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Marketing goes Hollywood: A reality check

Posted by Randy Mitchell on November 6, 2014

I have a neighbor who is a defense attorney. One year at our block party, I asked him what he thought of “Law & Order.” He smiled slowly and confessed, “It’s not really like that.”

Fast-forward a few years. The same neighbor emerged from his house after binge watching a full season of “Mad Men.” “Your profession is crazy,” he gasped. “How do I get into the ad game?”

I had to burst his bubble. I smiled slowly and confessed, “It’s not really like that.”

I’m not sure when marketing officially became a Hollywood glamour profession. For years, that was a role reserved for doctors, lawyers, cowboys and detectives. But I do know that television and the movies have recently given marketing the full Hollywood treatment. In other words, heavy on the drama but light on the facts.

So for a quick reality check, let’s consider a couple of common scenarios marketing agencies face, and compare the Hollywood and real-world versions.


Brainstorming, the Hollywood version

The premise: The agency needs a concept ASAP
The media: Television spot (it’s always a TV spot)
The deadline: The client is coming in for a morning meeting, so it’s panic time
The product: Pick any consumer household essential, like detergent or cereal
The scene: The agency meeting/playroom, filled with toys and video games
The characters: The entire agency is there, including the security guard
The plot: Everyone jokes, throws paper wads at each other and orders pizza. No one has any concepts but they all have good hair. Finally, the security guard accidentally comes up with the big idea. The client loves it. Everyone hugs. The episode ends.


Brainstorming, the real-world version

The premise: The agency needs a campaignable idea
The media: Multichannel, including direct mail, emails, PURLs and content marketing
The deadline: Initially a pilot program, with testing before the full launch
The product: It’s not a traditional product or even for consumers, it’s a new software platform from a client that serves several B2B markets
The scene: The creative director’s office; laptops, iPads, notebooks (sorry, no toys)
The characters: Art directors, copywriters, interactive developers
The plot: Everyone brings creative briefs with highlighter and notes all over them. Concepts are proposed, discarded, reworked and refined. In the end, several of the best ideas survive for an internal presentation. But they’ll all need to be developed and refined even more before the client ever sees them. Nobody hugs. The episode does not end.



Client meeting, the Hollywood version

The premise: Big faceoff between the client and the agency
The topic: We’re never really sure, but it doesn’t matter
The scene: The client’s boardroom: A classic fortress of power, complete with stock tickers, time zone clocks and a meeting table the size of an aircraft carrier
The characters: Client and agency principals
The plot: The agency is on one side; the clients are on the other. But the head of the table is empty. Tension is thick and the soundtrack is pulsating. Suddenly the CEO storms in and starts raging. Under the table, agency types kick each other and exchange knowing glances. Then the agency head fires back and everyone scrunches down in their leather chairs. It’s all about high drama, posturing and big speeches. In the end, everyone is shouting and at least one person faints.


Client meeting, the real-world version

The premise: Weekly status meeting with the client and the agency (if you only have big, dramatic faceoffs with your agency, something is wrong)
The topic: Multichannel marketing projects in progress
The scene: Account Director’s office: Large white board, a few family photos
The characters: The agency team is gathered for a teleconference, the clients are calling in from all over the country
The plot: Sorry, no big meltdowns here. The agency reports the open and click- through rates for the latest email blast. Cool, it beat the control. The client is excited about a new online training video that’s being planned for Q4. Website traffic is up and so are downloads of a new ebook. In the end, everyone is laughing and nobody faints.

 As you can see, real-world marketing agency life isn’t very appealing to Hollywood.
We do have our characters and there’s even a little drama from time to time. But mostly, it’s about big marketing challenges, hard work and smart people who figure it all out.


1. MarketingProfs, B2C Content Marketing: 2014 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends—North America

Topics: CMO

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