I recently had the chance to talk with owner of Brown & Browner Advertising, Derek Walker. We looked at his well-constructed view on why agencies fail, how they succeed and what the future might look like. It’s an insightful talk from someone who’s been on the agency and brand side of the desk, as well as run his own shop for a decade.
Transcript by Otter.ai
Adam Pierno 0:35
Alright, welcome back to another episode of The Strategy Inside Everything. We are going to have some fun today I have been going back and forth with this guest for a couple of years on different social platforms and equal parts inspired and sort of watching with kind of rubberneck accident curiosity at some of the comments and some of the feedback that he gets to his thinking from the advertisement unity in the marketing community at large who do not like the status quo to be challenged. Today’s guest is Derek Walker. He runs Brown and Browner advertising and he’s also the instigator and important thing we’re going to talk about called the creative community. Derek, how are you? I’m great. How are you? I’m doing wonderful this morning as you know. Hey, Derek, would you before we get running here? Would you give people a little bit of who you are and what you’ve done?
Derek Walker 1:28
Okay, I’m owner Brown and Browner. It’s a small agency in Columbia, South Carolina. Don’t hate. Not everybody can live in -. We call Columbia hills screen door. We are always – I know you’re in Phoenix but it’s a different kind of heat here. This is the oppressive heat that went to the portfolio center. After working for on the client side for Pizza Hut for 10 years. left there went to Cramer Kresselt, Milwaukee or love Cramer Kresselt great independent show. Went to went to fall grin and columbus ohio did a lot of McDonald’s. It doing regional McDonald’s. That gets national attention. But you get no national credit for, you know, I love working for GM was another great shop left there and went to Dallas to Temmerlin McLain – TM, which just announced their closing.
Adam Pierno 2:26
I hadn’t heard that. That’s awful.
Derek Walker 2:29
Yes, when I was there, they were 700 souls. 700 people working there. Wow. I think I think we’re Temmerlin. He’s passed on. And Dennis McLain. Were partners and they still when they ran to the agency date sold to a holding company then they got bought back. It’s an interesting story with that. My time it takes at Temmerlin McLain will just gloss over that. Then Chiat Day, which was really interesting. We’ll talk about that someday offline. The agency went under because the CEO, COO excuse me, embezzled, I think close to seven or $8 million and killed himself. Worked at Radio Shack in house. Yes, you guys had answers. Oh my god. Yes I did. Then I worked on Oh goodness, I MC2 which was a digital shop out of Dallas, which had tons of accounts. And so finally after that, you know, you wake up and you go you know what, there’s an old blues song I can do bad by myself. Only no one else to make a mistake. So let’s open a shop.
Adam Pierno 3:50
And here we are. Here we are you doing it? How long is it how long has Brown and Browner been running?
Unknown Speaker 3:57
Since 2009 you get to point where time just doesn’t matter anymore. You’ve
Adam Pierno 4:05
been there now? Yeah, it’s like, I don’t count us anymore. I’m just counting minutes to the next deadline. Yeah.
Derek Walker 4:11
Oh, you live by projects. Right? It says get done. And so people go, how long you been never stopping to go? Wow, it’s been a decade 10 years. I lasted longer than I thought I would. But that’s where we are. I’m also starting
Adam Pierno 4:30
Well, we’ll talk about later the Creative Kumite. We’ll definitely get into the creative side of it. Because the things you point out are the creative community is a direct product of those ideas and that thinking and so before we get there, I want to set the stage and talk a little bit bout your point of view on the agency world and I promised you I had a big kind of surprise existential question for you. I was thinking about this. I was going Back and forth on Twitter with someone else about agencies and why there’s this whole thing about, you know, are they broken and how can we fix them? And everybody seems that to hate them that works there and had this thought, tell me what you think of this. Do agencies deserve to exist? Do agencies need to exist? Does the world need advertising agencies?
Derek Walker 5:28
Okay, do agencies deserve to exist? Nothing deserves to exist. Absolutely nothing.
Some of them
Adam Pierno 5:46
the best ones and the worst ones like
Derek Walker 5:49
okay, I think you need a mix.
Just to remind us, you know, some people’s entire purpose is to serve as a warning to other folks. Yes, their entire existence. So some of the bad ones need to exist. Here’s the problem. Agencies are neutral. As far as morality is concerned, we are neither good or evil. And the problem is the people running the agencies. Now that’s a whole different map. Yep. Just like I don’t believe advertising can die. Because advertising isn’t alive. If you take away the accounting firms or finance people for business for a client, and I guess that’s about it. Who else handles more of the clients money? Then we do.
Adam Pierno 6:39
Yeah, I mean, if you’re busy, you know, medium for them for sure.
Derek Walker 6:44
Now, think about this. How come everybody else that handles that much money for a client is accredited, but not agencies. That’s a great point. Anybody can open an agency. So what we’ve done is we’re in an industry where if you get pissed off at your boss because you didn’t get a promotion. You can go and open an agency sort of like churches. I don’t like what that minister said, I’m going to go start a church, the IRS doesn’t care. They don’t question that. And the same with ad agencies, we have no accreditation. We have nothing this no snow code of conduct, no set of standards. It’s the wild wild west force. So yeah, I totally believe that some agencies don’t deserve to exist. And there’s some people that don’t deserve to be called advertising professionals. Because you make a mockery of what some of us work hard at. And the clients see this with if you if you focus only on how much an item cost, then you’re not focusing on quality. You’re not focused on honesty, you’re not focused on anything that matters really, you’re just focused on cost. You want a cheap and you want to fast well guess what when you get cheap and fast You get what you pay for 100%. So, we’ve got a class of agencies and I say this because when I was at Kramer craft, I didn’t realize how brilliant that agency is.
