niche in the most unexpected place. I quickly realized the decision I made based off of what my teachers and recruiters wanted, wasn’t what I wanted anymore.

So this is where I give you the secret I learned way to late in my recruiting process. Do what you want to do. Trust the process, ask the questions, and find the place that makes you tick. Find the agency full of passionate people that get you and want to grow with you. Because who cares if the agency is big or small, if it’s consumer or healthcare, or if it’s in Texas or New York. It’s about the people and the work they create. Make your decision based on what excites you the most. Pick the agency that makes you want to get up everyday and create work that you’re proud of. I was really afraid to make the wrong decision, but I’ve realized looking back the only wrong decision I made was not following my own path.



I learned how to staff an agency from Fantasy Football

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I play in a fantasy football league with 9 other members of my family. We enjoy the trash talking. We enjoy the competition. And we enjoy winning. I recently gave my wife some advice about setting her line-up, and I realized it’s the same process I use to staff our office in advertising.  So here are a few things I’ve learned over the years.

Pick the best players. I know this is simplistic, but just as the best football players score the most points; the best creatives do the best work. And this is true no matter what level you’re hiring. Best junior books out of college are your long-term investments. They’ll pay quick dividends some times and long term dividends most of the time.  Senior level creatives who have done great work in the past will some times do great work again in the future.  They may be more consistent. But they may not be as spectacular.

Have a deep bench. Football players have bye weeks. Creatives have vacations, holidays, sick leave and creative dry spells. Having a deep bench will allow you to bring in reinforcements when you need them. And the interesting thing about advertising is you never know when you’re going to need them.  You can’t look at a calendar and say, ‘oh, this week I’ll need to swap out my best player for someone else.’ You need as many really good people as possible. (As I’m writing this – I got an email that an incredibly talented ACD is leaving for another agency. Having a deep bench makes this a little less painful)

Pick your best line-up and let ’em play. Once you’ve brought in your talented people, you have to let them play. You can coach them, you can put them in the best position to succeed, but you have to let them play. You can’t bench them if they have a few bad presentations or new business pitches or weeks.  You brought them into your company because you thought they were talented. Let them do their thing.

Always look for value players. Just because someone didn’t succeed at a competitor, doesn’t mean they won’t succeed under your system. I always tell a story about my first day on the job at another agency. The current CD’s told me that this art director needed to be terminated. I refused. And after 6 months in the new system he was winning awards and being promoted. I can point to 10 different stories like this one. Where someone flourished under a new system or a new team or a new partner. These team members can be the most valuable and loyal on your team. Because your need each other to succeed.

Don’t be afraid to cut big name players. Some times you just have to admit you made a mistake. You spent a lot of money on someone and it’s just not working. They’re just not performing, as you would have hoped. And sometimes its just time. We all know people who stayed in jobs way too long. And we also know people who are on our staff who would probably be doing better some place else. But we’re afraid to make the big move, have the tough conversation or rock the boat.  You have to rock the boat. Believe me, its better for everyone.

If you’ve done your homework, if you’ve hired correctly, you should have a winning year. But remember – your team is a reflection of you. How well you hire is how well they’ll perform. Good luck. And may the best team win.





How To Create Your Best Campaign In Your Portfolio

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When I’m sitting with someone and they want to show me their portfolio – I always have the same request “show me your favorite campaign.”  And I’m surprised how few people know the answer to this question.  Some say, “I like everything in my portfolio,” which you and I both know is not true.  Everyone should have a favorite campaign. A campaign that you loved when you created it. A campaign that you still love.

And if you don’t have a campaign that you love, here is the easiest way to create one — I call it a passion project.  Create a campaign for something that you are incredibly passionate about. Maybe you were a ballet dancer as a child and still love dance. Maybe you have a passion for Ultimate Frisbee. Perhaps you always loved to travel and spent 3 weeks in Prague. Do that campaign.

There are two reasons to create a passion campaign.  First of all — it won’t be in everyone else’s portfolio. Every year there are advertising college competitions. And every year I see hundreds of campaigns for the same product.  One year it was KFC. I can’t tell you how many KFC campaigns I saw. And I would always ask the same question — “did you win the competition?”  And everyone says, “no.”  (BTW – if you enter a student competition – don’t put the work in your portfolio if you didn’t win.)  The second reason (and the most important) is when you present a passion project; you present it with more passion. You know the subject matter inside and out. Your face lights up. And as a viewer, I can feel your excitement.

A former student of mine created my favorite passion project. On her resume, in the about me section, was a line about the Girl Scouts of America. She told me that she loved being a Girl Scout. So she created a campaign to try and persuade tween girls to stay in scouting longer. She told me a story about how Girl Scouts actually gets better as you get older. That you get to do more meaningful community service. That you get to make a difference. I loved the campaign before I even saw it. Because I loved her explanation.

