2017 – The Year in (the Agency) Review

AgencyYearInReview.2017

Man, time flies when you’re having fun. Or whatever 2017 was.

Or said another way, welcome to the sixth edition of The Year in (the Agency) Review.

First, as always, thank you for reading. Either regularly or periodically. And for subscribing. We appreciate it. Really. Especially since this year we really didn’t provide very much new content for you. And for that we sincerely apologize. What happened? Probably the presentations we did last year on what we’ve learned from all these books – and what companies, agencies and institutions can learn too – took up a bit more time than we expected. But we wouldn’t have missed those events for anything – and thanks for everyone who asked us to talk.

But 2017 – what a year. In spite of our dearth of new content, we racked up the second most views we’ve ever had in one year and had the most visitors ever. Was this due to our endorsement as one of the top 30 people in advertising to follow on twitter? Probably. So thanks again to Business Insider for including us in that.

As it has in the past, the post that got the most views this year was our review of Luke Sullivan’s perennial favorite Hey Whipple Squeeze This. But close behind was our review of Adam Morgan and Mark Barden’s A Beautiful Constraint, proving perhaps that thinking is still something people are interested in. Which is a good sign.

Now, we know that last year at this time, we indicated that we hoped to interview Rick Webb (who’s terrific Agency, was our fourth most viewed review this year) and that’s still on our radar. The fact that it didn’t happen in 2017 is all the fault of ourselves, and not stars like Mr. Webb. But there’s always 2018.

And speaking of 2018, what does it hold? Well of course there’s no way of knowing. As the Ploughman Poet said, “The best laid plans of mice and men…” But we do hope to have a few things lined up for your enjoyment in the coming year. Interviews. Reviews. Backstories. And perhaps a few surprises.

But enough of all that. The Year in (The Agency) Review is more than just a mea culpa for the past year’s sins. It’s where we ask a bunch of smart people – from legendary creative directors to hot podcasters and beyond – three simple questions:

What was the book you loved this year?

What is the book you’re looking forward to reading next year?, and

What is the book you wish someone would write because you would read it in a heartbeat?

And as in past years we’ve gotten quite an interesting mix of responses, many of which will no doubt make their way into the stacks of books by our desk and eventually into the Review itself. “Eventually” being the key word.

In the meantime, thanks again to everyone for their support – from readers and subscribers to authors to publicists and publishers to marketers of every stripe. We are consistently amazed at your support, advice and encouragement.

Best wishes to you all for a tremendous 2018.

***

Tom Christmann –Tom has worked on brands big and small at some of the hottest agencies in the world. He began his career at Ogilvy & Mather Direct, then went on to JWT, Cliff Freeman & Partners, Taxi, BBDO, TBWA\Chiat\Day and Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners and was the freelance Creative Director behind Anomaly’s Emmy-nominated Super Bowl spot for Budweiser (in which a returning vet was surprised with a ticker-tape parade). Currently he is Chief Creative Officer at DiMassimo Goldstein (DIGO), where he has helped forge the new behavior-change mission of the agency: Inspiring Action. A winner of Lions, Pencils, Andys, Addys, Effies, and Clios, Tom also hosts The A-List Podcast where he interviews some of the people he’s met along the way and captures their origin stories for future generations of adpeeps.

What did you read this year that you loved?

Two books by the same author that BLEW MY MIND. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Professor Yuval Noah Harari. Professor Harari is really good at explaining why humans are the way they are in the first book. In the second he lays out where we’re going. As we stand at the precipice of revolutions in behavior-change, marketing and technology, these two books are essential reading for any human. (Disclaimer: I listened to the Audible Versions because ain’t nobody got time for that!)

What do you hope to read next year?

Everything? Can that be an answer? After reading Professor Harari’s books, I feel like there’s probably going to be some way to just mainline all the books in one stream-of-consciousness burst that connects all human synapses together in one great hive mind of learning. But if that doesn’t happen, I’m open to suggestions. I’d also like to go back and re-read Ready Player One in advance of the movie.

What do you wish someone would write because you’d read it in a second?

