Creativity Matters

Rather than picking a cause du jour and excoriating our industry’s practices, or writing some kind of know-it-all sales pitch about how YOUR AGENCY will be LEFT BEHIND unless you immediately implement PROGRESSIVE IDEA X, I’d like to tell you about something we’re doing right. Maybe it takes an outsider to see one of the real crowning elements of this industry with clear eyes.

You see, I’m a new copywriter recently come to the advertising world straight from my 3rd floor English Department office. That “Dr.” in front of my name isn’t some kind of nickname. And while I’m not the only one who has jumped off the good ship academe in favor of the more frenetic, yet greener, pastures of private business, there is one thing I’ve noticed that all my agency co-workers take for granted. People in advertising treat creativity seriously, like it matters, and are willing to give writers and artists the space they need to excel in their roles. I feel respected and appreciated. Daily.

I realize I need to clarify my position since so much of this is taken for granted around the office here. Some examples of what I mean: In a recent creative meeting, both the Art Director and the Creative Director said things like “Go wild” and “Really challenge yourself with this.” When I chimed in with some thoughts, everyone at the meeting looked at me attentively. It was a shocking moment as I slowly realized they cared about what I was saying. I tentatively let myself realize they were open to fresh ideas. About a week before that, my Creative Director asked for some copy that would really blow him away, and then encouraged me to take the time I needed to do it right. And these are not isolated incidents.

I’m imagining a sea of puzzled faces reading this article, so entrenched is the idea in the advertising world that creativity matters. But let me give you some more information. Not only was I a professor of English, I was a professor of Creative Writing, specifically poetry. I spent my days instructing students in the art of line breaks, alliterative structure, fluent thought patterns and vibrant language.

However, the last faculty meeting I remember attending was focused on how our classroom syllabi were all due on such-and-such a day and that these had to follow a departmentally approved format! Though we were obviously allowed to put our own personal “mark” on the material we distributed in class, this was not specifically encouraged. And while we were told we had to “produce”—meaning we had to publish articles, essays and creative work as a way to demonstrate our seriousness and commitment—when we did publish something, it was never mentioned or rewarded in any way.

When I broached the subject of developing a new class format to a colleague of mine, she politely explained how she had designed the old format and that it “worked well enough.” Ego aside, this clearly indicates the overall environment: zealously committed to the status quo, constraining us all to a system of stifling regimentation.

Granted, I’m having trouble finding someone around my office who will discuss the intricacies of Coleridge’s poetry with me. But I’m still convinced I’ve made the right choice and I think the industry as a whole should take a minute to realize that we’re doing something very and impressively right.

Any agency that realizes the value of the creative staff and embraces the full extent of what they need to do and what they can do, is creating an environment that will ensure delivery of the best materials to clients. You’ll have a happy creative staff, working in one of the few industries in which creativity still matters.

Dr. Nate Pritts
The Russo Group

Radio Renaissance

If you’d asked me about radio advertising a few years ago my response would have been, well, it’s less than stellar. After all, radio isn’t nearly as sexy as television and print, right?

But over the years my views of radio have changed considerably, both strategically and creatively. Radio is so often abused and misused, it’s no wonder it has gained such a horrid reputation in the advertising world. Sure, you’ll get plenty of station reps telling you it’s the best thing on the planet, but few agencies regard it as an optimum creative choice.

Chances are if you turn your radio on right now, you’ll probably hear some wacko screaming at you about the big sale on Monday. Or better yet, you’ll find someone who read a book on how to advertise on a budget, who will repeat his company name and phone number at least 5 times within a 60 second spot. Soon you’ll either be tuning him out, flipping the station, or kicking on the ipod.

The thing is, people still love the radio, no matter how bad the advertising is between songs. It’s basically environmental noise to them. It’s soothing in an odd way. The problem – it’s not advertising.

In order to break free from the clutter, you have to dig deep. You have to capture your audience’s attention, and yes, you have to make them interested in what you have to say.

Humor – maybe. Drama – perhaps. Tell their story – always.

Now this part may hurt a bit so prepare yourself – If you are not a trained professional then perhaps it’s time you find someone who is. Yes, I know it’s harsh, but if I don’t tell you, who will? There are people out there who can help. Just pick up the phone and make the call.

Talented copywriters will be standing by.

Michael Russo
Creative Director
The Russo Group

Who You Say You Are – Logos & Branding

I’m so glad my daughter is still a baby because there’s hope that things in this country will completely turn around before she enters her teenage years.

Maybe she’ll listen to her old man. When she tries to run out of the house in some crazy outfit, maybe she’ll defer to my more than a quarter century (!) of marketing, branding, and design experience. Maybe she’ll listen when I run a little focus group in the living room (including a test market of approximately two – me and her mother) and explain that what she looks like is saying something to the outside world.

I mean, I once sat down with a company who thought their fancy script logo was hitting their target market of 15-25 year olds when it really conjured images of lace doilies and grandmas. Truth be told, businesses aren’t always the best judge of how their image is being received.

I could talk about design elements and compositional structures; I could talk about colors and how these elements affect the overall brand. But the most important thing I can say is that a company’s identity is their face, the initial point of interaction for many consumers. As such, you want to make sure that your logo is effectively communicating your brand. You want to make sure that who your logo says you are and who you really are match up.

My wife says I’m a little crazy to be worried about this now. But last night, instead of some silly story about a talking animal, I let my daughter flip through an annual of award winning brand identities. I’m happy to report she was most drawn to the classics – clean, simple, decent.

There’s hope for us all.

Gary LoBue, Jr.
Art Director
The Russo Group

Some Thoughts about Agency

People are always asking me what I do. It’s a common ground type of question – we all do something. So what do you do?

I work at an advertising agency. I probably say those words, or some variation, four or five times a week. Occasionally, people will press further and want more details but usually that’s a satisfyingly glamorous answer and we move on to something else.

As with anything we say over and over again, the term “advertising agency” loses its meaning after a while. But I ran across a typo today that shook me into a little reverie on the subject of agency.