Adam Pierno 8:13
Tell me more about that. I mean, what did what did you realize after
Derek Walker 8:18
I met Paul council when I pulled up first of all my interview to be hired, was with the CEO, his partner, who happened to be the creative director, and Neil Casey didn’t have a title like EVP, like Executive Creative Director. He was just creative director. Right. These two were the first part they were my first interview, and they spent hours with me. So when I got hired, Paul invite called me into his office and he said, um, so what are your five year plans, and I’m all spitting vinegar out of the out of the portfolio center. So I said, I want to run an agency. He said, Okay, you wrote on this yellow pad. While it talks, he wrote everything down. He says, so here’s what’s going to happen. When I call you, you need to come to these meetings. Now these meetings won’t be creative meetings. They’ll be accounting and finance meetings. They’ll be personnel and HR meetings. But that’s what you have to do. If you go to run an agency,
Adam Pierno 9:22
he actually asked you the question on where you want it to go. And then he said, Okay, here’s how I’m going to get you there. Yeah, yeah. And it’s so simple. It just might work.
Derek Walker 9:34
And he’s like, but what you’re going to do is you’re going to do your assignments, and you’re going to attend these meetings. And everybody, my art director, partner, he had the same meeting with Paul. He had different goals. But he he he managed you according to your goals. First, that was something I just thought everybody did in advertising, because this is my first time agency in. But what it led to is, this is why they are independent. They didn’t want to give up how they treated people. They had copywriters and art directors that were there for 1015 years and never had to do anything but be art directors and copywriters is that’s all right. Yeah. Yeah. Think about how, how brilliant that is. So you don’t have to manage to get a raise. And my first year there, they were mercury radio, they had to mercury radio finalists. They had on Johnson Controls. They were they want to Kelly. And they were producing all this great work. And then there was the Chicago office. There was a phoenix office. There was the Orlando office. Now the headquarters when Paul retired, moved down to Chicago where Peter is now the CEO. And Peter was the one who did career builders the monkey app.
Adam Pierno 10:59
That’s right. Yeah. That’s what made them
Derek Walker 11:02
and they and they, and they, they resigned that account because the client wanted to was upset about their USA Today pole and put the put the account up for review. And Peter and then we’re like management was like well, let’s let’s save you some trouble will go away.
Yeah we don’t need your business.
Adam Pierno 11:24
So let’s let’s translate that let’s translate all the things you just talked me through all those good examples. So number one going back to the the last thing you said Career Builder they had a point of view and principles on how they wanted the relationship to work. Yes. And we are going to perform this for you we’re going to do it very well. And you’re going to pay us and if you don’t appreciate it, we just won’t work for you anymore. We’ll go work for someone else. Yes, that’s it. That is very scary, scary how rare that is?
Derek Walker 11:59
Yes. And you asked me how many should agencies exist? No, some of them should not. They don’t have the testicular 42.
Adam Pierno 12:10
Very nice. What is it about the agencies that shouldn’t? Is that it? Is it principles first? Or is it the because what else you said about your time at CK that that was very enlightening. The Okay, here we’re going to manage to the person and their goals to get them where they want to go, which, because we’ve invested in hiring them, we understand that if they get closer to their goals, they will lift this company and our clients, everybody will win. Is that how does that translate into the agency world today? As you know it.
Derek Walker 12:49
They have a plan for their people. Yeah, they have they have. Okay, I don’t use I use these words interchangeable because they’re interchangeable to me. They have a strategy for managing their people. Yeah. Now a met think about, Well, technically every agency has a strategy will work you the desk will pay you as little as possible. Hey, it says
Adam Pierno 13:14
Alan strategies working so far.
Derek Walker 13:18
Is it now
Adam Pierno 13:21
in this mode as
Derek Walker 13:23
though the work has been getting better, you know, and I’m not that old crotchety guy God, you know, back in 1942 this was no, no, no, we have such marvelous tools. We have we have digital, we have such so so much that we could be working with that. The work should be freaking amazing. And should be. Yeah, I mean, can you imagine what the people that burn Bach had working with him would have done with digital with a website. I mean, Okay, he made some horrible, horrible, horrible comments. But look at Neil French as a long copy writer. Yeah. Is he had Give, give him give him these long formats of podcasts and, and websites and long, long format. I mean, this is storytelling. We caught we cringe at storytelling but what, what everybody’s trying to do now. They’re great writers and art directors that would I can’t imagine what the art directors of the 80s and the 90s would have would do. You cut them loose on digital. You know,
Adam Pierno 14:41
people you know, part of it is what I when I came up on the creative side, I had a portfolio that I put together in college and then spent a summer intern working on it. And you came out of portfolio center. So I’m sure it’s the same deal. It’s not that the ideas that I had were better in fact, I know You probably know about your your entry book, it was terrible. It was all rectangles that had an idea safely nestled in that rectangle that a person could flip through the boards and go, good, good, bad, bad, pretty good, great. And they could judge your ideas very simply, when I think about how we talk about is the word good today or bad today. There’s no rectangular container for ideas anymore. So it’s really hard to judge some, you know, video campaign that jumps sizes from Tick Tock to YouTube to Twitter to you know, whatever platform is next, as compared to a, you know, a series of rectangles that you could flip through in a magazine. So it’s hard to it’s hard to compare that it’s hard to compare areas that way.
