According to a report by IMARC Group, the global ad market is expected to reach $770 billion by 2024.

With billions of social media users worldwide, spending on social media ads is expected to surpass $50 billion this year.

While there’s certainly a substantial portion of ad buys that are self-serve by business owners, most advertising today is still handled by marketing agencies.

And that’s where you come in.

We all know that working up ad campaigns for clients is extremely rewarding and lucrative and sometimes frustrating and stressful.

Welcome back to another episode of Agency Accelerated, where we explore ways to grow and scale your agency with some of the most trusted brands and experts in the industry.

We are live every other Wednesday for the rest of the year at 2:00 pm ET / 11:00 am PT on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Make sure to subscribe to the calendar on the Agorapulse website so you don’t miss any episodes.

This episode will give you Mad Men-level insight into the world of advertising.

Whether you’re running ad campaigns or building websites, as an agency, there’s nothing more important than understanding clients. They’re coming to you for help, but with them comes creative needs alongside time and budget constraints, so we’ve invited the perfect guest to help us navigate this challenge.

In a 1993 interview with Leaders magazine, our guest today told reporters that “a large staff is important if you’re moving furniture, but a smart and prolific staff is what does it. So it’s more important to have smart people who understand clients than to have the largest creative department in New York.”

Allen Kay is a legendary advertising executive and entrepreneur. He created a television ad for Xerox that aired during the 1976 Super Bowl, featuring a monk called Dominic, which we’ll show you and talk about in a moment.

Steph and Allen discuss marketing agency advertising campaigns

Allen is also known for his See Something Say Something advertising campaign for the New York MTA. Allen’s work includes ad campaigns for Coca-Cola, Exxon, and Nabisco, and Allen holds 22 Clio awards. Advertising Age named him one of 11 influential high-tech marketing professionals of the 20th century, and we’re thrilled to have him on Agency Accelerated.

In this episode, Allen will share his secrets on making outstanding advertising campaigns happen for his clients. He’ll also let us know what it takes to be a great creative director in the digital age, including how you can get your team excited about doing work that matters.

How did Allen begin working in the advertising space?

Allen Kay first started in advertising at three years old. His father was the comptroller at Grey Advertising in New York and brought Allen to work occasionally. Allen would watch his dad work and color or draw, exposing him to the marketing world.

Later, Allen graduated from the California Art Center for Advertising. He went on to work at the hottest agency of the time, Wellsridge Green, followed by Jack Tinker and Partners; McCann Erickson; and Needham, Harper & Steers.

At Jack Tinker, Allen worked on the infamous Rockefeller campaign, and later at Needham, Harper & Steers, he was a part of the original Xerox campaign. Together with his team, Allen helped create a campaign that made Xerox a household name.

'I had never heard of Xerox before. It was our job to make them famous. And that's what we did; that's what we did for every client we had. They had to be the stars of the show.' - Allen KayClick To Tweet

The Zerox campaign is a great advertising example for marketing agencies.

The Xerox campaign put Allen on the map. The idea for a monk needing to copy text down in bulk came to him at 4:00 am. He immediately called his partner, Lois Korey, to fill her in.

However, it wasn’t an easy sell. The head of Allen’s company was very religious and was reluctant to do the commercial. He finally agreed once Allen procured a letter of approval from Cardinal Cook; the Cardinal thought the commercial was unique and personalized the church, which they were trying to do.

Allen likes to let his work speak for itself. But, he didn’t back down at the initial hesitancy or give up his idea. He came to the client and said, “What would make you change your mind?”

In your agency, clients might not have the same vision as you do regarding how a campaign impacts other people. They may even have different filters or beliefs around it. To stand out from other agencies, remain dedicated to your ideas and offer solutions to your clients.

A big mistake agencies often make is giving clients what they want, but not necessarily what they need. It is up to you to exhibit your expertise and stand your ground when you know how great a campaign can be.

To make your client unforgettable, sometimes you have to break the norm and do a pattern interrupt. As an agency, it’s your job to build trust with your client and show them what they can do.

RELATED: 2021 State of Social Media Agencies Report

What did the See Something Say Something campaign do for the advertising industry?

The See Something Say Something campaign for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority is another example of how Allen changed the marketing industry.

It began the day after the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. Allen asked himself, “What can I do that will have a lasting effect?” He knew that many of his colleagues and others in the industry would start drafting nationalistic campaigns, but he envisioned something different.

First, he determined the problem.

People, particularly in New York, had grown complacent. Growing up, they were trained to look down instead of looking at people’s eyes. However, in places like Israel, people were more aware of their surroundings. If something looked suspicious, they would notify the authorities.

