Are marketing costs an expense or investment?


Certainly, marketing communications can be expensive. Whether it’s a responsive website, onsite materials, social, TV, collateral…doing it well, reaching your target, and getting results require appropriate financial support. But the commitment to a marketing communications strategy and its related projects is really a commitment to business objectives.

Whether it’s support for a sales force that benefits from a positively predisposed prospect, validates the decisions of current clients and customers, or creates a message that stimulates a buying decision, that cost is an investment. Consistent and effective marketing, advertising, social engagement, and brand presence should have an outstanding return as a requirement.

Consumer products companies know the importance of “being out there” to create and build customer loyalty translated into increased purchase decisions and share. For many companies and institutions in more of a services business, it seems less obvious because the correlated business results are more difficult or impossible to measure.

What’s certain for us all is that competition is an impressive (or an oppressive) force. We also know that there’s a need to be known and relevant in order to be top of mind, whether to secure a place on the short list of a large and potentially business-altering client, or to have a place in a consumer’s shopping bag.

Amortized across sales efforts, employee recruitment, and brand growth, a marketing budget is an investment, provided that the resulting work is smart, intrusive, memorable, meaningful, and empowering. Viewed as an investment, the sometimes significant expense of strong marketing becomes much more than a discretionary line item. It becomes an indispensible bottom line item.

How do you view it? Do you know how to ensure that the results make the cost in time and money worthwhile?

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What’s luck got to do…got to do with it?

I have a knack; some say a gift, for finding 4-leaf clovers. I randomly discovered it last year after listening to a segment on NPR, where a girl discussed having been able to do it as a child and recently remembering her ability to do it.

This year, in a nod to just because and why not, I decided to keep track. As of this post I have found 111 4-leaf clovers this year. Most I have given to coworkers, who are probably sick of them by now, and family, but some I have given to random strangers. And when I give them one it’s as if I have given them a little optimism, a little hope, or maybe a chance for something more. Honestly, if it helps them get through their day a little easier, I’m happy to deal with the awkward initial interaction to do it.


The NPR segment also got me wondering what and where the derivation of the 4-leaf clover mystique came from. Well to no surprise it comes from Ireland, connecting back to Celtic priests and their connection to Shamrocks (3-leaf clovers). Apparently Shamrocks gave the Irish the ability to spot evil spirits coming and gave them time to escape, while the fourth leaf gave some additional magical protection and warded off bad luck. It was even thought that children holding them could see fairies. (FYI, I have never seen an evil spirit while holding one and my kids have never seen a fairy. Although they would love to.)

At the end of the day, what has this 4-leaf clover quest taught me? What wisdom can I pass on? I guess it’s that you should never stop trying new things and keep pushing yourself. Why not!? People have many more hidden gifts and talents than they realize hiding inside of them. They just need to get out of the ruts their life puts them in and try. It makes me wonder what I should try next.

And as a closing note and a random fun fact, for every 10,000 3-leaf clovers there is one 4-leaf clover. That means I’ve either looked at 1,110,000 clovers this year or I’m just a little lucky.

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Event Marketing & Post-Engagement: 15 Tips to Engage Your Event Attendees via Social Media

Incorporating social media into your nonprofit event, or any event for that matter, helps build relationships with your audience in a comfortable format. Social media also allows event marketers to ramp up excitement pre-event and keep the conversations alive after everyone goes home.

But, being truly engaging with live events means more than slapping a hashtag on an invite. In order to really get the most out of your event’s social media engagement strategy, consider these 15 things:

