Thanks for waiting patiently on the next installment of Ad Industry Innovators. It was a busy summer for Hitch as I finished up new projects and started new ones.
Today’s Ad Industry Innovator # 16 is Norfolk, Virginia-based, Grow Interactive. Grow got on my radar thanks to my old friend, Alan at Platt Hollow Road. While they do work directly with clients, the bulk of their work is done for agency partners. Digging in a bit you’ll see they’ve worked with nearly everyone from Goodby, Silverstein & Parners and Wieden + Kennedy, to Crispin, Porter + Bogusky and Mother. These guys are good, and everybody knows it.
Grow has racked up their share of awards and recognition lately, including a 2009, Cannes Lion, two One Show Pencils, two Webbys, and a Clio shortlist. They were also listed as one of the top 10 interactive production companies by Creativity in Aug 2008.
Everyone, meet Drew Ungvarsky, President of Grow Interactive. Drew, meet everyone:
What was the aha moment when you realized “our company needs to be doing things differently than we have been”?
A few years ago, we made a conscious decision to take more risks – both in our work and in our efforts to connect with bigger clients and projects. We’d done plenty of solid (but safe) local and regional work at that point, but we thought if we could just put ourselves in the game by any means possible, we had the talent to compete on a much larger level.
I later heard a better summation of that mindset, which was: “Do what you’ve done and you’ll get what you’ve got.” We keep that in mind with each opportunity we get and try to constantly remind ourselves not to become complacent.
What books are on your nightstand or great blogs on your Google reader?
At last check, I’ve got 85 sites in my RSS. Beyond keeping up with the latest and greatest digital advertising, I follow tech and culture blogs to spot emerging technologies, trends, and cross-platform ideas we can bring into future projects.
Sadly, my attention span is too short for books right now, but I’ve been trying out audiobooks recently. I’m currently listening to Ken Robinson’s “The Element” about the great things that can come when your work is your passion.
Give me an example of marketing you think is brilliant and why.
Whopper Sacrifice was definitely a favorite this year. It was a perfect execution that clearly stood out on an otherwise crowded platform. A close second was Boone Oakley’s YouTube site. With both of those sites, I knew they were hits the moment I saw them. I also really liked Dunkin Run as a great example of utility marketing, and it worked perfectly for the brand.
We’ve all read that the pitch / RFP process is broken. Many agencies aren’t even interested in competing in pitches. Do you see an alternative to this process?
The pitch process works best when the relationship is open and everyone’s respecting each other’s time and effort. If a potential client gives us clear expectations and transparency regarding the obstacles we’re going to face, it then falls fairly on us to decide how much time and effort we can afford to put towards a potential engagement… and everyone can sleep well at night.
What does the agency of the future look like?
The strongest agencies are the ones who are embracing digital as an axis to their campaigns instead of just another outlet within them. Whenever we can work with agencies as partners and help shape a concept from the beginning (as opposed to just jumping in to execute), the resulting work is always stronger and more cohesive with the technology.
What do marketers need that agencies are not giving them?
We’re lucky enough to work with a number of the agencies who I think “get it”, so I’ve got a bit of a skewed view in saying things are pretty good. If anything, I’d say that we sometimes see people putting the technological cart before the horse – be that an app, a widget, or the other buzzword of that day. Clients need strong ideas, and they need to live in the spaces most suitable to their brands.
Who do you admire and why?
I’m constantly trying to be a better leader for my company, so I soak up inspiration and ideas anywhere I can get them. Recently, I’ve been trying to steal from the playbooks of Tony Hsieh and Steve Jobs, both of whom demand great respect in different ways. I admire anyone who can earn the respect and trust of their employees.
I’ve been looking forward to this Ad Industry Innovator profile for a while: Spike Jones of Brains on Fire from Greenville [say, Greenvul] South Cackalacky.
Recently someone commented, “Ad Industry Innovator is an oxymoron.” Getting to know agencies like Brains on Fire proves that point of view a little ill informed.
The shops works with a wide range of regional and national clients including Best Buy, Fiskars Brands, Confluence Watersports, the American Booksellers Association, Rage Against the Haze (SC’s youth-led anti-tobacco use movement), Love146, Jason’s Deli, Michelin and BMW.
So you get a sense of Spike, one of my earliest email exchanges with him had this in his signature line:
I wanna be like Cap’n Kirk.
Get up everyday and love to go to work.
Don’t wanna be like Mr. Spock.
Wanna kick out the jams and rock the block.
Says a lot about Spike, I think, and anyone who turns me on to a new artist who sounds, at times, like Dr John and Taj Mahal’s love child gets props from me!
Brains on Fire are marketing kudzu.
Not this Kudzu
Once you see them they keep popping up everywhere.
Not sure where I first heard of them. They floated across my screen somehow and from there, well, things just kind of spread.
- In Charlene Li & Josh Bernoff‘s game changing book, Groundswell (Pg 147, if you want to look) and there they were, Brains on Fire.
