Sunday, April 24, 2005

Evolution 9 - "Out with the Old..."

In this space I've been writing about the evolution our company has undergone, essentially from BURRIS as "advertising agency" (we haven't been a true ad agency for years), to what we're calling an "idea cooperative," a company that solves marketing problems through ideation and innovation.

During this time we have led a kind of double life; that is, we had several legacy projects and customers, those who were just as likely to ask us to tweak a logo or reformat an ad - TODAY - as they were to require some type of brand reinvigoration.

No more. On Friday, April 22, we were relieved of our working relationship with our last legacy "client," PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. The resort has new management, and they wanted to go in a different direction, primarily because they wish to work with resources a little closer to their location in South Florida. It wasn't a surprise - we knew it was coming, just weren't sure when - and as I told our Burrisites, it represents most our ability to commit ourselves now to creating ideas first, then communications.

At some point, I guess, the "evolving" entity looks at itself and no longer recognizes what it was, only what it has become. Most or all of our reminders of BURRIS as an ad agency are gone.

And, so, the evolution from our past is complete.

We no longer seek "clients"; we want customers, brands that want to leverage their potential, or create some potential.

We don't describe ourselves as an "agency" or "full service" or any of those other catch-alls for creative resources; we're a group of "ideators" on a mission to innovate through marketing.

We are not in the business to DO "creative"; we're in the business to BE creative: in our approach, in our methods, in our thinking, in our measuring - we will be "creative" throughout.

As far as I'm concerned, with the passing of PGA National from our roster, we truly get away from "The Burris Agency," and we become - with all our corporate being - BURRIS, the idea company.

What can we dream up for you?

Thursday, April 21, 2005


Just a quick note to say I followed Walt Mossberg's advice in today's Wall Street Journal that Microsoft's new blogspace site was worth a try. I went through a quick menu, and a new blog ("What, another?", you might ask) came out the other end.

I call it "Golfography," and I plan to share the geo-side of my golf experiences.

I'll try not to confuse you as you (I hope) move from one blog to the other.

Thanks for reading.

Note on 4/30/05: I moved the blog from MSN Spaces to You can find it by going here

Evolution 7 Revisited - "Value, again"

Click on the title and you'll return to my April 9 post on value, a discussion of what things are worth.

Then I came across a piece in the April 4 issue of The New Yorker - "Piecework," an article by Atul Gawande about "Medicine's money problem - that made me think I'm not the only one who studies on this issue. In fact, Gawande outlines the story about a Harvard economist, William Hsiao, who was "commissioned to measure the exact work involved in each of the tasks doctors perform."

"It must have seemed a quixotic assignment, something like being asked to measure the exact amount of anger in the world. But Hsiao came up with a formula. Work, he decided, was a function of time spent, mental effort and judgment, technical skill and physical effort, and stress. He put together a large team that interviewed and surveyed thousands of physicans from almost two dozen specialties. They analyzed what was involved in everything from forty-five minutes of psychtherapy for a patient with panic attacks to a hysterectomy for a woman with cervical cancer."

Just a bit more...

"They determined that the hysterectomy takes about twice as much time as the session of psychotherapy, 3.8 times as much mental effort, 4.47 times as much technical skill and physical effort, and 4.24 times as much risk. The total calculation: 4.99 times as much work.... Eventually Hsiao and his team arrived at a relative value for every single thing doctors do. Some specialists were outratged by particular estimates. But Congress set a multiplier to convert the relative value into dollars, the new fee schedule was signed into law, and in 1992 Medicare started paying doctors accordingly."

I haven't gone to this much trouble to decide how to price our services. But the key is the formulas we use; they need to be based on a logic that can be made to make sense - at least made acceptable - to our customers.

Is your pricing logical?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Evolution 8 - "Frame it up and let's go!"

Years ago, during a visit to one of my favorite places in the world to play golf, The Honors Course in Ooltewah, TN, I picked up a new phrase.

Now, most of you dear readers know I'm one to enjoy putting together a game among the several golfers going out in my group(s). Get the game set, and let's get balls in the air!

