Ad Agency Success: What Being Creative Really Means

By Jim Parham, Chief Operating Officer

At Hirons, a successful Midwestern advertising and public relations shop, we have a department officially designated as the Creative Department. This has been a standard practice in the ad biz long before “Mad Men” made us famous, or infamous.

I contend that just about everyone in the communications business, whether media buying types, public relations teams or advertising experts, are, by their very nature, creative.

Carolyn Gregoire, a features editor at the Huffington Post, recently wrote an article on what makes people, well, creative. In her article, 18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently (, she suggests that creative people fail up. Meaning, of course, they are not fearful of failing and are not detoured by roadblocks.

Here’s an excerpt from her article:

“Doing creative work is often described as a process of failing repeatedly until you find something that sticks, and creatives — at least the successful ones — learn not to take failure so personally.”

She cites Forbes contributor Steven Kotler, writing about Albert Einstein: “Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often.”

While for most businesses, failure is not an option, creative people in the communications business spend a lot of time thinking, rethinking, then testing and redoing a lot of work. Why?  Re-examination and retooling make a better final product.  And, creative communications people are not at all adverse to critical input and smart suggestions to make the work better. Just ask any reporter about how important an editor was to the final product.

While exceptional creative work may not take a village, it requires at least several pairs of eyes to think about the work as the client and final recipient will view it.  Hence, many agencies test the creative work (display ads, television spots or key messaging) on targeted publics before it goes final.

We’ve all heard the statements about right brain versus left brain and who is truly a creative type. Overall, while brain science is important and cannot be discounted, almost anyone can be successful developing a creative solution to a pressing problem. Just ask Rube Goldberg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, inventor, engineer and sculptor.

Just for Kicks

The World Cup is an exciting time, not only for soccer fans but for advertisers as well. With one of the highest viewing rates of any televised sporting event, soccer players aren’t the only ones who take center stage … or field.

Before the first kickoff, the reach of World Cup advertisements had surpassed that of Super Bowl 2014. According to marketing research by Google, advertisements related to the World Cup have been posted and/or shared 6.9 million times compared to the 4.7 million shares generated by Super Bowl commercials.

Fútbol, 1. Football, 0.

But how is this possible?

With such a culturally diverse fan base, soccer is considered the world’s most popular sport.  And, because of the way the game is played, advertisers have had to be more creative.

If you are familiar with soccer (unlike me), you probably know that it is a game played in complete halves with no breaks in between. While that may contribute to the high number of people actually tuning in, it doesn’t leave much room for conventional advertising.

This year, savvy marketers such as Nike, Adidas and McDonald’s have come up with a new way to grab viewers’ attention. Instead of traditional commercials, these companies are creating short films with very little product placement, generally not even revealing the name of the company until the very end. Some are funny. Some are inspiring. But they are all very entertaining.

“The Game Before the Game” is a short created for Beats by Dre. It shows the process of getting “game ready”— putting on your Beats headphones and tuning out the world. Viewers see a montage of people who are in need of some serious mental preparation, not only professional soccer players and a businessman but all kinds of celebrities:  Neymar Junior, Cesc Fabregas and Luis Suarez, sure, but also LeBron James, Serena Williams, Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne. By the time the ad is over, you feel as though you had watched a Hollywood film. I mean, who doesn’t love seeing their favorite celebrity?

Nike created an animated short that mimics the plot of “Space Jam,” which featured Michael Jordan helping some Looney Tunes characters win a basketball game against alien slavers. In Nike’s version,  All-Stars including Christiano Ronaldo, Wayne  Rooney and Neymar Junior are given new attire, faster shoes and some other advantages to beat the monsters on the soccer field. Although predictable, this ad appeals to both children and adults while also, of course, branding the well-known name of Nike.

Much like an actual movie, these short films leave you feeling refreshed. They are meant to be enjoyed and watched without feeling any pressure or urgency to acquire a new product.

These are ads you want to watch. And then watch again. And then share with everyone you know. That’s what makes a great advertisement, not something showcasing shiny products and phrases like “limited time offer.”

The most effective advertisements are the ones that amuse and uplift. If at the end of an advertisement I am laughing, smiling, or hitting the “share to Facebook” button, it’s done its job.

Change is the Only Constant

“Change is the only constant.”

You said it, Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus. Especially in this industry. Creative concepts and new business opportunities constantly shift with the wind, but we’d be remiss to assume outer currents of change aren’t reflected within agency shops as well.

A decade or two ago, it would be commonplace for an employee to stay with one company for 10-15 years. Today, the average worker stays 4.4 years. But even that is old news to advertising and PR companies, where 4.4 years at one firm is considered a lifetime by today’s standards. That’s what happens when Millennials flood the job market.

