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Big Ideas and Creative Solutions

Kentucky advertising executives talk about what it takes to create a message that stands out

Advertising is all around us. Television, radio, print, digital and outdoor messages are everywhere. It’s estimated the average American adult is exposed to between 4,000 and 10,000 advertisements each day. With so many messages, it’s a challenge for companies to be seen and remembered.

Kentucky boasts a dynamic advertising scene, with award-winning agencies creating eye-catching campaigns and managing multimillion-dollar budgets for some of the most recognizable brands in the country. We asked some of the area’s top advertising executives just how they do it, what makes for an effective ad campaign, and where they see advertising going in the future.

What kind of market is Kentucky for advertising agencies?

Toni Clem, CEO, Scoppechio: Kentucky is home to multibillion-dollar companies like Humana, Baptist Health, Brown-Forman, GE Appliances and Fruit of the Loom. Companies like this help to create a robust business environment that generates opportunity for advertising agencies across the state. We love being based in Kentucky, as we’re able to provide an extraordinary value exchange when competing with agencies that might be based in more expensive cities like New York or Chicago.

Tim Lucas, President, The Power Agency: Kentucky—specifically Louisville and Lexington—has long been a strong and competitive playing field in the advertising market. There’s a lot of talent in all advertising disciplines found across the commonwealth and many top shops of all sizes are located in our state that help to cultivate and nurture that workforce. 

Rita Vest, President, Vest Advertising: Historically, Louisville has been a great city for advertising agencies. However, since the pandemic several businesses have closed and/or cut budgets, therefore making it tough on all of us, new and old. 

Stacey Wade, President/Founder, Nimbus Inc.: Kentucky is a tricky market for agencies. Like most markets, there’s a balance of agency vs. client and a continuous disruption of that balance, led by competition and opportunity. That being said, it’s extremely challenging to spin up an agency of scale in Kentucky. 

Fred Davis, CEO, PriceWeber: Kentucky businesses are becoming increasingly sophisticated about their marketing plans, but a consolidation of companies over the last 25 years means that there are fewer large Kentucky-based businesses than there once were. That creates a business environment that is both exciting and challenging. If Kentucky-based advertising, PR, and marketing firms want to continue to compete, they must work hard to stay at the forefront of creative strategy, marketing technology and customer service.

How advertising savvy are most of your clients? Do they come to you already knowing what they want or are they looking to you for creative solutions?

Dan Barbercheck, President/Executive Creative Director, Red7e: Red7e clients are all over the map with regard to their knowledge and experience with branding and advertising. But all come to us looking for game-changing creative solutions. It’s what we’re pretty good at. It’s what we’re known for. In fact, we have found that if a client prospect already knows the answers, has no major challenges, or can generate big ideas themselves … they choose a different sort of agency or handle much of their work in-house. 

Allison Pitman, Partner, Bandy Carroll Hellige Advertising + Public Relations: Our clients are advertising savvy. Typically, they come to us knowing what they want to accomplish in terms of marketing, but they turn to us to look at it objectively and deliver creative solutions and big ideas that motivate their audiences.

Fred Davis, CEO, PriceWeber: Some of our clients are among the world’s most sophisticated marketers and some walk in the door saying they don’t know anything about marketing, but what they all share is a thirst for efficient business solutions that improve sales or lead to greater profitability. Agencies are expected to be adept at business analysis, consumer research and insights that go way beyond “focus groups.”

Stacey Wade, President/Founder, Nimbus Inc.: Everyone … is a marketer. Most of our clients are pretty advanced and understand the functions of marketing and how to get the best out of their agency partners.

Toni Clem, CEO, Scoppechio: We’re fortunate to represent a group of very savvy clients. They come to us looking for innovative solutions with a good sense of what their brand values are, and we facilitate quality in creative output and thought leadership.

Is it becoming harder to create advertising that stands out?

Christy Hiler, President, Cornett: Absolutely. The increase in media consumption during the pandemic has been game-changing for marketers. The amount of time people are spending online accessing current events, and global news increased 215% in March 2020 from March 2019. The volume of content people are exposed to and consuming is increasing at incredible rates. The solution is a strong creative.

