Yes And: Improv + Advertising

5 days. 40-plus hours. Hundreds of speakers and sessions to choose from. Social Media Week Chicago was a whirlwind of learning, exploring, networking, and more learning. There were many moments that had me dreaming of next year’s event, but one session that stuck with me as an advertiser was Yes, And: What social media, brands and advertising can learn from Chicago’s improv and comedy roots.

At its core, improvisational theater is based on group acceptance – saying yes and accepting everything that happens on stage. This concept has evolved into “Yes, And” – everyone accepting what is happening (saying “yes”) while the skit expands and develops (saying “and…” then adding a new idea to the conversation).

The “Yes, And” ethos sets everyone up for success and guarantees that a sketch builds the momentum it needs to succeed. But it also sets me up for success in the office. Brainstorming? Collaborating with a client? Spit-balling solutions? Choosing a place for lunch? Don’t shut people’s ideas down. Add to and improve them with the “Yes, And” technique.

Don’t stop the idea – take it further and let it evolve from something that may be mediocre into something that is fantastic. Become comfortable with making mistakes and feeling a bit defeated. In the end, the idea you come up with may look nothing like its original seed, but that’s the point. Great things never came from comfort zones.


This blog post is brought to you by Anna, Isaac, Maura and Sandy, members of our Social Media + Content Integration team.

We attended the 2014 Insight Summit Series PR + Social Media Summit, held at Marquette University on 10.7.14. There were many moments that made this year’s event special, but here are our top ten favorites:

  1. Brands using Reddit – Reddit is one of the most self-aware websites on the Internet, and summit attendees had a chance to learn how brands can leverage it from Reddit’s Director of Communications Victoria Taylor. Did you know that over 500 subreddits are created each day? How is your brand jumping into the conversation?
  2. Making social media more social – Social media and Public Relations should always be at the forefront of planning a campaign. They are the humanizing elements of any advertising or marketing strategy, and should never be an afterthought.
  3. Engagement isn’t enough – The engagement rate of most tweets is lower than the engagement rate of banner ads. This doesn’t mean Twitter isn’t useful – brands need to find their voice and use social media in a way that truly connects with their audience, not just as another advertising tool.
  4. Listen + Join the Conversation Organically – Real time human engagement is one of the many cool factors of Reddit. However, it’s important to be sure that you aren’t butting into conversations. Listen first, then engage in conversations organically (and when appropriate) to make the biggest impact.
  5. Capture the Human Element – What if your brand were a human? What is your brand’s personality? Social platforms allow brand personalities to shine, so be sure yours is a likeable one. Think of an online conversation as a conversation you would want to have during happy hour.
  6. Have a Brand With Purpose – Brands with purpose drive engagement. While Facebook’s organic reach is dramatically decreasing, the best way to stay relevant is to give people a brand to care about. Be in the right vertical and have a good product.
  7. Give Your Brand a Voice or Others Will – Facebook has over 1.32 billion people logging in per day. Giving your brand a positive voice on the social platform is more important now than ever before. Don’t let others give it a negative voice.
  8. Ello, Goodbye – Facebook’s Associate Manager, Genevieve Grdina, addressed fledgling competitor Ello, and its seemingly meteoric rise. Ello prides itself on being the ad-free anti-Facebook, but Grdina pointed out that all social platforms eventually need a monetization strategy to survive, and that Ello is not a long-term threat. Facebook is continuously working to improve the quality and relevance of the ads that keep Facebook a free service.
  9. Social + the CMO – Augie Ray questioned whether social media still has a place in today’s integrated marketing strategy without strong conversion metrics to justify media spend. Social media might not lead to direct sales or conversions, but it excels at fostering brand awareness and interpersonal customer communication. It’s also a great way for smaller brands with smaller budgets to reach and gain new customers.
  10. Facebook Reach Potential – Capture your target audience with quality posts, not quantity. Back quality with ad dollars, precise targeting, and posts could reach 90-95% of people that should see it and interact with it.


Laughlin Constable is the title sponsor for the 3rd annual Digital Advertising Summit, which will be held at Marquette University on Wednesday, March 18, 2015. Topics will include digital advertising, analytics, ecommerce, content strategy, design and development, loyalty, mobile, brand planning, user experience, the latest in digital marketing trends, and more.

