Brendan ryan

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Many years ago I learned a trick about advertising from Brendan Ryan, president of FCB/Leber Katz, in NYC. One day he asked the AT&T Network Systems account team to paper the walls with the current campaign. The headline for each as we “Are You Ready.” Network Systems sold the 5E switches to phone companies that powered American communications. So paper the walls we did.

Mr. Ryan walked around the plush conference room reading sub-heads, looking at visual and dashing through copy here and there. He pointed to campaign outliers and confirmed what he thought to be the idea. Neat trick. Neat way to level-set the idea.

Fast forward 25 years to an era when communications manifest across more channels than we ever perceived, some with control, many with none. If you were to paper the walls with the myriad comms we generate today, you’d have a messy, messy room. A walk around that room  would remind you why an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging” is critical. Otherwise known as a brand strategy.

So me droogies, paper your walls with your internal and external comms and see what-ith you spew-ith into the consumer realm.



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I learned a trick from ad agency president Brendan Ryan many moons ago that has contributed mightily to my brand planning framework.  Mr. Ryan, who ran FCB New York, would ask for a print campaign to be tacked to the wall. And sans any briefs or account foreplay he’d review what he saw, explain the “idea,” and identify which ads fit.  It was after-the-fact ad forensics.

This approach also works in brand planning.

I did some work for an agency that handles a top 5 financial institution. I was helping the agency create a strategy for the holding company brand (sitting atop the retail and commercial bank, personal wealth group, and investor relations). Our strategy wasn’t being served up as a corporate branding assignment per se, just an organizing principle for delivery of the brand online (wink wink).

Anyway, one of the tools we used was borrowed from Mr. Ryan – we reviewed all the content on the site (stories, copy and videos) and pasted them up on a wall. Our team was then to cluster the content into discreet, organic segments. If we couldn’t find a segment, we were to move outliers off to the side.

I can’t share business secrets but this forensic approach helped show us where the centers of gravity were. Our next step was to make sure these clusters were customer “care-abouts” and brand “good-ats.” If they weren’t, we needed to make corrections.

It’s a wonderful brand planning exercise and one I must say was borrowed from another. Peace.



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I’ve been ranting for years about companies large and small that don’t have a brand idea. They think they have a brand (logo) and an idea (tagline) but were you to look at the body of marketing work, you would see lots of stuff – no idea.  An ad campaign is not a brand idea. A typeface and style guide are not brand ideas. A web engagement…nope. 

Often the most powerful brand idea a company has is its name.  It may be a “we’re here” idea but it’s an idea.  Bed Bath & Beyond is one such example. The name conveys what they do – so it works.  If you don’t define what your brand means, consumers will. And they are not that good at it; they’re busy.  Without branding context, consumers default to product (taste, utility, reliability), price, and convenience.

A number of years ago, Brendan Ryan president of FCB NY taught me a valuable lesson. Rather than getting up to speed on a client by asking for a full-on brand review with pie charts and competitive matrixes he suggested pinning all the work up on the wall. His goal? “What’s the idea?” If the work didn’t convey an idea, more work needed to be done.  

One Hour Promotion

I’m putting together a promotion to help companies identify their idea.  My plan is to offer up a 1 hour “idea audit” whereby I go into a company conference room and just as Jack Bauer might, sixty minutes later walk out the door with a “yea,” “nay” or “fruit cocktail” (Google whatstheidea+fruit cocktail).

Here’s what I propose: Put me in a room with all current marketing material: brochures, ads, last 3 promotional emails, newsletters, top 10 search terms, press stories, etc.  Let me speak to your human resources person (5 minutes), senior marketing person (10) minutes, and best sales person (5 minutes.)  Then provide me with your URL and sign me in to your Google Analytics page, if you have one. In one hour I will tell you if you have an idea, many ideas or, worst case, no idea. Then I go home. But I’ll leave my business card.

(Before I create this offer and promote it I’d like to hear readers’ thoughts. Please post here or email me at Thanks and peace!

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