First of all, please realize I get a thrill out of finding typos and the rush is directly proportional to the number of people who might see the typo. It’s a complicated equation wherein a typo in an email isn’t worth much but a typo on a billboard situated on a busy highway sends me into a kind of happy euphoria or sheer panic in the fall-on-the-floor, curled-in-a-fetal-position variety – depending greatly on if I had anything to do with it.

And just for the record, this sort of thing has not happened. It’s the fear alone that keeps me on my toes.

Anyway, the typo I’m talking about was on a different scale entirely, something I call a “good typo” – those that inadvertently present a word or phrase or idea in a new light, leading to some kind of insight or – dare I say it? – revelation.

Here it is:

By controlling your agency and telling them what to do, agency may lose its passion.

Seeing the word “agency” in this context, without the expected and necessary article “the” (“the agency may lose its passion”) sent me searching to redefine this stale word.

The word agency has its roots in the Medieval Latin word “agere,” meaning to do, act or manage.

To do, act or manage. Rather than an easy noun phrase designation (as in my agency, or the agency), maybe we should all remember what the word agency really means.

When you act with agency, you’re doing something with dynamic force. You’re empowered and confident. You’re not merely punching a clock and sitting at a desk; you become the lone, decisive superhero in a world of sameness and ordinariness, the only one who can bring about real change.

So suit up. And remember, with great power comes great responsibility.

Dr. Nate Pritts – Copywriter
The Russo Group

Breaking The Routine

We all have routines, set patterns we sink into. Why? Because they’re comfortable and predictable and dependable – they’re like a commitment to the status quo. We can only deal with so many unknowns throughout the day!

I’ll admit to a few routines. Three times a week, I start the day at my gym, working on the same equipment in the same order with the same vain hope that I’ll lose a few pounds. Every week day, I stop off at the same coffee shop down the street from the office right around 9:30 and place the same order (it’s a tall cappuccino with a sprinkle of cinnamon in case you were wondering), probably in the same tone of voice. The barista confirms my routine by nodding and saying the same bright “Hi!” she said yesterday and will say tomorrow. I’ll stop here before I bore you too much.

And that’s my point, really. Routines are boring. They don’t challenge us in any way. Having a routine is just a way of walking around and telling everyone that you’re happy with the way things are.

But listen: can something routine ever really produce the results we desire?

The answer is no – not really. Not when it comes to advertising and marketing your brand. Those routines of mine? They’re meant to serve as a stable ground allowing me to reserve my most creative and innovative thinking for the day’s work. For every routine solution to your marketing challenges, there’s a revolutionary one as well.

Advertising agencies all talk about how dynamic and vibrant their creative implementations are, how forcefully the message is communicated. That’s all important, sure, but what about at the ground floor of your relationship with the agency – Account Service? Even here you want a representative who is vigorous and energetic in their thinking, a person who sees those predictable ways of moving your account forward and chooses instead to present new strategies and solutions to you. Maybe you’ll have an impulse to start consulting a bunch of charts with old, irrelevant data. But just remember, at an advertising agency, even your Account Service needs to be fully engaged in changing the conversation, breaking routines and delivering real results. So, take this opportunity to find the pirate buried deep inside you – break the mold, raise the sails, and head for un-chartered waters. You may be surprised at the results you’ll find.

Now, if you’ll excuse me. It’s 9:30 and I’m jonesing for some caffeine.

Elisabeth Arnold – Vice President, Account Services
The Russo Group

Reporting the Results – Are You Receiving Breakdowns on How Your Advertising Dollars Are Being Spent?

“You just have to be opportunistic, and try to figure out what creates value... where the bottom is, what creates incremental value, and in what combinations.”
-John Malone

Like any good relationship, the one between media buyer and client is built on trust. For you to feel justified in letting me spend your money, it’s important I prove to you that I’m qualified, knowledgeable, and can get you the results you’re looking for.

But even then, if all I’ve given you is my word, how do you know I’ve served your company’s best interests? Short of polling your customers on their way out the door (the annoyance alone might cost you returned business), how do you know if your advertising has generated any profit? After all, store traffic could have increased as a result of a new location, new store manager, new product line, new return policy, etc.

Point is – it’s a fair question. And you should ask it. In fact, if your media buyer hesitates at all in answering, fire him. Because what you should hear is something like this:

“It’s important to me that my clients know exactly what their advertising dollars are doing. So, every month I’ll be sending you itemized breakdowns of what you’re spending, where you’re spending it, how much you’re paying for it, if you’re receiving a reduced rate, and (here’s the important part) what the medium is rated.”

Ratings, calculated differently for each medium, tell you just how many people are seeing each board, each commercial spot, each piece of print. That way you can decide if the exposure you’re getting is worth the price that you’re paying. An exceptional media buyer will take it one step farther. They’ll also chart your buy over time, allowing you to compare company profits with company advertising efforts.

It’s your money. You have a right to know if it’s worth spending.

Jaime Smith, Media Buyer
The Russo Group

Finding MB Right – Choosing the Perfect Media Buyer for Your Business


If only finding the right media buyer were as simple as placing a personal ad. But if you’re like most of my clients, when you begin the search, you’re not only unclear about what you want, you’re unsure of what you need.

In fact, the only reason you’re willing to play Media Buyer Connection at all is because, well, the advertising you’ve placed on your own has been expensive and a waste of time.

So let me put on my Yenta hat and list some of the must-have qualities of any good media buyer.

1) Overall Business Savvy – you know, the typical organization, communication, and leadership skills necessary in any professional.
2) Experience – even the nicest network sales reps feed on new blood, because their commission trumps all other concerns, especially for your well-being. And you can’t really blame them, even sharks have to eat.
3) Connections – absolutely essential because the rates they secure will depend on the connections they’ve developed over time.
4) Foresight – to get the best rates and secure the right spots, buys should be placed a year in advance. It goes without saying that a buyer who sends you memos dated 2006 might not be right for you.
5) Compulsive – tried to think of a more flattering term, but trust me, you want compulsive, even obsessive compulsive, when it comes to the person who’s tracking your advertising flow. A placed the buy. Has artwork been submitted for purchased spots? Does the bill correspond with the agreed upon price (remember the sharks)? Is the light working on your board? These things are important because you deserve to get what you paid for.

