2014 – The Year in (The Agency) Review

AgencyYearInReview_0002_v3Okay, that was fun.

First, thank you for reading, commenting, spreading the word, and generally making The Agency Review a success. We hope you’re enjoying it as much as we are. More even.

Second, we’re sure you’re wondering where all the content went. Yeah, so are we. First year, 50 reviews. Second year, fewer reviews, but hey!, a sweet dozen interviews! Third year – um, hello? Is this thing still on?

Yeah. About that. We apologize. A variety of factors combined to reduce our content to a trickle.

And yet you wonderful people kept reading anyway! Not only did we have more page views than our first year, our number of subscribers increased too, as those folks enjoyed exclusive first look at interviews with such fascinating authors as Joe Boyd, Lisa Cron, Grobe & Voltz, and Sir John Hegarty (all of these interviews are now available without subscription).

And they also saw what top marketers like Mini’s Lee Nadler, Burts Bees’ Tad Kittredge, McIntosh’s Ellis Reid and many others were reading in the monthly feature “Backstory” which we launched this year (those 2014 Backstory pieces are also now available without subscription).

And most unexpectedly of all, we were even invited to moderate a couple of panels on the future of advertising.

So 2014 wasn’t a complete loss, right?

In fact, according to the pile of experts we’ve brought together for our annual Year in (the Agency) Review, there were some pretty good things to read, and to hope to read in the coming year.

So, without further ado, the 2014 The Year in (the Agency) Review – in which we ask a variety of people we respect:

What book were you really glad you read in 2014?

What book do you hope to read in 2015?

And lastly, what book do you hope someone will write because you’d buy it in a heartbeat.

Thanks again for your support, and if you have any advice or suggestions, feel free to ping us at TheAgencyReview@gmail.com

See you in 2015…
*********

Rick Boyko – is currently a founding member of Sparkstarters, an executive training program that helps companies become more competitive by liberating hidden creativity. Before that, he was Director of and Professor at the VCU Brandcenter, and before that, he was Co-President and CCO North America at Ogilvy. In, 2012, he was inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Fame.

1) This is difficult because there were several but that said, the one I found the most fun and interesting was “Stoned” by Andrew Loog Oldham. Andrew discovered the Rolling Stones and became their manger at the ripe old age of 19. He persuaded Keith and Mick to begin writing their own songs and produced their first 10 albums. It is an extraordinary story of chutzpah, confidence, salesmanship and how to get the best out of a creative partnership. A book anyone in our business, especially account people, could benefit from reading.

2) I just bought and can’t wait to read Walter Isaacson’s new book “The Innovators”. His Einstein and Steve Jobs biographies are terrific. The Innovators promises to tell the story of the people, who along with Jobs, made the digital age possible and how innovation comes about from collaboration. Again, it surely will be a book anyone in our business could benefit from.

3) When I worked at Chiat/Day, Jay and Guy would not pitch an account. They believed that if a potential client could not judge the agency from the work it’s done for its actual clients, they would not be able to judge it from a brief “beauty contest”. They rightfully professed that pitching gave away the agency’s most valuable asset, their ideas, which devalued the agency, its talent and its work. This is a book that still needs to be written and yes… it would be one everyone in our business could benefit from.

Noah Brier: is co-founder of Percolate, a technology company focused on delivering the system of record for marketing

1) Zero to One by Peter Thiel.
It’s rare to find a whole book of ideas you feel like you haven’t encountered before and Zero to One (or, more precisely, the series of essays I read before I read the book) really felt that way. It’s about both how to build a business and how technology functions in the economy.

2) Most likely it’s the one I haven’t found out about yet. I’m in the process of re-reading Linked, which is an amazing book on networks, and also reading a new book by complexity economist (that’s a real thing) W. Brian Arthur called Complexity and the Economy. I also think it’s time to re-read Stephen Johnson’s Emergence, as I’ve been spending a lot more time thinking and reading about complex adaptive systems lately.

3) If I knew I might try to write it. I just got an early copy of my friend Faris Yakob’s book that will be coming out later this year called Paid Attention, which is a nice look at where the marketing industry has come from and where it’s going. This, like the last question, is incredibly hard for me because I’m mostly interested in the intersection of things. I have this quote on my blog that I use to explain why I talk about a lot of random stuff that I think also applies to books. It comes from the graphic designer Michael Bierut who was asked why he doesn’t write more about design on his design blog and he said, “But the great thing about graphic design is that it is almost always about something else. Corporate law. Professional football. Art. Politics. Robert Wilson. And if I can’t get excited about whatever that something else is, I really have trouble doing good work as a designer. To me, the conclusion is inescapable: the more things you’re interested in, the better your work will be.” I think that’s pretty true for marketing, technology, and just about every other discipline out there.

