Voxpop: The pride of marketing

By The Drum Network, Staff Writer

June 2, 2020 | 16 min read

At times like these, we think it‘s more important than ever to celebrate the achievements in marketing that we‘re proud of. We've been delighted by the responses we received to our call-out for those achievements from our members, which we're proud to share here.

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Michael Pavone, president and CEO, Pavone Marketing Group

Most small agencies launch with mighty goals and gargantuan dreams. We wear many hats, hire a modest staff and rent a small space with the intention of one day managing hundreds of creative thinkers in plush offices worldwide. And to achieve these pipe dreams—and pay next month’s rent—we take every single piece of business that comes our way. We try to be everything to everyone: Banking and healthcare? Check. Fashion and pharmaceuticals? You got it. B2B, B2C, and XYZ? Bring it on!

The achievement I’m most proud of is something I didn’t do: I stopped saying yes to assignments for most products and segments. Instead, I focused on the businesses and audiences I’m the most knowledgeable and passionate about. It took me 15 years to realize the importance of this decision. I wish I’d gone all in sooner.

In 2007, Pavone Advertising created Varsity, a unit that focuses on seniors and retirement living. In 2014, we launched food-and-beverage specialist quench. Both are thriving: quench opened Philadelphia and Chicago offices and have worked with the likes of venerable iconic clients Del Monte, Labatt, StarKist, Hershey’s, Bimbo and Sun-Maid.

Here’s why specialization works: Clients want to work with the best agency with the most experience in their category. Prerequisites: loving and understanding what’s best for their brand. They don’t care that you are The Most Interesting Man (or Woman) in the World in this scenario and, say, can speak Esperanto or perform impromptu open-heart surgery using found objects while in the Maldives. They want partners who talk their talk and walk their walk. Partners who understand not just how to sell products to consumers but also know how to speak to grocery buyers. Partners who understand the arcane and esoteric. Who can talk shopper marketing, slotting fees, path to purchase and so on.

Specialist agencies excel at providing the type of deep-diving strategy clients willingly pay for. This added service results in a more profitable and valuable agency, which gives them the strategic edge. They have connections—deep ones. They don’t just know the trends impacting the industry—they see them coming so they can tip off the client and get in on insights early.

A specialist provides multiple, laser-focused case studies in an RFP along with smart strategy and creative pieces because they know the category inside and out. A larger, all-things-to-everyone agency struggles to find an appropriate case study. Guess who wins that pitch 90% of the time?

Success won’t happen overnight. It takes time, commitment, and lots of speaking engagements at retirement-living conferences. But when it happens, you may find yourself shopping for fancy office space.

Dan Russell, managing director, Seven Stones

My proudest moment isn’t a campaign, or even really about changing someone’s mind, but a change in behaviour and action that acted as the most impactful message.

I was co-running an account management department of 120 people at the time and while professionally we were busy setting a vision and strategic priorities for the year, personally I was being a new father to twin boys and wanting to be present and supporting at home.

I was determined to show that you can hold down a tough job and make it back for bath time. There was a relatively new paternity scheme in place but I felt it seemed frowned upon to take the time off work, so it was up to me to send a message far more impactful than just talking about something else available to the department.

I took two months pat leave and set a precedent for many others to follow, that it was okay to take time off to be with your family, and it was staggering to see how many other people did as a result.

I look back at that now through the lens that Covid-19 has put on the world and makes me even prouder than I was before. If there’s anything good that can come out of the current situation, and there are positive opposites in everything, it’s that leadership and the way we work together is becoming more personal and human.

We’re seeing the other side of colleagues for the first time – from seeing their homes in the background of Zoom calls to ping pong challenges with the kids on the new Slack channel. People are thinking more personally and priorities are shifting – we’re getting used to making dinner and bath time every night – and we’re not going to want to give all that up when the lockdown is lifted.

I think that the environment for authentic leaders and working parents is therefore now more acceptable than ever. It’s the companies that are sticking together right now and acting like a family that are the ones that will be most successful. The more we can blur the lines between work and play, the better we’ll feel, and I believe the more productive and creative we’ll be as a result.

Matt Steinwald, SVP executive creative director, Engine

One of my favorite HBO projects came from a small social content brief, and grew beyond a brand campaign, beyond a full-funnel marketing platform to inspire a key feature in WarnerMedia’s new streaming service, HBO Max.

Let’s start at the beginning. In late 2018, as the TV season was winding down and the final season of Game of Thrones was still months away, HBO saw an opportunity to promote shows that younger audiences may have missed. Fortunately, HBO’s library contains many of the greatest shows every made.