Will finding the right media buyer be painful? Probably. You might have to date around a bit before you finding Media Buyer Right. But be picky, be direct, and fate will have its way.

*BO – Business Owner
*MB – Media Buyer

Jaime Smith – Media Buyer
The Russo Group

It’s so hard to say goodbye

In business, as in life, there are relationships. There are beginnings, middles and unfortunately, in most cases, there are endings. In advertising, it can be the ending of relationship with a vendor, a team member, or a client – each one takes its toll on the emotional fabric of the creative process. For me, this has been the hardest part of advertising – the end.

In the immortal words of Michael Corleone, “It’s business, never personal.” But when you pour your heart into what you do, immersing yourself into the work and the success of those you work for, well, it is hardly ever that simple.

While no one ever wants to be on the tail end of being let go, canned, dumped, or fired, it is a reality that we must all face at one time or another. More times than others it’s due to poor communication – the Kryptonite of all human relationships. Sometimes it’s simply time to move on. One thing I have learned though, is that it is always best to be the one coming to this reality first. There is nothing worse than a relationship proceeding longer than it should. But how do you know when it’s time to move on?

Look, it’s never easy to break up with anyone. I get that, trust me. I think I still may be officially dating a few people from 1992. At that time it was easier to just stop returning phone calls when things got complicated. As a grown up though, it requires a little more tact and realization.

To begin with, you have to take a hard look at the promise you made at the beginning of the relationship. Have both sides met their end of the bargain? Has one side grown while the other did not? Have expectations changed along the way, and have those expectations been communicated?

In advertising it is rare that an agency will ever turn down money for work, but here is the moral to this story – you have the wrong agency working for you if they have never told you no. Yes, we are in the business of listening to needs, and executing visions, but we are also in the business of advertising – the reason we were hired in the first place. This expertise is why an agency is hired, and if their advice and recommendations are no longer listened to, then it is time for that agency to move on. When you become a strict order taker, you no longer serve the greater good, and in the end, you will fail. Often this is realized after the fact, and when results are not obtained, the relationship ends badly.

It’s not easy, but if you can you should be the one to realize the problems within the relationship before it moves beyond fixing. Remind yourselves of what you both entered the relationship for. If both parties no longer remain on the same page, well, then it may just be time to say goodbye.

Michael Russo
Creative Director
The Russo Group

Google. Point. Click. Pay. Ship. Receive. Repeat.

Do you know how much revenue is generated on the web these days? Well, do you? Here’s a little something to throw around the water cooler this morning – in advertising alone, the net grossed over $16 billion in 2006. That doesn’t factor in all the revenue generated by websites selling the latest iPod gadget, bolo tie, or “gently loved” Mazda 626.

So the real question is not is the net profitable, but what fraction of the billion dollar web tango does your company dance? If you’re doing nothing more than a cyber-sit-this-one-out-shuffle, perhaps you better rethink your Internet business acumen.

I’ve met many business owners who seem to think that if they’re not playing the e-commerce game, then they don’t have anything to sell. But ask yourself, what’s the purpose of your site? Is it just there to sit and look pretty, or does it have a deeper purpose?

Because even if you’re not touting the latest greatest shopping cart, you are selling something – you. What about you or your business should people want to buy? You must discover your own unique selling point and then deliberately differentiate yourself from the crowd.

Are you a retailer? What about your retail business is special? Are you a service provider? What do you and only you offer? Why is service better with you than with somebody else?

Good answers to these questions begin the process of realizing online success. Initiating cyber avenues for people to tap into your company’s selling point solidifies it.

Because the Internet isn’t becoming the new world marketplace, it already is. The Yellow Pages and the SUV no longer take people to what they want to buy. Today, it’s – Google. Point. Click. Pay. Ship. Receive. Repeat.

Realizing you’re a cyber midget? Then do something about it. And relax. You don’t have to know how to do it – that’s why interactive specialists exist – but you do need to know where to find one that will provide solutions to drive your internet earnings.

Here’s a hint to get you started – Google. Point. Click. Pay. Ship. Receive. Repeat.

John Rockwieler – Interactive Director
The Russo Group

A good ad is a great performance, or at least it should be.

Creating a great ad is a thing of beauty. Even today, in the world of multi-media and the web, a well-crafted ad is something to be appreciated. Unfortunately, we are beaten down each day with some of the worst ads known to man.

So, what makes a great ad? Good question.

I could say, great copy, excellent photography and solid design, but I won’t. I won’t because it takes more than these things to create an ad with staying power.

I could also talk about the rules – but rules are made to broken, so I won’t talk about that either. What I will talk about is the performance of an ad - the ability to connect with someone before the turning of the page. A good ad does this. It comes to life, capturing the imagination of those who come in contact with it.

The performance comes from a carefully crafted ad that helps dictate user experience. It has hidden cues that tell us what to read, and how to feel. And hopefully, it leaves us thinking about it once the curtain falls, and we move on to another experience.

In all honesty, this performance is not always possible. As advertisers, our primary goal is to communicate information, sell products and deliver messages. At times, it is what it is. But that does not mean we shouldn’t try. The effort alone to reach out and connect with a consumer means more than not trying at all.

A great headline can change the world, or at the very least, change the way someone thinks. A great image can liberate the soul and a great design can save us all.

Ok, I may have over done it with the last few sentences. A great ad is simply that – a great ad. In the big picture, it seldom means more than that. But for those who depend on that ad to sell a product or deliver a message – well, when it’s successful, it’s a work of art.

Michael Russo
Creative Director
The Russo Group

Advertising Bedtime Stories

Not that I have a lot of time to sit and mull these types of things over, but have you ever posed this question: What would be the hardest product, service, or, for lack of a better term, "thing" to advertise?

A political entity? A war? A religion? A country? An unpopular cause? A lawyer? What about the advertising industry itself?

All seemingly tough, but all of the above have been successfully cut and rendered by the wizards of Madison Avenue (more details on that in another blog at another time).