Jonathan Payne, Chief Marketing Officer/Director of Accounts, NerdBrand: With the rise of ad blockers, browser privacy settings, and consumers generally being flooded with advertising, reaching the ideal audience through standard digital ad platforms can be challenging. We’re seeing a lot of success with native advertising and user-generated content (UGC), especially in social media advertising. Blending in with the natural flow of the network or ad venue and being genuinely educational or entertaining is a key to standing out.

Todd Spencer, President/CEO, Doe-Anderson: The advertising industry is going through unprecedented change, which has brought about two significant challenges. The first is the extraordinary proliferation of media channels that can be utilized to get a brand’s message out to the right audiences. The second challenge is the speed with which you have to develop great ideas and produce content. The good news is there’s more opportunity to create breakthrough ideas that target specific audiences across a variety of channels.

Dan Barbercheck, President/Executive Creative Director, Red7e: Technology and other resources are actually making it easier to create advertising that stands out. An inspired and talented creative team can make great messages faster, cheaper and with more sophisticated elements than ever before. But the digital media market and the Google and Facebook protocols are making it much more difficult to get powerful messages delivered to mass audiences. Short message time lengths, small ad sizes, extremely busy environments, very narrow audience targeting, the imperatives to deliver “click bait,” rapid cycle optimization, the impatience of distracted digital device users … all this and more limit the opportunities to deliver lasting impressions and truly compelling ideas.   

How do you develop ads that make an impact and reach through the clutter?

Ingrid Hernández, President, INgrid Design: Staying true to the brand and leveraging it is very important to communicating what they stand for and what they want to tell their audiences about the company. We always develop clever headlines, push brand consistency, and make things relate to audiences to help trigger interest and make ads stand out. Simplicity is always key—less is more—when trying to achieve a strong visual for an ad.

Allison Pitman, Partner, Bandy Carroll Hellige Advertising + Public Relations: People make decisions based on emotion, then justify with logic. So, we work from three tenets: Have a deep understanding of the audience, find ways to engage them on their terms, and be authentic to the brand. If you do these things, you’re delivering what an audience is looking for and you’re outside the clutter.

Dan Barbercheck, President/Executive Creative Director, Red7e: There is no formula, and only a little process. Everyone has the same tools for making ads. Everyone has the same challenges in making ads. And yes, it does all start with doing your homework about the product, the customer prospect, and the client organization. Beyond that, what differentiates good ad making from mediocre or lousy ad-making is personal insight, talent and passion. As with any profession, the best are those who fully commit those things to every project. 

Todd Spencer, President, Doe-Anderson: The one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for brands to uncover and communicate their unique stories in ways that are interesting and connect with consumers. If you have a solid strategy and great ideas, you can leverage the strengths of the various media channels to your advantage and create advertising that breaks through the clutter.

Can you effectively market a product, service, or business without using digital advertising today? How important is digital advertising at your agency?

Stacey Wade, President/Founder, Nimbus Inc.: Digital advertising is extremely important for us, especially given the audience that we target and the data that we can gather to effectively communicate with the consumer. For example, of the 67 million Twitter users, 28% are African American and 40% of African Americans are on Twitter. Knowing that and understanding that we have to meet our consumers where they are, digital and social are hugely important to our campaigns.

Ingrid Hernández, President, INgrid Design: Digital advertising is nowadays an integral part of any external advertising campaign. We have designed social media campaigns for our key clients and this need is growing tremendously. It is very important to us since we realize it is the now and the future. We are definitely dedicating more resources to it and planning how to strengthen our capabilities and offerings to our clients.

Rita Vest, President, Vest Advertising: I don’t believe you can effectively market without digital, but depending on the audience, we may need to use traditional also. Digital media is an absolutely necessary tool.

Tim Lucas, President, The Power Agency: There are always multiple avenues to market a product or service, and certainly there are many examples of campaigns that focus on traditional media outlets (print, TV, outdoor, radio) to effectively reach their target audiences. But digital advertising has impacted every aspect of how advertising agencies recommend and produce our content. It is of major importance at The Power Agency as we require a high level of digital literacy from our employees so that we are able to find the best solution—traditional, digital or a mix of both.

Jonathan Payne, Chief Marketing Officer/Director of Accounts, NerdBrand: We’ve witnessed countless businesses struggle to make a digital transition over the past six months, because they neglected digital channels for so long. E-commerce is going to continue its uptrend and likely sustain much of the growth it gained during the pandemic. Customers expect to be able to shop online in some capacity, whether that’s researching products/services or actually purchasing online and having the item delivered. They’re hanging out on social platforms and reading news online. Adequately telling your brand’s story in digital environments is going to remain a critical component of business success.

