Friday, November 4, 2011

Blessing in Disguise

I started out in life very interested in art and the commercial application of how art meets commerce. In school, I became aware of an artist who inspired me because he was, in fact, an early innovator in advertising design in a different era. Recently, I was fortunate enough to visit the Kemper Art Museum on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis and found myself in front a Toulouse-Lautrec lithograph he made of the dancer Jane Avril.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born into an aristocratic family in the south of France in 1864. He suffered from a genetic condition that prevented his bones from healing properly. As a young boy he broke his legs and both ceased to grow while the rest of his body continued to grow normally. At maturity, he was only 4 1/2 feet tall. This misfortune may have been a sort of blessing in disguise. After his accidents he was no longer able to follow in the typically aristocratic pastimes of riding and hunting. Instead, he focused on sketching and painting.

As a young man, he lived in the Montmartre section of Paris, the center of the cabaret entertainment and bohemian life that he loved to depict in his artwork. Toulouse-Lautrec was very much an active part of this community. Often he could be found sitting in a crowded nightclub making swift sketches. In his studio, he would expand the sketches into brightly colored paintings or use them to make lithographs.

Toulouse-Lautrec is now widely known in the art world as the archetypical bohemian artist of the belle époque, the "beautiful era" in Paris in the last decade of the 19th Century. He captured the spirit and emotion of the era in his posters and portraits. His unique condition made it difficult for him to live up to the status quo for a well born aristocrat. Nevertheless, he clearly shared in the joie de vivre of the time. Sadly, he died at the age of 36, but today his legacy can be viewed in some of the great art museums and art collections of the world.

You might say he was a victim of circumstances. But then again you might say that it was because of the circumstances he is the acclaimed artist even today – more than one hundred and ten years after his death. He was blessed with great talent. We are blessed by his legacy and his influence.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Agency Evaluation

The client-agency relationship is a delicate thing. By definition, your advertising agency should act on your behalf in matters concerning your marketing communication. At the same time, you want the agency to be responsive to direction. You want a partnership. After all, we will be judged on the quality of marketing communications developed within the scope of our limited resources (time, marketing budget etc.) Like any relationship, it takes work. As the client, we need our agency to understand expectations. You don't want the agency-client relationship to become disruptive. Here is a five-point agency evaluation system. Maybe it will be helpful in evaluating your agency-client relationship.

Creative Excellence: Above all, the agency should be creative and not just in art direction and copy. They should be able to look at your marketing problems creatively. They should consider creative ways to allocate media spending. They should be creative when it comes to spending money and managing limited resources. They should be creative in presenting fresh

Smart Marketing Thinking: Your agency doesn't have to know as much about your business as you do (Although that can be beneficial). They should think like business people. They should recommend ways that will build the business. They should suggest ideas that are reasonable and strategic.

Problem Solvers: The best agencies will be able to read between the lines a little. If the budget is limited, an agency should be able to deal with that. If selling ideas into the organization or the distribution channels is an issue it might be appropriate for them to help with this process. They should be able to work with you to take anxiety out of your life and not add to it.

Capabilities: The agency relationships you establish should match well with our needs. Evaluate the agency on what it does well. Suggest improvement when you can. Some agencies offer an uneven range of services. If they can't or won't accommodate you, you may need to unbundle some services. Weight this notion against the added time and energy it may take to build an additional agency-client relationship.

Flawless Execution: Careless errors can cripple the effectiveness of any advertising. Nobody's perfect. But the greatest idea in the world will suffer if not produced well. This is a tough place for an agency to fall short but it's all too common.