Derek Walker 15:52
I don’t think so. For me, it’s easy. Tell me more.
Think about do you feel anything? When you watch that Tick tock, you know? Do you feel anything when you when you read this, read his social media posts from a brand. That’s why Wendy’s and Oreos and the Twitter, the Twitter elite are doing so well. You know, they reach in and touch somebody even now that’s all the great work ever did was it made you feel something? Even when it wasn’t directed at you, you go all I see what they’re talking about to this group, right?
Adam Pierno 16:37
Well, there’s the old there’s the old trope of long distance calls, which we don’t have long distance anymore but long distance calls. people cry. Can you imagine a TV commercial making people cry now? It’d be it’d be hard.
Derek Walker 16:51
No, no, no, I don’t think so. They watch this as us you know I mean, people still cry. The human beings haven’t changed this. This group of creatives is not talented enough to make them cry.
Adam Pierno 17:13
Is it talent? The way we’re directing the the the work from Okay, it has a business problem through here’s the creative that gets produced and is shared with the audience as intended to see it. I don’t think it’s a talent.
Derek Walker 17:30
I think talent is a muscle. Okay, okay. Yep. And data we haven’t developed empathy in this group of creatives. Where where they can use their talent. They don’t have that muscle they don’t have that training for it. We’ve taken a made this thing loveless I love him shout out to Cindy Gala. Make love not porn. Yeah. Her website is Just about that we’ve taken in stuff is so hard and cold. That when you see something now it’s amazing when we make people we make the I can show three or four videos to a group of USC University of South Carolina students and school journalism, and I can make them cry. Or I can make them feel good or great. Kleenex did a wonderful job of that with their series of videos they put out. It’s, it’s still there, they were still human. But we’ve sold ourselves that we aren’t as human as we used to be. We’re now analytical and logical, and so smart and detached from it all. But if that’s the case, how did Adele sell so many damn songs? Her intent
was the Smith guy.
Adam Pierno 18:56
Oh, oh, yeah, his name’s getting away from me, too. People trying to remember pop artists Sam Sam
Derek Walker 19:03
Smith yeah Sam Smith love songs still sell you know
Adam Pierno 19:12
and and the way art you know even pop music as an art form still pulls the strings that hasn’t changed.
Derek Walker 19:21
Then why did advertising change? yeah
Adam Pierno 19:23
tell me let’s let’s I do have any theories on it.
Derek Walker 19:26
I think we we get to results. We get to pushing numbers and data points and analytics and we, we we tried to be so smart when we never were the smartest people in the room. We were the most human people in the room. We will artist and I own that and I embrace it and I will die go to my grave, saying that copywriters are freaking artists. Because what we did was we wrote stuff to make people feel we could empathize with them. We saw their pain and their joy in their laughter we understood the human condition. We got all this information. But we don’t understand the people we we we have this information about you know, luxury was never luxury was never about just a smooth ride it was about status is about how you felt how you succeed it. There is a financial add, and I can’t remember the company so I guess it sucks, but I’ve only seen it once. And this young black man is talking to his financial advisor and she goes, he says to her, she says can we make this happen? And she says yes, we can make it happen. And he goes home. He goes to his parents house with his wife. And he says, it looks around the house and goes it’s paid for. This is your home. We took care of that. And that message right there for for black children. They’re not playing it enough that message for black children is is so important. Mom and daddy sacrifice so we could get so far. Yeah. And I said, and I said, then I went, Wow. Somebody’s got it sorted.
Adam Pierno 21:15
They got it. They almost got it. Yeah.
Derek Walker 21:19
Maybe, you know,
Adam Pierno 21:21
in the in the early 2000s in the late 90s, not not the, you know, the good old days, but when I was really paying attention to creative and really cared about it, there was a lot more stuff that almost got it that was like, Oh, that’s a really good idea. But they didn’t execute or they executed something that was mediocre and brought it up to a better level. Do you think it’s the same now where there’s enough almost close to or is it or are you seeing even less and less of that it’s more robotic, fill in the blanks
Derek Walker 21:51
is lyst is less robotic and fill in the blank. We’ve taken time away from the process. Yeah, you know, I still I’m Uh, I’m getting fat. I’m fat.
Adam Pierno 22:03
I’m a foodie. Do not shaming you there. It’s all good.
Derek Walker 22:08
No, my son, my son is he hates for me to call him a chef because he went to culinary school he graduated. He’s saying he’s earning his stripes. So he’s not a chef. He’s a chef and training. So, he, he said he was going to cook us a dish, or he was like, you know, you don’t see some flavors that often so let’s make a souffle. And we’re like, Okay, cool. He goes, Oh, but I need time to make the souffle. Like, all right, he describes it and he tells you all the process you go, but you go ahead with that will be waiting. Take your time. We are like chefs, but we’ve turned ourselves into short order cooks. Clients wants to souffle, they want dishes that take forever to cook. Look. I don’t trust any man that can make a brisket in five hours.