2014 Key Media Stats | Quarter 3

Do you feel overwhelmed with the flood of industry e-newsletters and publications? Do you wish you could get top-line media insights in an easy to read document each quarter? If you said yes, this is the place to be. This quarter’s key media stats focuses on what the smartphone user demographically looks like, mobile app vs web usage, device penetrations and top-line Hispanic media information.

Check back each quarter for updated reports and breathe easier.

[click the image to enlarge]

Key Media Stats_Q32014

Social Media | Governor’s Small Business Summit

I was recently asked by long-time client, Travel Wisconsin to put together a breakout session on social media for the 2014 Governor’s Small Business Summit. A social media breakout session is always a tall order because inevitably you have an audience that spans novice to expert. Unknowingly, I found myself approaching the deck through Aristotle’s three methods of persuasion: ethos, pathos and logos. (Tangential history lesson: Some 2,400 years after Aristotle’s death, these principles are still the backbone of oral and written communication.) Plainly defined:

  • Ethos: An appeal to the authority or credibility of the presenter
  • Pathos: An appeal to the audience’s emotions
  • Logos: An appeal to the audience’s logic

Every summer from age 16 into my college years I worked at my father’s lawn and landscape company answering phones and processing. I was able to see the inner workings of a small business and relied on this anecdote to establish credibility alongside my 6+ years of experience working in social media for Laughlin Constable.

I kicked things off with a simple premise: Customers are far from rational. Most people lack the motivation, time, or information to make a purchase decision based on function alone, so they rely on other factors, factors they might not even be consciously aware of: emotions. For example someone might feel safe in a Volvo, energetic while drinking a Coke or excited in a BMW. At the end of the day people are emotional creatures and therein lies the benefit of social media: a relationship building tool.

Let me tell you, humans as irrational creatures wasn’t a tough sell on a crowd of small business owners, but to appeal to logic I shared a few compelling stats laddering into the question of “Why Social Media?”

  • 53% of consumers report that they will purchase a brand’s product or services after following them on Facebook
  • 47% of consumers are more likely to visit a brand’s website and 35% are more likely to buy from a brand after following them on Twitter
  • 21% of Pinterest users have purchased something they found on the site

With the stage set I took the audience though Laughlin’s 3-step approach to social media strategy: plan, build and engage. We talked content creation, channel management, reporting, social advertising and beyond. At the end of the day I was reminded of the need for agencies to ruthlessly simplify. Put it into laymen’s terms. Provide a visual. Read the room and rely on your principles of persuasion.


Sources: Twitter, The Next Web, Gallup

Going Native With Brand Marketing

Native advertising is redefining marketing boundaries in the never-ending battle to win audience attention and engagement. With users more likely to see, engage and share native ads over many traditional advertising methods, it is no wonder that brands are quickly evaluating how they can incorporate this medium into their marketing mix.1 Today’s definition of the concept continues to rapidly evolve, and the trend is showing no sign of slowing with native investments predicted to reach $4.6 billion by 2017.2  However, while it can be powerful, brands must understand its parameters to get the most out of their investment and avoid adverse effects.  Native ads land on the fine line between content and advertising, requiring brands to take an in-depth, target-focused approach to ensure the medium is drawing the user’s attention effectively. 




Native advertising is sponsored content, or the intentional placement of a brand within a space to add content or relevance to the user’s experience.  The advertisement flows within the content stream for the user.

The definition and examples of native advertising will continue to evolve as quickly as consumer content resources. The concept is not new, but it has recently created more opportunity in the digital space, giving publishers new ad space and revenue.  What started as product placement and advertorials years ago has evolved into sponsored search results, brand-generated articles, partner blog entries, or promoted social media posts. There is a broad spectrum of native ads that will continue to evolve as brands and publishers find new, creative ways to deliver quality content to audiences in native places.


The Guinness Guide to Oysters ad from 1950 is one of the earliest forms of published native advertising. The advertorial was a buyer’s guide to oysters, a popular pairing with Guinness beer.



Traditional advertising messages typically lay outside of user content, and are often focused on convincing rather than providing useful information to the user.  Because consumers receive hundreds, even thousands, of commercial messages every day, brands are looking for other ways to put their message at the forefront in a relevant, valuable and less-intrusive way.  Consumers are demanding more from brands, too.  Social media’s open forum has increased their expectations for higher quality brand content.3

The most effective advertising messages resonate with the target audience, and the same reigns true for native advertising.  Effective native advertising gives users content they want, where they want it.  Giving users valuable information makes them more receptive and likely to engage with the ad.  If the messaging is trustworthy and interesting, it can hold their attention longer while positioning the brand as a thought leader.

