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Scott McKay is a Toronto strategist, writer, creative director, patient manager, half-baked photographer and forcibly retired playwright.

This little site is designed to introduce him and his thoughts to the world. (Whether the world appreciates the intro is another matter.) If you'd like to chat, then you can guess what the boxes below are for.



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    "They had their cynical code worked out. The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket."

          – George Orwell






    "Advertising – a judicious mix of flattery and threats."

          – Northrop Frye






    "Chess is as an elaborate a waste of time as has ever been devised outside an advertising agency."

          – Raymond Chandler


    Entries in business (3)


    it's strictly business

    Marketers, especially creatives, like to complain when their clients don't understand the difficulty we have in understanding and solving the marketing issues those same clients pay us to deal with.

    "Why don't clients understand that they need to offer something unique to consumers?" we wail. "Why can't they tell us what their USP is? Why can't they tell us something really meaty about their customers, something we can hang our hats on? Don't they get it?"

    And we do the best we can, and later unleash our complaints over that second pint, and maybe a third.

    It's taken a long time for me to realize that clients aren't coming to agencies with marketing problems. It would be nice if they did, so convenient for us, and probably set us up to win all kinds of awards for cool, unique and oh so creative work. But they don't, because most clients don't have marketing problems.

    They have business problems.

    They have sales that stink and need to be boosted, or new products to launch against competitors with better products, or whatever other non-ideal circumstances you can think of. (And if you're reading this blog, chances are you've got as many stories of non-ideal circumstances as I do.) Marketing is only a means to an end. The copy and layout are only ends. The concept is only an end.

    The challenge of writing a good brief is to ensure that in articulating a marketing problem, it does so in a way that addresses the underlying business problem. The creative challenge, after you've come up with a bunch of ideas that meet the brief, is to think about those concepts in the context of the business problem – and sell them that way to the client.

    I know that creatives especially can't function that way every day, as part of their internal process; they need to be focused on ideas and images and words.

    But Michael Corleone was onto something when he told Sonny that it wasn't personal. Some business awareness would leaven every creative's work, their client relationships, and their understanding of what it is they really do. Besides, it is after all what we do is all about.


    the people who really run your business

    "Latent structure is the master of obvious structure."

    This aphorism from Heraclitus (by way of Philip K. Dick) reminds me of something that I've experienced in every place in which I've worked. (Okay, let's say every organization up to 200 or so people.) And that's the fact that there are probably about half a dozen middle managers whom everyone turns to when they need to get something done. It can be an entry level person looking for advice, or a C-level executive who needs to pitch new business. The same half dozen names will probably come up in both kinds of conversations.

    I suppose there's an analogue to this in Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point hypothesis – some individuals have an inordinate amount of influence because of the sheer number of people they know – but it's not so much about how connected these people are. It's about their competence and understanding of the business they're in.

    I don't know how you identify them except through working with them. You have to spend time in the organization before they become apparent. And then suddenly their value will simply be obvious to you because they make things happen on a daily basis. They fix problems and keep things moving. Whatever the official workflow process is, these people are the actual process.

    When one of them quits, chances are it's a far bigger loss to the organization than losing one of the head honchos. Something basic about how the place does business is lost; a bunch of relationships and experiences and knowledge and process is also gone. And because (in my experience anyway) there are only a handful of them it doesn't take much to shift the balance in a workplace. One or two of these folks leave and you go from a happy, kickass business to lethargy and confusion, a place where people are merely doing their jobs.

    Conversely, if you can add a couple of folks like this to your organization, you've just increased your chances of success. They'll bring new life to your existing processes and culture. The place will work better, without any business process re-engineering or operational reviews or (ack) consultants.

    If you're one of the folks sitting at the top of the org chart, I don't know how you identify these people. But you have to be trying to find them. You have to understand that they are, if not the backbone of the organization, at least the muscle, the blood, the life of it.


    if you're a creative, you might not want to read this

    You're a client who has employed an ad agency to build your business. (There's really no other reason to employ one, after all.) You want more sales.

    Now, there are many ways that you and your agency can go about that. You can generate more awareness of your products, which is the traditional "mass" method. You can generate more engagement with your brand, which is what digital can do so well. You can try to acquire more prospects, or retain the loyalty of your existing customers, both of which are direct marketing strengths.

    But what you're not looking for is someone to tell you that your microsite needs to be in flash simply because it's cool, or your TV spot needs to be funny simply because the creative team wants to win awards, or your DM piece needs to have an awesome and complicated format simply, well, because. And unfortunately, too many creatives walk into client presentations believing exactly those kinds of things as their basic reason for being in this business.

    They're wrapped up in their own craft – the words and the pictures. Each is a craft that isn't easy to do well and each requires real focus. Somehow, in all that focus and intensity and passion, it's easy for creatives to get isolated from the client's real purpose. (And come to think of it, from the consumer's reality.)

    Too many creatives don't fundamentally believe it's their job to help you sell your product. Too few think that they will have failed if your sales don't increase.

    Creatives need to understand that they're in business. Your business.

    What can you do as a client to ensure that you're working with folks like that? Before you hire an agency, talk to the creative director and team you'll be working with about your business. They're not going to be experts at what you do, not yet. But are they at least interested in it? Do they ask questions about it? Do they listen to what you're saying and get excited by it?

    And find out about how they work. Will you be seeing the creatives at every concept presentation? (Some agencies tend not to let the creatives out in public, which fosters that isolation.) Do the creatives have input on the strategy? (Some places hand creative teams a brief and expect compliance. Other places give the creatives equal responsibility in the development of strategy, and expect questioning.)

    The more that the creatives are at the table with you, talking about your needs, showing your their work, hearing what you have to say about it in person, and accepting responsibility for the results, the more they'll know your business, and the more you'll be sure you're working with creatives who truly want to build your business.

    I can't imagine a better partnership than that.