Unknown Speaker 23:01
Adam Pierno 23:04
It can technically be produced but the output is going to be not something you want to eat
Derek Walker 23:10
it How can we can understand this about advertising? You want to add produce fashion and you want to brisket cook. How stupid is that? And how sad is our leadership that couldn’t explain or manage the expectations of clients that this is how it is. You want to know how to work get bad, the word get bad because we got a group of leaders who don’t value creative. And they rush it, they discount it. They have a disdain for it. And it’s because of a civil wars. The so I mentioned this to somebody else. Advertising used to be run by creators when it was run by creatives. We get arrogant, we get nasty. We treated every other department need Know badly? Well guess what, in the 90s, when we crashed, and then the 2000s when we crashed, guess who rose the power of the agency? It wasn’t creatives. It was people who had lived under the thumb of bad creators.
Adam Pierno 24:19
And in addition to that, those the when it changed from when advertising agencies decided they wanted to be lightweight versions of management consultants, and then when the digital revolution poured in, and we could have all this analytics, most of the creative said, I’m an that’s not what I do. I don’t want to do that part, and kind of stepped aside and let it let it go past them. And so that’s where you have a whole generation of really talented, experienced creative people that can’t get back into the flow of it because the business doesn’t even look like an agency anymore. For a lot of these for a lot of these places.
Derek Walker 25:00
No, I, you know, I’m sort of sort of stranded now if I wanted to shut everything down and go back to Africa working for somebody else I couldn’t because these aren’t agencies, their accounting firms. There are two things that there’s a big the biggest lie we tell ourselves is that we make profit. We know we make we provide creative solutions. We can at least resupply solutions cloaked in creativity. Now, now, since we do that, what a lot of agencies are done is they have followed the holding company model, but we’re not holding companies when we’re independent or we’re small or medium size. We’re fucking agents excuse my language backers, but they pissed me off about this. We try to operate like,
like a holding company. So we guarantee profit.
That’s the mistake will guarantee profits never guaranteed profits is if you do everything right, you might make a profit. Focus on your numbers first. When you focus on profit. How do you make profit? By cutting? easiest, there’s only two ways to make profit. You either increase business so much that you make profit, or you cut things to become profitable. Since we couldn’t increase business, we’ve had to cut stuff. We cut deadlines, we cut people, we cut resources, we cut training, we cut everything. And then we said we’re still an ad agency. No, you’re not.
Adam Pierno 26:38
No, you’re it’s like a zombie version of an ad agency. Yeah, to see without the heart, the nervous centers still there, but the brain and the heart are gone.
Derek Walker 26:49
Yeah, because we’re focused on the wrong thing. I worked at an agency I will not name them. They had a leadership council 13 of them. They averaged 32,000 dollars in bonuses. They thought no one knew. But when they started laying folks off Oh, and I’m sorry that $32,000 was a quarter.
Do the math on that. That’s insane. Now
now, but what happened is they treated people so badly that the young ladies and young men in in their accounting and finance office went out and get drunk one one day at the pub with all the other employees because we were going through around the layoffs. And they told all the checks they wrote. pulled it up. Show folks so now everybody knows that they’re averaging $32,000 for 13 people, I think that’s roughly what a few hundred thousand insane so when they so when they stand up and say we’re cutting staff and they said this, because I asked because we have an open door policy. And it was just a waste self preservation. They said we’re cutting staff because we’re not profitable enough. They didn’t say they were cutting staff because they weren’t meeting numbers. They said they cut back because they weren’t profitable enough. And I politely raised my hand or reminded them we had open door policy. So I’m just asking, I’m not accusing anybody of anything. So why don’t we free salaries? Why don’t we put in place cost cutting measures across the board? Why don’t we freeze bonuses, and they go, we don’t give bonuses and the room mode. Yeah, everybody plus? Yeah, everybody’s like, Yeah, right. That mentality is the way too many agencies are run the hit that people at the top don’t care about the people at the bottom. Yeah, they’re just
Adam Pierno 28:54
tools to make profit. Yeah, it’s a bit like a pyramid scheme. I think they they that happens. In the 90s, where the agencies when that when the accounting trend started, and the agency started looking at how agencies could make money, they said, Oh, if we build all these people at this lowest rate at our blended rate, and we build them for 6070 hours a week, everybody at the top is safe. And so I came that churn factory of just like piling work on these people, instead of training them and supporting them and helping them grow. And just just essentially dumping the problem on them and then who gets laid off those same people? So yeah, then what what started to happen is that the most profitable people were the people you would cut to protect the people at the top. And so then then you’ve even lied to yourself, because you’ve said, profit is profit is most important, but we’re going to get rid of the most profitable bit to protect the least profitable because they’re the most productive at the top, as They have the best creative for the best thinking or they can the clients value them the most. But No, they don’t. Because you took that away.