At The Honors Course, our friends John Turley, Larry White and others had their own phrase for getting it organized. Turley would say to someone, anyone (he isn't the type to do it himself), "Frame it up." Then someone would turn over a paper place mat, draw a couple of vertical lines, a couple of horizontals, and divide up the players.

There would be 2-balls playing each other, 4-balls playing each other and pairings made up on the back of that place mat, then the framer would fold it up, put it into his pocket or his golf bag, and off we'd go.

The phrase lives on for me both on and off the course. In fact, the first step of our Project 1 process at BURRIS is what we call the "Framework." You're putting things in context, setting your coordinates and axes, getting the project and assignment framed up before digging into the details. The "Framework" comes before the "Free-For-All," which is our all-hands brainstorming exercise.

Maybe it's my nature, maybe it's because I'm the guy who is usually framing up the golf game, but the "Framework" phase is my favorite among the four phases of our Project 1 process. I like setting the thing up, then watching it run.

We're just about to begin framing up a new project for High Point University. I'll keep you posted if you're interested.

Monday, April 11, 2005

"There are no advertising problems."

I came across a very good essay by Al Ries in Advertising Age (available online; just click the title of this post).

Ries takes GM's marketing to task. The brands don't stand for anything ... or they stand for too much. GM and Ford sell more cars than others in the U.S., he says, because they have more cars on the road (a kind of inertia), because they have more dealers (though they are only half as efficient as Toyota dealers) and because they give more, much more, in incentives.

GM also spends more on advertising. In fact, Ries reminds us, for the last seven years, GM has been the largest advertiser of all companies - not just auto companies - in the U.S, more than $3.4 billion last year.

"When GM had half of the U.S. automobile market," Ries writes, "it also had a finely tuned branding strategy. Chevrolet was their entry level car," and from there you moved through Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile and up to Cadillac. "Except for Cadillac, today's GM branding ladder goes nowhere. Moving from Chevrolet to Pontiac to Buick is essentially a sideways move."

I won't spoil Ries's argument any more. Just go there and read it for yourself. (

But I'll close as he did with his final statement on the subject: "What's wrong with General Motors? It's not an advertising problem. As a matter of fact, there are no advertising problems. There are only marketing problems, some of which can be solved by advertising."

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Evolution 7: "What is value?"

Every customer's interpretation of "value" is different.

In some cases value is driven by the need to generate new approaches, new ways of doing same old things.

In other cases it may be seeking something new altogether: a new product, developing a new distribution channel, that kind of thing.

At times it's about getting something done quickly. "I need this yesterday, and no one else I know can do it right now."

Sometimes value is about "time"; in other cases it's about talent or experience or expertise. And if you think about it, it's always - one way or another - about that age-old economics system we call supply and demand.

I'm reminded of something Beverly Flichman said to a publisher's rep about his proposal that if we answered within the hour we could have an ad on the fourth cover of his magazine for an unbelievable price. A one time offer, but hurry.

I'm paraphrasing Beverly's response: "Don't confuse for a minute that your need to sell this to me right now matches my need to buy it."

Isn't that what "value" is all about: What you'll pay vs. my price for selling (or creating)?

Maybe "ideas" aren't that difficult to price after all.

Evolution 6 - "Who owns an idea?"

No one owns an idea once it exists. Everyone does.

At least that's what Jeff Tweedy of the band Wilco seems to think.

Tweedy is quoted in an article in today's New York Times (you can see the entire article here).

Here's the gist of the matter: "'Once you create something, it doesn't exist in the consciousness of the creator,' Mr. Tweedy said, telling [his] audience that they had an investment in a song just by the act of listening."

If no one owns it, who gets paid for it? And how?

Your friends at BURRIS used to be compensated for the work we did based on time. Time, I said, is our currency, and our rate was determined by the business's overhead plus the illusion of profit divided by the number of work hours in a week/month/year. The last time I filled in the answer on an RFP about our rate, it was $137.

But a rate based on time bears no resemblance to how productively we perform a task, how efficiently we deliver the goods. And it certainly has nothing to do with the quality of the work we complete.