William Colgrove is Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Threespot, a Washington, DC-based digital agency hell-bent on using its powers for good. Sine 1999 he’s been leading a team designers, technologists, and strategists that are focused on design for organizations that are making a positive impact on the world.

Foreword:

So up until about a month ago my answer to this would have been “Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration” by Ed Catmull. Apart from vying for The Longest Tagline for a Business Book Ever; it’s a solid and inspirational read. However, the recent allegations of wage fixing has shaken my faith a little and I can’t help but look at the book and just feel… cynical. So here’s my non-cynical list:

1) I’m really glad I picked up Afterlife with Archie by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla. I’d heard the reviews and the raves, but still I resisted. How could it possibly be good? It’s an Archie comic for crying out loud! The art by Francavilla (on Twitter as @f_francavilla) is perfect for the tone of the book book (and TMM he channels Alex Toth in all the right ways). But it’s the writing that’s deftly done, this could have easily gone too far and been gory or went in the opposite direction and become campy. Bottom line is that this book shouldn’t exist; it was a creative risk on all parts. It makes me happy it was published and that it lived up to the hype.

2) I’m really looking forward to reading Armada by Ernest Cline. Ready Player One blew me away by being what could best be described as upbeat and fun which is really tough for dystopian science fiction to accomplish.

3) At this point, and this may be because it’s 36 degrees and rainy outside, I am looking for the perfect business book that’s also a great beach read. Something that melds great industry-related advice with page turning industry-related drama.

Tom Cunniff leads Cunniff Consulting, a B2B marketing consultancy specializing in technology. In his past lives, he has been a client-side marketer, Chairman of the Association of National Advertisers Digital Committee, founded/sold a successful digital agency, and wrote for the J. Peterman catalog in its Seinfeld-era heyday.

1) Best non-fiction book: The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

Machines that learn and self-optimize will drive enormous — and wrenching — changes in global society. This is all coming far faster than most people realize. The book avoids being dystopian or cheerleading; the authors do their best to take a practical look at the issues. Everyone in the marketing business ought to look hard at AI-driven companies like Rocket Fuel (they are a client of mine), Persado, Narrative Science, and of course IBM Watson. Google and Facebook are also investing quite heavily in AI.

Best fiction book: The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
Hilarious, moving, and historically interesting. As an author, James McBride reminds me of Mark Twain. That may sound like absurdly high praise to give any modern author, but read the book and you’ll see what I mean.

2) Photographer’s Guide to the Sony DSC-RX10 by Alexander S. White
I bought an RX-10 for a trip to Lisbon and was knocked out by it, despite mostly not knowing what the hell I was doing when fiddling with the manual controls. As an amateur photographer, I would like to go from “hilariously incompetent” in manual mode to “not entirely awful” in 2015.

3) The Moderate Revolution: How America Rebooted By Meeting in the Middle
This would be a book about how the Left and Right decided to abandon the extremes and work together on critical issues to find a way to make progress. In 2015 this would probably have to be a fiction book, but I’d love it if one day it was non-fiction.

Iñaki Escudero is a Spaniard, living in Brooklyn, who divides his time between his role as the Director of the Miami Ad School in NYC, his 3 daughters, 2 sons, and a wife, he claims he don’t deserve. Iñaki has been reading a book a week for 6 years and he tweets here.

1)  The Craftsman by Richard Sennett. A really smart book that explores in depth the concept of craftsmanship, and the relationship humans have with what we do, our craft! Doing something well for its own sake has been at the heart of the human condition for many years, and the book explores the ideal conditions and foundations of craftsmanship. I found it fascinating! As it sometimes happens, the book landed on my hands at the right time and it gained special meaning for me.

2) Martian Summer by Andrew Kessler. I’m a big fan of books that explore the process, how people got to insight and the journey to achieve what they did. Since this book explores also my second favorite topic – Space exploration – I’ll be reading it the first week of 2015!

3) I would love to read a book about creativity as understood by different cultures today. I enjoy books that takes us out of our comfort zone, and a book that expands our definition of creativity would be really fun and useful. I guess it would be a Geography of Bliss meets Creativity Inc.

