Augurs On The Town Ep. 10 With Doug Spong

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Augurs On The Town Ep. 10 With Doug Spong

hi everybody this is josh basara from magurian i have the pleasure of uh interviewing doug spong for this episode of augers on the town doug is the founder and ceo of doug’s company which is an advisory firm to agencies doug has been in advertising world for over 35 years uh the last 25 years he was a co-founder president manager of carmichael lynch which works with iconic brands like harley davidson jacklings and subaru so i’m super excited that we’re having this opportunity to chat doug good to be here thanks josh yeah well um i’m really curious you know you and i we’ve had a couple of conversations but i think some of the best parts of our conversations is when you talk a little bit about being the president and manager of carmichael lynch and what you learned working with brands so why don’t you tell us a little bit about you know when you got into that role and the changes you had to kind of make in the agency to uh see the growth that you saw when you were there no sure yeah when you know i was there as you said for 25 years so i saw a lot of change over those years you know the biggest change certainly would have been going from very uh traditional television print outdoor you know environment to uh really an environment that uh emphasized digital frankly um you know the spending i could show you the revenue numbers but the spending shifted from one point where we were creating 55 to 60 print campaigns not print ads but campaigns and with multiple print executions within each in the course of the year over time that shifted to where we might have five or seven print campaigns and it had all gone you know either into television or digital or frankly some kind of uh amalgamation of the two you know where you’re producing content that you might have thought of it as originally for broadcast for television but you might have a little longer form content for online consumption whether it’s you know social or web you know some of the proprietary channels that you might use so that was certainly the biggest change was seeing you know kind of that shift in business so as an agency we had to adapt to that the people that we hired the talent and skills that we were looking for uh became very different and so we weren’t looking for just great copywriters and print art directors anymore we were you know a lot of resources into funding uh integrated production things that content across many different platforms that could be you know repurposed and re-edited and reused to really create one kind of seamless uh campaign for fy yeah and i know that um you know a lot of companies sought out carmichael lynch when they were thinking about like or their brand was kind of getting stale or they just they needed something new can you talk a little bit about like how you would you were approaching those projects because i think it was interesting in a previous conversation absolutely you know i i think now there’s there’s two kinds of typically two kinds of brands or clients that you represent you know there are those that might have be struggling with a low brand awareness not really have a following relatively low revenue in terms of sales that’s looking to you know they grow to be able to they’re a distant second third fifth in the category and they’re looking to grab the category leader by the ankles and pull them off you know pull off that king of the hill position sure and those are fun brands you know those are we call them challenger brands in the industry uh and then you’ve got other brands uh we work with harley davidson you know mature brands that have been around in this case for 125 years with harley that you know they have been you know category leaders in in their space they had a lot of upcoming challengers and the story of that is when they first came to us uh you know we had never heard of what jaclyn’s his brand was which of course nowadays seems hard to believe because it is fairly ubiquitous in the snack category but uh here it was you know we love to talk about brand marketers love to talk about david versus goliath and the reality is there are very few true david and goliath stories it’s usually

david taking on a david you know small brands kind of fighting it out with each or you’ve got a goliath taking on another goliath but in this case it really was a true kind of david and goliath story here you had jack lanks which was yeah individually and personally owned by jack link himself yes there really is a jacklink yeah and his son troy who’s the ceo and the goliath in that category was conagra foods you know this giant global company that owned the slim jim brand and of course selection 100 other brands right 100 other brands absolutely and swim jim had this dominant number one category position in the in the meat snack business and jack links when they first came to us had low to no brand awareness i even went to our typical hook and bullet crowd upstairs in the creative department to say have you guys ever heard of jack lanks and you know these are guys who love the fish and hunt and yeah typical jerky consumption and they go jack lanks jacklin snow well it turns out the packaging design at that time was so bad that when you tore open the package you literally ripped the brand name right off of it so all you were stuck with was a packaging that’s a jerky one you know which was also part of the problem so you know the first thing that we did was we said hey this is a fun brand to compete with uh we agreed to take it on and so we wanted to compete for this piece of business and now we we here we looked at slimgen found kind of a complacent category leader that really hadn’t innovated much the product quality was just in a so-so i would agree with that and you know we love this kind of jack links never say die type of attitude that they had so you know our approach um has always been speak to the core and others will listen in um and so in everything that we do whether it’s for jacqueline subaru harley other brands you know it’s this idea that you have to really identify understand and have empathy for and relate to that core who that core is and in the case of jack blanks what we discovered through our insights work is that um we ended up branding them as adventurous spirits that was you know kind of the term that we called i i love to call them mindless munching males you know they’re kind of a young 26 year old guy oh yeah use excuse mail but there are women who should have a very shared mindset with these guys so it isn’t just all male but these adventurous spirits you know they’re not your typical grocery retail consumer yeah they don’t sit and come up with their grocery list or put it on their phone and go in and spend 200 shopping at cub foods or something you know when these when these young guys mindless munching males when they shop they basically go to the convenience store they pull off go to the sea store yes walk in grab their can of mountain dew diet mountain dew and grab something off the end cap kind of satisfy that that hunger pain that they have at the time yep yeah and i’ve seen them in the wild absolutely the other thing is adventure spirits are not typical media consumers so they were of all of the kind of segments that you go after that young male is probably the hardest to reach from a media consumption standpoint you know they don’t wake up and watch the today show they don’t subscribe to a daily newspaper right these are this is a consumer who really you know if they do watch television it’s comedy central it’s mtv it’s late night television if they’re online they’re not necessarily huge social networkers what their online doing is they love the game you know they’re online gaming late at night with people that are complete strangers to them but they feel like they know because they’re you know gaming dungeons and dragons or something else online sure so it’s a very typical uh or very atypical kind of media consumer the other thing is when you look at the product of like a jack lengths it’s very much an impulse purchase it’s not uh it’s not a considered purchase you know it’s a people so this idea of being kind of top of mind in a fun playful way with these guys and being located at that end cap at sea store you know was crucial to us so what we ended up with was a brand position that was all around your wild side and so you still if you go to jacklinks.com or you see the television today it still has that same brand position that we developed from the very start with this brand right and so it’s this idea of you know kind of a fun playfulness as you look at the execution of jack links there’s always a huge dose of humor and the reason for that is

as a lot of marketers either know or have discovered over the years is humor is it’s the number one kind of emotional connector that you can have between you know brands and their bullseye target and so that brand uses a lot of humor so we ended up executing that brand position of feed your wild side with a campaign called messing with sasquatch and messing with sasquatch you know became uh the honest thing is you know people like to say oh my gosh your consumer insights led you to this idea of using sasquatch and what i honestly say is no that’s i i’d love in a perfect world to say that’s how it worked sure but it was really kind of this uh intersection frankly of how we had a creative director brock davis who probably for three or four different client campaigns have been trying to find a way to use sasquatch he was just enamored with sas sasquatch absolutely absolutely when you think about sasquatch you know he’s ubiquitous because uh we might call him sasquatch in the midwest if you go to the pacific northwest he’s a bigfoot right if you’re in asia he’s a yeti so everybody kind of knows what sasquatch is and has this kind of affinity for for sasquatch you know he’s kind of a scary character but at the same time we’re also intrigued by you know is he real is he not what would he be like if i actually ran across him in the wild um and so what we did was we we executed um this messenger sasquatch campaign frankly through um so many different media you know that became kind of the messing with sasquatch was that central spine of an idea that we built everything off of that sure and so the way it was executed is you know you saw uh the 30-second television uh where you know people were so used to that voiceover opening the spot that said jack jacklin speak jerky presents messing with sasquatch and it had kind of the same little plot to each of the 30-second spots you know it would be our adventurous spirits who index very high for outdoors they love the canoe kayak bike hike we’d find them out in the outdoors socializing with others of a similar age and demo and they would stumble across this mythical character sasquatch they would come up with one would take a bite of jerky come up with this wild hair dyed idea of how do i mess with them um and so they would actually execute that they would they would mess with them and then at the end of the spot of every spot sasquatch always got his revenge in some way yeah and so that was kind of the the typical plot for a mess in the sasquatch spot we also had if you went online and was kind of a too hot for tv version on youtube um and so we would run these spots that we knew the sensors at nbc weren’t going to accept right we go on and they had that again kind of that mindless munching male kind of sense of humor kind of sometimes a little bit on the growth side a little bit you know maybe some bulgier and so it was a lot of fun we also developed a lot of consumer generated content where you know you’re doing your job as a brand marketer when consumers take your brand and start making their own messing with sasquatch commercials so they would dress up their girlfriends in this gorilla suit they’d take them out to the wild they’d have a little you know kind of storyline developed and they would film these 30-second spots and they do this voiceover of jack links beef jerky presents messing with sasquatch and we ended up with literally uh there were about a thousand consumer generated spots that went on the youtube channel generating in excess of 25 million views on youtube just from people generating this themselves um we also did a lot knowing that our consumer was a heavy online and gaming consumer so we had a mess and with sasquatch game where you could you could actually go online and you could mess with sasquatch himself you could uh you know swing a piece of log and hit a critter things like that that you would expect sasquatch to do and then we developed even a living sasquatch app where people could take their laptop or cell phone camera and through this app you could actually download a little gif of sasquatch and you could animate it and then you could record it then you could post it to your social channels you could share it on your social channels it was all a way to help you kind of generate that and then of course you know you get into sports partnerships you get into experiential and even media you know we had brands like uh you know entertainment brand rascal flat so the artist would be in people magazines saying one thing they go on the road with that they couldn’t do without is their jaclyn sleeve jerky yeah

that’s right it’s just awesome the whole thing kind of snowballed that way and so you know the end result was to kind of make a long story short the end result was here you had a brand that was a distant third in the category the leapfrog number two and leapfrog number one to become the number one not only the number one meat snack and jerky brand in the category it’s a planting slim jim but frankly they supplanted every brand every food brand in convenience store insect store so they became the number one by volume by revenue vine seller in all of city store and they’re still headquartered in wisconsin right well they’re they’re from mina wisconsin yeah that’s where the link boys are from and if you drive through kind of you know that part of wisconsin you go by the link motors so they’ve got one of the oldest ford dealerships in the country they own the grocery store the evinrude dealership sure but they actually have kind of technically moved their jack links headquarters to downtown minneapolis and what’s now the uh mayo clinic uh building got it cool now where timberwolves practice i i think it’s uh i think it’s amazing how from like just thinking about that uh mindless munching male as you’ve called characterize the the persona to be able to develop all of those things around the brand and like really align like where is that persona live online uh in the real world how can we be top of mind because that’s all you need to be when they look at that end cap and and where they need to satisfy their hunger so i love that story i think it’s amazing uh it’s a a brand um like no other in many ways what do you think about um brands today like have you have you seen any brands that you think have come on the scene or that are doing a great job either given the context that we’re living right now or just in general do you have any brands that you think are lining up all the stars the way you did with jack links yeah you know i do i see a lot of brands that are really i think fairly quick to adapt to the reality you know that we’re all living with right now and yeah and you know i think part of it is there’s kind of a consumer activism that’s that’s going on you know where one of the things that’s changed the most i would say in the last uh 10 years has been consumers expectations of their favorite brands which is that they not only provide you know this great relationship with the consumer themselves but the brands also in a sense kind of fill the void that government and a lot of our elected officials haven’t been able to fill to this point and then so when you look at just recently you know with black lives matter racial equity you look at the metoo movement you look at climate change there are a lot of things that brands are being asked to kind of fill in you know those gaps that our elected officials just aren’t addressing right now so you know one of the things that i think a great brand here locally in the twin cities that is making all the right moves is the target you know you look at the fact that they were and they didn’t have to be but brian cornell the ceo and in their team made the choice to say you know what we are going to pay livable wage to all of our part-time and full-time workers um at the stores their associates and so what they did was they elevated to 15 an hour and they set a date and said by this state we’re going to pay every worker 15 an hour um you know that’s to address that kind of wage inequity that is you know you hear about the it’s not even middle class i mean most of us understand 15 hours achieving middle class but it does you know it’s enough of a livable wage for people that it it helps fulfill and helps fill in kind of that that pothole that’s been sitting there yeah you also look at how you know target when it comes to like restrooms and they’ve come up with kind of gender neutral identification on restrooms so really reaching out to the lgbtq community and saying you know nova no matter how you identify in terms of your uh your gender um you know target makes a very friendly environment in store for that and those are huge and you know target of course is as as you would expect has has taken some criticism from the conservative side of that argument but you know they they’re not

afraid to plant their flag on issues like wages and issues on general identification because it’s the right thing to do not just as a business but also for their guests and at this target i think really like jack lanks and other great brand marketers really understands intimately who their guests who their consumer is and as i said you know they they know to speak to that core and that others will listen in on that piece of it one other brand the fact that they’re doing it without it needing to be legislated right uh that it’s not at all yeah this appears on their part and and actually they’re leading then it gets their competition to kind of look at them and say man we have to we have to have a point of view on this so it is it’s super valuable to have brands and large businesses where a tremendous amount of kind of the population interacts with that business um right kind of planting those flags right and even you know we’ve seen a lot of i think big surprises in brand marketing too where you think about a brand like walmart that historically you know being a southern based company having kind of grown up you know serving a much more conservative uh rural versus urban base of consumers i mean here you’ve got walmart that has removed um all ar-15 gun sales they’ve removed uh ammunition yeah so they are no longer selling guns and ammo you’ve got walmart that has you know come out against the confederate flag again a current issue that they will not sell any merchandise that has the confederate flag in it um and even you know recently just this week walmart said we are not going to sell anything related to the washington redskins fan apparel so give you know that image of the chief and the name redskins until that changes washington will not have apparel represented at walmart among other retailers but that’s a you know that’s a very big shift i think for a retailer that most of us particularly here in the in the old north you know tend to think of as is kind of you know southern rural culture you know they cater to a you know gun-loving crowd and and right you know it’s it’s very different for them and and so you gotta applaud brands like walmart that are willing to do that and put a flat you know plant a flag in the ground yeah no i think i think that’s it’s amazing it’s amazing times we’re living in um and change is happening really quickly and i think brands even big brands which traditionally probably uh aren’t perceived as nimble are actually like being pretty nimble and facing some tough choices and and making them um probably quicker than they want to but uh but yeah that’s the world in which we live so let’s talk a little bit about the especially like i know you’ve because you were a leader of a agency for so long and because of your consulting work with agencies um where do you see kind of the future of agencies going um given this context and just what what you think about the future of agencies i’m just curious well i can tell you one thing that you know from the day i started in this business back in 1981 i’ve heard about the death of agencies from so many pundits out there that it’s laughable so first of all um you’re never gonna hear me say that i think our business is you know is at risk it’s not um you know you and i make a living in the creative economy economy is a very different professional services environment from accounting legal management consulting and others and it’s interesting to watch you know like the big four accounting firm so you look at deloitte um uh cmg yeah yep and and how they’ve gotten into trying to leverage their strategy side with acquiring creative agencies and so you you know you’ve seen droga5 acquired for instance you know by one of the one of the big four um and so i’ll be interested to see how that works but i i think what that tells you is if you see the big four management consulting companies you know trying to get into our business it tells you that there’s a huge value proposition that they can’t easily build themselves yeah and the same goes for clients who want to build it in in-house you know most clients simply cannot

attract the level of creative talent and frankly the broad holistic thinking to be able to take you know this thousand piece puzzle of what we do every day in terms of brand marketing and try to put the thousand pieces of that puzzle together to have it make sense for a brand and have it really each piece of the puzzle work together to create a complete picture for a consumer right but that’s the unique skill set that i think the best agencies and the agencies going forward that are going to uh thrive are really great at putting those pieces together and part of that is you know our business is it’s a little kind of half art half science you know we’ve got the true art side of what we do you know from the art direction and design and the illustration and animation and you’ve got your you know the production side of the business and then you’ve got the the research and the insights and the data analytics and you know the measurement and you know optimizing real-time science part of the business that we do and the best agencies not only staff both but more importantly they each side i think has developed an inherent appreciation for the other side so in other words you know not only does the analytics and the science side of the business support the art side of the business but great agencies also understand that the art side you know the creative side of the business has a real impact on and partner with the analytics side and that’s you know that’s a change it always used to be one way analytics drives inside creative but now it goes as much the other way too and so i think a lot of the future is going to be around that the other thing is you know because we all we’re either working from home or we’re limited to how much time and how much density we’re packing in the office space right now i think the best agencies are focused on um their staff you know very much focused on uh not just you know it goes beyond work-life balance it’s really it’s kind of right now it’s a you know it’s kind of a personal well-being that i think ceos are very uh careful and invest a lot of time and worrying about their people’s well-being you know their mental health their physical health kind of their career satisfaction that they’re having with what they’re doing right now and so what i find is that you know having as an agency having a crystal clear understanding of who you are as a brand and what value do you bring to the world not just to your clients but to the broader world because when you think about you know we we exist for our staff they’re number one take care of staff number one we exist for our clients because if you don’t take care of staff they’re not going to take care of clients yep a third thing is you know the work the magic that those two things create the staff put together with our clients creates this you know steve jobs used to call it putting a dent in the world or putting a dent in the universe and that’s why you went to work at apple and i think it’s a lot of that is very true in our business where um people who love and have the highest level of satisfaction in our industry really feel like they’re making a dent in the world in some way they’re putting their mark on it they’re making it a little bit better place to be so that’s a big focus i think for agencies is to kind of you know take care of that staff first the other thing i can tell you is um absolutely positively there is a core correlation between uh employee satisfaction in agencies and financial performance so two go hand in hand if you look at if you want to reverse engineer how do the best agencies that are generating the highest levels of operating income and net income at the end of the year what are they doing that’s different from all the other agencies that are struggling to make an operating profit struggling to grow struggling it goes back to their staff satisfaction and so that’s that’s a huge part of it it impacts um productivity it impacts absenteeism it impacts uh attrition and turnover it impacts ability to hire the very best people and it impacts the quality of the work that come out of those people so the higher the employee and staff satisfaction the better the financial performance of those agencies it just goes hand in hand yeah yeah i would i’d totally agree with you um you know we focus a lot at a gurion on our

values as a company and our brand but more importantly on our people um and we think that that is the big difference we talk about it a lot uh we invest a lot in them we try to create that environment where they can come to work and be their true selves every single day and have that mental health and the um the time away from work also to to recharge the batteries so um i want to show you one thing too but just as kind of a punctuation i just i haven’t yeah i am sitting on my uh desk here it’s a little urn and if you can’t read it it says actually just look a little higher so this actually was given to me by my uh long-time partner lee lynch years ago and you know as a uh i’ve only got two clients that i’ve burned the contract in here of um and it it emphasizes the fact that you you know if you’ve got a client that distracts or dilutes um your culture and your character as an agency you know my my first thing i also i ask clients is you know how would you be better off about that why you know don’t be afraid to terminate a bad client right yeah uh you know we’ve always said we don’t work with assholes that was always kind of rule number one is don’t work with assholes and so they’re you know people would be amazed at the number of clients that we parted with over the years that just you know they were dragged on the morale of the staff and yeah and afford great work they didn’t appreciate great work and they were contrary to everything that we were about as an agency so i think it’s it’s very important for agencies to select the clients that identically match and perfectly next to perfectly fit who they are as an agency yeah that’s great enough too yeah that’s great advice i i find myself whenever we have a conversation i just sit and listen and i go yeah yeah yeah that’s basically been our entire interview today doug um i so appreciate all of our conversation always uh you are a fountain of wisdom and um and i really appreciate you taking the time today to do this and i hope that you thank you i hope that people listening also uh take advantage of your wisdom