Brands agree native advertising works because it serves the interest of the audience.  It engages with a more relevant message rather than focusing on click-through rates or a direct increase in sales, showing the brand’s personality and credibility within a category.




Native marketing is missing the point if it does not mimic the surrounding content, but it should not deceive the target audience.  It’s the fine line between content and advertising that makes it so effective, but also presents challenges.

Today’s evolving regulations leave room for interpretation and margin for error.  Brands and publishers are left using their own moral compasses in content, placement and disclosure.  Without proper transparency, users can be misled, perceiving a native ad as a bait-and-switch tactic rather than an informative and useful brand piece.

And creating the right content requires work.  Native advertising pushes marketers to develop creative, relevant content for consumers without a direct sell of the brand.  The value propositions are less overt, but the messaging complements the brand while adding value to the user’s experience. This philosophy better aligns with how consumers use media today, but the obscurity leaves brands evaluating native opportunities with caution.

The New York Times introduced T Brand Studio, their in-house native advertising content team, with an elaborate article sponsored by Netflix on female incarceration. The ad included video and informational charts within the editorial, providing insight and emotional stories to pique interest of the target consumer segment while promoting the season premier of the Netflix’s series Orange is the New Black.


Marketers are intrigued by the user engagement possibilities, but the results can be difficult to directly quantify because it is an investment in the long-term brand building.  It may fall short if confined to only traditional ROI metrics because it can be subtle brand messaging rather than direct selling. And, unlike traditional ads, every native advertising opportunity is unique.  Ads are likely not reusable in other media, so time and resources need to be invested in creating each ad without the econ­­­omies of replication.




STAY FOCUSED ON THE TARGET.  Only mimicking content is not enough – it must align with the goals of the target audience as well.  Rather than simply extending your current marketing messaging, start with a deep understanding of and focus on the target segment.  Knowing the wants, needs and desires of the target will inspire authentic content that is more likely to resonate. Speaking too broadly will not only dilute the message, but is more likely to alienate your target because they won’t see the value.

Johnny Walker partnered with Thrillist’s brand partner program, Allied, to create “Scotchtales.” The custom content series of whiskey-centric articles included expertise and tips for their target demographic of the modern gentleman.


PARTICIPATE – DON’T MISLEAD.  A native ad should be positioned naturally within the surrounding content, in a place that makes sense, to keep the focus on the content rather than the brand. However, transparency is necessary. Tricking the user into clicking on what they believe is editorial content diminishes the brand’s credibility. The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Native Advertising Playbook provides recommendations for “clear and prominent” disclosure, and it is beneficial to always err in favor of the target.  No ad is worth betraying the target audience.

Buzzfeed offers “social advertising” with custom social posts created by Buzzfeed based on the brand’s identity and goals. Advertisers are labeled as brand publishers at the top of the post. Hidden Valley partnered with Buzzfeed during the launch of their updated product recipe that they proclaimed as “the new ketchup” to promote new product uses for consumers.


FIND THE RIGHT PARTNER.  Brands must take full ownership of their ads, including placement.  Native advertising has opened new ad space for publishers, but brands must evaluate the opportunity to decide if the partner and placement is a good fit.  It may be where the target audience is, but irresponsible execution of the ad can be off-putting to the user. Brands must work with credible partners that align with their priorities to ensure the ad meets the brand’s objectives.

Brandvoice is Forbes’ brand-generated content that is published alongside editorial and user content in print and online. Brandvoice content is labeled and linked to an explanation of the program for the audience. IBM partnered with Brandvoice to publish business-targeted editorials by IBM’s thought leaders that supported their “Smarter Planet” brand positioning.


UNDERSTAND THE VALUE.  As with any media, opportunities must be evaluated to determine how they fit in the marketing mix to achieve an end goal. The goal of native advertising is brand building, and it is better measured by understanding the correlation between user engagement and the probability to purchase within that segment.  It is more accurate to measure awareness and attitudes rather than focus on traditional ROI metrics.




Native advertising is a quickly evolving concept that presents the opportunity for brands to connect with their target audience in a valuable way for engagement that rivals editorial content.  The challenge is adding the right content in the right context, but when done well, brands will create a meaningful connection with their target that goes beyond what most traditional marketing methods are able to deliver.  Those that most accurately understand their target audience will find the most effective native ways to add to the conversation, resulting in more audience engagement and brand strength.



