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Ten or so things I don’t want to read about on the internet* today.
1. Two Other Important Economic Datapoints Are Coming Out Today
2. [Some lady] Spent An Afternoon With The Xbox One And It Was Amazing
3. 19 Reasons Why [this particular resume] Is An Excellent Resume
4. The Sexiest Athletes Alive!
5. [A] US expat Describes The Best And Worst Things About England
6. 6 Ways To Turn [my] TV Commercial Into A Great Digital Ad
7. Yes, [I] Still Need A Resume
8. The Planet’s 24 Largest Social Media Sites, And Where Their Next Wave of Growth Will Come From
9. 7 Business Travel Expenses [I] Never Knew [I] Could Write Off
10. Why Are Swedish Students Falling Behind?
11. JCPenney’s Identity Crisis Captured In Five Photos
12. Sallie Krawcheck Answers The Age Old Question — To MBA, Or Not To MBA
Women, Work and the Men Who Follow
On Friday May 3, 2013, I parted ways* with a marginally successful tech start-up. The discussion** happened on the phone, since I was working remotely, opening a satellite office in New York, which would be key to the business objectives of the business. The call ended and I began furiously typing an email to the management team, begging to keep the MacBook Air I had grown so attached to. The response came almost immediately: no. As I packed up the knickknacks and office supplies I had accumulated during my time with the company, I remember feeling a little nervous, a little anxious and maybe even a little bit psyched to not have to work anymore.
After leaving the building passkey and laptop in a drawer, I descended the elevator of the open plan co-working space I had called my shared office for the past three months and began walking up Varick Street. I unlocked my bike, the pannier overloaded with pens, papers, books and the Graceland mug which held the pens, and thought about the mantra I had developed over the years working in digital marketing: “Who cares? It’s the internet.”
This mantra can apply to pretty much any industry except for the important ones like medicine and education. But I think “Who cares? It’s the ______.” has special significance for men of a certain age who are tired of getting out of bed before ten, tired of buying nice things for their wives and girlfriends, tired of providing for their children and quite frankly, tired of being responsible adults.
So listen up, fellows, after years of toiling away in service of the social norms which cast us as breadwinners and strong, steady providers, it’s our turn to lean out and leave a wide swath for the women of the world to take over. Here’s three bro tips to help you get started.
Bro Tip 1: Sit on the Sidelines
Years ago I had one of those iconoclastic bosses typical of creative industries. By iconoclastic, I mean she was judgmental, histrionic, bad at managing time and people, and way behind the times in regards to her supposed expertise — in this case marketing.
It was the early-aughties when junk mail was rapidly being replaced by junk email. Phrases like “Exclusive!” and “Special Offer Just For You!” which festooned the outer envelopes of mailers that filled mail sacks criss-crossing the country would no longer suffice. Those phrases also needed to appear in the subject lines of emails and across the tops of microsites with blink tags and H1 font sizes.
I employed many different time- and energy-consuming approaches to make sure those exclusive offers sounded exclusive enough to pass muster. Sometimes I’d bring my boss the best of the worst to save us both the time and energy. Other times I’d bring a range of options from terrible to serviceable, assuming something would click. One time I walked into her office with two full pages of choices for a one paragraph insert and without looking up she barked, “Too long! Bring me half a page max!” But for at least several weeks I held onto the dream of one day seeing my very own business card emblazoned with an impressive title like “mid-level copywriter.”
Inevitably, this game of professional cat and mouse grew tiresome, so pretty soon I began trying my hardest to not try at all. Low and behold, the whole process sped up considerably and my work/life balance tipped way in favor of the latter. At a certain point the boss lady noticed that I’d consistently finish my work well before sundown. Rather than congratulate me for my efficiency, she demoted me to “creative associate,” started calling me “Mr. Six O’Clock Man” and accused me of not caring about the work. Which was true because I always left at six on the nose and didn’t care about the work.
Eventually the company was acquired and I was laid off, with way more time to enjoy the fruits of my non-labor while I collected unemployment. Had I been working hard instead of hardly working all those months, it would have been a total waste of time.
