The Wall Street Journal headline read, “Google filed to go public, setting plans to raise as much as $2.7 billion and giving investors their first look at the secretive company's revenue and earnings.”
Secretive? The boys from Stanford have been on the cover of every news and information magazine I’ve seen lately. They have taken full advantage of a rightly deserved 15 minutes of fame. No offense, but I was starting to worry that I would one night curl up with my latest issue of FHM only to see… never mind. So, what’s the secret?
Revenue? Earnings? What’s the big secret? Talk to any Google employee -- you needn’t read the prospectus to have the answer. It’s scary, contrarian and rebellious: freedom of information for everyone. That’s the dream, right? Doctors will find cures faster, teachers will be able to teach better, lawyers will serve the law more efficiently, and everyone will be smarter, better people as a result.
Enter Wall Street
The channel changes from Star Trek to CNN. Now you are public, and I own a piece of your backside, buddy. You are now officially praying to shareholder equity, and it will be time for a reality check. Drug companies control doctors -- and they don’t want you better, they want you on the mend and taking more drugs. Teachers are too broke to buy their own computers, lawyers serve themselves, and the only thing we now hope to do is make money.
Ever been to a Google office? Lots of little Googlers marching around chanting the "freedom of information" mantra. Well, not exactly. It is, however, the most amazing thing I have ever seen. Food, beverages and snacks abound -- Veruca Salt would be in heaven. You can have breakfast, lunch and dinner in the building and it’s good food! You never have to leave. You never have to leave. Now, don’t mistake this little rant for a Google put-down. Au contraire.
I am jealous, very jealous. I work for a public company. One of the offices I work in has a "restaurant." Think high school lunch line with parolees cooking up slop. Leave? That’s all you want to do.
I remember in the early days of Internet marketing, we had tons of people around, getting work done and having a good time riding Razor Scooters around while spouting Google-esque chants. And then… shareholder equity.
But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was watching (even after the rebound, years later) companies coming together and deciding who was redundant and who wasn’t. Empty desks, offices, cubicles and buildings, along with some of the most appalling self-preserving human behavior I have ever witnessed. If still employed, one would look around to realize one is now doing the work four people once did. Shareholder equity is corporate Darwinism at its best.
Here’s where I am going with this: Youthful exuberance is easy when you operate in the privatized vacuum. When you start answering to thousands of constituents and get the CFO sweaty palms around the end of the quarter, you might have to start cutting out things like food service, neato toys, and eventually, people. Attitudes begin to sour, then Willy Wonka has a heart attack, and some evil baron swoops in to save the fledgling Chocolate Factory to maximize -- you guessed it -- shareholder equity.
So what is Google doing, if anything, to preserve the dream?
Control is an infantile illusion
Let’s start with a $2.7 billion offering. On top of that, we drop in an interesting auction-style stock release. Most importantly, co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, along with chief executive Eric Schmidt, plan to establish a tiered operating structure that will allow a small portion of shareholders to hold the lion’s share of control of the culture-enhancing search destination.
The selling proposition now becomes "buy my stock, but you can only watch me run the company." Maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all. Who needs to think and act? It seems as though every time we the people attempt both, bad things happen. However, the question remains, once the initial hype dies down, will shareholders or employee owners ever trust their future to a precious few in the wake of Enron and its ilk?
"Don’t be evil" is another phrase that appears in the most unusual prospectus I have ever seen. We never see the document that got Jerry Maguire canned, but I would imagine it looked a lot like Google’s go-public document. Focus on quality of information, build trust and a winning corporate culture with our employees, keep them fed and healthy. The concept sounds Jim Dandy.
The problem is, far too many outside problems come into play, once Google is in the public domain. Will Americans get bored with Googling the same way they bored with Cabbage Patch kids? Will minimalist Google search go the way of the dodo in favor of a rich portal experience? What about those looming trademark problems? Privacy issues with Google’s mail application? I can only offer my mantra, some famous words of advice; it pays to be nice to people on your way up, for it is the same people you meet on your way down.
The cold hard facts
Advertising supports Google. In the future, it will have to be much more than search. Powering government databases perhaps, complex shopping engines or advanced email ad serving? Some or all are in the works for Google, as we speak.
Key growth areas for Google, according to Nielsen//NetRatings, in the time period between October, 2003 and March, 2004 are news, image search, groups, toolbar and answers, which grew a whopping fifty percent on the high end with News and twenty six percent on the low end with Google Answers. This proves beyond the shadow of any doubt users will adopt, if from a trusted source.