Jim Harper is Partner and ECD at St. Louis’ Boxing Clever, who create impactful things for both their clients and themselves. In addition to making advertising for clients (who range from startups to Fortune 500s), they are also a publishing house (Tony Hale‘s Archibald’s Next Big Thing) and a music label (Boxing Clever Records).

1) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. May have read this late 2013, but I re-read it twice in 2014. As someone who lives marketing through the use of pop culture, this book is way up my idiomatic alley. The author takes a stab at a “way too possible” future, in which the separation of the upper and the lower classes is formidable, and in which most people communicate via a virtual world called “Oasis” – basically an RPG filled with everything cool I liked when I was growing up, from Ultraman to Oingo Boingo. I had trouble putting this book down, and still go back to it.

2) Happywork by Chris Reimer. Chris is a friend and a very smart person, and he’s releasing his first book next year. I was lucky enough to see early drafts and holding the finished piece in my hands will be as much fun for me as it will be for him. It takes as it’s premise the idea that we live in a world in which most business owners are just too selfish or ego-driven to create a workplace that is actually tolerable for people to go every day. Life would be so much better for all of us if people actually liked getting up in the morning. So Happywork is about a fictitious company where everything that is wrong with businesses and the people in them all exists in one place. By evaluating this company, one can realize the importance of how it can be better, and, frankly, why the Danish are so darn happy.

3) Every terrible thing you’re ranting about that’s awful can be solved if you cared about our schools/educational system and not yourself you miserable piece of sh*t! Seriously, my only hope next year is that we have 1/9th of the people in the world caring as much about bettering the intellect of our country instead of the INSANE things they’re ranting about that don’t matter or could be fixed by smarter people. And not to focus on politicians, but do they not make Law degree students take general studies? Like Biology 101? Just wondering.

Barbara Lippert writes Mad Blog for Mediapost.com, and is a media commentator and critic.

1) In 2014, I was really glad I read Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast’s graphic memoir about her parents’ death.

I know—dying is rarely hilarious. But while navigating the inevitable, Chast faces what we’ll all have to confront in some form, but through the magic of her cartoonist’s eye, makes it way funnier and smarter.

Mostly, though, the book is raw, poignant, and unflinchingly honest. She cops to being angry, guilty, and overwhelmed, and entering an “unknown country.” To cope with the “body stuff” and paper work, all of which she hated doing, she drew and made cartoons along the way.

An only child, Chast was raised in Brooklyn by quirky characters (perfect for her signature, childlike line drawings) who age-wise were more like her grandparents. Her mother, Elizabeth, was an assistant principal and something of a bully (she loved issuing “Blasts from Chast.”) And her father George, a Spanish and French teacher, was loving but insanely anxious. All of these details are unique, but her inside take ultimately rises to the universal, and sometimes the ridiculous.

She writes, and cartoons, not only about her parents’ physical and intellectual decline and inability to live on their own, but the nitty gritty of going through a lifetime of junk in their apartment, (think ancient tubs of Vaseline and a “Museum of Old Schick Shavers”) and the non-joy of navigating the health system.

At first, when her parents were in “The Place” (assisted living) together, it wasn’t so bad. Still, a typical conversation with her mother went like this: “Your father had an egg in his pocket all day yesterday. Thank God, it turned out to be hard boiled.”

The subject is hard boiled, yes. But Chast covers it with cartoon panels, photographs, full page comics, (like “The Wheel of Doom” or things her father worried about) pages of hand lettered print, and even fake ads, like the one for Do Not Resuscitate merchandise (“Don’t stop at a plastic wristband! Why not invest in a DNR baseball cap?”)

In the end, the book takes death, and the graphic memoir, to new heights.

Or is that depths?

Decrepitude—an issue facing the nation. Thanks for the eggs, Roz Chast.

2) Keeping up with this downer theme, (I’m so much fun, aren’t I?) in 2015, I hope to read Little Failure, by Gary Shteyngart, a comic writer (Absurdistan, Super Sad Super True Love Story) who immigrated to the U.S. from Leningrad in the 1980s when he was a kid. And that transformation informs every word of his.

The title is taken from the nickname his mother so kindly bestowed on him. Apparently, life really changed for the better, when Igor, (now Gary) got to Queens, New York, and had access to an inhaler. (His father called him “Snotty”.) I’ll keep you posted.

