Embracing Change: A Q&A with Marcie Brogan
Marcie Brogan loves to start her day with the aroma of change. From the day she switched her career from doctoral candidate at the University of Detroit to advertising copywriter of the 1970s, she has thrived on the industry's ever-changing landscape.
She formed Brogan & Partners
in 1984, a firm that boasted about its culture of transparency and an executive team dominated by women. And after more than a quarter century as one of Detroit's top advertising executives, Brogan launched Ignite Social Media.
While Brogan relishes the nostalgia for the Mad Men
era, when men, booze, and sex drove the creative business, she now envisions the digital future of her business, driven as much by coffee, social media, and virtual communities.
"Social media is what we all never saw coming," she says. Advertising was never as credible as "word-of-mouth" buzz, but social media, Brogan says, was "word-of-mouth on steroids." Nothing like a product or service recommendation from someone you know… "Social media is the wide open West right now. We're creating our own standards and measurements. You can't just know advertising. You have to know social media, marketing, advertising, PR. We will never hire someone at our agency who is not a social media aficionado because this is the new frontier for advertising as well as a separate industry."
As chairman of the board of the Birmingham agency, Brogan has stepped back from direct involvement with her firm, other than a creative project here and there. Even as a managing partner with Ignite Social Media, she lets the social marketers do their thing. She still, however, looks for ways to diversify her creative staff and build upward mobility in a ceiling-less environment. And she's still embracing change. The advertising business in Southeast Michigan has endured its worst recession in years. How has that affected the way the industry does business? Is there a bright side?
The economy pounded the advertising business simply because we were so tied to the auto industry and our largest agencies were the keepers of the flame for our largest industry. The economy forced clients to look for other solutions, as was the case for Campbell Ewald
when they lost the Chevy business. In some cases, budgets went way down.
The other thing was the rise of interactive and social media which again was tied to the economy. So many clients felt that social media would be cheaper, and that could not be more appealing at that time. That was due to the perceived power of social media as well as the perceived cost of social media.
On the bright side, the auto industry is back. That has created more income for agencies that are serving the auto industry. While some are not located here, they've moved here. Agencies have a chance to pick up some business. Doner
has picked up some Chrysler retail business. The other bright spot is the supplier companies that have survived. As our auto industry comes back, we'll see more advertising. Given Michigan's much talked-about brain drain, what are some things our region should be doing to help your industry attract the creative talent it needs to compete against national agencies?
Certainly, younger people look for quality of place that's largely urban. I think the attempt of Mayor Bing and the reaching out of Gov. Snyder to the city are the brightest spots in several years. We have other cities - one certainly is Ann Arbor, which is attractive and not an impossible drive from Detroit. …The Pure Michigan campaign shows a lot of outdoor activities that are also desired -- the ability to hike and bike. The state and circumstances and the interest in Detroit that's being generated helps. But it's up to us individually as agencies to search for good people. Social media makes it much easier to identify good people. We've always had a problem attracting people here -- best of times, worst of times. What would you say to a smart young person in one of our universities who wants to go into advertising? Is there enough work to keep them here? Is the potential cool enough to want them to stay?
I think so. The best thing they can do is apply for internships. I think all of our agencies -– certainly through the Adcraft club it's easy to find an internship. I think for anybody in marketing, advertising, PR, journalism or who is interested in communications of any kind should get an internship. I think very highly of internships. Our managing partner, Ellyn (Davidson) started as an intern 18 years ago, and one of my partners in Ignite Social Media started as an assistant here. If you can make yourself indispensable people will dig deeper into their budgets. What did you think of the Chrysler Super Bowl commercial?
I thought it was stunning. It was so wonderful to see Eminem -- even though he mocked his own loathing for doing commercials -- he was a perfect spokesperson. It always has interested me that people who come from the outside sometimes see things clearer than we do. I don't know who created the spot, but I think it was Wieden + Kennedy
who had an outsiders' view of Detroit. You've got a thing for Mad Men. Why? What can it tell us about your industry today?
The show starts in 1960… When I started in the business a lot of those attitudes were so prevalent: the attitude toward women. When I started at Doner I was one of three women who were not part of the administrative secretarial pool. The attitude toward women seems so old fashioned and unbelievable now, but those things happened. ...It's very accurate in its portrayal of the attitudes, the mores, the dress… It was very white, very male; where we haven't gotten as far is toward minorities… We've done sort of well with women, not really well with minorities in our business. How has Brogan & Partners integrated diversity into the firm?
We've always had a mission to look at women as candidates. We do have men, and I personally adore men. Men have traditionally had more opportunities, although maybe that's shifting now with the numbers of women in medicine and law, but it's not shifting economically.
We look harder to find good candidates who are women, and because we're in the Detroit area, African Americans. … It's not a program, but a point of view. We've always looked at minorities to bring them into the business. To be a good marketer you have to reflect the populations you are talking to. You can't have an agency largely composed of middle-aged white men and be talking to young girls or African Americans. You have to know it not only through research but because you live it. You're known for creating a company that's rewarding and fun to work for. Perhaps most celebrated has been the mystery trips you award to high performing employees. Are you still doing that? What is your rationale?
Absolutely. We did it during good years and bad years. During bad years we went to Chicago. In good years, we've gone to Amsterdam and Iceland and London. It's extremely important. I can equate it to the cost of a well-compensated senior person. We have high productivity and always have. For me it's a very even trade -- actually, it's more than an even trade. To do this trip is more important than having that extra brain around. It does such wonders for morale. It's a great recruitment tool, a great retention tool. How do you feel about the film industry incentives? Are they worth preserving?
I have a very contrary viewpoint. I think they were a mistake. I'm offended economically and I'm offended by my profession by the tax credits. … If there is a chance that this would be a viable business I think the amount of money given to support this industry and the amount of money taken out of state is too big of a cost. It's a good idea, but I don't want my tax dollars going to Clint Eastwood. I don't mind my tax dollars going to a bioscientist who developed a business in Ann Arbor. You've recently stepped down as managing partner, assuming the chairman's role of Brogan & Partners. On the other hand, you've gotten a new business running, Ignite Social Media.
The business is doing phenomenally. We've grown 100 to 200 percent a year. We have Nike, Warner Brothers, Samsung. Our goal is to provide social media services for Fortune 1,000 companies. It's a different goal from the agency. In the agency we're focused on local and regional businesses. Ignite is a different company. We've certainly profited by being one of the first social media agencies.
We started off in an industry that's brand new. We were there at the right time. Obviously, I have the right partners. We have grown by getting more and more business from our clients. You've noted in one of your blog posts, "There's nothing like waking up to the smell of change." How has change been good for you and your firm?
People who go into advertising as a career generally are energized by change. I know it's the most frightening thing that can happen. Personally, I am bored by doing the same thing, working on the same project, thinking about the same kinds of problems. I think I have the attention span of a fruit fly. I find that new things give me a boost, a lift, a new way to think. I'm very fortunate in that trait because I think today things are changing so quickly. Social media is one of the reasons… We're going to be living in constant change. I think if someone finds that frightening, they should probably find a life that isn't advertising, isn't marketing, isn't an industry that's going to be constantly buffeted or pushed along by change.
Dennis Archambault is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to Metromode, Model D and Concentrate. His previous article was From Scratch: Denovo Sciences.
All Photos by David Lewinski Photography