Audience hold and reach is, then, another issue for Google. According to a comScore qSearch spokesperson, "In February, Google controlled approximately 35 percent of searches conducted at major search engines by U.S. Internet users. Yahoo!, its closest competitor, conducted 30 percent of searches by U.S. Internet users in February." It looks like Google is still on top for the moment.
What happens when it doesn’t make sense to build the next great thing? Maybe someone already has, and a purchase has to be made. Google has made purchases before, but mostly those which can be quickly absorbed into the collective. Maybe this time it’s a big firm and precious corporate cultures have to be merged. Maybe it happens a few more times. The hand holding healthy habitat becomes homogenized. The dream fades and the utopian search society slips away. We are right back where we started, aren’t we?
Hope, dreams and a better Place
Lots of firms strive to change the world.
None of them make it to Google’s size and pull it off.
Maybe the Googlers will, and I hope they do. Google promises to be honest with both good and bad news. Google hopes to keep enough cash around so they don’t have to send a series of memo’s announcing cutbacks and layoffs because they didn’t meet expectations. Americans are ripe for a firm that actually maintains a principled approach over the long term. Fear and anger from being on the business end of corporate betrayal have turned us into a nation of untrusting Gollums looking for our precious one ring of dignity. Maybe it's time to believe that someone will actually do it right.
Good luck Google.
iMedia search columnist Kevin Ryan’s current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization and several regional non-profit organizations.
It's impossible to get budgets and plans approved
Here is what you are thinking: "This client is paying us thousands of dollars every month to improve its [search rankings, Facebook ads, email drip marketing campaign -- whatever]. But we can't move past the first step because the goddamn client won't return my emails or phone calls."
The automatic reaction might be to let the client continue to pay the monthly retainer until its team realizes that no progress has been made. And since you have very clear documentation that all of the delays were on the client side, your ass is covered -- right? Nope.
Guess who the client is going to be pissed off at when its digital campaign, the one that you were hired to improve, fails? Save yourself the bad word-of-mouth and fire the client. When you explain why you are terminating the agreement, you might even motivate the client to improve its own internal processes. Who knows? At a later date, the client might return to you with more work. At the worst, you've proved that your agency is honest and insists upon integrity.
Campaign: "Kony 2012"
The biggest campaign of the year was by far Invisible Children's "Kony 2012." Released in March, the campaign's goal was to make Joseph Kony, a Ugandan warlord, famous. And they did: The campaign broke online video records, crashing past 100 million views in just six days, scoring more than 41 million views in a single day, and becoming the second most-watched video ad campaign in history with a total 211 million video views. Audiences got involved at unprecedented levels in spreading the Invisible Children's message by publishing more than 3,300 clips for the campaign.
2012 True Reach views: 211,286,369
Red Bull grabbed second place with its own record-breaking campaign. Sponsored by Red Bull, daredevil Felix Baumgartner broke records when he jumped from the edge of space, falling 127,000 feet from the stratosphere to the earth, breaking the sound barrier on the way. The jumped topped 50 million views in three days and has gone on to generate a total 156 million video views. The campaign has inspired more than 2,400 clips scattered across the web, with the vast majority of them coming from copies of the ascent and jump itself.
2012 True Reach views: 156,691,794
Campaign: "Angry Birds Space"
With three wildly successful games under the "Angry Birds" franchise, Rovio decided to up its game for the fourth installment, "Angry Birds Space," and launch a video campaign. The campaign includes a NASA astronaut explaining the laws of physics in "Angry Birds" from the International Space Station. The campaign also includes trailers of gameplay and a background story on how the birds went intergalactic, reminiscent of a super-hero flick or comic book. In all, the campaign has produced more than 104 million views. Is Rovio happy with the results? It would appear so, as the franchise already has another video campaign for its next release, "Angry Birds Star Wars."
2012 True Reach views: 104,909,951
Campaign: "Galaxy S III"
The Korean electronics giant has been ubiquitous in video this year. Its biggest campaign has been "Galaxy S III," which includes multiple creatives. In perhaps its biggest coup of the year, Samsung released the creative "The Next Big Thing Is Already Here" just days after the iPhone 5 launch. Featuring Apple fans waiting in line for the iPhone 5 while pining over features the Galaxy S III already has, Samsung's clever campaign dominated Apple's launch efforts. In all, "Galaxy S III" has driven more than 70 million video views.