1.  Sharethrough, Inc and IPG Media Lab, Native Advertising Effectiveness Study, 2013

2.  BIA/Kelsey, U.S. Local Media Forecast, 2012

3.  Forrester Technographics Digital Consumer Community Report, September 2012

4.  Hexagram and Spada, State of Native Advertising, 2014


Find Your Purpose.

We were not designed to live a life of monotony. We have always been told that we should spend each day on earth to the fullest, but with the way most of our days seem to blend together with the same chores, meetings, errands, and responsibilities, this concept may seem easier said than done.

The best thing about our industry, workplace, and culture is that every day, we are encouraged to recreate ourselves, share our ideas, showcase our work, and be inventive. We all hold different roles within the agency — planners, strategists, creatives, writers, accountants, analysts, developers, administrators, managers, leaders (The list goes on…) — and have the notion that we’re all here for the same purpose: Work hard, make money, build our reputation, and please our customers. However, I think this might not be entirely true. We all have our own talents, skills, dreams, hopes, aspirations, and individual traits that allow us to stand apart from our colleagues. Each of us has a solitary value that contributes to one common goal as a business.

Now, you may be scratching your head and asking yourself, “What is my purpose?”

Well, here is the simple formula:

What you love to do + What the world needs = Your mission
What the world needs + What you are paid for = Your vocation
What you are paid for + What you are good at = Your profession
What you are good at + What you love to do = Your passion
Your mission + Your vocation + Your profession + Your passion = Your purpose

Your purpose should not be defined by the title on your business card. Your purpose is to foster positive change, no matter the part you play within the agency. If you have an idea, write it down, email it to your manager, collaborate with coworkers. An idea is just an idea until it becomes an action with results. There is an Irish proverb by which I try my best to abide each day: You’ll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind. Seek inspiration from everything and everyone around you, but most importantly, learn to spark your own fire.

Do the math.

Ignite Milwaukee

Five, twenty and fifteen. You are probably wondering what those numbers mean. No, they are not the number sequences from Lost or the SPF numbers on your sunscreen. They are, however, the numbers you need to learn if you want to give a presentation at Ignite. Ignite is an event where presenters can share what makes them tick. From graphic designers to English professors, people from all walks of life are coming together to educate the world on what they know best. Recent presenters spoke about how to be an expert witness, going global on a local scale and the three p’s of eLearning. With only five minutes, twenty slides and fifteen seconds to talk per slide, speakers are encouraged to enlighten but make it quick. Do you have what it takes? If interested in speaking, please email for more information. Want to be in the audience? Come out and see what you can burn into your mind or into others. Check out the details below! And click here for more info.

Who: There is an open call for presenters. Please email if you’re interested in speaking or attending.

When: August 22nd, 8pm

Where: The Alchemist Theatre, 2569 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. Milwaukee, WI 53207

Making Trust Mobile


“Virtually every commercial transaction has within itself an element of trust,” wrote Nobel prize winner Kenneth Arrow. Arrow’s line describes why banks emphasize consistent and personalized interactions with their customers across all branches– to build trust. Back when an actual bank was central to all banking activity, personalizing customer interactions wasn’t too complex. Executives placed greeters at every bank entrance and favored tellers with the local accent who would address us by name. But as we’ve exchanged our interactions with bank employees for banking apps on our phones, banks have been challenged to adopt their familiar strategy of emphasizing human interactions to our screens.

The technology that enables personalization is consistently improving and I’ve noticed increased personalization in my banking apps. Today, my American Express app, for example, greets me with a message appropriate to my time of day. And my Chase app welcomes me with a background based on my location (as I write this post in the Chicago office, I am greeted with the Chicago skyline). In the words of Chase’s head of digital for consumer and community banking, these apps were built with the intention of “humanizing the [digital] experience” aka giving the customer a digital experience similar to the retail experience, a concept that technology has only recently been able to realize. While the app will never replicate human interaction, it has the potential to master personalized interactions on a scale that is impossible for a bank employee (who can easily forget information or get stressed on the job) to do.