I submit to you, dear reader, that the seemingly "easy sells" are the most difficult. I'm talking about the basics. The things of everyday life. Soap, toothpaste, bread, beer, water, clothing, and the like.

Difficult how? Because of consumers’ indifference to products that are all too common and all too commonly used. Difficult because of the sheer volume and variety of those products. Difficult because even a tenth of a tenth of a point of market share could make or break a company or manufacturer. And each of those "tenths of a tenths" of gain will come at a cost, that on paper, might not appear to be such a wise return on the investment.

So with that advertising horror story set in place, here are the bedtime stories that big ad execs tell their little junior advertising execs as they tuck them into their desks before those long all nighters...

To be fair, they're not really stories as much as they are headlines or slogans attached to some of the most successful (or famous) campaigns for all types of products. Proving, once again, that simple is not only better, it's memorable.

In no particular order, my top 25½ advertising headlines or slogans of all time:

The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hands.

Tastes great. Less filling. / Everything you always wanted in a beer and less.

Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.

Coke adds life.

Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.

The Uncola.

Try it, you'll like it.

When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.

Drivers wanted.

Reach out and touch someone.

The quicker thicker picker-upper.

We try harder.

The ultimate driving machine.

Let your fingers do the walking.

Just do it.

Don't leave home without it.

You're in good hands with Allstate.

Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you don't.

It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

Please don't squeeze the Charmin!

M'm! M'm! Good!

Betcha can't eat just one.

Nothing runs like a Deere.

Think small.

Think different.

Goodnight. Sleep tight. Don't let the media buyers bite.
Gary LoBue Jr / Art Director / The Russo Group

When Cost Doesn’t Matter – Understanding Your Customer’s Values

I dread Memorial Day weekend. To tell you the truth, as I got ready for work this morning, I was relieved it was over. No, the family barbeque wasn’t a disaster, thank you for asking. It was the ads. The all-pervading, all-annoying Memorial Day weekend ads.

Even if I’d been in the market for a new loveseat or a used pickup truck I’d have been bothered, because every Memorial Day it becomes clearer to me how many advertising dollars are being wasted in this country, how many companies are paying good money to look absolutely ridiculous in front of countless consumers, 2-3 times every hour.

Retailers advertise their lowest prices ever – their once in a lifetime sales – again. They dress up as veterans, beer bellies camouflaged under brand new fatigues, and proceed to yell through bullhorns, shout commands into the camera, and stomp all over the furniture customers are now supposed to be enticed to buy.

It’s insulting really, that these businesses think consumers are so easily fooled, or, worse yet, entertained. They don’t understand what people really want, and they’re unwilling to consider that perhaps finding something “free” or “on clearance” isn’t what’s most important to today’s buyer.

Participants of focus groups I’ve conducted admit that although they might be fooled once by antics ads, after they’ve gone into a store and seen how few bargains are really available, they make a promise never to return. In fact, they often leave with a bit of animosity and proceed to tell their family and friends where not to shop.

So what do they care about? Here’s a start – saved time, not money. Most people understand that they’re going to have to spend a bit to get something of worth. They’re okay with that, in fact they’ll view it as an investment, if they can shop at a store that caters to their need for real convenience, good service, and a commitment to take their business seriously. People hate headaches, and they’ll pay to avoid them.

Which is why I quite happily return to the agency every Tuesday following Memorial Day, more than willing to exchange a three day weekend for a little relief from Joe Jr. slapping reduction stickers on black and gold Kias.

Jaci Russo, Senior Partner/Account Planner
The Russo Group

Basement Rates for Big Time Advertising

When it comes to advertising, the right marketing strategy often gets the best results. But let’s face it, cost matters too. The client wants the best value for the cheapest price.

Solution? The Media Buyer.

Media Buyer n : all-knowing print, radio, television, and outdoor guru oddly exhilarated by tracking the latest trends in web, bus stop, and bathroom stall advertising; often seen “out” sporting a calculator in front left pocket

A media buyer, scorned socially perhaps, is nevertheless your very best resource when you want to save on advertising.

Why? Relationships. The media buyer has an in with local media sales reps. Let me anticipate your next thought: “Okay – so I start buying lunch for the all the nice folks living under satellite towers.” If only all it took was a nice prime rib.

Unfortunately, the world of sales has a high turnover rate. And so as quickly as you’ve established a relationship – it’s over. It’s a lot like 6th grade dating relationships, where you pass notes in the hall and hold hands on the bus ride home. No, as grown ups it's more like a serious game of speed dating.

It’s a media buyer’s job to stay ahead of the game and know not only the new names and faces, but the ins and outs of the business as well. For instance, if a media buyer has been able to purchase a ½ page ad in the Sunday newspaper at one price for client A, you better believe they’re going to insist on the same price for client B.

And so although they can’t teleport or penetrate cement walls with their x-ray vision, a Media Buyer’s negotiating power is borderline superhuman. Not only will they commandeer a better price, they also know the capabilities of specific mediums. They’re the experts when it comes to knowing what YOU need to succeed.

Jaime Smith
Media Specialist
The Russo Group

Fatal Flaws

Let's just cut to the chase.

You're successful and you probably got there via one of two routes. You either started at the bottom of the corporate ladder (or pretty damn near) and through shear determination, skill, street smarts, a Brooks Brothers suit and maybe just a little bit of manipulation became Mr. Golden Boy /slash/ Company Man.


You parleyed a little capital, fired up the start-‘em-up machine with that "Big Idea" tucked neatly into your Dockers back pocket and beaucoup hours of sweat equity later--you're sitting pretty with a sweet IPO just right around the corner.

Fashion sensibilities or business attire aside, here's where we check the egos at the door. Your door, my door, it doesn't matter. What really matters is that we mutually respect each other. Yes, I know, that sounds all warm and fuzzy, touchy-feely, and so not "corporate."

But here's why:

You know how you made it to the top of the pyramid, and I'm sure that during our discovery meeting I'll hear all about it from one of your many underlings. And if you choose to listen, you'll hear fantastic tales of advertising daring-do from my side of the table.

We both got to our stations in life because we are both undeniably experts in our fields of discipline. Feel free to read that sentence again.