If Americans could be more aware of what’s happening around them, especially when something seems suspicious, they need to alert the authorities. In doing so, they could help avert the next disaster.

As Allen drafted ideas for the campaign, he asked himself, “What would I tell people to do? What is my advice?” He came up with ‘see something, say something.’ It was simple but effective and sounded good.

Allen created six ads within the campaign and brought his ideas to the ad council meeting that week. See Something Say Something was the lead ad; the other five ads had different headlines but the same See Something Say Something slogan at the bottom.

See Something Say Something advertising campaign

The ad council loved the campaign and planned to present it with the Justice Department at their upcoming meeting. However, the Justice Department didn’t think they needed the campaign.

Over the next nine months, Allen shared the concept with anyone he could think of, but no one was interested. Finally, he received a call from his client at the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. They had decided they needed a security campaign and thought See Something Say Something was perfect.

Allen agreed but had three provisions:

  1. No one could make any money on it, and anyone could use it for anti-terrorism campaigns
  2. It was a shared copyright
  3. Allen got approval before anything went out

Eight years later, the Department of Homeland Security finally adopted the campaign after a bomb was found in Times Square. After a vendor saw the bomb and called it in, he was interviewed and asked, “What would you tell New Yorkers?”

His response? “If you see something, say something.” From there, the campaign took on a life of its own.

'The See Something Say Something campaign was designed to save lives. It is considered the first viral campaign and has been used in over 1,000 institutions all over the globe. The campaign proves that advertising DOES work.'Click To Tweet

How has the advertising landscape changed and what makes a great creative director in the digital age?

As someone with an extensive background in advertising and marketing, Allen has a unique understanding of how the advertising landscape has changed over the years.

The basic principles of advertising haven’t changed at all. However, the landscape has changed in execution. Whether you’re in online or television advertising, your goal is to persuade people. The elements that go into persuading people haven’t changed because we as humans haven’t changed.

So much brand advertising today is mindless. If you change the name, the marketing could be about any brand. Or, the brand tries to be funny but fails. The problem here is the basic advertising principles were forgotten, ignored, or never taught.

As an agency, it’s your job to help other companies achieve success—not to show off or show how creative you are—but to show how smart you are.

Allen believes if people took a step back to understand the basic principles of advertising and then applied it to digital media, we would see a great awakening of creativity. In great periods of advertising, the campaigns had a reason.

To create a successful campaign, figure out the following:

  1. What are you trying to accomplish?
  2. What is the best way to accomplish it?
  3. What is the simplest way to accomplish it?
  4. What is the most effective way to accomplish it?
  5. What is the least expensive way to accomplish it?

Allen chooses to focus on humanity instead of technology in his advertising campaigns, which works for him. Determine what influences your work and what works best for you and your clients.

'Many people in the business are focused on where the message is and who it goes to. Instead, focus on what it is saying, how it influences people, and how it makes lives better.' - Allen KayClick To Tweet

Allen shares that in today’s digital age, a few elements make up a great creative director.

First, someone who understands advertising and what it’s about, and most importantly: the clients. Always start with your client, uncover the obvious, keep it simple, and follow-through.

Second, understand the business and the business’s communication style. Once you understand what a brand is about and how to tie everything together, then advertising works.

Advertising works when it gets people talking about the product. Especially when it doesn’t come off as an ad, but sells the product or service in a tasteful, intelligent way. Or in a way that communicates why the audience needs to make a purchase.

As an agency, your goal is to create an ad that people can watch, respect, and connect with. When they understand how it relates to them, that is how you can help your client sell their product or service.

Additionally, look at the intrinsic value of a product. Get feedback from your audience via social media comments, emails, testimonials, product-testing, and more. Do the research and determine:

  • What resonates with your audience? What doesn’t?
  • Is there additional information that confuses them?
  • How are real people using your client’s product in the real world?

Your next steps as a marketing agency

Advertising is built on instinct and intuition.

While features, specifications, and benefits are important, so is how the campaign makes someone feel. Always use your creativity to tap into human emotion and experiences when creating advertising campaigns.

The advertising industry is constantly changing, especially within the last two years. When there’s a shift in mindset or consumer behavior, you have to shift your messaging as well.

To learn more from Allen, tune into his LinkedIn where he has a series, Insight Advertising.

The series includes 75 stories with his past experiences in the advertising industry, including how ads and campaigns were developed, his thought process, funny stories, how the industry has changed, and more. In the future, he may turn these stories into a book called How to Think.

To see what Allen has been working on, you can visit his website, The Advertising Company.