  1. Check Your Internet Connection – First and foremost, before you plan any social engagement around your event, you MUST double check with your event site to make 100% sure that you’ll have access to wireless internet and that your guests will either have the same access or will be able to utilize their cell data plans. If no wireless is available, you’ll need to check for or secure hotspots or create an engagement strategy that doesn’t rely on live tweeting or uploading as the event is in progress. Also be sure to test the connection the day of the event.
  2. Social Feed Display – One of the best ways to encourage interaction among your attendees is with the promise of visuals. We’re all narcissists at heart – we’re much more likely to contribute to the conversation if we know our tweet or post will make it to a feed the entire conference can see. Not to mention that dedicating screens to showcase social activity is also a subtle reminder to guests about your owned social networks and a guest’s opportunity to connect with your brand. We recommend using Tint, as it has the ability to pull in social data from several networks and create an appealing visual for attendees.Tint Social Feed Display
  3. Really Go for it – If you want to leverage social during your event, try to think about ways to incorporate it into the event program or make it central to what you’ve already planned. We recently created a whole segment based on live Twitter questions that not only inspired greater conversation, but it also gave the whole night a much more interactive feel. Check it out.
  4. Schedule in Advance – Even though your plan may be to generate content as the event goes on, you’re apt to get behind if you haven’t considered the kinds of content you’ll want to share in advance. We like to generate sample tweets and posts (based on the event’s program) that are either scheduled in Hootsuite or saved as drafts in Twitter. This way you can make small changes, add live photos, and then push this content live on your schedule, without feeling constantly behind everything that’s happening.Twitter Drafts
  5. Take Advantage of Pre-Planned Events – Events can be crazy! There are usually more than several compounding elements happening all at once and, unless you have a team of 50, it’s hard to cover everything from the right angle (photo-wise and quote-wise). So take advantage of any event dress rehearsals or pre-planned events in which you may be able to snap higher quality images or predict what content you’ll want to share. That way you’ll have a database of great content to pull from on the fly.
  6. FYI to Followers – If you do plan on live tweeting, be sure to let your current followers know that you’ll be tweeting or posting more regularly. Otherwise you run the risk of annoying or alienating followers who aren’t used to you posting as often.
  7. Scope out Influencers and Attendees – Either in your registration process or right before the event, do your best to figure out who is likely to be tweeting & generating content during the event. It’s not uncommon for attendees to forget to use your promoted hashtag, so making a Twitter list or stream in Hootsuite of these influencers will allow you to engage with them no matter what hashtag they use (or don’t use). Not only can you engage with them at the event, but you can encourage their participation by welcoming them (via Twitter) to the event before they tweet.HOOTSUITE DESKTOP SCREENSHOT FROM FOUNDATION DINNER
  8. Hashtagging – Create a hashtag that works easily within sentences or is pretty short so that attendees are able to fit in their statement plus the hashtag into the very strict 140-character limitations. Try to chose something memorable that can be leveraged again and again.
  9. Follow the “WWYS” Principle – When you’re deciding what to share throughout the night, think: What Would You Share? Unless your strategy is to tweet every word (which it shouldn’t be), you need to be sensitive about how much content you decide to post within your time frame. So, choose the quotes, images, and elements you share carefully. Be sure to share things that are memorable, give a human element to the event, and content that others can relate to.Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 3.36.32 PM
  10. Be Present! It’s easy to get sucked into the small things while an event is happening, whether it’s responding to attendee tweets or making sure you get every word of a quote correct for a tweet. But all of those interactions are irrelevant if you’re not able to accurately reflect the vibe and tone of the event. Instead of making sure to share the video that played at the event, make sure you watch along with the audience and pay attention to how they respond. You need to attend the event with everyone. This will ensure that all your content is on point and, at the end, you’ll know that you captured the event adequately.
  11. Be Relevant & Evoke Emotion- This is especially true in the nonprofit world. No matter what you share, be sure there’s some emotion tied to it. Tweeting straight facts and figures alone is boring unless you compare it to something that makes sense to the audience. For instance, if you’re talking about childhood hunger, give statistics around how many children are at-risk of hunger in the town in which the event is held.
  12. Calls to Conversation - Yes, you want to include calls to action (see #13), but you also want to encourage conversation. Give your audience ways to talk amongst each other and with you before, during & after the event by leveraging Twitter chats, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, etc. that allow people to continue interacting post-event.Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 3.35.28 PM
  13. Save Calls-to-Action & RT-type Posts for Meal Times or Breaks – A good way to encourage participation among people who aren’t as socially savvy is to create posts that are easily re-tweetable or that have calls-to-action within them. However, this kind of content must be posted during event down times. If you include a call to action within a tweet, during a captivating speech, attendees are unlikely to see and respond to it. So, increase engagement rates by thinking about when there will be the most down time for your guests (e.g. dinner) and schedule that type of content then. 
  14. Consider the Virtual Attendee – With every piece of content you share, make sure you add enough context that allows users who aren’t at the physical event to understand and participate. Believe me, people will be curious as to why you’re posting more often, so give them a reason to get involved and follow the conversation.Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 3.35.17 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-11 at 3.37.55 PM
  15. Tweet Afterward – No matter how late your event ends, it’s a good idea to continue posting content and engaging with your audience afterward. Most people don’t go to bed right away, they need unwinding time, or “networking time” (aka post-event drinks). So keep the night’s engagement going with more content, or give them ways to keep the conversation going themselves.Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 3.38.05 PM

What are some of your must-do’s for live events?



