How to Evaluate a Company’s Culture

When I was a consultant at Price Waterhouse, I worked for a time in Mergers & Acquisitions. Not the deals, the actual coming together after the deal was signed, the integration. It was all about managing the human aspect. Could two cultures come together?

When I moved onto large strategy projects, much attention was made to the organizational chart. I learned there is the organizational chart on paper, the one that is promoted, and there is the one that shows how the organization actually worked (the one I had to figure out).

For the past 7 years, my brand strategy work has been mostly executive coaching (as much as I hate the term, “coaching”). I contend 25% of my work has involved the process of branding and 75% has been helping, directing, influencing, and bolstering the thinking and decisions of management.

This experience has produced a single insight…business is all about human psychology. I know, that is not earth-shattering but put it this way, every human is fallible. Every business is made up of humans. Businesses are, therefore, fallible, imperfect, flawed. And here is a branding secret, that is what makes them great.

Enough. I am rambling. What I want to get to, is the criteria for evaluating a company’s culture. This will help career seekers. It will direct and ease mergers and acquisitions. It will help clients pick providers and providers seeking clients. It is the way to calculate connection and fit.

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Don’t Be Afraid of Long-Form Ads

There was a time when people actually read, and read a great deal. Now brands, marketers and advertisers, have catered to and hastened ever-shortening attention spans. Videos run in seconds, online ads pop up over-and-over again in seizure inducing ways, radio screams irrelevant call-to-actions.

We have robbed consumers of their intellect by dumbing down both message and medium. Yet, people still read and watch in longer amounts. So many documentaries on Netflix are long ads for different sides of the same debate. Reality shows espouse different ways of life and people eat them up. So, why are brand ads increasingly short and, arguably, simpler (if not, dumb)?

It is great to come across long-form ads in print as they are both endangered species. Check out this beauts that take the time to compel and tell a story. Make sure to read the last one!

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My Tenuous Connection to Spy Magazine

It takes a certain vintage, I am speaking of human age, not a red wine or long-packaged Twinkie, to recall the magazine called, Spy. It was, to use an expression oft-used, fucking awesome. It ran from 1986 to 1998. Those were formative years for me. Actually, every year has been formative for me. I expect future ones to be equally or even more formative.

The publication was founded by Kurt Andersen and E. Graydon Carter, who served as its first editors. Their pedigrees are well-pedigreed. Andersen graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College, where he edited the Harvard Lampoon. He has been a writer and columnist for New York, The New Yorker, and Time. What an under-achiever. Carter is Canadian (enough said) who served as the editor of Vanity Fair from 1992 until 2017. Such a light-weight.

Before their real accomplishments, they focused on Spy, which bathed in irreverence and was doused in satire. The content loved to skewer the American media and entertainment industries while mocking “high” society (which in America is vacuous celebrity). To say it was ‘ahead of its time’, is an evaluation they would skewer and mock if still in print.

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The Back of a Napkin

Marketers and ad professionals are attracted to shiny new toys. They look to technology as a panacea for reaching and influencing buyer behaviour. Newspapers, radio, tv, the Internet, big data, social media, AI, and whatever is next. There is one thing missing in this equation.

The fact is all great ads regardless of medium or platform start out on a whiteboard, a flip chart, a notebook, or the back of a napkin.

Print ads are therefore the gold standard. If an ad or campaign cannot compel from a single sheet of paper, no algorithm will save it. Technology will just irritate consumers with irrelevant and poorly timed ads. In other words, why make something flawed more efficient?

Recently, I came across two sets of print ads that share characteristics. They draw you in visually. They create allure and make a promise. They know their audience. Someone sweated over them and were proud in the end. In a time when more means more, these were designed to cut through the clutter that advertising and converging technologies have created.

Great ads start with a Bic pen not an algorithm. Look ahead and see if you agree.

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Bauhaus Ha

Spoiler alert…this may be for design nerds only. Imagine extremely recognizable and memorable logos. What comes to mind? An Apple. A Golden Arch. A Swoosh.

What comes to mind when you hear Bauhaus? No, it is not an Oktoberfest pop-up beer hall. The Staatliches Bauhaus, commonly known as the Bauhaus, was a German art school that ran from 1919 to 1933, It combined crafts and the fine arts, and was famous for the approach to design that it publicized and taught.[

So, some talented folks smooshed, or swooshed, modern logos into the Bauhaus style. Here is the result and they would look awesome on a t-shirt (or a New Wave retrospective music collection).

Brand Consultancies, Do This

Four years ago, I wrote the article, Branding Needs Rebranding. In hindsight, the title was a tad misleading because it covered the lack of differentiation and delivery between brand consultancies, it was not an indictment of the entirety of branding. I argued, branding is largely premised on differentiation, so shouldn’t the consultancies be different?