Today our primary currency, I say, is "ideas." If no one, however - or if "everyone" - owns an idea, how do you charge for that? By bidding, of course. We write a proposal for a project, put a price on our deliverable(s), and await acceptance from our customer. If it's a value for the customer, we will win the project.

But what's "value"? I'm glad you asked.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

"Just showing up"

According to a Conference Board study reported in BusinessWeek (March 28, 2005), 25% of workers surveyed in 5,000 households say they show up at work only to collect a paycheck. And, "only 14% say they are very satisfied with their job."

What's up with that?

We spend 40, 50, 60 hours a week at work, and we're just getting by? Sad, wouldn't you say?

Why do you figure this is the case?

Monday, April 04, 2005

Blue Elephants

I spent much of the weekend playing golf with the Blue Elephants. Now...before I tell you about the BEGS (Blue Elephants Golf Society), let me tell you that we traditionally play on this festive weekend every year. Festive? It's the beginning of Daylight Savings Time, of course.

Anyway, back to the "Blues." The BEGS is the man-child of Michael Scott, Rick Hall, and Blair Leburn. Blair's father, John, a member of Royal Troon, is a member - perhaps a "charter member" - of the Pink Elephants Golf Society. John suggested to Blair that he get a group of his golf pals together, form a society, and host an event or two each year. Michael, Rick and Blair have hosted several over the last few years, including our visit to Bulls Bay Golf Club in Awendaw, SC, this past "holiday" weekend.

This time we were joined by four members of the PEGS, four fine gentlemen from Scotland: Michael Johnston, Mark Curley, Roy "Money" Penny, and John "Slaughter" Morrison. Here's a photo of "Slaughter."

I single him out for something he said not ten minutes after I met him. You see, eight of us BEGS will be going over to Troon to play the PEGS in July. And it was John Morrison who asked me - again, not ten minutes after he ordered his first burger and lager - "Mark, will you be joining the others for the slaughter this summer?"

I suppose in this era of European dominance of The Ryder Cup we should be prepared for a shellacking. But I'm not so sure. Anyway, we'll know come July, when we'll see if we're truly in for a "slaughter."

The Blue Elephants Golf Society is a wonderful way to enjoy competitive golf. We play 18 on Thursday afternoon, 36 holes on Friday, and then 18 again on Saturday morning before going our separate ways. We share all of our meals with one another, and there are more than a couple of beverages consumed. Rick, Michael and Blair do a great job preparing for the events, and the competitions (I'm usually responsible for those) are always lively.

This year at Bulls Bay we were faced with 40 mph winds on Saturday, a wild day on a first wet, then windswept course. "Money" Penny was the overall winner, but the secret handicap committee is meeting to review his index.

"Slaughter" indeed.

Evolution 5 - ProjectOne

As we further develop our model for delivering ideas created to overcome specific marketing problems, we find that we also benefit from on-the-job-training, such as with a project we're doing for a company in Charlotte called On Course Recruiting.

Andrew Mackay is the lead partner. He has considerable experience in the recruiting business, having conducted more than 400 successful searches, most in the IT industry. But he loves golf. And he saw a niche in the golf business that he believed he could fill, essentially bringing professional service to an industry reliant on word-of-mouth networking and what I think of as "50/50" measures (basically a willingness to accept success half the time rather than hone the process to increase your chances).

With On Course Recruiting, we're learning something about our own process evolution, what we're now calling "ProjectOne." Namely, we're learning that the web and interviews and discussion and research and all the stuff we do to get smarter is valuable, extremely valuable. But it's a preface, not the book itself. The big ideas come out of filtration, the step where we sift through it all, put our sensibilities to it, grind it into workable shapes.

Sort of like the search business. Andrew and On Course Recruiting can review hundreds of files, resumes, and contacts. But his real value - what he does best for his customers - comes when he sifts through them all and finds the nuggets they're likely looking for.

Andrew's customers - ours too - could do this on their own. It's not that they don't know how. What they lack is time, discipline and objectivity. Sure, they know the culture, as our customers know their companies and their industries. But that's not enough.

Interested in knowing more about ProjectOne? Our web site ( will soon explain our process more fully. Interested in knowing more about On Course Recruiting? You can contact Andrew Mackay at