Author Archives: Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith

One of the best account planners in the business, Kevin is an Ad Guy who brings experience, passion and insight to every initiative. He first joined the firm in 1994, spent five years on Madison Avenue, then returned to Riggs Partners in 2004.

The Fast Route to Instant Recognition

What if you could instantly tell if a business is enlightened?

Organizations that recognize the importance of corporate social responsibility are part of what I’m now calling the Enlightened Economy. These companies have emerged from the Great Recession with a more considered perspective on how their business impacts the world.

We all know national brands who make social responsibility central to their messaging; among them Subaru, Newman’s Own and Kashi. Yet many local businesses and national corporations’ efforts are invisible. What lost opportunity.

The National Recovery Administration, fighting unemployment and deflation during the Great Depression, asked employers to shorten hours and raise wages. Participating businesses, from JC Penny to Gillette to the local hardware store, put the blue eagle in shop windows and on factory doors. Americans were asked to boycott businesses that did not participate.

While the blue eagle only lasted a few years, what a powerful example it sets. What if we could tell who was doing their part, who had grown wiser from the days of corporate avarice? The right logo could make it happen. 

For more detail about the NRA, listen to NPR’s “Planet Money.”

Own Your Contradictions: How to make the most of confusion around the work you do

Brand strategy is nothing more than the truth. Like great strategy, the truth is simple. That doesn’t mean it is easy.

What makes the truth difficult is the uncomfortable debate, the idiosyncratic exception or the inherent contradiction. And therein lies the opportunity.

Rick Ridgeway, VP of Environmental Affairs at Patagonia, recently penned an essay, “The Elephant in the Room.” Ridgeway acknowledges that while Patagonia has enjoyed growth, continued growth is ecologically unsustainable. He admits Patagonia’s “uneasy relationship with growth,” and continues a dialogue began on Black Friday of 2011 with Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ad in the New York Times, something I blogged about in 2011.

Likewise, there is discussion at Riggs Partners regarding our own growth and profit relative to our emphasis on pro bono, love of nonprofit work and embrace of the cause du jour. Let the “what abouts” continue, as business is nothing but the commerce of constant course correction.

Business complexities shouldn’t cause confusion; they should prompt candor and clarity through conversation.

On Tattoos

Nadia Bolz-Weber is a fantastic contradiction. She is a tattooed, Lutheran pastor of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver. Her journey is a fascinating one, from addict and comedian to a renowned personification of a new type of church.

In a recent interview with Krista Tippett, she remarked on how tattoos, in her day a standout symbol of rebellion, are now worn by soccer moms. “I think we are used to personalizing everything. This is a generation that grew up with choose your own adventure stories. They got to choose how a book ended, they got to personalize their homepage, they personalize their Facebook page, they personalize everything. So I think it’s the personalization of the body.”

This type of personalization and individual expression began in the 1980s, with Swatch as an early example. Since then, personalized products and individual attention have grown to be today’s price of entry for affinity and loyalty. Yet still, companies and brands, particularly nonprofits, have a seemingly genetic tendency to focus inward. As we approach fourth quarter and year-end giving strategies, let’s commit to focusing externally and meeting the needs of our audience.

City Year: 20 years of volunteerism in Columbia

Photo from recruiting brochure completed during 2003’s CreateAThon. Photo credit: George Fulton.

I so enjoyed Dr. Walter Edgar’s recent interview with SC native Mary-Louise Ramsdale. While attending law school in Boston, Ramsdale attended Serve-a-thon by City Year, a new domestic Peace Corps that began in 1992. Inspired, she proposed that Columbia be the second city to host the new program. City Year Columbia celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. As a whole, City Year has grown to include 24 US cities as well as programs in London and Johannesburg.

Through City Year, young people volunteer a year of service upon graduating high school or college. They work in classrooms to assist teachers in bringing students at risk of dropping out up to grade level. What a meaningful step to take before beginning college or career.

In that spirit, we congratulate City Year and its volunteers past and present. We are proud to have served City Year in its tenth year through CreateAThon, and pleased to have former City Year volunteer, Jenni Brennison, among our ranks.

We recommend being disliked.

About a year ago, several of us here at RP took an extensive personality test. One of the key metrics was “need for approval.” I pretty much maxed out the scale on this one. Since then, I’ve come to see how dangerous this trait can be. Like people, businesses want to be liked. As a result, they don’t want to alienate anyone. Focus, and you might close the door on a potential revenue stream. Announce something new, risk implying that things weren’t so great before. Not everyone likes your organization.The world is polarized. I don’t see this changing. It’s a lousy environment for political compromise, but it can be heaven for business. Controversy can lead to affinity, loyalty and passion.

Take this email from Patagonia. Pick your controversy: oil exploration, drilling, transport, gas prices, unemployment or environmental protection.

Patagonia has taken a stand on an issue. They risk offending a great many people. They risk losing customers whose livelihoods come from the oil business. No one at Trans Canada will be buying Patagonia. Yet again, Patagonia stands for something in keeping with their values. They’ll increase the loyalty among their core customers. Those customers will pay a premium for their products. They’ll be more authentic than their competition. It’s not fearless, it’s focused, and worth a try.