The Public Relations Society of America honored the industry’s best work in June. Regarded as “the pre-eminent achievement of public relations – the highest watermark of success for any practitioner or organization,” the Silver Anvils, as the awards are called, “…recognize complete public relations programs incorporating measurable and sound research, planning, execution and evaluation.”silver-anvil

Our work for Keep America Beautiful, in partnership with Hill & Knowlton, an international public relations firm, didn’t win a single award: it won TWO.

The trip to success began in 2009 with an idea for a fresh new approach on litter prevention that we pitched to Keep America Beautiful with Hill & Knowlton. With a client keen on creating a fresh, creative litter-prevention campaign, and with Hill & Knowlton’s penchant for communications strategy, market research, consumer insights and top-notch management of the entire process, we presented three campaigns we were very proud of, and, frankly, we knew had a great shot at standing out not only in the marketplace, but in glitzy NYC ballrooms filled with statuettes.

We’re actually kind of sheepish about touting this success, lest we sound boastful. Rather, it’s a validation of the promise the team sold to Keep America Beautiful; that if they actually bought what they said they wanted (so many clients talk the talk, but, well, limp, crawl and sputter when it comes time to walking the walk), that we’d get through to consumers. We’d get them talking. We’d shake them out of complacency and actually invite a dialog with them, using all of the tools at our disposal in this Information Age. Keep America Beautiful fully embraced the idea and the premise and based on the successful pilot that earned the Silver Anvils, has now made the campaign available to all of its affiliates around the country.

We’re not really much for awards, in and of themselves. We’d much rather feed the campaigns we create to the marketplace, and earn our just rewards as they actually make an impact. But, when “senior practitioners judge each entry,” and deem no other more effective, it’s a great dialog starter of its own with current and future DMC clients to ‘put it out there;’ to ‘ask for, and buy a campaign that actually makes your palms sweat. One that you might have to answer a lot of internal questions about in selling it through. One that, lo and behold, you might actually even get a phone call or two from a citizen so concerned with how “creative” and different the campaign is. THAT’S the kind of work that moves needles. That’s what improves bottom lines, or stakeholder perceptions or decreases litter  (or fills a sales pipeline or compels donors to give). Gone are the days of you telling your audiences what you want to say. They seek out information now. You have to know them, well. You have to resonate with them. You have to matter.

The two Silver Anvils won by Keep America Beautiful are a testament to those facets of communications today. They’re a testament to confident marketers like Keep America Beautiful who take chances (because the alternative simply isn’t viable). Getting lost in the marketplace with safe, me-too messaging is rife with many more unsavory consequences than a few phone calls about your provocative new campaign. Go for it; it’s your job. Good things happen to marketers who take well-calculated chances.

Ah, the new year! A chance to start fresh. Make resolutions. Reinvent ourselves. Something we’ve taken quite literally here at DAVIEMCLEAN.

On January 1, 2011, my former business partner and dear friend, Dan Davie, made the exciting decision to move from agency- to client-side. Dan’s new role will be as COO of Hielix, a pioneer in managing the adoption of healthcare IT to streamline the exchange of health information.

As a DAVIEMCLEAN client, Hielix looked to Dan and DAVIEMCLEAN to literally reinvent them over the past year. He did his usual fantastic job – so much so that Hielix is largely regarded as one of the thought leaders in their industry. Their choosing Dan to run what he helped re-create shows even more astute thinking on their part. We couldn’t be happier for Dan.

So as we turn the proverbial page, we thought it appropriate to change our name as well. But not by much. As of now, we’ll go by the handle DMC, keeping a part of  the name that was there from its formation but taking it somehwere new.

The creative team and the creative product we’re known for hasn’t changed. Nor is our commitment to delivering the same level of  work we always have. The exciting part about the change is the chance to bring heavy-hitter human resources to our accounts as needed – people with expertise and passion and skills that we’ll leverage to meet our clients’ needs.

 2011. An exciting new chapter for us and for our clients. We’re looking forward to it!

PosterI came across this poster promoting a design workshop in Toronto. It reads:

Think more. Design less.

Many desperate acts of design (drop shadows, gradients and the gratuitous use of transparency) are committed in the void left by a strong concept. A good idea provides a framework for design decisions, guiding the work.

And what is good design? It depends. Sometimes it’s barely a design at all: I’ve seen very effective ads that are almost completely devoid of anything but the message itself. It works because the message is good. What good design is can also be expressed as what good design doesn’t do; it doesn’t get in the way of a strong message. Thankfully (for it keeps us in the profession true to our profession), good design can’t mask weak thinking, either. If what looks great on a wall in an art director’s office doesn’t resonate with its intended audience, there’s nothing great about it.

Why isn’t there more great thinking in a profession full of ‘experts’ and ‘professional communicators?’ Here are a few ruminations:

Not enough ‘sit with it’ time. Good things really do come to those who wait. It’s one thing to think you nailed an idea early on in the brainstorming process, but, in my experience, it’s in the next couple of days that it takes on new dimension, as you challenge the idea, preemptively answer the client’s inevitable questions, make it lawsuit-proof, and then make it fresh. “When will the consumer see this; what will be on her mind; what will her preconceptions about the product or company be; what will she have recently seen from our competition…” You have to at least try on the shoes of the consumer and other stakeholders (if not walk a mile in them) to get a lay of the land. And from that lay of the land, invest the additional thinking that resonates, engages, provokes.

Bad designers. Pay attention to billboards and posters these days. Is a human really laying out these messages, with black type on a dark blue background (as I recently spotted in a Honda dealer campaign recently). Or a URL on a backlit billboard that no one without binoculars could read. Or super-close-up photography that borders on abstract art, that adds nothing but distraction to the presentation. Hell, these may even have been strong thoughts, but bad design pulled them down into the mediocre mire. No drop shadow required.