Derek Walker 30:08
Yeah. And we and it’s the lack of respect for the craft. Those people could be replaced. We got a three or four college kids, we use for that one person salary, they can do the job. Oh, God, yeah. and bless them. This is not the fault of the college students. They deserve to come into an industry and be trained and mentored and coached and brought along. And we don’t do that anymore. So I’m not blaming the young people for this. This is why this is why I say they don’t have the talent for this. They haven’t been developed. We threw them into, we threw them in the deep end and said, swim.
Adam Pierno 30:50
Well, they hired and it’s like, well, you have to replace this person that we had to lay off that we’ve been doing this for years. So go, yeah, and then everybody goes Is that person suck at their job? Well, because they just graduated yesterday and you haven’t running for accounts.
Derek Walker 31:06
Yes. And look, Lord.
Okay. If If anybody says, I said this out the night account service is a is an art for good managing of the cow is important.
Adam Pierno 31:24
Why would you not want to be credited for saying something so true and lovely?
Derek Walker 31:29
Because I’m the creative.
Adam Pierno 31:33
You’re still wearing your creative
Derek Walker 31:34
right now. Yes, that’s like, that’s like the cat complimenting the dog. But it’s No, I can’t.
Adam Pierno 31:41
I can’t do it. But it’s true. It’s true. It’s true. The person who knows how to set expectations, who knows how to understand the real business problem or the problem the client actually trying to solve? and Angie, and what really often gets overlooked as They get characterized as a as a yes person. They’re also able to come back and negotiate with the creative team and say, No, no, what they make the work better by saying, you know, you missed because it’s really more about this point than the point that you hit home helped me get it there versus I just need this in 10 minutes, and I don’t care what it looks like, I’m not even gonna look at it surprised me in the meeting.
Derek Walker 32:25
Or way now go further. I have worked with some great account people. Absolutely beautiful account. At one account suit came to us and he said,
the client wants to do this.
The client should not do what the client wants to do.
Will you create us? Will you media people? Will you all come with me? And let’s tell the client No.
Adam Pierno 32:54
All right, amazing.
Derek Walker 32:56
Yeah, and I’m like, you know, and it was And this is what the joy of it was the team with that we sit down, and we sit we, as a group us with we listened, we went over what you said, Here’s why this isn’t good for you. And it wasn’t just one person left standing there in front of a client.
Adam Pierno 33:18
Right? It was it was we all talked about it. And here’s 17 reasons why we want you to hear this before you make us do it.
Derek Walker 33:26
Yes. And the account exec. Excuse me, supervisor did the most brilliant thing. He said. Now, if we know after hearing all of this, if you want us to insist on us doing this, please sign this form, stating that you’re doing this against our judgment or recommendations for the client sitting. Know the client sitting there going wait what he says because we’re going to do what you asked, but then we don’t want to be blamed down the road when it doesn’t work or it goes bad for you.
Adam Pierno 34:01
Was that standard practice for that agency? Yes. That’s so smart. What what shop was that?
Derek Walker 34:08
Adam Pierno 34:12
Good for you. You listed we talked about a few different problems here. We’ve talked about empathy and lack of it. talent in and really that’s more about training and letting fostering talent planning ahead for how we’re going to improve careers improve business in a rational way. Profit especially profit through cutting and then time. I’m sure there’s more. Which of those five things I think is the most important which hurt the business the most?
Derek Walker 34:55
None of those who
Adam Pierno 34:57
know got a wild card we got a dark horse is coming Which will do you have another idea?
Derek Walker 35:02
Yeah, we just didn’t have a plan.
Adam Pierno 35:04
Yeah. I mean, in general,
Derek Walker 35:08
we don’t. In general, we have no plan. What’s the strategy here? How will we play in the wind? Here’s some. I mean, do it was last time an agency said, Can we be too big?
Adam Pierno 35:23
I’ll bet I know. I can pick some agencies that have probably had that conversation. But it’s you can count them on one hand.
Derek Walker 35:30
Yeah, you can tell by the work.
Adam Pierno 35:33
Yes. And you can tell the exact moment when they became too big.
Derek Walker 35:37
Yeah. Crispin Porter learned that the hard way
I don’t think widens learned that lesson because widen hasn’t gotten their TV web shy it. strong leadership required to growth requires strong leadership. And I’m not talking about an iron fist. I’m talking about somebody Who’s almost we use a leak cloud? You know his standards?
Adam Pierno 36:05
Yeah, you don’t bring you have big ideas in front of them.
Derek Walker 36:09
Know when you talk about Dan, why do you understand what’s going on there? I think the lack of strategy as to what you are as an agency, what, what’s an agency’s product? I mean, most agencies can’t tell you what their product is. And the reason I say that is both of their websites. Their websites are our digital brochures,
Adam Pierno 36:38
right for anything you could possibly want. Very see you want to pay lane and be in that lane.
Derek Walker 36:45
And it’s not a lane.
If I can give you a solution, if you have a problem. Pick an industry. Pick an industry. I mean, in the good old days, ad agencies would have I mean, okay, fine. I’ll take fog and for example, I would work in the morning or McDonald’s and in the evenings on the work on Morningstar farms, so I’d worked on fast food and then I work on vegetarian food, right.
Adam Pierno 37:12
And then you know, you come out successfully.
Derek Walker 37:15
No, no, there’s no the spring sprinkle some on Owens Corning. fiberglass insulation in there, some data, automotive parts. You know, there’s a variety of variety keeps the creative mind challenged. So it’s important when I say, what’s our product, what really truly do we provide? And I said it earlier, we provide solutions to our clients needs are problems that are cloaked as creative executions. We’re problem solvers.