Our idea was deceivingly simple. We’d ask real fans to sit across from an interviewer (like the masterful Alison Klayman), look directly into the camera and recommend an HBO show of their choice. A show they loved. We’d capture dozens of unscripted videos putting their passionate plea on display. The combination of raw emotion and quirky personality was irresistible. At face value, Recommended by Humans was a series of compelling testimonials. But under the surface, our idea had teeth and held algorithms to task. Only a human can truly understand the nuances, layered characters, and genre-bending brilliance of an HBO show.

The journey from the initial idea to the final delivery was a marathon because the idea was magnetic. Word spread across departments. Meetings led to more meetings in bigger rooms with larger audiences. At every step the scope grew, the ambition grew, and the team grew. In the end, Recommended by Humans blanketed HBO properties with 36 videos, an always-on #HumanReco social content series, editorial integration within, CRM extensions for subscriber retention and recruitment, and the launch of, a sticky tool to help anyone find their next show while sampling free pilot episodes.

We celebrated. We slept. We celebrated some more. Two of our clients got tiny tattoos of the campaign logo. So maybe we over-celebrated a bit, but it was all worth the effort. A few months later, WarnerMedia announced that HBO Max would have human recommendations integrated into the service. We were floored.

Looking back, there are dozens of lessons worth sharing, but here are 3 for creatives.

First of all, before hitting the brief, hit the social channels. Twitter is dripping with insights that can unlock great work. The best creatives I’ve worked with are great strategic thinkers who live and breathe internet culture. Recommended by Humans was inspired by funny #AlgorithmFails and endless tweets asking for good show recommendations. If your idea has social precedence, and your brand has an authentic role in the conversation, you’re on the right path.

Secondly, put as much effort into selling your idea as you put into developing it. As our meeting audience changed, our presentation narrative changed. When we presented to brand teams or creative services, we focused on tone and craft. When we presented to leadership, we focused on competitive differentiation and our passionate fanbase. The big idea never changed, even though we presented it differently over a dozen times.

Finally, there’s no replacement for clarity of thought and tenacity. Form a clear vision of the end result you want, then put in the work to get there. Our north star was the feeling you get when you’re at a party and your TV-obsessed friend finds out you haven’t watched The Wire. We kept coming back to that vision and made purposeful choices. Like using an Interrotron to maintain eye contact. Like using a stool to keep our talent in place without limiting their gestures. Like framing vertical videos to feel like FaceTime conversations. Control everything you can control to protect a brutally simple vision of the idea. Every detail matters and decisions get made whether you’re ready or not. So always be ready.

Emily Perryment, account executives, Kemosabe

Over the past few years, Japan has stolen the limelight and landed at the top of everyone’s bucket lists. Be this down to the 2019 Rugby World Cup; the eagerly awaited Tokyo Olympics; or simply the nation’s uniquely wacky culture of innovation juxtaposed with its serene natural beauty. So, when Japanese airline, All Nippon Airways (ANA), propositioned us to reposition them, we knew we had to place ANA at the heart of Japan.

With many airlines boasting highly rated products, ANA’s 5-Star status was not enough to secure them as the first choice for travellers flying to Japan. Hence, we coined the simple yet evocative phrase, ‘We Are Japan’. This message, in conjunction with authentic imagery and a wanderlust tone of voice, allowed ANA to take ownership of Japan through a destination driven strategy; revealing the trends, traditions and secrets that only the locals know. Establishing ANA as intrinsically Japanese united all aspects of the company: the culture embedded in the impeccable customer service and the craft involved in the product design and amenities, promoting the notion that your Japanese experience begins the moment you step on board the plane.

We applied this message to all of ANA’s EMEA marketing communications: above and below-the-line, exhibitions, press, events, PR, social, print, digital, and film, including content displayed at the Six Nations Rugby and a collaborative series with CNN. We also created ANA’s informal and engaging ‘We Are Japan’ content hub, flying to Japan to discover new stories and create a hidden gem guide to all there is to eat, drinik, see, stay, do, discover and go. The campaign focused on the luxury leisure market and the growing affluent millennial audience which insights show are heavily influenced by social when it comes to travel. So being able to unearth unique stories that would provide a sharable and once-in-a-lifetime trip was key.

