Philly Creative Guide

Guest Columnist

Kurt Shore

The Mediocrity Cloud Over Philadelphia
by Kurt Shore, 1 Apr 2010

Kurt Shore, President and Chief Creative Officer of D4, Top 5 Record Producer in previous life.

Why has no Philadelphia agency risen to the status of being one of the best agencies in the country? Ever? Is it because we don't have the talent? Is it that we are simply OK with doing mildly creative work? Or is it that we are forever doomed to being in the shadow of New York, where all the great agencies really are?

I think it's time we, as an industry, look ourselves in the mirror, do a little therapy, and change the way we think about ourselves, and how our clients think about us, and whether or not our work really makes a difference.

Last week, I attended the annual Addy Awards, a celebration of advertising excellence in Philadelphia. While the winning work had its moments, most of it worked as well as Ambien. What struck me as rather astonishing was how few of the agencies' clients were brands anyone had heard of as far away as say, Reading. Although I didn't count, RedTettemer won a bunch of awards for the ever popular, Tub Gin. Huh? Another very good agency, The Neiman Group, won many awards on cutlery posters for another company I had never heard of. Perhaps I just don't spend enough time in the kitchen. And finally, there was the winning radio spot for a local steak shop. Philly steaks are famous, but the ad will not be in anyone's memories west of Pottstown.

There was also a giant sucking sound that I heard in the stunning cavernous Memorial Hall, which probably resulted from the region's largest company, Comcast, choosing to use only two national agencies, one from San Francisco, and one from New York/Boston, and zero from Philadelphia.

Perhaps it's the economy that only drew half of the normal amount of people to the ADDY's. Agencies are probably really hurting, those that are still around. Of course, the agencies catering to the pharmas are fine, but their work certainly isn't. Nothing new has come out of that sector since, when, the invention of TV. Again, what is the reason for all that money being poured into such banality despite the best intentions and talents of the agencies that cater to them?

My analysis is that it is not the creative talent hailing from our great city that is at fault. There are still many national-class creatives here that still hold to some belief that maybe their best work will one day see the bright pixels of day.

I believe that the fault lies at the intersection of how the work is sold and how the final creative decision is made. There is a dearth of national class account management folks here who, either don't know how to or won't push back, when client-sided marketers insist on safe work.

Philly agencies, not having the large budgets of Fortune 200 companies to depend on consistently, don't want to lose the crumbs of work that they do have, so they don't push back. They accept allowing the best work to go into the files. They accept allowing the safer, mediocre ideas to be produced. They don't want to make their clients angry. And as I said, they don't want to lose their jobs. It all makes sense.

I also believe that the VP's or CMO's of marketing in this city's top businesses are at fault too. Let's face it, Philadelphia has a business elite that is generally very, very conservative. They may be great businessmen, but not bold brand builders. Apple could have never happened here, nor Harley-Davidson, nor Nike, nor Virgin, nor Amazon, nor... well you get it. I think that if those brands DID happen here, it would only be because they went outside Philadelphia. Companies here don't respect Philly agencies the way they do outside agencies. I call this the "Jesus Syndrome." You see Jesus had to leave his hometown of Bethlehem to really make it big in Jerusalem and the rest of the world. It's a twist on what psychologists call "transference"—if you feel less than great, than certainly your neighbor must also be less than great.

It's been this way for decades. If I'm wrong, then please tell me one agency that rose to the level of Chiat-Day, Goodby, Crispin-Porter, or Mother.

It's time to be honest here. Only with an admission of our own irrelevance, can we get out of this rut. I wonder what we would do if we asked ourselves the question, "why do I do this?" If the answer is simply money, then we are in it for the wrong reason. I believe advertising is the art of today. Think about it--we reflect popular culture, confront key issues and injustices, tap into peoples' emotions. We mesmerize them with visual effects and implant an indelible impression in their minds. When we fail to do this, then we fail at advertising.

I propose:

  1. that some of us who care about these things get together and as we would say when we were younger, "figure this sh*t out"
  2. that every agency head begin talking to their clients about the importance of building brands that actually create an emotional bond with consumers. Promise them it will make them more profitable, not less. And it will.
  3. support our account and creative teams to be bold, push back, educate our clients to be fearless, and take chances, (and don't fire them if they walk away from opportunities that aren't in the best interests of our clients and their customers.)

About D4 Creative Group

  1. Certified Woman/Minority-Owned Business, (founded 1990)
  2. #6 Largest Philly Agency (Philadelphia Business Journal-2009)
  3. Clients include: Comcast, MyGallons, Starcite, Insight Communications
  4. Branding- check; Direct Response- check; Social Media- check; Fast- check
  5. Full audio-video-music scoring-interactive suites in-house

For more information, please contact:
Kurt Shore, President/CCO
4646 Umbria Street, Philadelphia, PA 19127
215.483.4554, x101

Print Article Brought to you by: Kurt Shore | President and Chief Creative Officer of D4

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