We introduce and
that’s all we really do. When does a client need as if they have a problem they want Better sales they need more they need a better afford racing persona. They, they need whatever you know, you know, we we don’t own that we’re problem solvers we deserve that we can make sales this morning I’m going to be in trouble because I’m on Twitter saying no agencies don’t handle sales you can you control part of the sale but when was last time you bought a car just based on a TV commercial no test drive there’s gonna be a beer right there’s going to be a point where the where the brand has to take over and
Adam Pierno 38:42
close that sale whether it’s through a website or something else.
Derek Walker 38:46
So why do we bear all the responsibility of sales or not?
Adam Pierno 38:51
Because Derek we space buddy. No, I’m kidding.
Derek Walker 38:56
Just kidding. Yes, no.
Let’s see we say those things without a plan when you have a we have a clear understanding of who you are and what you provide the you know where you’re going and what you can do. I can’t make you go viral. I just as a client, yeah, see what every client, but clients want to go viral? Yeah. I don’t think you know, that’s all all of our problems are because we don’t plan anything out as a business.
Adam Pierno 39:29
Yeah, no, that’s that is the the one of the broader problems is culture is we want the washboard abs but we don’t want to eat right and do crunches for a year to get there.
Derek Walker 39:41
No, I do not. Let me get let me get around.
And, and I think,
you know, I move I’ve got a couple of people who say I move glacially slow. But in my head, I’m moving at light speed because I see the plan. I know the plan. I don’t do anything that isn’t part of the plan. And isn’t that what we tell our clients? Every action you do, as far as your marketing is concerned? Should be part of your your marketing strategy? Oh, yeah.
Adam Pierno 40:14
Yeah. It’s all part of the continuity of the brands, anything to do that’s out of that pass breaks the brand for people.
Derek Walker 40:22
Was that quote them? physician heal thyself.
Adam Pierno 40:25
Derek Walker 40:26
Why Why don’t agencies do agencies really look like they move like that? only a select few
Adam Pierno 40:35
is probably the CEO. And if we asked if we put up a poll on Twitter and ask people to name the agencies that are doing it, right, he would be the same dozen or so agencies. Yeah, even globally, the agencies I can name the agencies in Australia. I can name the agencies in Europe, I could name a season in Asia everywhere. It’s the same. It’s just it’ll be the same group that rise to the top probably as it was. It’ll look very similar going back every five years for 20 years.
Derek Walker 41:04
Yeah. And that’s not it because it’s not an accident. They have a plan. Yeah, they have a strategy. Now, the funny part is, is they never say anything. You know, in all this turmoil and all this upper you have Rob, Rob Schwartz over at TVDTVWA New York. The lot you get, like, think about the the agencies we’re talking about never say a word about any of those problems. Because guess what, they don’t have the problems, you know, not to the extent that the rest of us do. And that’s it so they telling that they can move through this world and go oh, yeah, that’s bad. Until I bring up the name Kramer castle, nobody knows them. But guess how old Kramer castle is
Adam Pierno 41:55
don’t even know.
Derek Walker 41:58
They’re over 100 Now,
Adam Pierno 42:02
yeah, that agencies over 100 years old. Yeah, I was gonna get 40. And I thought that’s too That’s too long. They haven’t been around 40 years. No,
Derek Walker 42:11
they are over 100 years old and they’re independent. that’s ever been all.
Adam Pierno 42:17
That’s probably part of the key.
Derek Walker 42:19
Here I worked it worked out shy day and in Los curliness. Now it’s Zimmerman, and it’s no longer there. But they were doing regional Nissan. And the client was, the dealers wanted to do something that was just horrendous. And the contact person from LA
stood up in the meeting. And he said, we’re not, we’re not going to hold on.
Hold on a second again. Yeah, we’re not going to do this. Because we’re trying to Day. And if you want to screw your business up, you can do that on your own. Wow. Wow. And room stop, you know, the room stop. And the representative from Nissan said he’s right. This is a bad move. But the deal is want to do it because it drives sales. But they’re not looking at this at the big picture as far as what it does to the brand. Sure, you can discount five new models, brand new models, but what’s the perception and Americans? What perceptions do Americans have if you have a brand new product and you instantly discounted exactly
Adam Pierno 43:40
what’s wrong with it? Nevermind this false numbers. What a next all numbers look like.
Derek Walker 43:45
Yeah. So and it was just it was just so cool. And you sitting there you go, Wait, we can tell them? No.
Adam Pierno 43:54
I think that may be the biggest symptom of all is the ability or the willingness, the courage. The confidence to say no or even even not the absence of know because that sometimes comes off like bravado, the confidence to say can we talk about this for a moment and only give you a counterpoint it?
Derek Walker 44:15
Sometimes you just need to say no. Well, that’s
Adam Pierno 44:18
the sometimes you do.
Derek Walker 44:20
Okay, I’m gonna give you a prime example. The Pepsi General, commercial.
Adam Pierno 44:28
Really good, really good classic bit of American advertising. It just lets you just like let that joke just go right past us and I’m not engaging. No. Somebody said no, it’s not funny. There’s nothing funny about it.