Today, the processes and methodologies of branding and rebranding from consultancies remain the same. Meanwhile, many of the larger consultancies have undergone different kinds of change. Prominent ones have left poor-performing markets and shuttered practice areas where margins grew slim.

Those under the large holding companies have been grouped together for synergies, more on the cost side, than revenue growth. This cycle of consolidation and rationalization is nothing new in the larger communications industry, but it could be less severe or avoided…more on that in a bit.

Let’s set the stage by looking back. Prior to 2000, branding was a nascent practice and profession. Then it exploded. Books, conferences, job titles, and businesses sprung up around brand. The sad fact is, “brand” became a buzzword and consultancies focused on building repeatable processes and methodologies, creating an uninspired assembly line of parity. Brand became ubiquitous but lost its edge.

Same Process, Same Result
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Why the Agency World Loved and Hated Mad Men

This post originally appeared on HubSpot’s Agency Post.

In 2007, I was brand new to the storied advertising agency DDB, having been appointed Chief Communications Officer. One of the first memos that hit my desk was a “heads up” that Doyle Dane Bernbach was going to be featured in a new television series. Creator Matthew Weiner had consulted with the agency prior to production and my arrival, but we did not know how the agency was to be treated in the storyline for Mad Men.

Fast-forward all these years, and I am happy to say that DDB fared the best in the quips and portrayals of Madison Avenue agencies (McCann was continuously trashed, BBDO had a short bad turn). I can honestly say that I would have watched and been loyal to the show regardless of my employer or career. It is an amazing trip through my adolescence and profession, as well as, our shared history and pop culture.

Now that the show has long been finished, I’m feeling nostalgic for all of the nostalgia the show provided. Mad Men was cleverly premised on investigating the past by monitoring the effect of change. Throughout, we witnessed our troubled public and private lives, personal struggle, and even surrender in the face of social upheaval.

Booze = Good

And Now, a Word From Our Sponsors

The series addressed race, gender roles, war, free love, assassinations, office politics, infidelity, addiction, and occasionally, advertising. On the last subject, it has been surprising that so little discussion has taken place on the impact mass production coupled with mass advertising had on society. This commercialism turned people into consumers and products into brands, and we have never been the same. 

Nor did the series adequately tackle the quality of advertising in the period. In the 1960s, advertising became a game of more, not better. In The Idea Writers: Copywriting in a New Media and Marketing Era, Teressa Iezzi writes:

For every Think Small (a DDB campaign for Volkswagen) in the 1960s, there was a bottomless bowl of the same insufferable dross that’s served up on any given commercial break and that covers the ground from forgettable waste of everyone’s time and money to actively annoying disincentive to ever buy the product being advertised.

It is amazing that, given the volume of work from this era, each notable agency can cite only a small number of standout campaigns. For Ogilvy & Mather, it is The Man in the Hathaway Shirt who sported a black eye patch adding mystery to his decision to wear only Hathaway shirts. The roguish adventurer drove sport cars, sailed yachts, courted women, held an elephant’s tusk, and inspected a shotgun all in the same crisp white shirt. 

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The Best Defunct Company Logos

Some are instantly recognizable while others verge on being lost to history. The list is neither exhaustive or scientific, it is highly subjective like so much of branding. If you have some cool ones to add, let us know.

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When Commerce Met Art

As my readers know, I am a huge fan of marketing history (to the point of being supremely nerdy). Over the past few years, I went back through the centuries to find great stories for my book, Why Marketing Works. That research missed a very cool tale that I am happy now to share. It involves Walter Paepcke and his company, Container Corporation of America (CCA).

When just 25, Paepcke inherited his father’s Chicago-based wooden crate empire. Predicting the shift to a consumer goods economy requiring smaller, lighter packaging, he moved production from wooden crates to corrugated paperboard containers. He bought a bunch of other packaging suppliers along with paper mills to ensure vertical integration and founded CCA in 1926. One smart fellow…as you will learn (read to the end to see how he and his wife are responsible for the popularity of the town of Aspen).

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The Branding Cannabis Series…#1

Welcome to the first in a series of three papers on Cannabis Branding.

It is as if the Gold Rush and the end of Prohibition crossed paths. The legalization of recreational cannabis use includes Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, the District of Columbia, and the Northern Mariana Islands, with all but Vermont and D.C. permitting its commercial sale. On October 17, 2018, Canada legalized recreational use from coast-to-coast.

If I can provide another historic reference, this has produced a Wild West when it comes to the branding and marketing of businesses in the blooming and growing cannabis industry. Policy makers can’t keep up with the ramifications. Everyone is confused about what can be said, how they say it and to whom.

This messiness is going to have long-term impact on how the industry is viewed and perceived. Further, the mostly juvenile attempts at branding cannabis-related companies has everyone veering into Cheech and Chong territory with an overuse of green leaves and big buds. The nascent industry is “stereotypicallying” itself to the point of comedy.

Download the paper SC_BrandingCannabis_1.