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Filed under Event Marketing, Social Media, Work by db&r

Doing it Our Whey: Behind the Scenes of a Cottage Cheese Makeover

Cottage Cheese. It’s probably not the trendiest food you can think of. But when you’re talking about great tasting cottage cheese, in 8 unique flavors, each with a different personality, well things start to get a little more interesting. And delicious. Here is how we served up a fresh take on a dairy product, and added a little flavor to a pretty plain category (in 10 spoonfuls).

1. Dare to be Delicious. The assignment: a TV commercial. The idea: more than a TV commercial. It had to be energetic and it had to be fun. And it had to make you want to eat cottage cheese. We had a little experience with this, so this time around we took it a step further, inviting the demographic to try new flavors of a product they already love. Deciding on a cottage cheese flavor wasn’t just about taste, it was about personality and mood, and about creating approachable combinations that made them your own. The idea and the product created the perfect recipe: each of the flavors had a different energy and color palette, allowing us to personify all eight in the line-up.

Dare to Be Delicious Storyboard

2. B-O-G-O. Eight flavors is a lot to fit in :30 seconds of footage, so we focused the main TV spot on the ones that deserved the most attention (best sellers and new flavors), but created another board to capture extra footage to use in other future applications (video ads, social media, re-edits, etc.) We refined our script and visuals, then slept on it, and then refined some more until everyone was happy.

3. Test Taste. Producing a commercial is a huge investment, so testing it with your audience is a smart idea. Once the board and script were finalized, we created a rough animated version (with the help of the talented people over at Animated StoryBoards), and tested just how much this message would resonate with the consumer. The results: they loved it.

4. Say Cheese. The work didn’t stop there. There were so many production considerations that had to be, well, considered. It was time for the board and animatic to truly come to life. Recipes and food pairings had to be developed. There was casting, wardrobe, and props all to be exacted and outlined. Every element taken very seriously before even thinking about turning the camera on. And we had to pick a team that was more than fabulous to work with.

5. Make it Happen. Lights, camera, cottage cheese. Being on set has to be one of the most stressful and rewarding experiences as a creative professional. It’s the ultimate test of an idea when a 50-person crew begins setting up lighting at 5 am, rearranges romaine, and believes in the vision that started it all.

On Set - The Making of Hood Cottage Cheese Commercial

Rearranging Lettuce On Set 6. Wrap it Up. The shoot may be wrapped at this point, but there was reviewing the dailies. And the edit. And the voice over. And the music. And the color correction. And the graphics. And a 15 second version. All on schedule. All on budget. All perfectly choreographed together.

7. Dare to be Done. Yes, there were changes at the last second. And yes, there may have been a few times we held our breath, but that’s what makes us get up in the morning. That and a bowl of cottage cheese with pineapple.

8. Wait. There’s More. I mean, television is great, but there’s a whole other world of ways to reach your audience. There was the banner campaign helped introduce the newest flavors in Hood’s lineup. And the follow-up campaign that helped to reinforce the message of the TV spot.

Hood Cottage Cheese Digital Campaign

9. Wait. Wait. There’s Even More. Online video ads and paid search helped increase views of the spot and increase traffic to

10. Get Your Own. Try Hood’s 8 fantastic flavors and make sure to leave us a note and tell us your favorite flavor!


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Filed under Advertising, broadcast, Client Stories, TV

Recruiting A New Class: The Harvard Ed.L.D.

How do you inspire 500 extraordinarily talented, experienced, and motivated candidates to apply for 25 spots in one of the world’s most innovative education leadership degree programs?

Start with one program (the Harvard Ed.L.D.) and one ad.

A new program created to change things in the American Education System.

And an ad to reawaken the desire to reform education, targeting bright and passionate professionals across diverse backgrounds in education, policy, and business.

Then, after year one, make it bigger.

It was time for another class. A new group willing to uproot their lives, their careers, and move to Cambridge for 3 years, all for a challenging, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become a network of people with the influence to transform children’s futures across America.

So we called on them.

The approach? Create an aggressive digital & inbound marketing strategy that put current students at the center – because they are the story. They’re the ones making the difference. So prospective students needed to identify with them and imagine being part of it too.

Include a targeted digital campaign to focus in on specific demographic and psychographic profiles and obtain a broad range of applicants. The goal of the ad: reignite the drive and desire to change education.


What happens post click? Drive prospective students to an engaging web presence to interact with and re-invigorate their passion, making the degree and its mission relevant and memorable.


A blog, The Ed.L.D. Speaks, to add transparency and give future students a glimpse into a day in the life of an Ed.L.D. Student. A blog to not only showcase what they work on, but also how they manage family/work balance, what makes them tick, and drive traffic to a two-way conversation.


A conversation on the blog and on Twitter, to engage and converse with prospective students and showcase the innovation bred on Appian Way.

