A Word

Politics. It’s on the airwaves 24/7. And there are nine more months till the Presidential election. McCain. Huckabee. Clinton. Obama. All vying for the nation’s top job. A speaker I heard at a recent branding retreat said Obama would win the democratic nomination because he “owns” a word. Barak Obama says the word “change” almost as often as Emeril Lagasse says the word “bam!” What word, the speaker asked, does Hillary own?

He has a point.

Most great brands bring a word to mind for the consumer. Volvo owns the word “safe.” FedEx owns “overnight.” Xerox owns “copies.” BMW, “driving machine.” Ok, that’s two words, but you get the gist of it.

If I could choose a word I would like our company to own, it would be “effective.” Not “creative” or even “groundbreaking,” just “effective.” Because creativity that doesn’t inspire action isn’t advertising, it’s art. From the smallest direct mail piece to the largest multi-media campaign, our goal is to create emotional advertising that effectively moves our clients’ products and services.

I was recently advised that we could be much more profitable than we are. We could hire less expensive (and less talented) employees. We could work only as many hours as we can charge for on each job. We could take only the jobs that are most profitable, regardless of whether or not we enjoy the work. We could do less and make more.

If money were the only reward, that’s probably what we’d do.

But the reason we don’t always maximize our profits is because we’re passionate about our work. We want to be effective. And to be effective, we sometimes work more hours for our clients – even when we know we won’t be paid for them. To be effective, we maintain a talented staff of experienced professionals rather than lesser-paid novices.

Effective advertising requires a great deal of craftsmanship – from the strategy to the concept to the writing to the design to the production to the placement. If it didn’t, nobody would hire companies like ours. But, like the sculptor who uncovers the statue in every slab of marble, we find some strategies reveal themselves more easily than others. The art – and the fun – is in discovering those strategies.

We’re not selling our time, we’re selling our abilities – primarily our ability to uncover that statue in the marble and make it shine. The value isn’t in how difficult the strategy is to uncover, but in how effective that strategy is once it’s in place. How well does it sell our clients’ products and services?

While many agencies look at their people as “resources,” we will continue to see ours as “craftsmen.” We can tell them how much time a job is expected to take, but they’ll spend whatever time it takes to be effective.

If we weren’t a profitable company, we wouldn’t be in business. But whatever our working style costs us in profitability, it more than makes up for in personal fulfillment. And that’s pretty “effective” in itself.

Will Obama win the democratic nomination because he owns the word “change?” I guess that remains to be seen. At least he’s got a singular focus. How ‘bout you?