3) Speaking of parents and children and generational change, I’m thinking we need a book about Digital Immigrants, like myself, who are the parents of Digital Natives. I am immersed in the digital world, and have been for 25-plus years, but alas, I still talk with a funny accent and do embarrassing things around the holidays. Maybe I’ll even get to writing it. But in my dotage, I certainly don’t want my kid to have to clear out all my old files (and maybe even some old tubs of Vaseline) from my hard drive. How humiliating! It does, however, bring new meaning to the unlimited storage available in The Cloud.

Michael Palma is a headhunter, rainmaker and matchmaker for creative people, agencies and brands. He is based in Atlanta.

1) Every February, when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, I read the annual Bill James Handbook. Each edition is guaranteed to bring the fan to a better understanding of statistics and how they apply to winning baseball. I’m most interested in James’ player projections for the upcoming year. I’m glad and grateful for this winter ritual because I feel it prepares me well for my fantasy baseball season. I’ve been in a legacy league with a bunch of copywriters for almost 20 years. My team had a rare off year, but that was more because of Jean Segura than Bill James.

2) Well, besides the obvious 2015 Bill James Handbook in February, I’d like to read more Bob Rotella, the cultish sports psychologist based in Charlottesville. As golf season begins in April, I usually pick a Rotella book off the shelf and do his mind-control exercises. In 2015, right around Masters Weekend, I think I’ll revisit Play to Play Great.

3) I would be really excited if someone compiled a comprehensive and accurately translated edition of Fidel Castro’s “blog” Reflexxiones. The rebel is a creative writer with an astounding insight into the human condition. As the U.S. and Cuba seek to forge a new relationship, I’m very interested in learning more about Castro’s take on the world.

David Perez is the agency recruiter at Venables, overseeing talent for the entire VB&P organization. David started his career at Leo Burnett Worldwide curating creative talent for Chicago, NYC, and a handful of international offices. David was the center of the internet experiment, David On Demand, and the host of a short lived Twitter-fueled video series #askdavid. He is the father of two obese cats, and in his non advertising life is a writer, comic, and all around friend. Donald Trump blocked him on Twitter. You can creep on him here: cargocollective.com/mrperezident

1) Not a new book, but the best book I read this year was This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz. Diaz is deft at weaving together seemingly disparate stories. Its beautiful to watch these small swatches of memory accumulate into a cohesive chunk. But that’s not why I love it. I love this book because Diaz teaches all of us with creative souls that you have to be the writer you are and speak in your own distinct, idiosyncratic, and sometimes imperfect voice. In an industry where we have to try on a bunch of value systems, and voices for brands that are incongruous to us, he is a good reminder of how we have to flex our personal muscle.

2) The Corrections By Jonathan Franzen. I loved Freedom, and now have two copies of The Corrections and cant penetrate the first ten pages. I have watched MULTIPLE seasons of terrible shows, so clearly I have no excuse.

3) Very selfish, and maybe I should write this book instead, but I would love to read about creative people in advertising in non creative roles. The best agencies hire folks who have vibrant lives outside of the confines of there sometimes clerical jobs, and I am interested in the relationship between commerce and creativity. Does getting paid to make work change the work?

Mary Perhach is President and co-founder of Swellshark. Before that, she served as Chief Communications Officer for McCann Worldgroup where she led a team of communications professionals across 6 continents.  Prior to McCann, Mary was with Euro RSCG, where she simultaneously held the position of Chief Communications Officer and Global Brand Director for Heineken, Heineken Light and Dos Equis. Her pro bono work includes efforts for Partnership for a Drug-Free America and Children’s Health Fund, and in 2004, she helped kick off the inaugural Advertising Week in New York City.

1) The book I’m glad I read in 2014 is George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger. After spending my career in the big agency world, I co-founded SwellShark in 2011.  This book is a great reminder that it doesn’t take the biggest team in the world to do amazing work.  A small team that is smart, clever, and committed can do great things.

2) The book I look forward to reading in 2015 – and a book I read every single year – is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  It is a masterclass in great writing.  Wonderful character development, unmatched storytelling, and a message of hope.