Our latest content campaign saw six times more audience engagement than previous campaigns, and the work we’ve produced has proved to be award-winning. What is clear from the campaign’s success is that if your message is authentic and clear, it will naturally roll out into everything your brand does. We hoped to achieve greater brand recall of ANA as the best airline of Japan through engaging with a destination-led strategy; and by selling the real Japan to the luxury leisure market, we turned ANA into the dependable voice of the nation.

Lee Wilson, head of SEO, Vertical Leap

I love the marketing industry. I took my first marketing role straight out of university where I studied business and communications, and never looked back since.

A first proud marketing moment came when I took over the leadership for the enterprise SEO department and service at the top 10 UK search marketing agency, Vertical Leap.

Leading the largest delivery service and growing it to all-time peak levels was a feeling of relief and huge motivation to drive forward. As with all success, 99% of this is credited to the wonderful team I was working with and new people brought into the team.

The lesson from this was that the value based marketing approach which I have consistently triumphed is always preferable to other holistic marketing approaches, especially when combined with an agile and data-led mindset.

In 2016, I realised a lifelong ambition – to become a published author, and I was able to combine two loves of mine (SEO/digital marketing and writing/expertise sharing). My first book, ‘Tactical SEO’ gave me the chance to bring something completely new to the company I worked with, and to showcase another level of credibility and commercial value. I felt this sent a positive message that you can combine your interests in a way that is mutually beneficial (personally and professionally), unique to you, and aspire to achieve outside of any perceived traditional measurements.

Since this time I have had three books published, the latest title released in 2020 titled ‘30 Minute Website Marketing’.

My third professional achievement that stands out is joining our company operations team and taking on the role of overseeing all of our search marketing delivery services.

Having the privilege to work alongside the 3 company directors and our owner, as well as being exposed to a whole new set of company level conversations was a genuine eye-opener. Being able to further influence and positively impact company culture, ambitions, standards, plus so many other areas on top of marketing directly, is such a passion now.

A lesson learnt so far with my latest role change is to manifest my enthusiasm to getting ventures progressing in alternative ways, outside of jumping in and making things happen directly as a default stance.

There are often better opportunities to bring into new projects and problem solving challenges voices within broader areas of the organisation that may take longer to get to an initial output from, but will often lead to greater ultimate success over the longer term.

Integrated working is so much more meaningful on many levels (when efficient and effectively led) and I will champion this approach for a long time to follow.

Rich Boyle, head of design, Woven

When we win accounts as agencies, we celebrate the pride, validation and sense of achievement such success brings (and, let’s face it, the money.) But when you win a client that means your efforts will help people live better lives, it means just that little bit more.

That’s why our work with Guild Living is amongst our most special. Guild Living are a team of experts in ageing and later living. It‘s building retirement communities that do away with the tired, beige-walled associations of your typical retirement home. Instead, their environments will be made up of beautiful homes and active communities that let older people live amazing lives.

In creating Guild’s brand – its visual and verbal identity – we’re doing our bit to get their message out there. Which isn’t just about promoting them, by the way. It’s also about tackling the broader issues older people face: negative, socially ingrained stereotypes that affect older people now and that, if they’re not done away with, will affect us all in the future.

To be part of a movement so radical and so beneficial to all of us, well, that’s the kind of work we all dream to get involved in.

And what have we learned from this? Well, it’s not so much a lesson and more of a reminder: that the things you should be most proud of are things you do to help others.

And in this time of Covid-19, such reminders have never been more timely.

Peter Herbst, VP/ECD, St. John & Partners

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to work for a coffee company that I truly loved. Good people, small-town roots and a great product. They were a huge proponent of fair-trade products and tried to source from (and establish) as many fair-trade farms as they could.

In an effort to get the word out and explain all of the social and environmental benefits of fair trade organic (FTO) coffee, we took an aspiring young musician to Popayán, Colombia. The idea was to tour the plantations, interview local farmers and give a few small concerts. After lining up a very small crew, a guide, all of the paperwork necessary and a few plane tickets, six of us headed off to South America.

Climbing the picturesque (and very steep) mountainsides, picking, husking and drying the coffee beans shoulder-to-shoulder with the farmers was one of the best experiences of my life. Working and shooting all day and capturing small fireside acoustic performances at night, under miles and miles of stars, was an experience I will never forget—or ever duplicate. It was one of the rare times when getting the chance to do work that mattered to a great deal of people mattered even more to me.

Side note:

While steep jungle hillsides do make for great coffee, they don’t make for great shooting conditions. Our director-DP-cameraman found this out when he slipped and dislocated his shoulder on the second take of the first day. He got to take a five-hour ride to the nearest hospital and I got to make my directorial-DP-cameraman debut.


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