Monday, November 15, 2021

An Advertising Lesson I Got From an Annual Report.


When I joined the "Agency of the Decade," Ally & Gargano in early 1990, I was handed two type-written sheets of paper with single-spaced typewriting on them.

It was a list--I think written by Carl Ally--of 'Twelve Things You Should Know About Advertising." 

When IBM Selectrics went out and Macs came in, I typed the whole thing over again--so I'd have the digital file. Along the way, I made small changes here and there--reflecting changing media habits and paying more attention to gender-sensitivities.

I've kept this document longer than most people in advertising today have been alive. I read it a couple times a year. I've printed it in this space before (find it for yourself). And I've handed it out through the years to a couple of hundred people--creatives, account people, clients and planners.

Point number Twelve is the one I'm writing about today. I'll print it here in its entirety.

For just about the entirety of my career, I've followed that advice. It's one more reason so many of my fellow creatives resent me: I read my clients' annual reports. 

I'll repeat that because no one heard me: I read my clients' annual reports. 

Yesterday, I had a breakfast meeting with a distinguished client that could probably buy and sell Mark Read like he's a Pez Dispenser. An empty one.

I wasn't about to fuck this up.

I read all I could about him. And read it again before I walked over to our meeting. My job wasn't to eat huevos rancheros without staining my shirt with hot sauce. It was to connect with this gentleman and to make him think I was on the ball. File that under, "Find out as much about your product as you can."

Some years ago, I read the annual report of a client that was at that time, the biggest ad spender in the world. The client, years earlier, had slipped and was now on its way back. I wanted to learn about what they did.

About ten minutes into the Annual Report, I came upon this page. No one working for that company or working for their agency has any recall of this. Though, they should.

It should be Job #1 in the agency business. But we're too busy "influencing culture," and making hamburger-scented toothpaste.


When I read this, I might have felt like Jean-Fran├žois Champollion felt when he found the key to translating ancient hieroglyphics. Here in front of me was the answer to all good communication.

To someone you love. To a customer you'll never meet.

I memorized those words.

They're what I offer to clients today.

It's worked.

Since I started GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company, I've probably helped on average one client a month find their voice. 

It's not easy.

There's listening until your ears practically bleed. 

And that's the easy part. 

The hard part is writing it down. 

So it's honest and clear. 

Differentiating and memorable.

So it rallies the company and the people you're working for.

The hardest part might be convincing the owners of that company that you're giving them "the power." 

The power to be themselves. 

And therefore powerful.

The Scots' poet Robert Burns said it like this: 

O, wad some Power the giftie gie us 
To see oursels as others see us!

It ain't much really.

You can't stick it on a resume: 

Objective: To help companies see oursels [sic] as others see us.

But it's all that really matters.






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