This dictum is reflected in strategic and creative projects as well. A social media campaign takes approximately 90 days to build momentum, typically lasting three months before the message has peaked and the audience needs something new. Is it because constant multitasking has become an audience norm? Or is it just the nature of our work?

The truth is, we live in a world of momentary exposure: 30-second spots, 140 characters. Fireworks alight for a moment in a sky full of stars.

What separates good firms from great firms is the ability to capture that moment, with the talent you have and the client at your door, and make something spectacular.

We cannot lament lost ventures and missed opportunities or hang our heads when change inevitably comes to collect. What we can do is take the passive concept and make it active. Seize the moment. Pursue the fleeting idea. Realize that change creates opportunity and challenges monotony.

Embracing change, ironically, supplies a consistent long-term strategy to keep an agency afloat.

Change is the only constant?

For a great firm, change is the only necessity.

Finding the Sweet Spot between Integration and Specialization

By Tom Hirons, President & CEO

Where do we find the balance between integration and specialization? Some view this as a continuum with integration at one extreme and specialization at the other.  Let me argue instead for viewing integration as a specialization.

Specialization implies expertise. And, in this industry, deep expertise is needed. Required core competencies extend beyond the categories of advertising and public relations to expertise by professional specialty as well as by industry category.

Yet, the specialization most in demand is the ability to integrate specialists and achieve results across industries.

Integration is becoming increasingly essential. When the term was first coined in the late 80s, it referred to the alignment of advertising, public relations and other communications disciplines. With the tsunami of digital, integration is critical.

Euphemisms abound. Jack of all trades, master of none has outlived its usefulness. Our most effective integrators are masters of at least one discipline AND masters of integration.

So the sweet spot is not found between the two extremes, it is earned through a core competency and a dedication to understanding, embracing and incorporating other core competencies in concert.

It is not a question of what you outsource and what you perform in house (though that may impact efficiency). It will never be a question of what you, alone, can do. Our most potent and highest performing professionals will always be those who bring real value to the table but also understand who else should be at the table and how and when to most effectively orchestrate true integration.

Like music, it is both art and science. And, like music, it is very sweet when you get it right.

Them's Fightin' Words

There’s a shaky truce among advertisers to resist sucker punching the competition. No matter if you’re looking to increase a client’s market share or demonstrate product superiority, the moment names are named, you enter a whole new arena. After all, the communicative risks are much higher when you’re the aggressor. Could you come off as a schoolyard bully? Will your message inform or will it belittle? Is it cheeky and playful, or rude and mean-spirited? Whatever your intent, the moment you “call out” a competitor by name, all eyes are on you. Cuz them’s fightin’ words.

Frankly, from outside the industry, it’s fun to cheer on faceless companies as they duke it out in public. This is America, buddy. The only thing we love more than entertainment is competition. A good old- fashioned scuffle might have been limited to intended audiences a decade or two ago, but now, the entire Internet takes notice. Lucky us!

Most recently, Taco Bell has been taking jabs at its competitive juggernaut, McDonald’s. To highlight a foray into the fast-food breakfast market, Taco Bell released a nationwide ad campaign showing people named Ronald McDonald enjoying the new Taco Bell breakfast. It isn’t a particularly biting ad, but Taco Bell was certainly wearing its intentions on its sleeves.

To retaliate, McDonald’s simply posted this picture on Twitter.



Have you ever had an encounter with a Chihuahua? They’re not typically the most timid pups. In fact, they’re known for a particularly yippy demeanor, and if you challenge them, they’ll bark and nip at your heals for hours.

That’s exactly how Taco Bell responded. Its next ad used the theme of “Old McDonald Had a Farm” to imply that McDonald’s breakfasts are behind the times. The exchange has now been dubbed “The Breakfast Wars” by online publications, and the Internet waits with bated breath for a McDonald’s retaliation.

As agency insiders, we cringe at the slightest possibility of a mishap when the gloves come off. Take Audi’s “Your Move, BMW” billboard. In launching its message of superiority, the folks at Audi were counting on limited billboard availability and a small, specific audience to minimize the risk of retaliation. Or so they thought. What they didn’t count on was the people at BMW taking notice.

They noticed.


When you make the first move in an attack ad, you leave yourself open to a riposte. In this case, Audi gave the clever agency behind BMW an opportunity to fire back twice as hard, making Audi look quite foolish in the process.

So how do you walk the fine line between launching an offense while fortifying a defense? That’s where the Joe Fraziers of advertising step in.

Remember Apple’s “I’m a Mac” campaign?

These advertisements brilliantly tight-roped that line by mixing polite positivity, cheerful music and comedy all around the basic differences between Macs and PCs. Apple didn’t pull its punches (until later), but it didn’t back down from its message either. How could Microsoft respond heavy-handedly to light-hearted comedy and deductive intelligence? It couldn’t. Not successfully, anyway.

