Suit Up with Campaign Biographies

Tell the Story – and Learn from It – With a Biography of a Campaign



This is about learning from your mistakes and triumphs, and from the mistakes and triumphs of those who came before you. It’s about crashing through the stubborn veil of novelty and unfamiliarity to reach new heights of creativity. It’s about remembering what worked – and avoiding what did not. That’s what a biography of a campaign is meant to do for those who participated in the process, and for those who will join the team in the future. Ultimately, it’s about making things simpler for everyone by creating a concise, detailed story that records the highs, the lows, and all the lessons learned.

Since process simplification is the goal of the biography of a campaign, it might seem a little incongruous to start out with a piece of high-flying rhetoric from one of the great mythologists and scholars of the 20th century. But Joseph Campbell captured the sense of the biography of a campaign with this quote from his 1987 collaboration with Bill Moyers, the PBS documentary, the Power of Myth:

“These bits of information from ancient times, which have to do with the themes that have supported human life, built civilizations, and informed religion over the millennia, have to do with deep inner problems, inner mysteries, inner thresholds of passage, and if you don’t know what the guide signs are along the way, you have to work it out yourself. ”

The Power of a Story

Campbell’s passion was story. He made it his life’s work to dig deep into the ancient mythologies of the world, to decipher their similarities, to discover their convergent “guide signs” and make their meanings accessible to modern humanity. The idea wasn’t to find a meaning for life, he said. The idea was to glean lessons from the stories of mythology in order to know how to live well.

Similarly, a biography of a campaign tells the story, warts and all, from birth to post-mortem, of your campaign. It goes far deeper than the typical campaign report which, like any eulogy, tends to emphasize the positive. The biography of the campaign is written as a way to identify what Campbell might call the guide signs. This is particularly useful for people who are new to the company, who might come in knowing “how” to do the work, but have not had the time to decipher “why” things are done the way they’re done at their new place of business. It’s also helpful for those who’ve been around for a while, because it’s not always easy to remember the stage-by-stage details once a project has been put to bed.


The Turning Points

Pivotal Moments
The actual day by day process of writing a campaign biography helps managers recognize the turning points in a campaign, the moments when decisions were made that set the campaign on the path to success. Turning points occur in the form of obstacles, anticipated or unexpected, that must be overcome. Chances are, especially in cases of recurring campaigns, those obstacles are going to reappear – again and again. With a campaign biography committed to memory (or at least near at hand for perusal), the story of how these obstacles were overcome can serve the same function as a recipe for an amateur chef. It’s one thing to be familiar with all the ingredients of a gourmet dish (or the familiar stages of your particular type of campaign). It’s another thing entirely to know how to put those ingredients together in order to create a meal worth eating (or a campaign that returns real value).

Create New Recipes From Old

Old Recipes
The biography of a campaign is also like a recipe in this respect: It is a living document, shaped and enhanced by those who are inclined to put their personal imprint upon it. As you learn the lessons imparted by the campaign biography, you and your team should “spice it up” by implementing what you have learned according to the unique requirements of each ensuing campaign.

In other words, follow the guide signs, but don’t be afraid to veer onto a different path if the moment calls for it. In fact, creative growth depends on the willingness to question the solutions of yesterday. On the other hand, creativity unguided by the knowledge of what came before is often an exercise in banality. For example, the impressionists and surrealists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries would’ve been laughed out of Paris if they had not already demonstrated their deep understanding of the traditional forms given to art. They knew intimately what had been done by their predecessors, and for the sake of creativity and truth they decided to do it different – and, depending on your point of view – better. The point is, they built on the successes and mistakes of others, which were well-documented and hung in the salons of Montmartre and the galleries of the Left Bank (not to mention the Louvre).

Suit Up!

Suit UpThat’s why we create the biography of the campaign. It’s not just a to-do list. It’s not just a creative brief. It’s not just a dry campaign report or post-mortem. It’s a story we build today to be told tomorrow. It’s a historical record of our thought processes, our internal struggles, our epiphanies. It’s a way to improve the process of campaign development and implementation, and a way to do better work for our clients. And that, after all, is what it’s about.

How to Fail at Multi-Location Online Marketing

The Dilemma of Multi-Location Online MarketingI’ve worked for two large national brands to solve the dilemma of marketing multi-location, local businesses online in a cost-effective manner, Sylvan Learning Centers (1,100 locations) and Coast Dental (200 locations). And next week I start a new gig for a third, PowerChord Systems (thousands of client locations).

Those experiences have highlighted to me the biggest challenges facing multi-location businesses.

The Rub

Only when banded together, can local businesses get the economies of scale needed to implement the online marketing tactics and strategies that will crush their mom & pop competition.