It’s my job, no, it is my passion to learn and comprehend everything there is to know about your company, your product or your service. That's how I discover the point of difference that can distance your cog over the other guy's sprocket. That's why, or more aptly, how, your coordinated mass media campaign will show a tidy little return on your investment.

It won't be because (FATAL FLAW ALERT) you insist that our team of experts take a certain approach because that's what worked for you or your product before. Or... (FATAL FLAW ALERT) your marketing director thinks that because your competitor is taking a certain tact or direction that we must follow suit because if it works for them, then consequently, it must work for us. Or... (FATAL FLAW ALERT) someone on your board of directors read on the Internet that print is dead. Hey, if you read it on the Internet then it must be true.

Get the idea?

Good. Because I could go on and on.

Seriously I could. The advertising graveyard is totally over-populated with the zombies of flawed decision making and micro-management.

Moral of the story--let the plumbers plumb, the bricklayers lay and the doctors doc.

You hired a trained professional--let the professional do his job.

Gary LoBue Jr / Art Director / The Russo Group

The 12 Week Rule-Know When to Expect Results from Your Media Buy

Thanks to the movie Swingers, most people know about the 3 Day Rule – when you meet someone you like, wait 3 days before calling them. Unfortunately, few people understand the 12 Week Rule in advertising – after launching a new campaign, wait at least 12 weeks before appraising its sway.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing I’d like more than to promise my clients immediate results. I’m as instant gratification oriented as anybody, but I DON’T. Because the truth is it takes time for a message to penetrate the market and change consumers’ buying habits.

So a week, even two just isn’t going to cut it. You’re buying impressions, and impressions take time. In fact, the average consumer has to experience your ad at least 20 times for it to make any kind of impact. Typically, that happens after about 12 weeks. Then and only then will you start to see a difference in your profit margin. Then and only then will you be able to start evaluating the worth of the buy.

So be wary of any media buyer promising instant results. What they’re really offering is immediate padding for their own pocket books, not your company cash box.

Jaci Russo – Senior Partner
The Russo Group

Web 2.0 – The Future of the World Wide Circus

If Web 1.0 (weren’t aware such a thing existed? you’re in good company) brought the internet to the people, than Web 2.0 (still more an industry buzz word than anything else) will bring the internet to your computer.

Consider all the “Do It Yourself” tax return services this year. You can buy the software and install it on your desktop (1.0), or you can visit the company website, file your taxes, and store all your information for next season right there (2.0).

Basically, Web 2.0 will take us away from installing software on our desktops and lead us toward paying subscriptions to use centralized software available through company websites.

• Forget updating – it’s all done for you
• No more floppy discs or CDs – everything available online
• Information storage – company holds onto your data for you
• Faster – no more clunky code
• More reliable – quality maintained by company
• Fewer hassles – again, quality maintained

• Security – although protecting your information is top priority, there’s always a chance a cyber pirate will get to your information
• Sharing – eliminates the ability to share software with a friend (shame on you anyway)
• No more floppy discs – I was always rather attached to the floppy disc. It’s the only way I can say “floppy” in a business meeting and not get fired for it.

Techies who develop software are all over 2.0 because it cleans up the programming code and allows us to concentrate on core updates. It’s also much faster for our end user. Another advantage – we can get up close and personal with cyber pirates.

But you should know, the very premise of Web 2.0 is rooted in controversy. Maybe that’s because as simple as I’ve made it sound, it’s still more theory than anything else. And in the World Wide Circus, theory always makes the elephants nervous. As speed limit signs on the information superhighway become more and more “suggestions” than anything else, I guess we’re all left wondering what happens when the road ends.

John Rockweiler, Interactive Director, intrepid and amazing
The Russo Group

A Condensed History of the Great Advertising & Marketing Wars -- Part VII or Divide et impera *

Hertz vs. Avis
Coke vs. Pepsi
Apple vs. Microsoft
That cute, spiky-haired Alltel dude vs. the Cingular, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile dorks

It doesn't matter how it started. I hear tell that back in the ‘50s some CEO sloshed a very dry martini on another CEO's wife during a benefit dinner. I'd like to think that in the bowels of some dark and smoke-filled Madison Avenue agency, someone yelled, "screw 'em" and pressed the little red button; effectively launching a pre-emptive strike against a nation of fanatical car rental dealerships. Either way, a line in the sand is drawn, and it's winner take all.

Or is it?

In this polarized land of everyone loves a winner, but roots for the underdog, a very strange thing happens when the Brand-X battle lines snap to attention -- both sides seem to prevail.

Call it the tag-along-effect or compare it to the Nascar driving technique of drafting, but when one company takes the offensive and attacks the value or benefits of their competitor's product, both companies get pulled into the mass media spotlight. And, if the competitor's product is not inherently flawed (and at the highest level it usually isn't) – ka-boom – free exposure, front-of-mind name recognition and a measurable sales spike.

Sure, the company that takes the strategic initiative will ultimately gain those few precious percentage points of market share, but at what cost? Allowing the other agency to easily engineer a defensive roll-over minutes campaign? Allowing the legions of the competitor's opposing cola army (the product fans) to initiate
a flanking viral or grassroots campaign? As a passionate nation of consumers and brand loyalists (Red vs. Blue anyone?), we love to take a stand, and we'll stand on the other team's throat to let them know it.

The fact is an advertising and marketing war is an end game and a war of attrition. The only loser will be the company that literally gives up, shuts down or is purchased for a cash/stock deal and the assumption of its debt. These "wars" are really an endless series of market share battles that can easily run the course of decades.

So dear client, before you start firing your Kalashnikovs up in the air with the rallying cry of "Give me market share or give me death!" listen to your agency professionals' advice. Cold war or cola war, taking that path commands a very high price. Trust us, we've pulled many a tour of duty and have the medals to prove it.

Gary LoBue Jr / Art Director / The Russo Group
* Divide and conquer

Camera Savvy Executives

Trump does it with a comb over. The Weinstein brothers do it on the red carpet. And Steve Jobs manages it wearing an ipod. What is it? Staying poised and professional in front of the camera. And it’s harder than it looks.