Remember to subscribe to our calendar to get notified before each episode of Agency Accelerated, live every other Wednesday for the rest of 2021 at 2:00 pm ET / 11:00 am PT on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

If you’re looking for another way to increase and diversify your agency’s revenue streams, Agorapulse has a free webinar to help you do exactly that. Head over to to sign up for How To Add Agency Revenue By Adding Social Media Services. Get ready to learn and start driving more revenue from social media services.

Full Transcript

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[00:00:00] Stephanie Liu: Did you know, according to a report by IMR Group, the global ad market is expected to reach $770 billion by 2024. And with billions of social media users around the world spending on social media ads, it’s expected to surpass $50 billion this year. While there’s certainly a substantial portion of ad buys that are self-served by business owners, the majority of advertising today is still handled by marketing agencies. And friends, that’s where you come in. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. When I say that working up ad campaigns for clients is extremely rewarding, sometimes frustrating, lucrative, and maybe even stressful at times.

Hi friends. I’m so excited for today’s episode of Agency Accelerated because this is the show that’s going to give you Mad Men-level insight into the world of advertising. Want to know more? I thought so.

Welcome back to Agency Accelerated where we explore ways to grow and scale your agency with some of the most trusted brands and experts in the industry. I’m Stephanie Liu and we’re live every other Wednesday at 2:00 PM Eastern time, 11:00 AM Pacific time on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and LinkedIn. Make sure you head on over to and subscribe so you don’t miss any episodes. And stay until the very end, because you’ll get a chance to get your hands on an easy way to add more revenue to your marketing agency. So, hey everyone. If you’re just tuning in, let me know where you’re tuning in from. I’m here in cloudy San Diego. Oh goodness. Fall is just around the corner.

So let us know where you’re tuning in from. I’d love to hear where you are watching, whether it’s on desktop or even on mobile. So listen, friends. In a 1993 interview with Leaders magazine, our guests today, told reporters that a large staff is important if you’re moving furniture, but a smart and prolific staff is what does it. So it’s more important to have smart people who understand clients than to have the largest creative department in New York. Whether you’re running ad campaigns or building websites as an agency, there’s nothing more important than understanding clients. Listen, they’re coming to you for help, but with them comes creative needs alongside time and budget constraints.

So we’ve invited the perfect guest to help us navigate this challenge. Let’s go ahead and bring them on. Come on through.

[00:03:04] Allen Kay: Hi everybody.

[00:03:06] Stephanie Liu: How you feeling?

[00:03:08] Allen Kay: Fine. Feeling really well. We’re here in Savannah right now. Raining. The weather here feels really weird. It changes every five minutes. At one time it’s like raining and then the stop set us out 110 degrees, and then it rains again. Then it gets just playing cool. It’s really literally kinda crazy.

And when it’s snows, then you have all the seasons within one hour.

[00:03:39] Stephanie Liu: Oh, that’s interesting. Well, seasons is something that I don’t experience quite often in San Diego. When people ask me how San Diego, I say it’s sunny, it’s raining or it’s cloudy. That’s it? There’s usually not much that’s going on, but before we get started, everyone, I want to give you a quick background on who Alan Kay is.

If you don’t know, Allen Kay is a legendary advertising executive and entrepreneur. He created a television ad for Xerox that aired during the 1976 Super Bowl, featuring a monk called Dominic, which we’ll show you and talk about in just a moment. He’s also known for his, see something, say something advertising campaign for the New York MTA. Allen’s work includes ad campaigns for, you might’ve heard, Coca-Cola, Exxon and Nabisco and Allen holds 22 Cleo awards. Advertising Age named him one of the 11 influential high-tech marketing professionals of the 20th century. And we’re thrilled to have him here on Agency Accelerated. So Alan, what an amazing career.

[00:04:48] Allen Kay: Uh, yeah, I get bored easy.

[00:04:53] Stephanie Liu: It seems like the life of a creative, right?

I feel like sometimes when we’re working on ad campaigns, there’s this excitement, the buildup, the production of it, and then yes, there’s stress involved in it, but at the very end you’re like, okay, what’s next?

[00:05:08] Allen Kay: Yeah, exactly, exactly. Like they say, you’re only as good as the last campaign, which puts a lot of pressure on you.

So I said, okay, my next campaign has to be better than my last one.

[00:05:20] Stephanie Liu: That’s so true. As a content creator, as a live streamer, when I work on shows just like this too, I’m always thinking about, well, what’s the new set design going to look like? How are we going to differentiate the run of show? So, I love that you bring that up.

So, Allen, can you start off with sharing a little more about what you do and how you got into the advertising space?