Creative agency: 72andSunny Los Angeles
2012 True Reach views: 70,299,930
Campaign: "The Beauty Inside"
With a premise worthy of the silver screen, Intel and Toshiba launched "The Beauty Inside," starring Topher Grace, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and fans across the world. The campaign tells the story of a man named Alex who wakes up as a different person everyday, which is a challenge when trying to land the woman of your dreams -- but a smart way of incorporating audiences into the storyline. Lasting several weeks, just like a miniseries, Intel and Toshiba released six full episodes between five and 10 minutes long. "The Beauty Inside" bridges the gap between Hollywood filmmaking, branded content, and audience participation, which, ultimately, helped Intel and Toshiba inspire more than 54 million views.
Creative agency: Pereira & O'Dell San Francisco
2012 True Reach views: 54,401,372
Campaign: "Just My Shell"
The candy brand scored this year's most-watched Super Bowl campaign with "Just My Shell." The spot shows a "naked" brown M&M at a party, featuring the voice talent of Vanessa Williams. In all, the ad has more than 340 copies, spoofs, and mashups associated with it, which are responsible for more than 85 percent of the campaign's total 48 million video views.
Creative agency: BBDO New York
2012 True Reach views: 48,093,340
Campaign: "Proud Sponsor of Moms"
P&G decided to own the 2012 Olympics with its "Proud Sponsor of Moms" campaign. The campaign has multiple creatives. These include the main spot, featuring moms helping and encouraging their children to be their best every day and realize their goals, as well as interviews with mothers of Olympic athletes and "thank you" videos from athletes to their moms. With so much content, P&G created a campaign where there was something for everyone interested in the Olympics. Spanning months of new creative launches and media pushes, the campaign has won more than 46 million video views.
Creative agency: Wieden + Kennedy Portland
2012 True Reach views: 46,303,157
They're constantly asking for free work
This one gives me heartburn. It's so simple: Clients and agencies agree to a specific amount of work to be performed at a specific rate. (By the way, if your contracts aren't specific, one of them is going to bite you in the ass eventually.) Yet clients often ask for perks above and beyond the approved scope of work.
There's nothing wrong with strong negotiation during the sales process. But once the price is set, that contract needs to remain intact for as long as possible -- for efficiency's sake. When the client needs more help or the agency needs more money, the contract is renegotiated. Simple. So when clients are constantly requesting freebies, it means that they are not respecting your agreement.
You don't want to nickel and dime your clients because that's annoying. But it's OK to remind them when certain requests are out of scope. On the other end, an extra favor here and there is just good business. The simplest solution is a quarterly review. Both sides get the chance to air some grievances, shake some hands, and request changes to the existing contract. But if you can't come to a resolution at the quarterly review meetings, it's probably breakup time -- time to bust out the Haagen Dazs.
Campaign: "The Dog Strikes Back"
Hoping to capitalize on its breakout success in 2011 with "The Force," the German automaker released another Star Wars-themed campaign in 2012 with "The Dog Strikes Back." The campaign launched a teaser a couple of weeks before game day, building anticipation for the Super Bowl spot and driving up viewership. In all, the campaign has run up more than 41 million views this year. Notably, VW is the only brand on this list that had a campaign on the top 10 list in 2011.
Creative agency: Deutsch Los Angeles
2012 True Reach views: 41,001,384
You have to fight to get paid every month
If your client can't pay you, then it's pretty much all out the window. If the contract says "net 30," and the client doesn't pay you within 30 days, then you cease work. If the client doesn't pay immediately after that, then the contract is terminated. Again, this is pretty simple stuff. But it never seems to work out this way. I don't want to sound completely heartless. I acknowledge that there are special circumstances that can delay payments for legitimate reasons. But these special cases are pretty rare.
There are plenty of excuses for late payment. You know them; you probably used them on the gas company when you were in college. Of course, the only actual legitimate reason for nonpayment is that you didn't do the work right. And if you can't do the work right, you have bigger problems than accounting. But if your clients aren't paying for any other reason, then you probably don't want to be in business with them.
No matter what the reason, late payment or nonpayment is professionally disrespectful. This is especially true for a client that has to be (strongly) reminded to pay you every month. If the client doesn't respect what you're doing, its team will eventually find a reason to be unhappy with your work, no matter how successful you have been. Put on your "Ghost" DVD and snuggle up on the couch because it's breakup time.