There’s an art form to succeeding in front of the media, and I’m not talking about generating some sort of Academy Award performance. Here’s the thing – you don’t want to be that exec who contracts a verbal stomach flu every time a microphone is placed in front of your face. Fair or not, if during an interview an incoherent rush of nonsense jettisons out of your mouth, people will question your intelligence, know-how, professionalism, and more.

It’s true – in day-to-day business encounters, skill, confidence, and a commanding vocabulary will take you a long way, but unless you can translate that poise, unless you can present it on camera, it means nothing to the masses of people who never interact with you except through their television sets.

So it doesn’t hurt to practice, often, before an upcoming interview. In fact, it doesn’t hurt to practice for interviews yet to take place. Because they’ll happen eventually, typically in moments of crisis when rehearsal isn’t an option – you’ve simply got to produce. The future of your company depends on it.

That’s why more and more companies are investing in people like me – message trainers. We “talk coaches” will guide you through the interviewing process and help you formulate your message. We’ll conduct mock interviews on camera, helping you work out any presentation kinks. We’ll teach you what to do with your hands, where to look, how to deflect sensitive questions without sounding vague or suspicious, how to pause to provide time for thought, how to detect a reporter’s bias, and how to remain in control at all times.

If nothing else, it beats wasting hours in front of your bathroom mirror.

Amy Jones, Media Director
The Russo Group

Down…Set…Mic: Are you ready for the media game?

You own the option, you get back on your feet after taking a hit from a 6-3, 265 pound DE named “Crush,” and fourth quarter comebacks are your specialty. Yep. You’re a real superstar – on the field. But how are you in that other game, the one without a playbook or a man in stretchy pants making sure everybody follows the rules? Can you handle the microphone and the pack of reporters who will demand to know not just the details of your game, but of your life, too?

It’s tough out there. Ask Kobe. Ask Terrell. Ask Barry.

The same press who today will charm you with “Who loves ya, baby?” (thank you, Telly Savalas), will throw your athlete butt under the Goodyear Blimp tomorrow if it it’ll sell. And nothing sells like celebrity screw ups. You know it’s true because, admit it, you’ve fed on them, too.

That’s why more and more athletes are turning to people like me, message trainers, to help them manage their talk game as tightly as they manage everything else. As a coach off the field, a message trainer will develop your message, safeguard your image, and manage media crisis when it comes, so that when you get your 15 minutes in the spotlight – you stay out of the sports hall of shame.

Amy Jones, Message Trainer
The Russo Group

From College, to Hazzard, and Back Again. The tale of a designer and his journey.

I began painting at the age of 7. I am unsure if I showed an aptitude for art, but with 6 brothers and sisters, my mother made sure we each spent a good amount of time away from the house during summer breaks. I guess it stuck, and eleven years later I entered college as an art student majoring in Advertising Design.

After seven years I finally graduated – yes, seven years. I guess you can say I enjoyed my college experience to the fullest. Eventually though, I had to move on to the real world. My first step – I had to get a job.

With my trusty portfolio in tow, I headed out, fully prepared to turn the design world on its head. Unfortunately, I still had a few bends in the road to navigate.

I spent my first year out of school waiting tables in Seattle, freelancing and temping whenever and wherever I could find work. It was good times for sure. I was paid little if anything at all and soon began wondering if I had made the right career choice.

After living the good life for longer than anyone should, I finally landed my first real gig. It wasn’t exactly how I imagined it, but it was steady, and I was a “professional.” I even had business cards – how cool was that?

Now, let’s fast-forward a few years to the point of this story, and yes, there is a point.

On this particular day I found myself sitting in a meeting with people that I considered to be both successful and intelligent. I listened carefully as they spoke passionately about their company. They had an intense pride for what they’d accomplished, who they were, and where they were going. I was inspired.

Then, within the blink of an eye I was transported to the town Hazard where Daisy Duke (the original Daisy – not the blond wanna-be from recent years) throws down and the Duke boys pull off yet another ridiculous jump in the General Lee.

No offence to the good folks of Hazard, but what I heard truly had me wondering where I was and what I was hearing. And what was it that sent me into this state of back woods wonder? Well, it was the realization that this successful company had chosen to trust their brand to a guy by the name of Joe. No last name to speak of, just Joe.

Come to find out, Joe was the guy who designed their logo, built their website and was responsible for the ground-breaking campaign of 06, featuring, get this, a Half-Off Monday Madness Sale!

To be honest, it was difficult to argue their success, but for certain, it was not due to the advertising prowess of Joe. This company’s brand ran much deeper than that. They had a great product in a small community with a good family name. They were successful in spite of Joe. How do I know this? Well, that’s why I was in the meeting in the first place.

As this particular company expanded to new markets, they found their name and reputation meant little to the masses and needed a way to translate this message into their marketing efforts – and sad to say, Joe was not up for the task.

I could go on about this account and how we chose to position them, but that is not the point of the story either. The point of the story is how this industry is often viewed by the public.

Pretty much anyone with a computer can call themselves a designer. Unfortunately, the glaring differences between a professional and a guy named Joe are often discovered too late. Sure, you’ll pay less for Joe - that’s a given. But trust me; you will always get what you pay for.

There is a science to good design and strategic branding, and it rarely comes from reading a book. It comes from experience. Experience in the classroom and on the job that helps companies and individuals deliver messages, sell products and establish brands.

In the end, I am pretty confident I could pull off a triple by-pass surgery if I really had too. After all, I have watched plenty of ER and Grey’s Anatomy – but for now, I think I will stick with advertising.

Michael Russo, Creative Director
The Russo Group

Just Me and My Mac -- The Private Musings of an Agency Art Director

It's 10:31 on a lovely winter morning, and I was just overcome by a strange and very unusual feeling. It wasn't deja vu, or what some call a frisson*. But it was an epiphany of sorts:

How do you sell a product or service to those whose mission in life is to sell a product or service?

I mean, shouldn't someone like myself, a devout, practicing, art director-type guy, be totally immune to "the pitch?" Did I not take the Marketing Pox vaccine back in 4th grade?