Disdain for the medium. I’d put good money on the aforementioned poster in Honda dealerships all over the country that the junior art director simply didn’t put his/her heart into it. “It’s a poster, for God’s sake, I wanna do TV!” So, the black type ends up on a blue background that blends in, as if by design, to camouflage the message like invisible ink: except no one gave them the invisible ink pen to swipe over it and make it readable.

Strong-willed creatives forcing ‘award-winning’ off-strategy concepts down people’s throats. Puns are the bane of marketing communications’ existence. A great turn of phrase, and the writer (usually) sees Gold Pencils and Winged Awards and bonus checks for his/her supreme creativity… and wills it into existence. It may be a knee-jerk pun, or one you’d hear at an amateur comedy club with a three-drink minimum, but, it squeaks its way through and, boom, an ineffective, ill-thought-out piece of something adds to the media clutter of forgettable advertising.

Corporate lawyers/queasy clients. The result is the same with either. Palms start sweating when a truly brilliant execution is presented. And the client depends on the legal guys to ‘get them out of it,’ so they won’t lose their jobs because “no one’s ever done that before.’ Me-too advertising is safe advertising – messaging or design wise. So you see creatives have two hurdles to overcome in creating a great piece of communication. And as soon as lawyers, who are consumers like you and me, put on their legal hats, and look at things from the standpoint of getting sued, or offending some blue-hair with too much time other their hands, things go downhill quickly from there.

One of the best things we do as an agency is compelling our clients to live up to our claims to be smart thinkers. To expect more than a headline and the latest typeface/layout when we come to them with creative solutions. We set their expectations that we like to zig a bit when others zag. That our solutions may not be obvious (isn’t that why they came to us in the first place?). And when we bring strong, out-of-the-box thinking to them, it’s under this notion that it’s exactly what they agreed to and were expecting.

Think about the last really, really great piece of advertising you saw. Remember the affect it had on you? Did you pause the DVR, call in someone from the other room? Go to their website shortly thereafter? Tell someone about it? We’ve all seen stuff like this – but not nearly enough from an industry supposedly staffed with communications professionals. To our defense, there are lots of things in the way of a purely great solution and getting it in front of an audience. But it happens, which means it’s possible. And it should be the goal of every marketing director directing marketing. It’s the cost of doing business. Because if you’re not resonating with a strong idea, strongly designed, then you’re failing your company. It’s what they hired you to do. And if it was easy to do, the execs in the corner office would have had their Administrative Assistants doing it. 

There are lots of good reasons to support your website with strong analytics. Even in what is still a very young market, analytics have evolved way past just counting eyeballs. Qualified traffic is the currency of web success. It is where we focus our efforts and those of our customers. In our opinion, all the other web oriented metrics that companies are looking at – registrations, demos, purchases even shares and re-tweets – all originate from qualified traffic.

However, that also means that marketing departments and agencies who would hope to be marketing partners must have the strategic marketing and analytical chops to define what qualified traffic is based on the individual site, capture and decipher the data, as well as have the ability to make and execute recommendations. It’s the analytical part that we are most interested in here. For our organic SEO clients, every month we distribute and review an SEO report that trends for months of traffic data across a broad range of analytical metrics. Instead of sifting through the entire report I have highlighted a few of my favorites below. Of course you can always This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  to learn more about our SEO programs and how they integrate with other interactive and marketing communications programs.



Bounce rate
Simple, unbiased and one of the favorite starting points. Essentially, bounce rate measures if visitors come to your homepage and leave without seeing anything else on the site. If you’re bounce rate is high (45%+) then there are a number of potential issues at play. The site could be difficult to navigate, it could fail at helping the visitor identify they belong there or it could just be boring. Bounce rate is a great starting point with clients for beginning to identify who you want coming to your site – AND what action do you want them to take when they get there.

Non-branded organic traffic
Let’s break this down into two parts – non-branded (search results that did not result from the company name) - and organic (URL not typed directly into the search bar, traffic derived from other indirect means like keyword searches for example). In this case, and for our purposes with clients, we look at the total amount of non-branded, organic traffic over a period of one month. In addition, we look at how that monthly traffic compares with the preceding three months. Remember – good SEO is not a sprint. This type of traffic is SEO gold – these are visitors who have come to your site without typing in or searching the company name. They are by their name and nature far more qualified visitors to your site. Obviously, we like to see the number trending up over time. When it does, that means all the other SEO forces (which we won’t go into here) are working in harmony and bringing a client very positive returns.

Organic traffic percentage
In addition to the total amount of organic traffic we also pay close attention to the percentage of overall traffic coming from organic sources. This metric, I will admit, can be viewed a bit as self-serving for the agency/marketing partner. However, watching this trend closely can provide all kinds of analytical insights. Is the money being spent on organic vs. paid search delivering the balance of traffic the client is hoping for? Are there parallel trends to the growth of organic traffic in the conversion metrics discussed earlier? If organic traffic is up and conversions are either flat or declining, that provides a spotlight on areas to fix in the site.



Referrals
Again, this one is a no-brainer. How much traffic comes directly from other sites. We all know how important link building is to the SEO process, but for our team, referrals mean more than that. In an integrated search program, referral traffic is also an excellent way to provide some baseline measurement on the effects of social media campaigns. How successful is Facebook, Twitter, etc. at driving traffic away from the social media platform and to the client site? In addition, how does referral traffic compare with regular traffic? Just looking at some basics – # of pages visited, length of stay and, of course, bounce rate.

A strong SEO program can have dramatic affects on the overall performance of a client’s website and of course, any marketing communications programs tied to web conversions/qualification.

 

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