Articles of Impeachment for Donald J. Trump. America will survive these days. I’m sure of it!

Laura Correnti and Alexa Christon – Laura and Alexa are the co-hosts and driving forces behind Panoply’s marketing and advertising podcast Adlandia, which appears bi-weekly and focuses on the signals in the noise of the advertising/marketing industry. On Adlandia they’ve interviewed everyone from Mika Brzezinski to Piers Fawkes to Meredith Kopit Levien and beyond, which is probably why it was dubbed New + Noteworthy by Apple Podcasts and has ranked among Top 20 Business Podcasts.

Laura Correnti is EVP Managing Director, Media, at full-service marketing agency, Giant Spoon, responsible for leading media strategy and buying with an expertise in content-driven partnership, creating connections for such clients as GE, MassMutual, Pinterest, Cole Haan, littleBits, Synchrony Financial and more. She’s been recognized as an inaugural SheRunsIt NextGen honoree and has won Cannes Lions, AdWeek Media Plan of the Year, Clios, MediaPost’s Creative Media Award and a Webby. She has a Masters in Advertising from The University of Texas at Austin and holds a BA from American University in Washington, DC

What did you read this year that you loved?

Shoedog was my favorite read of the year – may be late to this party, but a book I will definitely be reading again and again. Inspiring, engaging, human. Felt like I got inside the mind and experience of going from start-up to global phenomenon. Must read for anyone looking for a sign to act on your dreams, or the affirmation of where there’s a will, there’s a way – this is it.

What do you hope to read next year?

Beth Comstock’s Imagine It Forward – comes out in Fall 2018. As someone who has had the privilege of working alongside Beth on the GE business creating and innovating in a marketing capacity, I am excited to get to read her story first hand. In the current cultural climate where women are busting the door open for equal footing in the workplace, it’s exciting to get the opportunity to go on that journey with her, learn from her trials and tribulations and take away a few best practices I can apply to my own career.

What do you wish someone would write because you’d read it in a second?

I’d love a book of essays about the first-hand experiences of modern or even unlikely visionaries who fought against the tide, saw white space opportunities to disrupt industries and went for it (everyone from Elon Musk to Emily Weiss) – part instructional manual, part lessons learned, part guts to go for it.

Alexa Christon has worked across tech, communications, and CPG with brands such as Pepsi, Yahoo! Time Warner Cable and GE. Most recently she led Media Innovations for GE, creating innovative partnerships and original content like the NYT x GE virtual reality partnership, Fallonventions with The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon or GE Podcast Theater, an original fictional podcast series that changed the trajectory of how brands develop content in the audio space. Alexa recently set out on her own, building a consultancy to help brands and agencies find new ways of positioning their unique value to reach consumers across new media opportunities. The things she is currently obsessed with are: how voice interaction will change how and where brands connect with consumers; tech companies as the new entertainment platforms; new IP creation from unusual collaborations; the meteoric rise of DTC brands; and cold brewed coffee.

What did you read this year that you loved?

I’m a little bit of a non-fiction and self-help geek and admittedly this year I spent less time reading and more time listening to podcasts and audio books. That said, one of the books I read this year that I found most valuable was: The Four Agreements. It’s a little mystical and spiritual, but the core of the book (the four agreements) are simple, smart and about the power of language, intention and action.

What do you hope to read next year?

I’m looking forward to reading Beth Comstock’s book as well – she’s been an inspirational leader that I’ve had the opportunity to work with and her insights on how to boldly move forward in life and work will be invaluable.

Also, I’ve had on my shelf for a while and dying to read – The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Network. It’s a bit “sci-real”, part science-fiction, but complete reality in understanding how humans are enmeshed with the digital world we’ve created and how we need to think about opportunities and living in compatibility with machines.

What do you wish someone would write because you’d read it in a second?

I think we all see a commercial, a movie, artwork and think about how the idea came to life. How were the decisions made that lead to this specific output…I ask myself those questions all the time. So I’d love for someone to do a court-reporter style book documenting decisions big and small companies make and track them through to execution and output.  There seems to be a lot to learn in the journey versus the finished product.