I made a promise to the Blog gods that I would never talk about myself, but this is important. No; this is monumental, and it will now have a profound effect on everything that I come in contact with. Well, at least for the next hour so.

Here's how they (and by they, I mean us -- the ad peeps) got to me folks:

It was that damn branding. Branding, with a little touch of price-pointing thrown in for good measure.

When I wasn't looking, or had my back turned to the TV, someone representing a brand made a promise. More importantly, they kept that promise. Even more importantly, they kept that promise time and time again.

Sorry, about breaking the ad-guy code of silence, but how else can you explain the reason that my family is on its fifth Honda (quality and reliability), or that I only use Colgate toothpaste (never a cavity and totally fresh breath)?

No one "sold" me on those two products, or the countless others, but I vaguely remember a promise those brands made to me, that I bought into that promise, and that I was not disappointed with that buy.

Sure, the term “branding” has been tossed around over the last decade like some two-year-old's Elmo doll, but when branding is executed by a professional team, and is executed consistently over a period of time, it can be a thing of beauty. And beauty sells, man.

It's all quite simple really and bears repeating:

A brand is a promise and promises should be kept. A kept promise is a form of trust and once someone trusts you (or your product or service), they'll beat a path to your door every time.

Make that I'll beat a path to your door every time. Because even jaded, seen-it-all ad-guys have to buy stuff now and then.

Gary LoBue Jr / Art Director & Brand Loyal Consumer / The Russo Group

*a sudden, passing sensation of intense emotion

My Mom Just Created My Website…and Other Disasters in Programming

You may not know it, but a fierce debate rages in cyberspace – is web design an art or a science? Webbers get really heated about it, writing blogs entirely in programming languages, staging virtual strikes, and threatening viruses upon each other.

Juvenile? Absolutely.

But these testy interactive types do have one thing going for them – at least they know how to spawn viruses, blog in programming, and threaten virtual silence. What I’m saying is, at least they’ve a bit more interactive training than a late night read of Websites for Dummies.

Because in theory web design is “easy,” companies, we’re talking reputable companies, entrust everyone from local college kids to their aunt’s son’s best friend’s brother with design of their website. True, amateurs can probably get you an address and a brightly colored banner, but without advanced training, they’re unable to offer you search engine optimization, dimension expertise, language options, and other elements critical to securing a professional web presence. There’s a real chance that the company image you’ve worked hard to manicure will be suddenly reduced to all that is crude and kitschy.

Yes, it’ll cost you more to program professionally. But like everything else in business, initial investments result in long-term profitability. The free, “my mama did it” websites look and act the part. And as we all know, if customers struggle even a little with a site’s navigability, they’re gone. Another vendor is literally a click away.

You’ll do better letting mom design the Family Reunion Summer 2008 site, and a professional the site of your company.

John Rockweiler
Interactive Director
The Russo Group

So You’re Saying I’m a Logo?

You’ve burrowed into your favorite spot at the local coffee shop. You’re alone but not particularly interested in company, so you pick up a nearby paper and begin to browse. You spend a few minutes skimming an article, but eventually, you’re drawn to an ad.

The subject of intense debate among industry geniuses - just what about that ad lures you? The clever headline. The image, edgy and smart. Informative body copy. Or perhaps a familiar logo.

Hate to break it to faithfuls of any one camp, but I’ve found the draw has a lot more to do with the individual than the ad. In fact, I’m considering launching a new division in our agency – Ad Reading. We’ll determine your personality type based solely on your ad preferences.

Headlines – You’re the take charge types. You don’t waste time on details because you’ve got vision. You’re natural leaders, more than a little ambitious, and attracted to positions of management and business development. You’re absolutely essential in every organization, the key player. Without you, nothing would get done. You’re also a little bossy. No offense.

Illustrations – You’re what’s known as “a personality,” “colorful,” and “charismatic.” You’re a lot of fun at a party and a valuable asset at business meetings. Everyone else is off the hook because you provide good conversation, lots of laughs, and small talk that somehow manages to feel natural. People tend to like you immediately, and you’re able to put a face on the headliners’ vision. The only drawback, you struggle when someone else wants a share of your spotlight.

Body Copy – More the academic type, you’re thorough and good with details. You develop a plan to implement the vision, and you make sure everyone follows procedure. Although you’re well spoken, you don’t seek the spotlight, so you can be a bit reserved, a bit quiet at times. But because you care about being understood, when you are moved to speak, you can go on, and on, and on.

Logos – You’re a person people trust, someone others come to when they have a problem. That’s because you’re a good listener and incredibly loyal. You make sure everyone is taken care of, and you’re great behind the scenes. Although you have opinions, you don’t share them casually. In fact, you often let others take credit for things you’ve done, and when you become frustrated, you often refuse to do anything to rectify it. You’re what we call harborer.

Impressed? I offer free consultations all the time.

Jaci Russo – Sr. Partner
The Russo Group

Putting your Creative Campaign out to Pasture.

Remember your favorite childhood pet, that beautiful Golden Retriever named Lucky?

What a good friend and companion.

And remember when you came home from school one afternoon and your parents told you that they took Lucky to old-man Vernon's farm. They said it was a wonderful place for a dog like Lucky. A place with wide open fields and pastures; a place where he could chase rabbits and take nice long naps under an old oak tree. They said it was for the best, and somehow it all made sense.

Well, I'm here to tell you that your ad campaign is probably ready for Old Man Vernon's farm. Just how old is your current campaign? One, almost two years running? That's nearly 47-years-old in marketing years.

I'm not talking about a reinventing your brand, your brand identity, or your company's positioning statement or tag line. If carefully crafted and executed by a professional creative team, those have a shelf life and can almost be carved in stone.

What I am talking about is a reassessment of your advertising and marketing initiatives. Examining the current marketplace – more specifically your marketplace, determining where the void is, and changing the market's conversation. The topic of conversation will be your product or service. And the void will be filled with the same.