EdLD Tweet

Create all of this with one goal in mind: to exceed the number of qualified applicants and increase awareness about the program.

We achieved that goal and positioned HGSE as the leader in education reform, creating a new class, THE New Class, with the energy and intensity necessary to transform education in America.


In the 3rd year of the program, we refreshed the look of The New Class…


targeted a more diverse audience,

and captured the attention of a national audience via paid search.

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Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 3.13.09 PM

And another class will graduate, while yet another begins their journey at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

We feel honored and proud to have played a small role in what will be a significant positive change in American Education.

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Filed under Advertising, Client Stories, Digital Media, Search Advertising

Give Me S’more Summer!

Second to maybe ice cream, the s’more remains one of America’s favorite summertime sweets. So it makes sense that this three-ingredient dessert sandwich would be central to major product advertising throughout the season. There were two spots that caught my attention recently, each for a different component of the s’more: Hershey’s Chocolate, and Honey Maid Grahams.

In both ads the s’more was made exactly the same: graham cracker, chocolate, marshmallow, then graham cracker, all squished together to make a beautiful-gooey stack-of-flavors-that-will-inevitably-make-your-fingers-stick-together-and-your-soul-smile.


But what I found interesting was the difference in product placement and emphasis on that brand. Clearly, the Hershey’s commercial s’more was all about the chocolate. We pause on the perfectly embossed chocolate bar for a one-Mississippi, give it a squish, and then cut to a tray that has way more Hershey’s chocolate than any American family should ever consume. With each bite the chocolate is so large, the grahams and ‘mallows are dwarfed in comparison. (However, overall a gorgeous spot.)

The Honey-Maid spot showcases the grahams in a way that makes them look like giant planks of plywood being craned in to construct the floor of a building. You see a blur of white and dark brown between the boards for a mere moment, and then you’re out. (Again, overall a beautiful spot with a fantastic message.)

Screen shot 2014-07-10 at 3.04.16 PM

So you are probably thinking: thanks for pointing this out captain obvious! Of course each brand would make their product the hero of the spot. Of course there would be enough chocolate to feed a small army and graham crackers the size of your head. It makes complete sense.

My question is, WHERE IS THE MARSHMALLOW COMMERCIAL? Where is the spot that gives the most important ingredient of the s’more the :30 seconds of fame it deserves? It’s what makes it all stick together. The marshmallow is the BEST part!

So it’s your move Campfire Marshmallows. Be the glue that brings American families together over a fire at night. You invented the extrusion process… you have a history that’s rich with sugar and egg whites. Make your marshmallow a gorgeous pillow of white that has everyone asking for s’more! Shout it from the rooftops and broadcast it all over the nation. Be America’s marshmallow! (And make sure you call us to help you do it!)

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World Cup Lessons for An Agency Player


Penalty kicks. This is a serious business. It’s a lesson in soccer (aka football) and in any competitive business (aka advertising and marketing).

What can we learn from watching this tense, decisive, game-ending choreography?

To prevail as the victor, the striker must overpower and/or psych out the goalie. And the goalie has to anticipate where the ball will go before the striker’s foot hits it. Know where things are going with limited information. Psych out and anticipate. Know the game, know your opponent, and trust your own experience and instincts because in that moment, that’s all you have.

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 2.24.00 PM

Notice how the goalie dove to the wrong side, misjudging the kicker’s intention.

After an excruciating amount of work (the core 90-minute game plus two 15-minute overtime sessions), at the nanosecond (the no-time-to-think-instincts-take-over moment), everything is at stake. Everything is tested. From team status to fan love.

Agencies like ours live in a somewhat similar environment, albeit without the derisive fans and enormous viewership. We work our hearts out, throw ourselves into the challenge, passionately and completely. We are constantly tested and constantly immersed in opportunities to prove ourselves worthy of the trust we enjoy from our clients (fans?).

Tim Howard constantly tested









Invariably, however, it often comes down to a moment. One word in a conversation, a quick judgment on limited information, a sound instinct, or a reflex. Forget about all the interactions; everything is on the line at a single moment. A win or a loss. Something that can lift you on its shoulders or something unexpected and crushing.

The irony is how much everything turns on something that could have gone the other way.

Personally, I would give up the heroic sensations in exchange for a more rational context for what decides the outcome. Others would say that how you play is beside the point; only the win or loss matters. After all, the fans come for the play, but, in the end, they are left with the outcome.

The truth is that having your heart in the game has to be a given, no matter how much hangs on the final seconds. If you want to be your best, that’s the only way to play.

Tim Howard is World Cup Hero

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