Campaign: "Gymkhana Five"
DC Shoes has found a formula that works in video advertising, and it's sticking to it: Get your spokesperson to do insane stunts with his rally car. For its fifth installment in the Gymkhana series, DC Shoes unleashed Ken Block and his awesome tricks on the streets of San Francisco, which were good enough for more than 20 million views in a week. The campaign went on to produce more than 35 million views in 2012.
2012 True Reach views: 35,720,400
They never turn around the assets you need on time
While the agency often acts as the captain of a campaign, providing strategy and leadership, the client must also play a major role. Digital assets, like photos, videos, text copy, audio, etc., are often given to the agency by the client. In fact, in most cases, the client must work closely alongside the agency to ensure that the correct voice is being used and the brand is portrayed in a way that is consistent with the overall message.
Unless your agency is being paid to do everything, which is pretty rare, then you depend on the client for something (approval of ad copy is a common one) at almost every step of the project. In other words, clients can't throw agencies into the wild and expect the campaigns of their dreams without any input on their part. Since the client is the one writing a check every month (hopefully), you would think that client-side delays wouldn't be so common.
Maybe the guy in charge of approving copy on the client side thinks the girl who writes ad copy at the agency is a jerk, so he never wants to talk to her. Or maybe the client has larger efficiency problems that simply prevent it from finishing anything on time. No matter what the reason, it's a problem that must be addressed. If not, the agency will eventually be blamed for a failed campaign, despite its best efforts to the contrary. Yep, grab a couple of bottles of red wine and put on "The Notebook." There's a breakup coming.
Clients don't often blame themselves for the failures of a campaign, even when the evidence is clear. So you have to be on the lookout for early warning signs. One of the reasons that agencies are hired in the first place is to have a fall guy to blame when something goes wrong. Most agencies know this, and they do their best to avoid being in those situations too frequently.
As the agency, it is your responsibility to see disaster coming. If you are on a path with a client that will certainly lead to the failure of your campaign, attempt to resolve the issues immediately. If they can't be resolved, abandon ship. Explain to the client why. You might find that a "fired" client is quickly replaced by another because of positive word-of-mouth.
"Boss dismissing out someone using a post-it" image via Shutterstock.
Campaign: "Summer of Football"
Nike is all about saluting champions where they work. The apparel brand did it in 2010 with "Write the Future" before the World Cup, and it did it again this year with "Summer of Football" for the Eurocup. "Summer of Football" enables audiences get into the game by stopping the campaign's main video at certain points and exploring mini stories behind the game. There are more than 500 clips related to the campaign on the web, from the original three-minute-plus main creative to interviews with famous footballers.
Creative agency: Wieden + Kennedy London
2012 True Reach views: 35,119,995
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"Man looking through binocular" image via Shutterstock.
Worst thing No. 2: Superficial metrics
John Bohan, the founder of Socialtyze, says that if the digital marketing industry relies on cosmetic and perfunctory metrics to measure the ROI of digital investments, it will be the worst move agencies can make in 2013. In this clip, he also explains what the meaningful metrics are.
John Bohan is the founder of Socialtyze.
Worst thing No. 3: We're not innovative enough
It's no surprise that the bigger an agency gets, the more likely its employees are to get stuck in a streamlined mode of operation. As Rick Parkhill, chairman of Poptent Media, explains, companies big and small need to maintain a focus on innovation if they want to thrive in 2013.
Rick Parkhill is the founder and chairman of Poptent. The business concept for Poptent was a result of his many years in the interactive media world and watching his son grow up shooting, editing, and producing homemade music videos. Parkhill recognized early on that advertisers would have an increasing need for video content and that there was an ever-deepening pool of capable creative talent that was developing outside of agency walls.
Worst thing No. 4: We ignore consumer concerns
Peter Matthews, OMD's group director of digital, says we need to listen to the consumer in 2013 about issues like privacy concerns and educate them about good options. Not doing so, he explains, will bring down the hatchet of do-not-track for an issue that requires a scalpel.
Peter Matthews is a digital marketing and media professional with more than 18 years of experience building brands and driving acquisition. He is a seasoned analyst and negotiator with a broad range of category experience, including consumer healthcare, CPG, finance, retail, and travel.
Worst thing No. 5: Small agencies disappear
Shenan Reed, Morpheus Media's chief media officer, says that if the independents get swallowed up by big agencies in 2013, we'll lose our sense of camaraderie, competition, and ultimately new ideas.