But at the same time, they expect these tactics and strategies to be designed and customized for their and only their local customers.

But you can’t do that in a cost-effective manner if each local business were to hire a local agency. You need to design your multi-location online marketing in a way that solves the sometimes competing requirements of the corporate parent/franchisor AND the local dealer/franchisee/branch.

Corporate Requirements

  • Consistent Brand – protect the brand’s equity
  • Professional imagery – no stretched logos, clip art or incorrect use of colors
  • Approval and oversight – legal and business
  • Implement Best Practices – communication frequency, correct use of channels
  • Reporting – detailed breakdown of why some local businesses are seeing great results compared to others
  • Optimization – how can we better use our investments to get more leads per dollar?

Local Requirements

  • Hyper-local variations – keyword bidding, use of languages other than English
  • Customization – local name vs. corporate brand
  • Local Channels – local websites
  • On-Demand/Impulse Campaigns – weather-based, tragedy-based, event-based
  • Expense – want the Corporate rate but with local control
  • Reporting – how many customers did I get last month for my investment?

How to Fail

Considering these requirements you may think the solution is easy.  But here are three obvious solutions that will actually fail if implemented.

  1. Implement your corporate strategy as though it was developed for each local business.  The same banner ads, email newsletters and online offers are deployed in each location.  In doing this you just portray yourself to your prospects as a cold corporate machine.  Coca-Cola can get away with this.  You can’t.
  2. Hand over the keys to the local businesses.  Letting them solve the online marketing needs on their will guarantee you end up with 1,000 different strategies developed by 1,000 different local agencies. And your brand will slowly disappear as you know it.
  3. Develop your corporate strategy, tactics, campaigns and editorial calendars and then customize each of them for each location. You will quickly run out of money and time once the changes and demands from the local level overwhelm you and your budget. Your campaigns will never see the light of day due to a lack of funds.

How to Win

How to Win at Multi-Location Online MarketingI’ve found there is a solution that sits in between the requirements of the two parties. It’s a complex one, but when done right gets you closer to winning than any other method I’ve seen.

But I want to hear from you first.

  • How have you approached solving this dilemma?
  • How have you figured out how to solve the competing requirements of Corporate and the local businesses?

Let me know in the comments below.

Who Do You Love?

Who Do You Love

Pick One

When you get in a personal relationship with someone in real life, you know who you’re getting involved with.

But when you get into an email marketing relationship with a business (aka email newsletter), are you making the deep dive with the right brand?

Brand or Location?

For example, if I sign up for Starbucks emails, am I getting an email from the SBUX giant in Seattle or is my local coffee shop going to reach out to me through email?  The same goes for the multi-location McDonald’s.

How about IKEA?  Am I going to read emails authored by the Scandinavian Marketing Team, the US arm of the Scandinavian giant or one of their multiple locations here in Tampa?

Who Am I Connecting With?

Let’s turn this around now.  Say you manage a multi-location business.  You solicit email subscribers everywhere you can.  Your website, social media even your print materials and in-store collateral.

And you succeed at not failing your customers: Best Buy Email, University of Florida,

Who do your customers want to hear from?  The Corporation?  The Brand? Or do they want to know and learn about their local brand torch bearer?

There is no single answer.  Rather I believe you need to ask tough question about your customers to learn what they want from an email relationship.  Who knows maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.

Ask  The Questions

  • How many of my locations would my customer likely visit in one year?
  • Are my locations close to my customer’s homes or likely visited while traveling?
  • Is there a chance that my customers might like our brand so much that they want to visit other locations?

Asking questions like this of your brand and its customers will help you decide whether you speak to them as a single brand or whether each of your locations has its own brand that needs to have a dedicated and personalized email relationship with them.

Who Do THEY Love?

So it’s not who do YOU love, the right question is Who Do THEY Love?

Answer that and your customers will appreciate your email relationship more.

Are You Torn?

Do you struggle with the problem of how to develop a relationship between multiple locations and your customers?

Speak up in the comments below!

Lights! Camera! Satisfaction!

PRSA PresentationVideo is good!

But you don’t need to be scared of it.

I use it here on this site and I use it a ton during the day in my Clark Kent role.

If you want to add video to your marketing campaign, this presentation may be just right for you, Integrating Video Into Your Communications Plan.


Whether you are focusing on business or personal, I’m going to cover the basics for those who play every role in their company to where video should go in your marketing strategy.

PRSA Tampa Bay

Thanks to the Tampa Bay chapter of the PRSA for inviting me to share with their members for this event.

But it’s not limited to members, so join us for breakfast next week!