Do you think advertising dollars will shrink or increase post-pandemic?

Toni Clem, CEO, Scoppechio: While you’ve seen some dollars shrink, you’ve seen some brands increase. Brands are impacted differently by COVID. We expect to see growth in some areas and a more cautionary approach with some.

Fred Davis, CEO, PriceWeber: Advertising spending is very sensitive to the overall economy, so it has taken a hit during the pandemic and the resultant economic decline. However, the pandemic has not repealed the necessity that businesses compete for market share. We saw a pickup in our clients’ spending in late August, and if PriceWeber’s limited sample tells us anything, the U.S. is in the midst of a strong recovery. We are very optimistic about the overall economy and our own business in 2021 and beyond.

Christy Hiler, President, Cornett: Before the pandemic, and most certainly after, brands were demanding that every advertising dollar go further. Marketers want and need agencies that can deliver big ideas and scale them based on quantifiable results. The businesses and brands that get creative will survive and thrive post-pandemic.

What major trends do you see on the horizon?

Allison Pitman, Partner, Bandy Carroll Hellige Advertising + Public Relations: I think you’re going to see increased emphasis placed on CRM (customer relationship management) as well as cause marketing or corporate social responsibility, because of the ability of these tactics to turn customers into loyalists or brand ambassadors.

Rita Vest, President, Vest Advertising: The role of chat and chat bots will grow because people are wanting more and more to chat before talking with a real person. Marketers are going to have to figure out how to approach new techniques in video marketing.

Todd Spencer, President/CEO, Doe-Anderson: We will see companies starting to dismantle the in-house agencies they’ve been building over the past decade and returning to external advertising agencies as they’re realizing this gives them better thinking and greater flexibility.

Data analytics, AI (artificial intelligence) and programmatic media buying will continue to enhance how agencies develop media plans, create content and measure effectiveness of campaigns. Digital and social media technology will continue to evolve at a rapid pace, with new players entering the space and some known names fading into the sunset. User-generated content and influencers will continue to play critical roles in how brands connect with consumers.

Ingrid Hernández, President, INgrid Design: More clever guerrilla marketing strategies and continuing use of influencers in social media to deliver impactful messages are continuing trends.

Jonathan Payne, Chief Marketing Officer/Director of Accounts, NerdBrand: As long as the pandemic is in the headlines, we’ll continue to see a significant transition to e-commerce and direct-to-consumer (DTC) models. We’re even seeing B2B (business to business) organizations that have maintained traditional outside sales operations for decades making a push to e-commerce. That’s partially due to the necessity of adding another revenue stream to compete effectively, but it’s also due to consumers expecting the option of purchasing online and having items delivered.

Tim Lucas, President, The Power Agency: With so much still unknown about how long our current reality will be in place, certainly events and transactions being driven online is where the innovations are trending. One aspect we are in the middle of with several of our clients is trade shows, and how the trade show concept will evolve as consumers are unable to gather or travel.  Virtual trade shows are in their infancy right now, with varying degrees of success—so all are watching very closely.

Christy Hiler, President, Cornett: No matter what industry you are in, your plans for 2020 have shifted. Turbulent times bring with them mass mood swings. The ability to move quickly with culture offers brands a great advantage. It is important, then, for brands and agencies to be agile in developing messaging that can be easily, quickly and inexpensively executed and scaled. 

When the marketplace is uncertain or unpredictable, the appetite for expensive production for messaging that in a matter of 24 hours may seem tone deaf or irrelevant is nonexistent. Brands need agencies that can quickly assess consumer mindsets, all available assets, and creatively chart the path forward. Having a partner with a process and structure for agility is essential moving forward.

Consumers are forcing brands to become more human, to listen to their bigger needs and become forces for good. They are putting their faith in and associating with brands that stand for something. They are purchasing and boycotting brands based on their values. Consumers are tracking brand actions and holding them accountable for the gap between the beliefs they have shared and the actions they are taking to live those beliefs. n

Kym Voorhees Raque is a correspondent for The Lane Report. She can be reached at [email protected]