Alex Josephson – Alex oversees Twitter‘s Global Brand Strategy team – a cross-functional group focused on helping marketers drive outsized attention and impact on Twitter, by way of creative solutions and custom experiences. Alex joined Twitter in November 2012 after leading Integrated Marketing and Brand Partnerships for the digital music platform VEVO. Prior to VEVO, Alex worked in Viacom/MTV‘s Integrated Marketing division, creating and producing 360-marketing programs for Fortune 100 advertisers. A graduate of Ithaca College, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Cinema Production and minored in Political Science, Alex is based in Twitter’s New York office where he manages Twitter’s Global Brand Strategy team across the US, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Middle East, and Asian Pacific markets.

What did you read this year that you loved?

With two toddlers and loads of international travel in 2017, I didn’t get to as much recreational reading as I would have liked to, however I spent a ton of time consuming Disney’s 5-Minute Star Wars Stories with my kids. This book is a compilation of mini-narratives that tell singular Star Wars scenes and storylines – a few pages at a time. While perfect for bedtime reading with the kiddos, many of the stories actually carry fairly significant themes and morals – from trust and friendship, to doing the right thing, to good vs. evil in general. The latter of which, given the happenings of 2017, is especially relevant today.

What do you hope to read next year?

Something that has been on my list for a while is Creativity Inc., written by Pixar co-founder and President, Ed Catmull (obviously there’s a reoccurring Disney theme in my reading selections). In Creativity, Inc., Catmull chronicles the construction of the Pixar phenomenon, from the ground-up, and prescribes what it takes to cultivate an environment of creativity within a business setting. This is particularly applicable to the team I lead at Twitter – where we are constantly pushing the creative boundaries of what’s possible on Twitter to help advertisers achieve marketing objectives and solve business problems.

What do you wish someone would write because you’d read it in a second?

I really wish someone would publish a book on the downstream, macro effects of “ad fraud” on the economy. Meaning, while we can all agree (hopefully) that it’s unjust to charge major corporations to put their ads in front of bots and click-farms, and while we intuitively know this is bad for their businesses and for our industry, I’m waiting for someone to spell out what it means on a macro-economic level for Fortune 1,000 corporations to be pouring millions and millions of dollars into advertising efforts that don’t actually reach human consumers. If this happens repeatedly over sustained amounts of time, what are the irreparable consequences we face as a macro economy, and moreover as a society?

Rachel Mercer – Rachel, SVP, Head of Digital Strategy and Invention at Deutsch New York, is a full stack strategist who strives to change the way that individuals observe and interact with brands. She worked under Bud Caddell to develop the Invention and Digital Strategy disciplines at Deutsch LA, designed and developed products at companies such as Crispin Porter+Bogusky and Mobelux and has consulted on brands including Coca-Cola, Target, Volkswagen, Expedia, Esurance and Nintendo. A graduate of Northeastern University, Rachel was named one of Business Insider’s 30 Most Creative Under 30 and has seen her work featured in The New York Times, Wired, Fast Company, Creativity Magazine, Digiday, Ad Age and others. And if you like her reading thoughts here, you should check out what she has to say on Medium too.

What did you read this year that you loved?

I’m an incredibly mercurial reader; persistently driven by what I’m in the mood to read and (like most people) tending to prefer the junk food over the healthy stuff. Here’s the breadth of my favorites which were mixed into the diet, each depending what you’re looking for:

For learning and referencing:
The Field Study Handbook is a must read for anyone who practices research to inform product, brand, strategy, policy, or communications. I have followed Jan Chipchase since his Nokia days, and as a very firm believer and active practitioner of design research, I believe one of the biggest mistakes that our industry makes is in its reliance on data and desktops; both shackle you to a reality and a story that is devoid of people — and people are who we are ultimately designing for. This 500+ page beautifully designed tome is part textbook, part handbook, and provides a very clear set of guidelines to follow.