- A PEMCO business event at the Space Needle at the premier of a new spot by previously profiled DNA-Seattle I met Sean O’Driscoll from Ant’s Eye View (also coming up on a future Innovator’s profile) who are tight with, you guessed it, Brains on Fire.
- Last month over my breakfast cereal and coffee I crack open the newest Fast Company and what should I flip to? An article about Brains on Fire.
- Based on my friend, Alan Schutte ‘s (Platt Hollow Road) recommendation to feature Norfolk, VA based Grow Interactive on an upcoming Innovator post, and who pops up on their site? Brains on Fire.
Next time the Brains on Fire team rolls through your town, go check ‘em out. Based on the places they pop up, they’ll probably be in your town next week. If you’re ever in Greenville and you drop in, as people in the South are want to do, take them food, coffee or beer, they’ll love you for it. (You’re welcome, Spike.)
1. What was the aha moment when you realized, “our company needs to be doing things differently than we have been?”
Well, this may come across as conceited, but Brains on Fire IS the ah-ha moment. We always say that Brains on Fire is a state of being. A condition. A movement. A cause. An attitude.
As for our current model, we found it in 2002 when we started a word of mouth movement that birthed Rage Against the Haze, SC’s youth-led anti-tobacco use movement. We didn’t have the funds to run ads like the TRUTH campaign, and we knew that even if we did, after the money ran out we’d be back to square one. So we created a peer-to-peer movement built on education instead of one built on fear. We used our identity/creative chops to bring it to life and RAGE has become one of the most successful anti-tobacco use movements in the nation (with one of the smallest budgets). At the time, we were just doing what we felt was right. A couple years later, the word of mouth industry came to be. Now we had a name for it.
2. What books are on your nightstand or great blogs on your Google reader?
I’ve been on a business book hiatus for a while, but I’m currently reading New York Stories: Landmark Writing from Four Decades of New York Magazine. It’s fantastic. And the last book I read before that was Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates by David Cordingly. (You’ll notice an old-school pirate mentality around the Brains on Fire crew.)
As for blogs, I look to Adpulp for my daily dose of the ad world. I faithfully read Peter Kim’s blog, John Moore’s Brand Autopsy, Jake McKee’s Community Guy blog, Mack Collier’s Viral Garden, the Brand New blog (since Brains on Fire’s heritage is in identity development), and then, of course the FAIL Blog.
3. Give me an example of marketing you think is brilliant and why.
Maker’s Mark brand ambassadors. Turbo Tax’s Inner Circle. Fiskars Fiskateers (that’s ours). Any movement that is shoulder-to-shoulder with your biggest fans where you empower, engage, listen and join forces with your customers. Scratch that. Not your customers. Your brand’s best friends.
4. We’ve all read that the pitch / RFP process is broken. Many agencies aren’t even interested in competing in pitches. Do you see an alternative to this process?
Don’t get me started. RFPs represent all that’s wrong with the client/agency relationship. We don’t answer them. I despise them. What a waste of time. But that’s the way things have always have been done – and it seems that no big agencies or companies are willing to take a stand. And for every RFP we refuse to answer, there are ten thousand agencies willing to roll the dice.
Especially spec work in RFPS. Come on. Giving away the one thing that you have to sell is completely insane. For example, an international hotel chain called us up…
An alternative? How about sitting down and having a conversation with the agency? How about checking out what they’ve DONE instead of making them guess about what they would do? How about checking out their culture to see if they believe what you believe? How about basing your decision on tangibles? Stupid RFPs.
5. What does the agency of the future look like?
You think I’m going to say digital, don’t you? I’m not. The agency of the future will be the one that is willing to roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty and figure out how and why people connect OFFline. Let’s face it, 92% of WOM happens offline. Digital is getting to be the easy part. And those are tools. Just tools. We are humans. And we crave real interaction. The rise of offline focus – and I’m not talking traditional advertising – is coming.
6. What do marketers need that agencies are not giving them?
Long. Term. Actionable. Strategies. They HAVE to get rid of the “campaign” mentality. Build a movement first. Campaigns are short-sighted and tactic-driven. It’s a great way to quickly become the former agency of record.
7. Who do you admire and why?
That’s an easy one. John Saringer. This is a guy who saw possibilities in everything. He couldn’t afford college, so after his chores and work, he’d sprint down to the local university, climb the fire escape and listen through the open window to chemistry classes. John Saringer took nothing and turned it into one of the most respected cattle ranches in the state of Texas. He worked his ass off every single day of his life, but was quick with a smile, a kind word and there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for friend or stranger. Oh, and he was my grandfather.
But if you want someone who I’m not related to, I’d say pick someone at Brains on Fire. Anyone. Matt Reese, the First Impression and one of the smartest people I know. Kathie Conway, our CFO, who has a mind for numbers I’ll never have in a million years. Geno Church, the most forward-thinking WOM practitioner in the business. Greg Cordell, a principal and Inspiration Officer – the guy is freakin’ brilliant. Robbin Phillips, our Courageous President who has created a flat organization where everyone can thrive. Carrie Woodward, who manages one of the most successful WOM programs of all time – and never complains about the bad days. Simply. Amazing. People. And I could go on and on.