From that moment forward, I have always encouraged students to create passion project campaigns. Every time I see one, I’m happy to see how much heart and soul go into those projects. The projects are always about something very personal. The arts. Dance. Theater. Hiking. Travel. Someone even create a campaign about their favorite biker bar.

No matter how ‘finished’ your portfolio, you can make it even better by creating a passion project campaign. Trust me on this one. It will become your favorite campaign. It will be the first one your present in an interview.  And it will be better than anything you create for KFC.




You Can Go Home Again — Returning To Temple University

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I graduated from Temple University before 1/3 of my creative department was born. I’m almost embarrassed to say, that I hadn’t been back on campus since I picked up my diploma. All that changed last Thursday.  I was invited to speak on campus about healthcare advertising. I was nervous. I was excited. I couldn’t wait.

I was met in the parking lot by the Director of Career Services. She walked me to her office and then graciously allowed me to camp out there all day. Throughout the day I met the Dean, the Chair of the Advertising Department and other members of the faculty. I also got to meet with some incredible students.  It was inspiring to see what the University had planned for the future of the department. It was great to listen to the dreams of the students. And I was in awe of the campus that had grown and improved dramatically since my last visit. (By the way — the Tech Center is absolutely amazing.)

About 150 students came to my lecture. Many asked questions. Several stayed after to ask one-on-one questions. I met a future Account Executive star, several incredible graphic designers, art directors and writers.  I was impressed. And I’m not easily impressed.

But I think the thing I liked the most was the hunger that everyone displayed. The faculty wanted to know my thoughts on how to make things better. Career Services wanted to know how to best prepared their students for the real world. And the students wanted to find a way to intern, get a job, keep in contact and get better in their craft before they had to leave for the real world.

Temple University students are hungry. To improve. To prove they’re just as good as the “advertising school” grad students. To make a difference.  I’ve always been proud to say that I’m a graduate from Temple University. Last Thursday only made me more proud.

Well done Owls.



The Best and Worst Advertising Schools in America

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I’ve been touring the country for the past few weeks meeting advertising students.  I’ve met plenty of nervous graduating seniors who are worried if they have the right stuff to make it in our industry. I’ve met faculty and deans who want to know how their programs stack up against other institutions. And I’ve got to see the good, the bad and the ugly of these colleges and universities. And while my tour is not completed — I felt the need to give you my (incomplete) ranking of the schools I’ve meet.

  1. SCAD – Savannah College of Art & Design – Your students were amazing. Very organized. Great questions from the faculty and students. Cool location and great housing at Magnolia Hall (even though I had to jump the fence to get in). Your students had (by far) the best portfolios and were the best prepared for the real world.  Grade A-
  2. University of Texas at Austin – Go Longhorns. You get high grades for the facilities, the faculty involvement, having me meet the Dean and for organizing the students to meet.  Many students had really good portfolios. If I was born in Texas – I would want to go to UT/Austin. If only to wear a “Keep It Weird” T-shirt. Grade B+
  3. University of Georgia — Go Dawgs.  I’ve now met your students several times over the past two years.  They get high scores for being really nice and very driven.  You have an amazing campus. You bring your students to the Cannes advertising festival. But while you have some stars – the quality of the student portfolios is not as good as other schools. (It hurts me to write that — because I like your students so much — they’re so NICE.)  One overarching comment I get from your students is they wish they were pushed harder.  Grade B-
  4. VCU –  I’d like to thank Ariana and Connor for coming to our meeting prepared. I would also like to thank Mike from the Ad Club for arranging a meeting with some students. Even the student who fell asleep during lunch. I think he was they guy who wants to create the next Uber. You better create your own company – because you’d be fired from mine. I left VCU saying I’d never come back. But I feel that’s wrong. Because clearly Ariana, Connor and Mike really care. And really need help.  Grade D
  5. FIT – Fashion Institute of Technology – Yes, I know this is not a fair assessment – in full transparency I teach a class in the Spring at FIT. But that also means I have a very good idea where they stack up on this list. I also have hired plenty of FIT students and have hosted countless FIT interns. The school does a pretty good job preparing students for the real world. Being in NYC helps. Grade B
  6. Syracuse University – Go Orange. Incredible faculty. Incredible facilities. Passionate students. My only issue with Syracuse is the separation of Art and Copy Students in different schools. Many students I meet would benefit from working with either an Art or Copy partner. Figure out a way to get them together more often. But overall – they do a great job. Grade B+

My New Favorite Advertising Idea

You have to watch this video. You have to share this with everyone you know. You have to help Mollie’s Fund change behavior around the world.  The first time I watched this video my heart skipped a beat. Granted, I knew the punchline. I heard about this idea months ago in an office when the creative team was pitching the idea.  I loved it then. I loved it even more after the production.

Now it’s your turn.  Share it. View it. Spread the word.  If we can save one person, we did our job.  If we can save thousands, it would be a miracle.  If we can save hundreds of thousands, then our work would be done.

Thank you all in advance.