For kickstarting some deep thinking:
Touch caught my eye because it was written by a former brand strategist. I loved this book for a multitude of reasons: we rarely get to read about a role close to ourselves (Sloane, the main character, is a highly paid trend forecaster), the closeness of it (in that 15-minutes-into-the-future vibe), and the fact that it is so on trend (this book was talking about device rejection months before Chamath Palihapitiya‘s comments came to light).

For escape:
The Cormoran Strike Series by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K Rowling) was my first entree into the genre of mystery (it had never much appealed to me). This series has me fully converted; it’s modern, urban, with deeply human characters that come to life off of the page. Each mystery is deftly crafted, and it was such an excellent and engrossing vacation read.

What do you hope to read next year?

My two big goals for this year are to read more essays (my favorite that I started this year off with was Here is New York by E.B White) because many business books, theories, and notions can typically be explored in condensed form. I’m also interested in reading Masters of the Word, which covers the history of media. In an increasingly media driven world, understanding how we got here is critical (and can hopefully provide me the tools to effectively move into combat).

What do you wish someone would write because you’d read it in a second?

A friend and I were chatting recently about the dearth of academic and rigorous studies around persuasion and efficacy in our industry; Mark Ritson and Byron Sharp are great, but given the size, scope, and impact of our industry we’d think that there would be more. Rick Webb seems to be working on this book; his essay for NewCo earlier this year Which Half is Wasted is the first deep dive and set of treatises I’ve seen from someone with an economist’s perspective. If that comes out, I’m all over it.

Julien Rath – Julien is a journalist turned strategy consultant who currently works for Deloitte Digital in their Paris, France office. Natively trilingual in French, German and English (thanks to a French mom, a German dad a childhood spent in the US), Julien previously worked for the ad agency Havas, and for Business Insider where he specialised in covering how advertising and consulting were converging.

What did you read this year that you loved?

Like every year there’s always too much to read and not enough time to get through everything. A couple standouts from this year were:

Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson
Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a common moniker in advertising. It turns out the strategy of culture isn’t that hard to achieve. Thompson shows us how modern culture is mass produced the same way shampoo is. There’s nothing really astonishing in the book but it’s the first time someone has taken a strong look at how modern entertainment is made and turned into hits. It’s a quick and easy read, perfect for the holidays.

The Digital Matrix: New Rules for Business Transformation Through Technology  by Venkat Venkatraman
This is a must for anyone working in advertising. The industry tends to get over excited with being creative and says that’s how it provides value. This year consulting companies started making inroads into agency territory and showed why creativity itself isn’t a difference maker. With the Digital Matrix it’s possible to see how all the different elements of a business are affected by technology and how they will evolve. And yes, that means advertising and our concept of creativity also has to evolve.

Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations by Thomas Friedman
This was one of my favorites of the year. We get caught up so much by social media and everything else technology provides us with and we forget how important it is to actually live. Once you’ve read thank you for being late, there will always be a little voice in your head reminding you to put down your phone and enjoy the company of the person in front of you.

What do you hope to read next year?

I love it when books that go against the conventional wisdom are written. I’d like to see more of literature taking on its role of actually educating us rather than just seeing just more of what we already know. This is why Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late was so impactful.

What do you wish someone would write because you’d read it in a second?

Most books tend to focus on the more important figures in business but I would love to see something written about the “little guys” behind the scenes who allow these CEOs to get their jobs done and big companies to function at a high level. Similarly, too little is written about ‘out-there’ theories of why so many industries are changing. Even in business books it’s good to put something out, no matter if it ends up being entirely wrong. 

God-Is Rivera – God-is is Director, Inclusion & Cultural Resonance at VML, which she originally joined in 2016 as Associate Social Strategy Director following stints at global agency iCrossing and Austin-based T3. Originally from the Bronx, God-is is passionate about highlighting the need for diversity within the industry. After helping establish VML’s expanding diversity efforts, she was named Director, Inclusion & Cultural Resonance and has been profiled in numerous advertising trade publications including Adweek, The Drum, and eMarketer.

What did you read this year that you loved?