[00:05:45] Allen Kay: I I started in advertising when I was three years old. My father was the controller gray and used to take me into work from time to time. And I would hang out in the bullpen or the art studio, and I would see them working and ever since I could hold the crayon or anything that would make a mark drew. I love that.

And the one thing that I remember most was looking over an artist’s shoulder when he was doing a cartoon of the Campbell’s kids on a rollercoaster. And all I could think about was I was on a rollercoaster and I threw up, so that kind of stuck in my mind. Since then, I stay away from roller coasters and still do artwork. I write anything creative, should have my name on it. And that’s how I got into the business. I grew up in it, went to school in California Art Center for Advertising, graduated on a Tuesday, flew back to New York on a Wednesday. Thursday, I was hired by my kid Erickson and I told them, I didn’t want to work here.

This is true at that time, Wellsridge Screen was the hot agency. And that’s what I had my sights set on. And the person who hired me, Laurel Cutler, who was quite a famous marketing person, she said, well, you’re going to work here, whether you like it or not. And she offered me, amazing amount of money for a kid, right out of school with a wife and a child.

Just coming back to New York and she said, look, here’s the deal. Bring your book in every day, go to Wellsridge Screen if you want, anywhere else. But in the meantime, you’re staying here. And as luck would have it, I couldn’t get it. I couldn’t get arrested at Wellsridge because we’ve got an important at all. So, we wound up staying there for be about two or three years. Then I got drafted with my partner. Loris Corey. Amazing woman. May she rest in peace. She passed away in 1990, very sad. Then, Interpublic drafted us and brought us over to an agency called Jack Tinker and Partners. Agency. Creative boutique. Did amazing, amazing work. The original Alka-Seltzer. There’s a whole lot of things that really broke new ground. Brilliant people. Actually, Lois, she started there. This is cute. Lois was a comedy writer. She started at 18. They took her out of school. Paid her also, like six figures as a basic. Very funny woman, a dry sense of humor, and quick as can be.

So she loved working. She worked with Woody Allen and Mel Brooks and all the famous comedy writers that kind of invented the business. And then television moved out to California. She’s was a New York lady. I didn’t want to move to California, but figured, I have to go where the work is.

So, she went and actually she and Woody Allen flew out together on the plane. His mother was there and she put a little thing on him. Hi, I’m Woody. So in case you got lost, people wouldn’t know who he was. And she worked there for a while and she definitely hated it. She did not like California at all.

So she’s decided to come back to New York and see what I can do there. She came back with her husband. Her husband worked he was a photography rep and she just likes stayed home. What, you know, what am I going to do? What am I going to do? He was looking at the paper one day and the classifieds, and there was a little ad that said.

Advertising copywriter wanted. No experience necessary.

Her husband said, Lois, this is for you. So, it was Jack Tinker Partners, as I said was hot as a pistol. She went over, they loved her, her work, which was comedy. She’s very smart. She knew how to advertise. Very good feel for people, very intuitive. And they made her a junior partner. So that started that. She moved to McCann.

I came to McCann. She adopted me and then we both wound up back at Tinker. They brought us in to do the Rockefeller campaign, but it was a campaign that they said he’d never win. I think they kind of threw some lions there. But sure enough, we got them in was fourth unprecedented win for him. From there we were hired by Needham Harper & Steers, an agency that I never had heard of on a client called Xerox that no one had ever heard of. In fact, people spelled Xerox with the Z and they thought it was sudden some kind of antifreeze and it was our job to make them famous.

And that’s what we did. That’s kind of what we did for every client we had. They had to be the stars of show.

[00:12:22] Stephanie Liu: Love it. That’s the perfect segue. Let’s talk about that famous Xerox campaign. Right? And in fact, let’s have Mike, our show producers show everyone that ad. So everyone that’s just tuning in, give us a minute.

[00:12:44] Allen Kay: Ever since people started recording information, there’s been a need to duplicate it.

Very nice work, brother Dominic. Very nice. I would like 500 more sets.

Dominic. How are you? Could you do a big job for me? The Xerox 9,200 Duplicating System. Unlike anything we’ve ever made, feeds and cycles originals has a computerized program or the controls, the entire system. Can duplicate, reduce and assemble a virtually limitless number of complete sets. And does it all at an incredible two pages per second.

Here are your sets, father. The 500 sets you asked for.

[00:13:44] Stephanie Liu: Wow, that was brilliant. Allen, please. Can you tell us, what’s the story behind that ad?