Bro Tip 2: Be A Mediocre Partner
Behind every great man, there’s an even better woman. Or something like that, goes the old adage. But you can be a mediocre man and still find a great woman willing to tolerate, and in some cases support, your shenanigans. I’ve always been amazed at the compassion, love and generosity the women in my life have shown while I fritter away the best years of our lives.
Apparently when men take on more domestic responsibilities like doing housework and raising children, couples fight less and are more frequently intimate with each other. Same sex couples have been splitting duties like this 50/50 for years, and now many opposite sex couples are catching up. Well, what if we upped that to 100/0? Wouldn’t things get even better still? I will gladly oversee my significant other’s staff member doing 100% of things like cleaning toilets, washing dishes and preparing elaborate meals to give us both a break. But mostly so I can be on a permanent break.
One last bit of advice here: If you’re lucky enough to find a successful woman who will let you be by her side, don’t screw it up by over-thinking things and planning too much. Make sure you take the time now to lean back, relax and do as little as possible. The difficult questions your ambitious partner will have to answer are going to be more than enough for both of you.
Bro Tip 3: Walk Away Slowly
For decades, men have been sacrificing things like staying out late drinking or tucking their children into bed, saving their energy for the next day so they can reach ever new heights of success and respect. Companies value gusto and bravado, rewarding those who work hard, stay late, show genuine interest in their careers and are ready to take on a challenge. But who wants a challenge? Life is challenging enough as it is.
A couple hypotheticals to ponder from a risk vs. reward perspective: You’re a sales rep with the opportunity to take on a bigger territory. That means you’ll have to travel to annoying places like Cincinnati and Fort Wayne. Who wants to do that? Or let’s say you’re an anonymous cog in a big corporate machine with the opportunity to rise up the ranks to a highly visible management role. Sounds like the risk of missing out on long, leisurely lunches and dubiously timed sick days far outweighs the “reward” of more work and responsibility.
Death, disease, children — who knows when real life will rear its ugly head and force you to take your foot off the gas and slow down to focus on these important issues. I for one live in fear of all of these things, so why take the chance? Lean out, find a woman who is leaning in, and stop before you even start. Doing nothing is easy and its own reward.
* I was fired.
** the firing
Over the past 10 years, I’ve sat on all sides of the marketing table, from being a freelance creative associate selling concepts to senior level clients, to running RFPs for FORTUNE 500 corporations in search of global agencies. During a recent stint at The IdeaLists, a company that acts as a liaison between all of the above, my vantage point became even more interesting.
One of the most common questions I got from our creative community was how to position their offering to better appeal to clients. Here are five tips that I’ve picked up myself after watching thousands of others pitch their services over the years.
1. Get Your Story Straight
While clients respect the deeper philosophical underpinnings of your work, they are busy and need to quickly understand exactly what you do and how you do it. If you’re a UX designer, say so – front and center on your homepage and in the first paragraph of your proposal/email/deck/etc. Save the details of why UX is the path to spiritual enlightenment for a follow-up meeting or blog post.
2. Lead with What You Do, Not What You Don’t
Clients want to hear what you’re doing now, the exciting things you plan to do in the future, and where you think the next smart moves are going to happen in your industry over the next few years. Beginning your presentation with a history of what your company used to do, but doesn’t do anymore can be confusing. Your background is important, but not at the expense of distracting your audience.
3. If You’re Not Qualified, Sit It Out
As an open marketplace, one of the ongoing challenges The IdeaLists faces is striking the balance between offering our creative community exciting new opportunities and making sure our clients only speak to fully qualified candidates. When a client has specific needs that require specialized skills like e-commerce, mobile development, or high-end luxury branding, you absolutely must have demonstrable skills in that area. Spin things too much and you lose credibility, which decreases your chances for future work. In other words, be ambitious yet realistic.
4. Spell Check!
Being a visual thinker is no excuse. Even minor typos broadcast a lack of attention to detail. Proper spelling and grammar is a deal breaker for many people, but is easy to avoid. Always have a second set of eyes look at anything and everything you’re putting in front of a client.
