Have you ever noticed how the relationship between a client and a marketing agency is a lot like two people playing catch with a Frisbee? Sometimes the client throws the Frisbee to the Agency in the form of an assignment request. The agency concentrates its ability and tries to catch it, only to miss it miserably because maybe it was thrown poorly.
The agency throws the Frisbee back to the client, but the client isn’t ready and gets hit in the head with the Frisbee, taking an immediate dislike to the agency. They continue to pitch and catch till they either get good at it… or they find someone else to play with who’s better at it.
Enter the client’s customers. The client hires the agency to create promotional campaigns that will ultimately be seen by the client’s target customers. Let’s call the target customers the catching canines.
The client and the agency finally get great at throwing the Frisbee back and forth, and when they’re ready, they send that flashy Frisbee downfield and the customer/canine runs after it, leaps into the air and grabs the disc like it was its dinner. In the business, we call that “attribution”, connecting marketing impact with an actual sale… or in this case what get’s pitched by the client and what gets caught/bought by the customer.
A long time ago in a place far far away I needed to make a change and accepted a position at GE as a starting Marketing Communications Manager… even though I was about as senior a veteran as one could be. I chased down and ultimately accepted the assignment as I needed to be close to my children.
I focused on the benefit of watching my daughters play softball or the giddy pleasure of chauffeuring them and their little girlfriends to parties on the weekend. Despite how low the salary was, or how I doubted I’d be able to draw the basic respect that I felt entitled to for all my years of experience, I was reasonably content.
I decided to aim my substantial expertise at this starting position and blow it out of the water. Soon the leadership saw that I was being underutilized and began promoting me. I was promoted three times in my first year as a result of outstanding performance, astounding creativity, and mostly well-maintained modesty.
One of the many projects that got me noticed was a website design project. Back then the web was new and I knew more than most about design and search engine optimization, so they gave me an assignment and cut me loose to do what I do.
I started researching web design agencies and was impressed by a little digital design boutique just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. They had done some amazing work for Sherwin Williams and I thought that capability would transfer over to the GE Caulk division that I was working with at the time.
Together, the agency and I were enormously successful, and tall tales of internet expertise spread to other divisions within GE across the USA. Soon enough they sent me overseas to refresh and optimize the GE websites throughout Central Europe and Asia. During the course of working with this tiny elite agency from Ohio, I had become good friends with Mark, who was the account executive handling our project.
Mark and I had many adventures across Europe, including losing the Mercedes in Amsterdam after spending too much time in a coffee-house. That story was surpassed by the one about the group Swedish Models we met at a dance club and with whom we spent the entire evening. One of my favorite Mark adventures was the time he and I, met with another colleague named Hans.
All three of us agreed to meet for lunch one afternoon at Germany’s oldest city called Koln. We met at this Mexican Restaurant, in the center of town, in front of the famous church that’s there. Me, Mark and Hans sat there drinking Margaritas while being served by a very attractive Asian woman.
Our masculine conversation got off to a good start, a bit about sports, a bit about cars, a bit about advertising and women, and eventually, we got comfortable telling stories. Hans shared that Germany continues to have a bit of a Public Relations challenge, even close to 50 years after the war.
Hans continued to share about how his Dad was a guard at one of the concentration camps, whose job it was to patrol the outside of the fence with one of those nasty guard dogs. Mark piped in about how he lived in a part of Ohio that was known for its very large population of KKK members.
Then the conversation came to me, a Jewish kid from Brooklyn. I turned to the son of a Nazi, and the neighbor of Klansman, and simply said, “I think I’ll have the Chicken Enchilada. What are you guys getting?”
All that diverse fun would have taken place back around 2001 or so… and over the years I lost touch with Hans and managed to stay in contact with Mark. As I got more and more involved with Website Design, Mark and the agency he later purchased, helped me with the more complex designs I had to tackle.
Almost 20 years have passed since Mark and I dined with Nazis and danced with Swedes, and in addition to purchasing the agency he was working at, Mark got very deep into his dogs. Specifically, training them to catch Frisbees and after winning many competitions, decided to travel the country conducting clinics to teach others how to train their dogs… but more importantly, how to throw and catch a Frisbee well. During the same time, I got a lot better at Web Design, but more importantly got better at creating content for websites. Specifically writing copy and shooting photos.
Yesterday, Mark was in town conducting one of his “Teach a dog to catch a Frisbee” clinics… actually about an hour south of me. I decided to grab my camera and go down there just to say hey. After arriving, and entering the yard with my camera, he eventually recognized me, as I had gotten older, grayer, and had a slight paunch around the middle. He looked the same to me, though he now sports a very distinguished white goatee and wears an Australian Shade Hat.
I stood around and watched Mark teach his students how to throw and catch the Frisbee. I would have liked to stay around a bit longer to see the dogs learn to catch the Frisbee once their owners had mastered the technique. Nature got in the way. Fire ants were everywhere and I had to find a restroom pronto.
Not wanting to interrupt the clinic, I took the free Frisbee he had given me, and said my goodbyes to Mark, and got back on the road to think about how I would package all the pictures I had just taken. I’ve always thought about Mark as an important friend. But we rarely ever did the things friends do as we lived so far apart and our worlds were so different.
I guess the moral of this story is, if I’m someone’s client, agency or target customer, that Frisbee they toss, better be thrown well and worth me running after it and leaping into the air to catch it.