Before entering the world of liberal do-gooders, Rich Lalley spent twenty plus years in the ad and brand game. His trip through the alphabet soup of agencies began with BBDO (where he and a few others got fired by Lee Iacocca), then moved to TLK to work on P&G, followed by DMM, who turned into DMB&B, so he could work on AB. After a short stint at MARC USA, Rich left the agency side to become a client, first with Miller Brewing (owned by PM– can’t get away from alphabet), then at Discover Card. After leaving Discover, Rich found a whole world of interesting non-marketing and ad types while running a home furnishings and interior design studio with his wife, then through his pro-bono work with Rotary Clubs, and finally at Operation Warm, where as Executive Director, every year he helps bring happiness and warmth to 300,000+ needy kids across the U.S. with the gift of a brand new winter coat. You can reach him here.
My favorite ad book of all time is Where the Suckers Moon: The Life and Death of an Advertising Campaign. Rothenberg, a gifted writer and former NY Times advertising columnist, chronicles the ill-fated marriage of an ad agency and creatives who hate their client and their client’s product, all while the client presumed they were buying genius creative that would cure all of their business ills (including a lousy product). Throw in a Japanese owner, and the mix gets even more toxic.
This book struck a nerve with me, as I saw the same dynamic twice in my career, with beer and credit card brands. Creative teams who took their disdain for the product and made it the focus of their creative. No wonder sales tanked afterwards, even as the “sucker” clients basked in their creative awards. All in all, not an aspect of the ad business that I miss.
My favorite business book is Dethroning the King: The Hostile Takeover of Anheuser-Busch, an American Icon, another book where a great business writer is given unbelievable access to both sides of a complicated business deal. Like in Suckers, former Financial Times reporter Julie Macintosh was given incredible access to business meetings and executives on all sides of an emotional roller-coaster ride of a business deal involving a Belgium conglomerate and strong family dynasties from Brazil, Mexico and of course St. Louis MO. To this mix, add investment bankers that remind me of advertising types with their egos and flash covering little of substance, and you have a suspense novel of a real life story. The fact that I had worked with many of the characters and intimately knew some of the stories only made the read more enjoyable.
I’ve long since left the ad game, and now work hard to raise money to bring happiness and warmth to disadvantaged kids through the gift of brand new winter coats. So much of my reading these days is focused on effective fundraising. My favorite tutor for this is Jeff Brooks who I had the privilege to hear speak at last year’s AFP NY Fundraising Day. Jeff publishes a daily blog called Future Fundraising Now. I look forward each day to learning or relearning another truth from his decades of successful direct mail work on behalf of charities. A quick sample:
I’m about to save you a lot of guesswork and time by sharing Brooks’ First Law of Fundraising Effectiveness:
If it doesn’t scare you, at least a little bit, the fundraising probably doesn’t have the power it needs to succeed.
And the Boss Corollary to Brooks’ First Law:
The more your boss hates the fundraising, the better it will do.
His insights come from years of testing and making lots of mistakes. And his insights for effective fundraising apply to the broader world of advertising. His reviews of Stupid Nonprofit Ads is especially enjoyable, and instructive. Here he takes on a Leo Burnett ad for Amnesty International, in what he characterizes as the Most Stupid Ad Concept, Bar None.
I think there is a common thread in all three items here. They all chronicle the ad industry’s tendency to let “creativity” run amok. Sure, it’s creativity that gives an idea sizzle and emotional appeal. But the core idea still needs to move the consumer to act on the advertiser’s behalf…to buy your product, shake hands at the bargaining table or send in money for a cause. But when pros forget that, or pay it no mind in pursuit of their art, it sure can make good fodder for authors.