The Ties That Will Bond Big Fuel to Its New CEO
Reading the news this week that Jon Bond (yeah, the Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal & Partners co-founder) was coming onboard to head the social media agency Big Fuel got me thinking a lot about how much the advertising business has changed. But, if you read some of the stories about Bond's appointment, it clearly hasn't changed enough -- for him, anyway -- though he is not alone in that sentiment. Said Bond to Stuart Elliott of The New York Times: "It's easier to start JetBlue than to try to fix Delta."
If you don't get the metaphor, maybe you haven't been in the business that long. It's basically that it's much easier to be part of a relatively new agency focused on social than it is to make, for instance, McCann-Erickson a social agency. (Actually, Big Fuel has been around since 2004, according to the LinkedIn profile of its founder.)
On the other hand, you'd be wrong to think that this is all about social agencies getting it while traditional ones don't. The fact is -- and I have no doubt this was one reason for Bond's appointment -- that Bond's experience at traditional agencies can have an equally big impact on Big Fuel. He's used to dealing with big clients who, if all goes well, employ their agencies for years, not for just a project or two. So, in this column, I'll take a look at how this merger of a somewhat more traditional exec with a social agency will work.
Bond will have to get used to some things I'm sure he knows intellectually, but may never have experienced in as hard-hitting a way as he will when social is at the center of his business life. For one, he'll be constantly reminded that social media campaigns can be conducted, but they can't be controlled. Though real, live, social media campaigns do exist -- Old Spice Man comes to mind -- ultimately, their lifespan is decided by consumers.
He'll also be reminded as never before that the consumer is in control... of the message. It's true that much of his namesake agency's roots were in word-of-mouth, but even though ad campaigns have always been mutable -- think about all of those analog bumper stickers that spin off Goodby Silverstein & Partners' "Got Milk" campaign -- this is a different beast. When word-of-mouth means saying something about a product or service on Facebook, or posting a not-so-flattering spoof on YouTube, the product has entered another realm, one that is far less controllable than what has come before.
He'll also have to field a zillion requests from clients to build something "viral" -- the third rail of social media. I'm not sure what the best response to those queries is, frankly, except to remind clients that, in social -- as it should be in all marketing -- it's about listening to consumers. That's where the insights come to create campaigns that, one hopes, take on a life of their own.
Bond is no dummy; he will figure out how to deal with the day-to-day reality of living in social. But even as any new job carries a learning curve, Bond brings a lot to the party as well. One thing that's usually missing from agencies in new disciplines is maturity. (I'm not talking about Big Fuel here -- I honestly don't know that much about them.) It's not about age, but professionalism. There's a tendency, when an agency is on the cutting edge, to look down on clients who don't have the latest gadget and might have tweeted twice. But that's a mistake, if for no other reason than clients are paying the bills. Professionalism is what helps to build long-term relationships with clients. It's also what separates social media efforts that are cheap, viral stunts from engagements with consumers that exist for the long haul.
Maybe this will be a good fit.