Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Perception Over Reality

Early in my marketing career, the hottest ad agency in the world was in my own back yard — Fallon McElligott & Rice. Today, Fallon is one of the world's leading agencies, doing ads for some of the very biggest and best known brands in the world. Yet, when they first started out in Minneapolis, they were but three people meeting over the lunch hour. They simply decided to do things a bit differently, and with hard work, and some very clever headlines, were able to radically change how ad agencies put themselves on the map.

The "real" FMR story...

Account executive Pat Fallon knew that Tom McElligott, a copywriter, and Nancy Rice, an art director, had the talent, energy and drive to succeed, but none of them had any recognition. So he took the simple assignments from low budget client's and parlayed them into a series of ads run in all the usual places (bus stops, billboards, weekly shoppers, newspapers, local TV and more). They practically invented the punny headline which caught the eyes of customers AND some local businesses, as well. In short order, they had banded together a nice regional collection of brands to work for.

But here's where Pat's marketing savvy took over. One of the key awards shows of the day was the One Show in New York. It's open to any agency that wishes to submit work (along with a check of $100 for each entry). Entries into exciting categories like BEST REGIONAL BLACK & WHITE NEWSPAPER AD, and BEST :60 SECOND PSA TV SPOT. Madison Avenue agencies typically walked away, coveting the 3-5 golden and silver pencils that they had won from the juried competition; on a great day, maybe a baker's dozen.

Fallon thought they might be able to win some trophies, too, proving that their brand of "creative" was as good as any in the country. Just think, a little shop from the Twin Cities mentioned in the same breath as venerable shops like J.Walter Thompson, Oglivy & Mather, BBDO and Saatchi & Saatchi. Pat Fallon's plan was audacious, yet oh, so simple. If their clever headline really was clever, the judges would have to award it, but if you entered the same ad in multiple categories - wouldn't the judges have to award it in each and every one, too? Fallon ponied up close to $10,000 in entry fees.

The result?

FMR took home close to 80 pencils in one awards show (and parlayed those wins in other national and international competitions). The nearest competitor's tally was 15! As you can imagine, the new talk of the town was the "hot" shop from the Midwest. Fallon never looked back and now operates around the globe with over a billion dollars in business. They had officially become an "expert" in creative advertising on the backs of "exciting" brands like the Episcopal Church and Hush Puppies shoes.

What has this to do with your brand?

Fallon knew it had the talent, just not the PR to match. Generating a buzz for the very topic you wish to be an expert in should become your primary mission this year. Fallon wanted to wear the Creative Crown. The only way to "prove" that was to win an award show that had everything to do with creativity - what's more, it was juried by the "best in the business". If the judges liked it, EVERYONE had to like it. It was a risk, but they outsmarted the game - in effect, the risk they took was an "expert" one. So, where can you effectively place yourself or your products so that the outcome is proof of your own superiority? Consider how you might handle these areas differently this year:

• Doing something dramatic at a trade show
• Organizing something that gets local TV coverage
• Owning an issue in your industry to get write ups in the important publications
• Finding the blogs read by influencers and contributing to them
• "Piggy-back" the endorsement from an industry celebrity or expert
• Establish a professional image via web beyond anyone else in your field

The point is, there are a number of options from which you might find some traction. Rack your brain to determine who might be willing to assist or how you might generate a superior perceived level of importance. If you believe in yourself and the might of your brand, regardless of whether it's achieved any status as yet, the perceptional value is more important when you first begin. Perception becomes your reality.

For Fallon, it couldn't have been clearer. Three years from inception, they landed the Rolling Stone Magazine account and crafted the now famous comparison ad campaign... FMR's public perception had finally matched their fiscal reality.

Now create your own.

If you're interested to gain more ideas on personal branding, contact Mike Farley via: Facebook, Twitter or his website.

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