This year I read “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation” by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, and it was an incredibly fascinating, vital, and powerful look into the ongoing struggle for true liberation and equality of Black Americans during a pivotal time in America; where we are seeing an inevitable reckoning with our sordid past. Her honest and insightful analysis included the importance of classism, understanding systems and institutions of oppression, as well as a vision on how to forge a path forward towards change.

What do you hope to read next year?

I have such limited free time I always have so many books in my Kindle waiting on me to get to them. I like to read books that expand my mind, ground me in my culture and history, but also help me learn about different perspectives and experiences. On my 2018 list is Hunger by Roxane Gay, They Can’t Kill Us All by Wesley Lowery, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Electric Arches by Eve Ewing 

What do you wish someone would write because you’d read it in a second?

I would love to read an in-depth analysis regarding the connection between different cultures and social media, and how different groups have found community, comradery, or even division with the rise of social media. This is also my passion, so who knows, perhaps I could be the author! …. Stay tuned. :- )

Rob Schwartz – Rob has been described as that rare creative person who is curious about all aspects of a business and finds ways to create breakthrough ideas that get results and build brand value. He has spearheaded work for blue-chip brands, including Nissan, McDonald’s, PepsiCo and Visa and won nearly every advertising award there is, including Grand Effies, Cannes Lions and One Show Pencils. In 2005, Rob was recognized as thinkLA’s “Leader of the Year,” and in 2010 as one of Adweek’s “25 Voices to Follow in Social Media”. A regular contributor to Forbes, Rob is currently Chief Executive Officer of TBWA\CHIAT\DAY New York, and host of the Disruptor Series Podcast, which you can listen to here. 

What did you read this year that you loved?

Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular by Derek Thompson. I’m obsessed with getting fame for my clients and this book had some powerful theories on the subject.

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance. This is a powerful rags to riches tale of an Appalachian bumpkin who makes his way to Yale Law School. Along the way the reader takes a fascinating journey into the heart of white trash America to see up-close the craziness that has buoyed the current administration.

Madison Avenue Manslaughter by Michael Farmer. This is a must-read for anyone in the ad business. The book provides an incredible history-lesson in how things got so messed up for us Madmen and Women here in the 21st century.

What do you hope to read next year?

Grant by Ron Chernow. I’m 100 pages in and it’s riveting the way Chernow’s book Hamilton was riveting. I also think that knowing what I know about the General and two-term President’s story, it would make a helluva musical! Are you listening, Lin-Manuel?

Principles by Ray Dalio. If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that when a billionaire speaks, it pays to listen. I’m very curious about the logic behind the magic of his firm, Bridgewater Associates.

Digital Darwinism by Tom Goodwin. Tom Goodwin is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in the advertising business. He’s living about 5 years ahead of all of us, so he has a perspective on what’s going on today — all served up with a sardonic wit in his daily, voluminous Twitter rants. It will be nice to see him branch out beyond 140 and 280 characters.

What do you wish someone would write because you’d read it in a second?

A fresh take on our 12th President, Zachary Taylor. I sense some foul-play in his presidency since he only served a little over a year and then died of a mysterious stomach ailment. Maybe the brilliant Caleb Carr, author of the wonderful The Alienist, has something up his sleeve.

Martin Weigel – Martin is Head of Planning for Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam.  He writes the influential Canalside View blog. He doesn’t really do bios. Mostly because he finds writing about himself in the third person really weird.

What did you read this year that you loved?

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

A novel of love and survival amidst the carnage and horror of first America’s Indian Wars and then Civil War. Brutal and beautiful.

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Traces the ebbs, flows, patterns and seasons of community, ordinary life, and a landscape still echoing with an unsolved mystery. McGregor finds the magical in the quotidian.

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

Captures in a single sentence a man’s life. It delivers an electric shock of revelation like nothing else I read this year.

Quite aside from the sublime quality of the writing, what makes these works so unforgettable is the evident and fierce love their authors have for their characters. These novels are radical, beautiful acts of sustained empathy. We need more of that in the world. In ourselves.