As chief media officer, Shenan Reed, leads the digital media group for Morpheus Media, a CREATETHE GROUP company. A world-renowned digital strategy and media expert, Shenan co-founded Morpheus Media in 2001 and subsequently joined CREATETHE GROUP when the company merged with Morpheus in June 2011. Within a few short years, Morpheus Media emerged as one of the top digital marketing and media firms for luxury and premium brands such as Bergdorf Goodman, The New York Times, Dior, LVMH, Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan, DKNY, Hennessy, and The Economist, among many others.
Worst thing No. 6: Bad execution of good ideas
2013 will be a year of innovation and new ideas. While Kate Thorp says there is no impending doom for the digital marketing industry, she does think executing on great ideas poorly would be an immense failure. The Vice Chairman of Mobiles Republic also talks about an exciting new opportunity for 2013 that, if not managed well, could be a major setback.
Most recently, Kate Thorp was President of digital worldwide for AKQA. During her tenure, AKQA's client list expanded to include ESPN, The Gap, MSN, and Coca-Cola's global account. Before joining AKQA, she was Chairman and CMO of Carat Interactive, the media giant that acquired Lot21, the agency she had founded. She got her start at the top-tier agencies of McCann Erickson and J. Walter Thompson. She is now the Vice Chairman of Mobiles Republic.
Worst thing No. 7: Too much focus on programmatic buying
Beware of the temptation to get too caught up in programmatic buying in 2013. Brad Piggot, Brightroll's VP of U.S. sales, says shifting our focus to this area (instead of relying on our teams) would be the worst thing for digital marketers in the next year. While the future should include replacing manual RFPs, negotiations, and insertion orders with automated media buying, don't abandon your traditional methods just yet.
Brad Piggot oversees and manages central region for BrightRoll, the leading online video advertising network.
Worst thing No. 8: Regulation stifles creativity
As digital marketing gets even bigger and attracts more spend in 2013, Maggie Boyer Finch, founder and CEO of King of the Web, says the worst thing that could happen is heavy supervision. She says our creativity will suffer if we need to clear too many regulatory hurtles before executing on a simple idea, and it could cause our industry's momentum to screech to a halt.
Maggie Boyer Finch is a media and advertising executive who has spent the bulk of her career building digital marketing firms and technologies. In 1995, she built one of the first online media buying shops and pioneered many other industry firsts. For more than a decade, she served as general manager and VP of media for aQuantive (now RazorFish), establishing the firm as one of the world's leading digital media agencies.
Worst thing No. 9: A downturn in marketing spend
Pauline Malcolm, head of sales for StyleHaul, says that if the economy takes a turn for the worse in 2013, brands might pull back on marketing spend. She says, instead, if we experience a downturn, it will be an important time to continue to spend in order to maintain and gain valuable market share.
Before joining Stylehaul in 2012, Pauline Malcolm was director of national advertising sales at Condé Nast Business Group, Digital. In this position, she managed annual advertising revenues in excess of $17 million and oversaw a team of 16 senior sales executives and sales support specialists. Previously, she served as senior regional sales manager at MySpace, where she developed revenue-generating partnerships with key consumer packaged goods brands such as Kraft Foods.
Worst thing No. 10: Something new becomes cooler
Change is a constant, and consumer culture could evolve rapidly this year. What if a new trend emerges that trumps the current digital strategies we're already working on? Or what if something replaces digital as we know it? Gina Lee, SVP of media for Intermundo, says history shows precedent for major shifts like this happening, and she thinks we should be ready.
Gina Lee is the senior vice president of media for Intermundo Media.
Worst thing No. 11: Too much government regulation (if we don't self-regulate)
Cory Treffiletti, SPV of marketing for BlueKai, says if digital marketers don't self-regulate issues like consumer tracking, we could experience a government crack-down. He says the media has scared consumers about tracking, and if we don't educate the public and address their concerns, we could experience detrimental restrictions.
Cory Treffiletti is the senior vice president of marketing for BlueKai.
Worst thing No. 12: Failure to prove digital ROI
Have the right standards and attribution models emerged yet? Or are inconsistent metrics giving us a questionable reputation? Talia Arnold, associate director of digital strategy for Horizon Media, says we need to have a solid hold on reporting and ROI.
Talia Arnold has more than seven years of progressive experience helping Fortune 500 companies ignite their brand presence in emerging media through strategic marketing and media planning and buying. Her specialties are digital media, social marketing, search, online video, media buying, negotiation, business development, training and mentorship, direct response, and branding."Businessman" cover story image courtesy of Shutterstock.