Derek Walker 44:45
No, because everybody, because what falls back is everybody does. You know, I think this is a bad idea. You know what? Taking the Titanic to a nice meal was a bad idea. No Let’s do something with us. How bad could this be? Oh my god, how they know they’ve now found it. Yeah. All of this the recent advertising, full pause, missteps, whatever you want to call them were because somebody just didn’t say no. And I’m sorry, I’m I grew up I grew up with a drill instructor for father. My father was a drill instructor for his last part of his career in the army. And my father used to say, I don’t explain my nose. He tell you know, pause. Let you soak that in. And then you could come back and go Can I ask you why not? And he would explain it but you wouldn’t do and he would never, he never give some no with an explanation. Because he says then that shows that sends a message that I’m not really I don’t really mean it. I’m open to debate, right? We as we We as agencies need to stop our clients from falling off the falling off the cliff. No stop. Now, later on he come back and asked me why. And let’s talk about it but no, don’t do that. Is that simple? We try so hard to be nice that we’re negotiating whether or not we you should do that. Well, what if we fix it? No, you can’t fix that. Don’t do this.
How could you fix that spot?
Adam Pierno 46:31
I don’t know how to Kendall Jenner spa. Yeah, I the only way to fix it is to stop just to not do it.
Derek Walker 46:40
Then there’s no discussion to be had beyond don’t do this now. And then when they go, Well, why not? Okay, because do you know how this is going to blow up? See, now we can have that dialogue. But I’ve already killed this idea. Some ideas deserve to die. Most and Yes. And in this democracy of ideas, know everybody has an idea. Every idea is a good one. When I was eight, I thought strapping a bedsheet to my, around my neck, and a little mask over my face and climbing to the top of the roof was a great idea and I was going to fly. Thankfully, my mother caught me. Yeah, not a good He said, No, no, not a good idea. It’s still not a good idea. It won’t work.
You know, we we want to make everybody feel good. No. I want to.
Adam Pierno 47:34
I want to shift to the solutions that you have. Because you’re not just naysayers. You have ideas about how to improve things and how to how to get better solutions out there. Can we talk about creative?
Derek Walker 47:50
Sure. Creative comity. Yeah, go for it. Right. Now, go ahead. I’m sorry. You make before
Adam Pierno 47:57
we before we started, record And you were telling me a little bit about the genesis of creative community and I want to, I want you to share that with with everybody listening.
Derek Walker 48:09
Okay, the real backstory, and I’m sorry, I’m long winded. So good. I worked at this. I worked at this agency. And I had some direct reports. And one day, one of the direct reports was I was telling them what to do. And young white guy with the dealer, young white guy, and he goes, you don’t have to do it. Derek says he’s a diversity high. Wow. And my boss went, yeah. And my, my boss was you. You want what? I want? No, no, no, you know, my boss is ready to fire him immediately. And no, don’t fire it what you do as a go and find, because we were at an agency with a couple other groups and go to another group and get a creative brief that neither one of us to sing and give us three days to work on it. And we’ll come back and represent our three best ideas and we’ll find out who and I looked at the method that looked at young man I said, we’ll find out who’s a diversity high. And that’s what we did. We went and got him a you know, he was like all apologetic My boss is like, No, no, no, I’ll take excuse my language. He goes take ass with it. So we went together, we did them and we we submitted them blind. So there was no way anybody can know what it was. And my boss didn’t judge the creative director from that other group judge. And out of our three ideas, all three of mine was selected over him. And he never called me. He never called me a diversity higher again. I’ll bet he didn’t. This, but this is the beginning of how we get beyond this whole diversity and inclusion thing. And it’s the it’s the beginning of the community, to create communities and ideas, you know, When we when we go to award shows we go Oh Nike one of course Nike one Nike is an easy client tied one ties and easy client try doing feminine hygiene products creatively. You know, it’s not just diversity, it has a problem with this. It’s across categories we struggle with our our self esteem, I don’t work and so on. So they always when they you know whether they win because of what we talked about earlier, or they win because that people just give them a by. These are issues that the community addresses is fairness of fair playing a level playing field. So I’m sorry, it’s hard to I want to go back because I need to go forward. So I love it. What we’re talking about isn’t an award show. award shows judge work that’s been done for clients and yes, Some of them should include results. Never Say that again. But not all of them. I think sometimes the craft needs to be celebrated in and of itself. There’s a place for both. Yes, but we don’t have a true competition, where we all play on the same field with the same ball with the same rules and the same time frame. So we’re, we’re talking about the greatest comity is, we bring a group of creators to one location, we break them up where they’re not working with their partner. They come as an individual, we partner with somebody they’ve never worked with before. And they get the same brief from the same client with the same instructions and parameters. And they get the same amount of time to work on it. And the client judges the work. Now there is the details. Yes, there’s a money prize. But the good part is there’s a money prize for all participants.
So by the way for
Adam Pierno 52:03
everybody that puts in the work gets gets credit gets compensated in some way.