The campaign ran its course, with each new TV spot guaranteed to elicit a new giggle and a “hmm” from the audience. And that’s what a successful attack ad should do. Even ad wars have casualties, so when the fightin’ words start flying, it’s important to respond with calculated messaging and a side of wit instead of sucker punching.

Unless you have one hell of an uppercut.


Hirons Snags Five Trophies at the Newly Dubbed American Advertising Awards

Hirons walked away from the 2014 American Advertising Awards, formerly the ADDY Awards, with a hefty load of hardware this year. Going up against twice as many entries as the previous year, the Indianapolis-based advertising agency was able to garner five awards  — two gold and three silver — in this year’s local competition.

The Alice in Wonderland-themed event at the Scottish Rite Cathedral — hosted by AAF-Indianapolis— was a magical celebration complete with theme characters, marvelous decorations and even sets in which party-goers could feel larger or smaller after drinking the “potion” before tumbling down the rabbit hole.

“Hirons always makes it our top priority to create the best work we possibly can for our clients,” said Tom Aschauer, executive creative director at Hirons. “To be able to come back to our clients with the distinction of having created award-winning results, especially against such stiff competition, just makes for an even better payoff.”

Hirons received awards in the following categories:


Eskenazi Health Donor Gala Invite

Creative Director: Pam Linsley

Copywriter: Tom Aschauer

Print Production Director: Jane Burch

Senior VP Account Director: Deana Haworth

Account Coordinator: Precious Little

Kammy’s Kause Poster

Designer/Art Director: Bob Ewing

Illustrator: Bryan Beaver



“My Two Pills” Testimonial for the Indiana Attorney General

Creative Director/Writer: Tom Aschauer

Associate Creative Director: Drew Hill

Producer: Meghan Hirons

Senior Account Manager: Courtney Edmonds

Account Manager: Tiffany Holbert

Hill 2nd Birthday Party Event Materials

Associate Creative Director: Drew Hill

Writer: Drew Hill

Father: Drew Hill

Mother: Whitney Hill

Children: Preston and California Hill

Hirons 35th Birthday Celebration Ad

Copywriter: Tom Aschauer

Art Director: Pam Linsley

White Knight: Tom Hirons

Dark Overlord: Jim Parham

Junior Art Director: Wonder

Really Junior Art Director: Winter

Inspiration: Drew and Bob’s new Hirons branding materials


About Hirons

Hirons Advertising and Public Relations, established in 1978 by Tom Hirons, is headquartered in Indianapolis and is ranked as both a top 100 advertising and top 100 PR firm in the U.S. Hirons is a digital leader in advertising, public relations, public affairs and media buying. Hirons’ clients include leading private, public and nonprofit sector organizations locally and nationally. Hirons is an employee-owned company.

About the AFF and American Advertising Awards

AAF-Indianapolis is a member association that comprises advertising and media professionals. Proceeds from the ADDY Awards help fund AAF–Indianapolis’ educational programs, public service projects and proactive government relations efforts.

The American Advertising Awards are a three-tier national competition, conducted annually by the AAF. The competition is the advertising industry’s largest and most representative competition for creative excellence.

He Said, She Said: Word-of-Mouth Marketing

By Deana Haworth, Senior Vice President, Director of Account Services

It’s no secret that the most trusted form of advertising is word-of-mouth. Consumers tend to trust friends and family over an advertisement because of course an advertisement says their product is best, that’s what it’s there to do. In fact, word-of-mouth accounts for 20 to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions (McKinsey Quarterly).

So how do we, as advertisers, make advertisements count while also providing word-of-mouth results? It today’s economy, it’s easy for business to hear that word-of-mouth sells and simply assume that advertising and public relations are an unnecessary expense, when in reality advertising and word-of-mouth can — and should — work hand-in-hand.

Creative Inspiration

By Tom Aschauer, Vice President, Executive Creative Director

They told me last January that I was going to have to write a blog post about “sources for creative inspiration — where do you go?” Said it was going to be due in November. It’s now the last week of October. I leave for vacation in one day, the blog has to be done before my return and I’m supposed to be at a shoot all day tomorrow, and I’m just sitting down to write this now.

So let’s begin with source number one for creative inspiration: deadlines.

Teens and Marketers Rejoice: Facebook’s Change of Heart

By Elizabeth Friedland, Senior Digital Account Strategist  

Facebook’s decision last week to allow minors to post publicly is doing more than making parents cringe, it’s making marketers rejoice — and entrepreneurial teens’ eyes widen with possibility.

The reasoning behind Facebook’s change of heart is obvious; the site has been losing the Internet popularity contest with teens as they flock to more open and arguably richer social networks such as Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter. What was once the exclusive playground of young adults is now being overrun with photos of babies and crock pot successes. Facebook seemed to have no choice but to throw open the doors to teens.