As banks seek to regain our trust after the Recession (Gallup), their increasing ability to create a consistent brand experience across all mediums for their customers is great news. Not only do they signal a bank’s excitement to help us where we are – whether online or in the store – they also bring consistency to the bank’s brand experience, an important part of building brand trust and loyalty (Journal of Consumer Research). The banking industry’s ability to use mobile for building customer trust is certainly something we can expect other industries to replicate.


Did You Just Purchase a Product or Buy Into an Idea?

A few days ago I was chatting with a few industry friends about whether the role of marketers was to “tell stories” or to “sell stuff.” I’ll spare you the drawn-out details of this philosophical chess match, mainly because a point-for-point retelling would have the same effect as chugging a large glass of warm milk. But I will discuss the main points, because given the seeming ubiquity of social media and the continued success of content marketing, there is a right answer to this question.

Marketers who believe that the term “storyteller”  fundamentally describes their job have an advantage over those who more closely self-identify with terms like “salesperson.”

Storytellers understand people’s motivations and are able to make emotional connections that are both influential and long-lasting. Salespeople fill an immediate need, provide product information and then are likely forgotten – and we live in a world where success and longevity rule together, hand-in-hand.

(*Note: The point that the best salespeople actually sell relationships – not products – was brought to my attention. Exactly, and I would argue that those relationships were forged by emotional bonding via storytelling, not regurgitating product information.)

Evidence of people’s love for for a good narrative and its effect on their spending decisions can be seen every day. Consider Coca-Cola. Coke is a fixture at or near the top of Forbes list of the world’s most valuable brands, year in, year-out. They didn’t achieve this by simply creating advertisements featuring the product. They arrived and continue to reign over the top spots by emotionally resonating with multiple facets of people’s lives – and using the multiple channels that power our 24/7 connectivity –  via content marketing like

The point is that if you can use intriguing stories (content marketing) to sell people on an idea – why they should invest in your brand – you will have created a more personal, loyalty-generating bond than if you’re simply pushing a product because it’s your job to “sell stuff.”

So, now you’re saying, Philosophy is great but is there any factual evidence to put a definitive end this chess match? I’m glad you asked. A recent Ad Age survey revealed that 71 percent of marketers will increase their content marketing budgets in 2014.



Getting From Point-A to Point-A

Certain brands have mastered content marketing and are creating high-end content that fuses their brand story with a larger, emotional, human story. Red Bull, for example, has intertwined itself with extreme sports and the notion that human beings are capable of extraordinary things if we’re willing to let go of our own perceived limitations – and Red Bull gives you the wings to do so.

So, now that we’re on the same page, you’re saying, “I want in.” However, your brand doesn’t have the budget to send one of your employees on a free fall from space, so you’re wondering if there are any simpler things you can do to improve your content marketing.

Yup. Consistently creating things like blogs and podcasts that can connect with people on a personal level is a great place to start, and here are some tips to help you construct a narrative that will grab your audiences‘ attention.

  1. Think of Each Story as a Circle. And the goal of telling it is to take the reader on an adventure from Point-A to Point-AThink of any movie or book you’ve read. The formula is simply: “Balance. Disturbance. Return to balance.” This formula can be applied to all blogs and podcasts to ensure quality and consistency.  
  2. Establish Your Point-A Opening. What are you trying to say? This idea should be presented in the headline and will serve as the main thought or your blog/podcast. For this blog, it’s teaching why a 360 degree story structure is important.
  3. Establish Your Point-A Closing. Think of a line/thought/angle that’s going bridge your opening and closing lines. Get creative here. This is the chance to drive your point home –and make it memorable. (You’ll have to read the rest to see what I’m going with here.)
  4. Use Main Points to Bridge Opening and Closing. When your two point-A’s are set –the balance and return to balance – it’s time to list out the main points that will lead readers from thesis to conclusion.
  5. Make Your Supporting Arguments Equal Parts Fact and Fun. Now that you’ve cleared a path for the reader to follow, it’s important to use tools and techniques to make the trip as enjoyable as possible. Persuasion is about framing, and the goal with this content is to convince someone to agree with your point of view – this is best done by expanding on your main points with humor, logic, ethos, pathos and other techniques that entertain, elevating the reader’s view of your opinion to one they connect with on an emotional level.

This method may seem backwards if you’ve never tried it. Many people are used to working chronologically – from intro to body to conclusion – but if you don’t know where you’re going to end up, it’s tough to determine a logical way to get there. By thinking of your narrative as a journey from Point-A to Point-A, you’ll prevent yourself from talking in circles. (See what I did there?)