Ad Guys And Gumshoes

Thanks to a stolen next-gen iPhone and one “reporter’s” willingness to buy it, there’s a lot of interest today about who is a journalist and who is not.
The Gizmodo/Apple story led me to think again about a topic Steffan Postaer recently took up an on his personal blog, Gods of Advertising.

In order to build a credible blog, I cannot shill for my agency, much less my own work. I have done it and paid a price. Readers pummel me for being a pimp. Worse yet, they stop reading me at all. On the other hand, I can’t criticize my agency’s work, even if it is my own, as this infuriates colleagues and clients. In many respects the same applies to me commenting on other agencies, their work or any number of industry related matters. Commentary from me is liable to incite someone somewhere. I know that. That’s true of almost any blog. The good ones anyway.

I made a comment on his post, saying I too sometimes struggle to find the balance needed to work in the industry and report on it. I also made mention of the fact that people I know, and like, are right now filling Twitter with self-promotional garbage, grinding axes that are already plenty sharp on their blogs, and worst of all, making bad advertising. All of which forces me to choose between being a critic and being a friend. Of course, one can be both a critic and a friend, provided the friends in question have exceptionally thick skin.
Speaking of friends, a new one recently encouraged me to put more bite in our coverage here. Having worked as a journalist in the past, he knows all too well what “sells.” I appreciate the push, believe me, and I appreciate where his criticism of AdPulp is taking me. Frankly, it’s making me question what business I’m in. Am I in the ad business or the content business?
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I’ve long thought of AdPulp as “proof of concept” for the content marketing model I’ve been forwarding with clients. Clearly it is that, and what you see here, and have seen here every day for 5.5 years, can be replicated for any audience with a shared interest. If you want to talk to kite boarders or organic gardeners, that’s fine, the people who bring you AdPulp can also reach those audiences with a modified, but related, content strategy.
At the same time, Shawn and I have always thought of AdPulp as a stand alone media property–one that we want to see succeed, editorially and financially. Therein lies the tension. For AdPulp to do better financially, it may be time to tweak our coverage (and some noses). Why is that a problem? It’s not, as long as I never again look to the agency partners in question for income.
Once I returned to Portland in 2008 and W+K lost my book and failed to compensate me for it, I stopped needing to praise them. I still praise them, but not automatically, and not universally. For AdPulp to be fully functional, we need to get to this same place with everyone else we cover.
And there’s no time like the present…
Portland agency, North, recently introduced new TV spots for their client Umpqua Bank and pointed to them from Twitter. Unfortunately, the spots fail to reveal who Umpqua Bank is as a brand. That’s a shame any time it happens, but in this case it’s worse, for Umpqua has a strong brand at the retail level and a commitment to customer service that far surpasses their rivals.

About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative direction at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.