Derek Walker 52:08
Yes. Now some will be lower than others, the winners get a lot more than third place at 14, the first place team will get a share of a pot that’s bigger than the fourth place team, which is only fair, right? But everybody, and it’s, it’s higher than the numbers we’re shooting for are higher than any other freelance race outside of New York and in LA. And Chicago, because those markets are different. You know, they don’t they’re between New York, Chicago and LA or how many different advertising markets that don’t pay the way those three pay now because we don’t have the cost of living. So, but we, we designed it, where we only have one sponsor and that’s fine. So, submit the brief. The people work off of the brief. Then the sponsor comes back and judges the work on the final day and awards the winner. We don’t there’s no entry fee for the participants. We we pay for that we cover that we cover their flight in and their hotel. Oh, wow. Because there’s because there’s an economic divide. We got people that are freelancing who’s barely making it. I know creatives that are working as security guards and working at Walmart. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but they shouldn’t have to do that. But they have to. So why, how could this and they’re great creators, they just in the wrong market, or they work for the wrong client. So how do we bring these people in? You’re asking them to pay to come play? No. Well, that’s that’s
Adam Pierno 53:51
bringing them in. That’s why the big markets dominate all the award shows to Yeah, they have clients with resources to produce more work that are higher production value, but also just the cost of entering that stuff.
Derek Walker 54:04
Exactly. So, you know, it’s so funny to me, sometimes you look at some of these diversity inclusion events, and I know those because that’s where I live. Well, no, I take it back, take a small agency, event format, age, calling names. That thing cost above 1200. dollars to attend. And that’s just those two, then it’s wild. That’s not that’s not my airfare. And that’s not my hotel.
But as for small agencies?
Adam Pierno 54:38
Yeah, it’s not really about the way about the the nature of small agency business. I mean, it’s cheaper, probably. They’re bigger agency awards are probably 10 times that, but still, it’s still not very young. It’s awful.
Derek Walker 54:52
No, we have that with diversity and inclusion summits or events. All of them cost money. They’re going to Do here all the black people in New York at the end of this end of October. And they have some scholarships and they have some some really good stuff going. But think about it. In New York. If you are unemployed and advertising in Wichita, Kansas as a and you’re doing freelance work out of Wichita, how many jobs do you have to do to be able to afford to come to New York for three days? Two or three days? Right.
Adam Pierno 55:31
Right, instead of, you know, paying for things that are important in your life.
Derek Walker 55:36
Yeah, you make me so we’ve eliminated that with the commentary how that economic divide it divide is, so that’s one thing offline. Plus, everybody gets paid because it sends a subliminal message to both the clients and the creators. That ideas are worth something. Even bad ideas should be compensated for
The client owns all the work generated
at the end, because the goal, the hope is that the client sees look, we brought together a diverse group of folks. And in three or four days, they did work and it’s not finished work. It’s the idea, concept, our movie, and we paid for it. And so now I’m going to bring it back. I know it has value. Yes. And the cool part is a, if these people are freelancing, or looking for work, the client can turn to their agency and go, Hey, we like this person. Why are they working for you? It helps the agencies they can recruit from it. It’s no, there’s no no lose to it, except it costs money. But the idea is, we need this competition we used to when I was in Dallas, we used to sit in the pub and concept. Yes. I mean across agencies. We did it and we did it in Milwaukee. We did it in Columbus, Ohio. everywhere I’ve been, we used to get together after hours as a creative group of creatives and play.
Only in that play do we get to know each other.
We got an art director I work with. And the because of the nature of the comment, I don’t want to use his name. But he, he told me he said, You know what, if I hadn’t worked with you, I’d still be prejudice. Because he grew up in an all white, predominately white town. His parents had never worked with with anybody black or known anybody black. All he knew of black people was what he saw on TV or in the media. So he had no expectations for her and we became friends.
You know, and I needed to hear that from him
Adam Pierno 57:59
and It’s all because you let each other in your heads, you shared ideas, you share your thoughts. You You said yes to to each other’s ideas. Yeah.
Derek Walker 58:11
We try all of this stuff, but we don’t understand it our diversity inclusion problem that advertising isn’t a black or Hispanic or male or female, or male or female or male female problem, excuse me. It is the problem of leadership at the agencies is the problem of the people that work at the agencies. And how do we change those hearts and minds? And we never asked how we change the hearts and minds. we chop. We talked about removing those people, and that’s not right or logical. Now the folks aren’t going anywhere. It just creates more we just create. Yeah, why not? Let’s start playing together. And the community right now is structured to be our directors and copywriters and creative directors. We got team is going to have a creative director. Oh, I love it. So. So we have one creative director and three sets. Well three art directors and three copywriters under that one creative director. So he pairs those folks up, according he or she pairs those folks up according to how they best want to manage their team. And each team is like that. All of the committee is trying to do a lot of things in a short period of time. And one of the one of the potential sponsors went, this is so much and I looked at him and I was like, but this is what we do all day, every day anyway. Right? This is nothing for us. The strange thing is, is we hadn’t figured out so we’re gonna bring them all together. We’re going to pay him we got money prizes, and I’m now on the hunt to find a brief client.
Adam Pierno 59:56
Hopefully this episode is gonna help. I will leave I will definitely be promoting this. And if you’re a listener to this, I encourage you to share this idea of the creative community. We’re going to post links to it and make sure that the word definitely gets out. Where can people find you online? Sir, LinkedIn, and Twitter I ramble on.
But thank you very much. This has been awesome. Alright. Thank you so much for making time. No problem. Thank you.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai