This past summer, I had the opportunity to attend a conference where Luke Sullivan was the keynote speaker. For those of you not familiar with Luke, he’s the author of the modern advertising bible: Hey Whipple, Squeeze This.

He spoke on many topics relevant to the communications industry, but I was reminded of one such subject a few weeks ago when I read his most recent blog post:

THE MOST IMPORTANT TRUTH IN ADVERTISING I LEARNED FROM PROF. MARK FENSKE.

Sullivan (apparently as a result of Fenske’s tutelage) suggests that in order to create impactful advertising (or any other sort of communication that’s intended to inspire action) it needs to be based on the central truth about a brand and its entire category.

We can’t simply impose our will on the people we’re trying to reach. We have to understand what they’re already thinking and how they already view us. Don’t forget, we’re not in control of our brands. Our target audience is. We can only attempt to help shape it. But doing so takes honesty, humility and respect for the target audience’s reality.

While it will likely make some of my colleagues uncomfortable, I’m going to explore some possible truths about Borshoff:

  1. Borshoff truth: We’re a PR agency.

Yes, Borshoff started as a PR agency 31 years ago. But today, approximately half of our 60 employees work in functions most people would consider advertising. And, we have high profile advertising clients including the Indianapolis Indians, Kiwanis International and NIPSCO. Yet, most people perceive us as a PR agency. Don’t believe me? Check out this story from the local business journal announcing a leadership change at the agency (it’s behind a pay wall, but the headline tells you everything you need to know). We’re fortunate to be on everyone’s radar for PR, but we struggle with being known for our advertising capabilities even though the reality suggests otherwise.

  1. Category truth: Clients hire agencies that will make them look good personally and professionally.

Choosing an agency is a big decision, as it’s likely one that will contribute directly to our client contacts’ jobs. The current average tenure of a CMO is 48 months, and our work plays a major role in whether their goals are met or not. No pressure, huh? Further evidence includes several e-mails I’ve received from clients saying “thanks for making me look good to my boss.” This business is personal. We as an agency can’t forget that.

So, there you have it. When we can truthfully acknowledge our own perception reality and what the target really wants from us, we can start to craft messages and solutions that will resonate and motivate.

What’s the truth about your brand and category?

PS – Kudos to our leadership for supporting this post. It’s this sort of honesty that will allow us to grow our advertising brand.