What do you hope to read next year?

I hope to simply read more. Because I increasingly believe that reading fiction is a necessary, vital act of resistance. A means of surviving an increasingly fraudulent world.  Of seeing clearly. Of seeing better. Of expanding the bounds of empathy and what we care about. For the lies that great fiction invents and weaves reveal so much urgent, necessary truth. About who we are – and how we might be. We are struggling to stay afloat in a sea of false and corrupting narratives. I can’t help but think that the art of fiction really is the only compass.

What do you wish someone would write because you’d read it in a second?

Nothing. Art should surprise us, not pander to what we think we want. Though I do still wish William Gibson would return to form.

James WhatleyJames is a Planning Partner at Ogilvy UK with ten years working in mobile and social media and multiple awards to his name.  A ‘T-shaped’ person, the top of his T covers broad brand strategy and the bottom of it dives deep into all aspects of digital and social media across multiple platforms and technologies. His main clients are LEVEL (a new long-haul budget airline from IAG), British Gas, and Nestle. He also finds time to write the annual Ogilvy trend report as well as occasionally launch new pieces of IP (most recently: a bot-building practice within Ogilvy).

In his spare time, James enjoys making cardboard spaceships with his kids, flying digital spaceships on his PS4, and dreaming about spaceships while finding time to sleep. You can find him on Twitter @whatleydude or, if you’re really addicted, sign up to his newsletter ‘Five things on Friday‘.

What did you read this year that you loved?

The best thing I read last year was A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I wrote a list on Google Keep at the start of the year called ‘YOU DON’T READ BOOKS ANYMORE’, and that A Thousand Splendid Suns was the first book on the list. Honestly, my commute to work was transformed. Khaled Hosseini’s writing is magical and not since reading Haldeman’s Forever War have I found myself so openly weeping on public transport. Jeez. What a book. Read it.

What do you hope to read next year?

The next book I’m looking forward to reading is Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s on my bedside cabinet and I’m yet to properly crack it open (something to do with accidentally buying a Nintendo Switch just before Christmas has prevented my reading on the train from taking place). 2018 resolution: more discipline when it comes to ACTUAL BOOKS.

What do you wish someone would write because you’d read it in a second?

It’s called ‘And that’s OK’ – it’s a book about how sometimes, most of the time, things being the way are, you feeling the way you do, someone you love feeling the way they do – that’s ok. If someone is yelling about this, or being angry about that – let them. They’re allowed to feel that way and hey, you’re allowed to feel the way you do too. Next time you talk about your own feelings, or someone else’s, add those three words to the end of the sentence. You’ll be amazed the good that it does. A book to teach the world how to do that? I’d buy ten copies.  

Kelsey Wilkins – Kelsey is Senior Writer at Swift Agency in Portland, Oregon, and was recently named to Business Insider’s 30 under 30 creatives. A graduate of the University of Oregon, Kelsey began her career as a social media intern at Intel where she wrote blogs and handled community response, then worked on Nike Running, and currently writes on Adidas where her Adidas Football piece “looked to dispel preconceived notions of what women’s sportswear should look like.” Beyond advertising, she has started a project called Gnarly Girls to create a community for female skiers, snowboarders, skateboarders, and surfers.

What did you read this year that you loved?

I know it’s an older book, but with the new Hulu series starting, I read The Handmaid’s Tale for the first time. Margaret Atwood has such a talent for writing and crafts each word so beautifully, even when the subject matter is incredibly dark. In a year where feminism feels more important than ever, I’m glad I picked up this book.

What do you hope to read next year?

Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives by Adam J. Kurtz. It can be easy to feel burnt out in the advertising industry, especially for creatives. I’m hoping this will be a good book to help me feel inspired when I feel like my ideas have dried up and I need a little spark of imagination.

What do you wish someone would write because you’d read it in a second?

Is it too much to ask for another Harry Potter book? Probably. I just can’t get enough of that wizarding world. No one can write quite like J.K. Rowling.

 

Header illustration by the exceptionally artful Jason Roeder. See more of his fine work here.

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