The Decline of the Guild

The traditional guild – an association of people in a common trade – is steadily loosing its members. Largely, it is due to the wealth of trade secrets now shared online, but other factors are still unknown and puzzling their recruiters.

I’ve participated in a variety of organizations across North America for the purpose of networking, job searching, and expanding my knowledge as a designer. Many of my experiences have been rewarding and informative. Over the last few years though, the number of people participating in committee meetings, public lectures, and social events has dramatically declined. I figured it was because everyone had a job and they were too busy to contribute. I was proven wrong when the recession hit.

Some guilds have come close to closing their doors due to lack of funds and volunteers. It is tragic because this is where many of our industry standards and laws have come from. The Graphic Artists Guild (GAG), for example, publishes a Pricing & Ethics handbook. For people running their own business, it is an essential resource.

Recently, I attended the Silicon Valley Brand Forum hosted by Sun Microsystems, which shed some light on the needs of the volunteer. The subject of discussion was cause marketing, and key speaker Jennifer Aaker talked about the psychology of giving. Jennifer is the General Atlantic Professor of Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Consumer Psychology and the Journal of Marketing Research. Her presentation was excellent, addressing issues involving cause marketing, non-profits, volunteers, and what drives people to donate their time vs. donate their money.

The forum left me with some guidance on how to help the struggling guilds I am associated with as well as how to create a successful cause marketing event. Generally, people who are asked to volunteer their time vs. give money tend to be more responsive and dedicated to the cause. This is because volunteering time towards a cause triggers the self-gratification center in the brain. These people tend to be more responsive when later asked for donations of money and in email follow-ups than those who were only asked for financial support.

Differentiation and a unique brand association is also what is needed to make cause marketing effective. An example of this is Avon and their Walk for Breast Cancer. Avon is different from other cosmetic brands because of the success of their cause marketing efforts. The event projects an authentic value, it owns the emotion of hope, and it shares stories that sell. By integrating doing well with doing good, Avon is now recognized not only as a company that cares about cosmetics but a company that cares about women.

In order for the guild to survive and rise above the noise of an expanding pool of knowledge, it will need to re-define its point of differentiation and re-establish itself as an authentic resource meant to protect the interests of its members. It will also have to encourage its members to participate more in order for them to feel like they are adding value to the cause. This can be done today using Wikis, forums, and other online social networking tools. To expand on this, Laura Brunow Miner on A List Apart writes about online communities, saying “Most people have an innate need to belong and feel like part of something, and successfully contributing to that something can really reinforce self-worth” and “Giving members ways to interact with you and each other brings you all closer”. The article continues to define key points on how to effectively run an online community and engage its participants. They include:

1. Communicating effectively
2. Setting clear and specific expectations
3. Mentoring your contributors
4. Playing with trends
5. Giving valuable rewards
6. Praising effusively, but not recklessly

With this guidance, the community of the guild can continue to prosper by leveraging online social networking tools and re-engaging its community. By doing so, the industry will benefit from a collective agreement on best practices, pricing and ethics standards, creative thinking, and good old companionship.

Storytelling from the Prez down

In a recent article in the LA Times, writer Mike Dorning speaks about Jon Favreau, the president’s storyteller in chief. Favreau makes it clear that one of the key elements that enables Obama to communicate so powerfully is story. “Favreau has explained their joint approach to friends simply: ‘Tell a story. That’s the most important part of every speech, more important than any given line. Does it tell a story from beginning to end?'”

It is becoming very clear to many professionals in my industry that the days of the quick soundbite are over (and thank God for that, I say). Think about this as it applies to any company’s marketing; is your story compelling? Does each individual piece add to that story, and does it tell a good story in and of itself?

As human beings we have evolved over millions of years to be attuned to, learn from, and remember stories. So a quick series of not-necessarily-related bites of information are much less engaging (read: a LOT more boring), than a narrative that relates the same information.

In a business setting, what does this say about your latest PowerPoint presentation? The content, the visuals, the presentation (the telling of the story), all need to come together and be mutually supportive. Only then…only then…will it have the ability to reach into the hearts and minds of your audience and have them respond to and remember your presentation a week later–heck, in four hours.

Stories. Their power is being re-discovered. Sounds like it’s time to start telling more of them, eh?

The Honor of Addys

We were honored last night to receive an ADDY award for the work we have done with VirtualPBX‘s website. Many in the marketing/advertising industry decry the value of awards, saying that they are just the equivalent of the industry basking in it’s own self-perceived glory.

A quick, static, shot of the VirtualPBX home page

A quick, static, shot of the VirtualPBX home page

And, maybe that’s true. And, maybe until last night, I thought so too.

But, when I saw the competition we were up against, my whole perception changed. The sites and other creative teams we were pitted against to win this award were great! The judges were all senior ad execs and creatives–all from out of town (I suspect to diminish the influence of having a local favorite)–and the honor of winning one of the awards against such a great group of competitors was exciting, thrilling, and quite an honor.

Some of the most well-known and respected people in the top local agencies were represented, and being amongst them was exciting, in and of itself. Then to be honored among such a crowd, even a greater honor.

All of us left the event truly inspired–to keep improving our work, delivering more creative and effective advertising, and to provide our clients with ever-increasing value. Because, at the end of the day, awards or no, that’s really what it’s all about.

And, I have to admit, getting the award is really, really, great.

Maybe I’m just not yet a jaded, cynical, advertising executive…but I think that even those guys, at their heart, win awards and their inner-five-year-old is jumping up and down, screaming at the top of their lungs.

My deep thanks go to the local chapter of the AAF, our entire team for the incredible effort, and to the marketers at VirtualPBX who were willing to take a daring approach to their website, in an industry where daring approaches are far from the norm.