You can skimp on your marketing budget if you'd like, leave your clients and customer base to gnaw on those old print ads like ol' Lucky chewing on a bone, but that will come with a higher price. Flat sales, flat leads, or an even flatter company "wallet." And that's a hole you don't want to dig yourself out of.

I know it can be a hard thing to do, saying goodbye to that good friend and companion, "the old ad campaign." So I'll leave you with this: Like a new puppy, a new ad campaign will generate excitement, run constantly for the first few months, be friendly to all, but most importantly – be devoted to one.

So rest in peace, Lucky. I'll always remember you, but now I know, it was for the best.

Gary LoBue Jr / Art Director / The Russo Group

Top 10 Pick Up Lines of a Media Sales Rep

We all hate empty promises sugarcoated by pseudo-sincere one-liners. Unfortunately, in the world of media, you get bombarded with them daily.

Maybe you’ve met a media sales rep specially-trained in how best to woo a new interest. The problem – most say all the wrong things and never make good on their promises.

Avoid the unwanted courtship altogether by hiring a Media Buyer to do it for you. A Media Buyer bargains with station reps on your behalf. She, or he also vows never to say the following:

1. Like Neilson, your ratings are through the roof!
2. Fax me over that contract, and, baby, I’m all yours.
3. If you were words on a page – you’d be FINE PRINT.
4. Is that a bulls-eye you’ve got on? Because you’re just the target I’m looking for.
5. When you’re ready, I have endless avails.
6. My reach is like Visa. It’s everywhere you want to be.
7. Unlike film, I’m all about overexposure.
8. Quarter page? Baby, you deserve full coverage!
9. Black and white is boring. You’d look hot in color.
10. I may not be in the NFL, but my blitzes are All-Star!

Katherine Linyard, Media Buyer
The Russo Group

When Bad Names Happen to Good Companies.

“What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.”

William Shakespeare -- Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)


You have an idea, you have the ambition, you have the time, and most importantly, you have the funding.

Now all you have to do is come up with a simple, but easy to recall name for your new business venture or product. Easy right?


Never in the history of marketing, branding, advertising or design has the naming convention game been more important or more difficult. The major hurdle that you will deal with won't be with your business or product’s name. It will be with your business or product’s domain name. And if you know anything about branding or brand identity you'll probably want the two names to match.

Just for kicks and giggles, enter a name or product you may have been mulling over into one of the various internet "WhoIs" search forms. (Okay, I'll make it easy on you as we both know you're a very busy entrepreneur; try this link:
http://www.internic.net/whois.html . Go ahead, type it in, no one is looking.

Oh, too bad! If your business or product wasn't named after, hmm, let's say a blend of 37th century B.C. Sumerian cheeses, chances are high it was already taken. In fact, last I checked, I think every word or letter in the previous sentence was already taken.

That doesn't leave you with a whole lot of wiggle room when naming your new 21st century business baby, but don't get discouraged. With the strategic thought and creative care of a professional team at your helm, the letters will all fall into place. Just like apple, adobe, windows, amazon, google, vonage, skype, viagra, zyrtec, vioxx and xanax.

And no, I'm not picking on the big pharmaceuticals. It's just that, unlike Sumerian, the Klingon language should stay where it belongs.

Gary LoBue Jr / Art Director / The Russo Group

ps: ga-àr-ra: a powdered or finely grated Sumerian cheese ('milk' + 'to grind'); gaarra.com: a product, company and domain name that's just raring to go --

Along Came a Spider – Search Engine Optimization

Little Miss Muffet sat at her laptop
Building a cool new website,
Along came a net spider
Who passed right by her…
Mocking her along the way.

So you’ve spent major cash on a cool new website for your company. One built in Flash and featuring all the latest bells and whistles. You show it off to clients. You talk about it with friends. You even dream about it at night. This site, you tell yourself, this virtual Mecca, means you, well, you have arrived. You are a 21st century entrepreneur.

Alas. Your joy soon dies. Because it isn’t long before you realize this Zen of all sites receives an average of one hit daily – yours. The problem – no one knows where you are. Your fancy new site lacks an essential programming ingredient – Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

What is SEO? It’s making sure the right copy, not the right graphics pack your site. Don’t panic – good web designers can still make your site look cool too, but when it comes to programming – you’ve got to consider the spiders.

Warning – our discussion requires I now launch into web-speak.

Most Search Engines have little pieces of code called spiders that crawl around internet content, indexing site content based on how easy it is to read and follow. Spiders don’t see the web as you and I do. They don’t pause and look at the pretty pictures. They don’t gasp in excitement at the fancy Flash presentation. And, unfortunately, they don’t boogey down to your homepage music. The spider is only interested in the code. And if in programming you didn’t consider the code, if your site lacks certain keywords, you won’t be found. Search engines like Google and Yahoo will pass right over you when they list relevant matches to keyword inquiries.

Remember your website is only as effective as the response you receive from it. Make friends with the spiders, and they will make friends with your site.

John Rockweiler, Interactive Director
The Russo Group

What Your Last Agency Might Have Forgotten – A Strategic Brief

We’ve seen it time and time again. Companies left dazed and confused after interviewing agencies to handle their marketing needs. Business owners sit in conference rooms hearing pitches stolen from some universal “How to Sound Important Without Actually Saying Anything” manual.

These agencies show their portfolio with pride and boast of numerous awards kept neatly polished in trophy cases. They claim to have all of the answers and, for a modest fee, will place your company on the fast track to world domination.

Some will even bring spec creative to convince you of their talent, but offer little that assures you they really understand your needs, not to mention your budget. They often forget the one thing that actually matters – a strategy.

Without a sound strategy of implementation, your marketing efforts are destined to either A) fail or B) do little to get you where you want to go.

Save yourself conference room fatigue by asking the agency for a strategic brief. Don’t expect the brief to give away the agency’s creative concepts, but it should offer the meat of their proposed marketing plan. It will:

• Detail the agency’s understanding of your needs
• Outline the goals for your campaign
• Propose a budget in line with reality
• Suggest a strategic media buy based on budget and ROI
• Give you an understanding of who they are and how they work

Simply put – tell them, no brief, no contract.

Jaci Russo
Sr. Partner
The Russo Group