5. The First Answer Is Always Yes
In improv comedy, one of the first lessons is called “Yes, And.” In a nutshell, no matter how crazy the scenario you’re presented with is, the answer is “yes,” and you build on that. Saying no shuts the scene down and leaves nowhere to go. Even when you disagree with a client, there is almost always some valuable information you can extract by keeping an open mind and letting the dialogue continue. Build on that seemingly outlandish question or idea; if you’re a real pro you can even steer things right back to where you want them.
(This post originally appeared in slightly different form at freelancersunion.com.)
Product development is the new marketing strategy. Innovation is the new creative currency. Curation is the new content. Marketing and advertising have evolved over the past five years and the shift is accelerating faster by the day. Networks like SAY Media and Glam Media are working directly with brands, giving them direct access to content. Disruptors like BuzzFeed and Percolate are taking it a step further by co-creating new content and curating entire social footprints.
Long story short, the traditional client to agency to media telephone game is a broken model. And everybody knows it.
The alternative models for success are obvious with brands like Burberry, Nike and Levi’s making great content, creating digital products with real utility, and truly partnering with their agencies. But for every Red Bull Space Jump, there are still hundreds of campaigns that are dying on the vine because consumers are exhausted from years of being talked at rather than being engaged with.
What’s the solution? Taking a page from the startup scene and borrowing liberally from The Lean Startup methodology, it’s time for agencies to pivot, test new ideas, and be ready to fail upward.
What’s Your MVP?
The first step for any startup is to define its minimum viable product (MVP) — the simplest, most concise and compelling version of the product offering. Deceptively simple, this is no easy task.
Let’s apply this methodology to agencies. Is a viable MVP writing 30-second TV spots and then outsourcing the actual making to a production company? Is it designing print ads for magazines with fewer subscribers every day? Is it creating Flash banner ads that the most affluent demographics can’t watch on their iOS devices? Framed this way, it doesn’t sound very compelling.
Now let’s take a closer look at what agencies do best: They understand brands better than anyone else and they know what consumers like. They’re also full of creative, talented people. Put that together and there’s an MVP in there somewhere. Perhaps it’s making the creative director a curator-in-chief and starting a dedicated multi-channel content factory for the right client. Or maybe it just means giving your tech director six months of freedom to create a game-changing mobile app.
The good news for agencies is that the cost of most of these experiments is basically a rounding error for your holding company. So why not invest in their own talent and put some skin in the game?
“Lean.” “Agile.” “Pivot.” Agencies use these buzzwords liberally and often advise their clients to make aggressive moves and embrace drastic change. So why not apply these principles to the agency itself?
Winston Binch and Bud Caddell are trying just that at Deutsch LA by putting digital at the forefront of the agency and refusing to separate creativity from technology. Alex Bogusky got to the top of the mountain and then ditched it for the Common project. But for every agency leader who’s ready to make a major pivot, there are ten Global Strategy Directors pitching innovation at client meetings, while secretly outsourcing the actual work to three guys in a loft in Brooklyn.
Agencies need to be ready to fail upward by experimenting, learning from mistakes and making smart pivots.
Partners Not Vendors
Of course, no agency is set up to be quick, nimble, or great at everything. In fact, as consumers’ attention becomes increasingly scattered, and campaigns become microtargeted, it’s impossible to do everything well.
Agency producers have been quietly amassing Rolodexes of secret weapon vendors for years. Now that brands are actively seeking out media opportunities with the aforementioned disruptors, and working with non-agencies like Breakfast and Fake Love, the curtain is starting to lift. It’s time for transparency and scale.
Once again, startups have benefited from this communal worldview for years — quite literally with open source frameworks like Ruby on Rails, and more recently with the increasing popularity of shared spaces like WeWork.
Exposing these relationships, and treating them as partnerships rather than procuring services from vendors doesn’t mean cutting agencies out of the equation. Nor does it mean resorting to gimmicky crowdsourcing stunts or simply awarding jobs to the lowest bidder on oDesk or Elance. It means we are entering a new era of transparency with a wide array of in-demand specialists collaborating with brands and agencies to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
(This post originally appeared on Adotas.)