You Can Listen to the Event.

I had the distinct privilege today to be part of a panel of local ad pros invited by the American Advertising Federation of Metro Phoenix to share our insights on how agencies can survive our beleaguered local market, the foundering national economy, and the plodding global recession.

Now if I could just find my gallows humor handbook.

I’m probably the smallest fish among this esteemed panel, including  Tim Riester, Bill Lavidge, Jos Anshell, Carrie Martz, and Dan Santy. All of them have been at this longer than I, although I’m proud to be celebrating the 15-year anniversary of Park&Co.

I imagine mic time will be at a premium during today’s luncheon, so I’m hedging my bets and sharing my answers here.

Here’s what it all boils down to for me.

  1. It’s ALWAYS been about the story.
  2. Do more with less.
  3. Turn projects into programs, campaigns into movements.
  4. Don’t just find a niche, master it.
  5. Have fun!

To drill down for more insight, the Q&A follows.

How do you create ad campaigns that cut through the crap?

Actually, their version of the above question was worded more delicately. It was also too long and too politically correct, which is endemic of most advertising. My answer is short and sweet, too.

Story is everything. If you try to make everyone happy with your story, you will make no one happy. Some fun examples include:

  • A word of mouth marketing campaign for Tempe’s MadCap Theaters fashion show where we turned a sidewalk into a fashion runway and passersby into supermodels. See the video.
  • What do you think of this ad for Adelante Healthcare?

    Advertising isn’t just about clever creative. Agencies should create stalwart market positions and sustainable business models for their clients. Take a look at the re-branding of a 30-year-old community health center into a powerfully relevant leader in “Sustainable Healthcare,” as found in Adelante Healthcare, then having the guts to run an ad like this.

  • Did you know that nearly all of the collisions with Phoenix’ relatively new light rail system are caused by knuckleheads running red lights? Today we launched a new “Stop on Red” campaign that features a train wrap with the letters made up of the parts and pieces of cars and people’s lives that are found in the aftermath of collisions. Three words, with compelling art direction, can tell a remarkable story that will stop you in your tracks.

What do Phoenix agencies need to do to garner more national recognition as an advertising hub?

We need to get over ourselves and the poor fortunes in our market and start doing better work that matters. Turn your projects into programs and always find the creative jewel in every assignment. We owe it to our clients, and we owe it to ourselves.

  • Become a sought-after resource in a growing niche. It levels the playing field for national work. We just finished our first internal campaign for Coca-Cola to promote its new eco-driving program. We won the business over incumbent agencies because of our deep background in environmental marketing and sustainability.
  • Within every project is an opportunity to do great work if you want to. Park&Co just won a national ADDY award for something as simple as a lumpy direct mail piece for an IT staffing firm. A poster campaign for Metro Light Rail just won a national transportation marketing award.
  • Throw your heart into movements that give back in a way that goes beyond borders. We recently launched, an online social media network that amplifies the voices of the beaten, abused, hushed and hidden survivors of domestic violence. Much like our Water – Use It Wisely conservation campaign that began in Mesa in 1999, and has grown to include more than 400 private and public partners throughout North America, the concept of is being tested in Phoenix with the aim to provide a turn-key social media platform for abused women to share their stories world-wide.
  • Avoid the urge to create for just the local market. In every campaign we do, we look for ways to make a national impact. Goodwill of Central Arizona is a great example. Our work that has led to 300 percent growth in their donations and retail operations has been used by other Goodwills around the country.

The Story Behind Goodwill of Central Arizona’s 300% Growth from on Vimeo.

How has your agency survived and thrived during the past few years?

There are three main reasons we have weathered this economy.

  1. We had virtually no debt and a healthy rainy day fund that has helped us manage our cash flow through the ups and downs.
  2. As the market turned we quickly learned how to become even more efficient as large campaign work turned into smaller project-by-project jobs.
  3. We identified the growing green marketing industry, a niche that we had already had considerable experience with. We have been leveraging our 15 years of experience in sustainability to build our portfolio of new clients, and Coca-Cola’s eco-driving program is just one example of how it has paid off in this economy.

One other area that has been critical to our survival is that we were fairly early adopters of online social media. If you cut through the hype of this new media, you can deploy powerful, practical ways to build your agency and your client’s business.

What are the biggest challenges facing Phoenix agencies today?

I’ll answer this question with a question: Do you know what the high school graduation rate is in Arizona? One in three children in Arizona will NOT graduate from high school, and only 50% of those that do are qualified for a four-year college. I was at an Expect More Arizona breakfast on Tuesday at the Biltmore with some of Arizona’s thought leaders in business and education. Our educational standards, graduation rates, and attention from our “state leaders” is abysmal, and it shows up in the resumes and interviews we receive at our agency.

What are the best practices your agency follows?

  • Run a profitable, socially conscious company
  • Create an environment where everyone can grow personally and professionally
  • Help our clients communicate with uniqueness, clarity and conviction
  • Develop business relationships with people whom we can value like a trusted friend
  • Learn something new every day to further our growth and the growth of our clients
  • Always do what we say we’ll do
  • Have fun!

What does the future hold for advertising in the Valley?

Now I get to play Nostradomous. And no, the advertising world as we know it in Phoenix won’t end in 2012.  But it probably won’t look much better than it does right now. Until we bring more economic diversity to the state with industries like renewable energy, aerospace, bio-tech, etc., we are destined to go the way of the real estate and tourism markets. We will continue to lose top talent to more dynamic markets, and our agency competition will continue to shrink, which isn’t necessarily good for our industry.

The winners will be the agencies that delight in re-invention and innovation. Survival means being agile, a risk-taker, smart, and able to see unique opportunity behind every turn of the market.

In the words of Donald Miller,

“If you haven’t gone through something hard, you don’t have what it takes to be a hero.”

What did I miss?