3) If someone finds a second novel by Harper Lee buried in an attic somewhere I would buy it in a heartbeat.  Beyond that, I hope someone writes a book to inspire account people.  So many of the marketing books out there focus on strategy and creative but great work needs a champion in account management who will fight for a great idea and help the clients feel confident approving it.  Too many account managers are confused about their role.  They either see themselves as a project manager making sure work gets done on time or as the clients eyes and ears inside the agency.  But a good account person creates an environment where strategy and creative feel supported and encouraged to push the boundaries, and where clients are excited to go outside their comfort zones to get to great work.

Eric Porres (@eporres) is a husband, dad, ninja, pianist, cyclist, oenophile, founder, CMO of @rocketfuelinc, creator of @classelist, & Duke grad.

1) The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. Why: The signs are all around us that we’re living during a time of profound exponential technological growth. Yet as a society we are not nearly as well prepared to deal with the economic and labor upheavals brought about by artificial intelligence and autonomous systems. This book is my favorite book of 2014 as it ponders the implications of work, progress and prosperity over the next ten years when carbon life forms live in parallel with silicon systems.

2) The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin; Why: The real story of the muckraking press.

3) Anything on punctuated equilibrium, meaning, the history of unexpected evolution (of ideas, inventions, innovation). I’m also really looking forward to reading whatever Joshua Foer writes next (author of Moonwalking with Einstein).

Jigar Shah is President and Co-founder of Generate Capital and the author of Creating Climate Wealth

1) Resource Revolution (Stefan Heck and Matt Rogers), because it opened my eyes to something right in front of us – optimizing resourced.  As an avid follower of Adam Smith and capitalism it was interesting to see how they tucked this movement neatly into existing orthodoxy and proved that this was the next step in the process.

2) This Changes Everything (Naomi Klein) – the climate change movement is really focused on “equality”, Naomi lays out the case that in fact the inequality we seek to solve comes from fundamental flaws in capitalism.  Unless this is solved, it will be difficult to really solve climate change and many other problems.

3) My sense is that waste-to-energy has always been a fascination for people, but that fundamentally it feels too hard to actually ever do successfully at scale.  There are exceptions to this rule, but it would be nice to see someone lay out exactly how waste-to-value will really work – given that Waste Management has recently said that all of their investments in this area have been a flop.

Noelle Weaver is currently the Managing Partner of Contagious‘ New York office working with brand and agency clients to help them understand and be prepared for, shifts in the marketing and business landscape via published intelligence and consulting services.  Previously she survived over 12 years in the world of agency business development, underfunded start-ups and researching teens.

1) I found myself stepping away from links my friends were posting on social media this year to get away from the prevalent ‘group think’ that is happening there. I think it’s increasingly important for people who are creators to step outside of their comfort zones and digest all opinions and viewpoints across arts, politics, religion, etc.- – even the ones they disagree with – – in order to better understand the wide variety of people you’re talking to. For this reason I tend to read lots of short-form essays and it’s one of the reasons, year after year I return to the “Best of” series of books including Best American Essays, Best American Magazine Writing and because I’m an admitted foodie, Best American Food Writing. These books are a great way to get the pulse of what social, cultural, and political issues shaped America this year in 500 pages or less…

2) My friend Faris Yakob is releasing a book in 2015 called Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World that I’m looking forward to reading. Faris is one of our industry’s great thinkers and this book will take a look at how technology and social media have affected what people demand, and expect, from brands today by looking through the lens of philosophy, psychology, behavioral economics and social behaviors at how ideas move people and how advertising can and should change in response to changes in the communication landscape. We seem to be in an important time in Advertising where we’ve been borrowing from culture the past four to five years and there’s a yearning from people entering the industry to stop borrowing from culture… but rather, start creating culture again (same as Hollywood and the recording industry)…I hope this book will give people a glimpse of how they might return to that.

3) It’s kind of been written. I’ve been referring a lot to a book written back in 2004 by Max Barry called Jennifer Government in which government has been privatized and American corporations rule the world. The main character’s name is Officer Hack Nike. With increasing transparency we are seeing more and more brands get involved in government and civic initiatives not to mention continuing to push CSR campaigns into the spotlight – – I keep saying that it’s time for someone to do an updated version of Jennifer Government where the conservative CEO led government (say, Starbucks) goes head to head with the liberal people-run government (say, Air BnB). 

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

One thought on “2014 – The Year in (The Agency) Review

  1. Saved the best for last. “Jennifer Government” was relevant when it came out, and it’s more relevant now. Max Barry’s latest, “Lexicon,” is also quite good; in fact, his entire oeuvre should be on every marketing person’s must-read list.

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