[00:13:52] Allen Kay: Okay. Kind of an interesting story. The idea hit me at four o’clock in the morning and I called up Lois, which I did all the time at crazy hours and she picked up the phone. Hello, Allen. I said, Lois, I had a great idea. I won’t talk about it in the morning and that’s how the monk was born. And it wasn’t an easy sell. A lot of people say, oh, you know, commercial is so smart and all they must’ve bought it immediately. Well, the head of the company was very religious and he thought he would be excommunicated if he were to do that commercial.

And I said, no. It’s human. It’s pleasant. There’s nothing wrong with it. He said, no, I’m sorry. I’m putting my foot down. That’s not going on the air. So I said, what would make you change your mind? He said the only thing that would get me to change my mind would be a letter from Cardinal Cook saying he liked the commercial.

Okay. Yeah, fine. Well, I always had friends in politics and everything, and I got a letter from Cardinal Cook and he said, he thought the commercial was amazing. He said it personalized the church, which is something that they were looking to do. It’s really about a miracle or religious miracle.

So I brought the letter to David Kearns, who was the chairman at the time. And he said, oh, okay, you did it. Go shoot it. And we did. And it kind of took on a life of its own. A lot of the work that I’ve done. I’m not a big promoter of myself. I like to promote the work, and the clients. Believe it or not, I’m kind of shy. A lot of the work that I do, people see and they talk about, and it’s not something that I fuel the fires like a lot of agency has do.

It’s just the way I am. I’d say.

[00:16:39] Stephanie Liu: Yeah, you want to let the work speak for itself? I do have to say that I love that you didn’t back down with the idea, the concept, and you really came to the client and you said, what would make you change your mind? Because it’s so often clients don’t have that same vision that we do as far as how a campaign can impact other people, or they have different filters and beliefs around it.

And for you to go out there and get exactly what he needed in order for him to change his mind, that’s dedication. And I feel like every agency person should do that versus just like, okay, we’ll scrap that idea. Let’s do what we can for the client. And that really made it successful.

[00:17:25] Allen Kay: Yeah, that, that brings up something that I talk about when people ask you to talk.

A big mistake agencies make is they give a client what they want, but not necessarily what they need. Sometimes, what they want is what they need. But sometimes it isn’t. And when cases like that come up, then it’s up to you. They’re coming to you for your extra cheese. And if you don’t exhibit your expertise, why are they there?

Exactly. It’s not always that easy because sometimes you have clients that just don’t get it. Then what do you do? Well, you just got to hope and pray and reason with them. I’ve always found if you give them good, common sense reasons. If you’re dealing with somebody bright, they’re going to get it.

If you’re not, they’ll never get it. Find yourself another client because they’ll drive you crazy and you’ll never have anything to show for it, so you kind of dig yourself into a hole and I would never let that happen. I can say in all my years in the business, I have never done anything bad.

Not everything was stellar, but there was nothing that you would have…

[00:19:04] Stephanie Liu: Yeah, I would definitely say that that is sage advice. In fact, it reminds me of that famous Henry Ford quote, where he says, you know, if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have just said faster horses.

Well, they think really when you’re working with a brand that is unknown, to really make them go unforgettable, and make them memorable. Sometimes you just have to break the norm and do a pattern interrupt and they that’s, as you said, that’s where they have to come to you for your expertise and trust you.

And having that agency, client trust, that rapport is always important because if the client always knew what they needed, then they would have done it themselves. Why would they bring us?

[00:19:51] Allen Kay: And a lot of them are doing that today. That’s why advertising is so shitty.

[00:19:57] Stephanie Liu: It’s like a faded copy of another faded copy of the messaging and the campaign.

I was just talking to a good friend about this. And I was like, literally, if you took this landing page, and you swapped out the logo. It would sound like any other conference out there. So what’s the difference that makes the difference? So always helpful to know. So Allen, another famous campaign that you were behind 20 years ago is the famous, if you see something, say something and I would love to know how that campaign came about, but also how you managed to hold onto that client for so long.

[00:20:40] Allen Kay: Okay. Good question. I get asked that a lot. The campaign came to be on 9/12, the day after the horrendous attack on the World Trade Center. And I was in my office feeling really bad, just like everybody else and frustrated and just want to do something. And the only thing we had that I know how to do really well is advertising.

So I said to myself, well, what can I do that could have a lasting effect? Because I knew a lot of my contemporaries were going to do very nationalistic kind of stuff. You know, we’re Americans, which is fine, but that’s going to make people feel good for the moment. I wanted to do something that had a left lasting effect.

So I thought about it and I said, well, what’s the problem? And the problem is people, particularly in New York are complacent where when we grow up with trade, never look at anybody’s eyes, look down, don’t look, what’s going around. Cause somebody might look back at you, and we grew up that way and now things had to change.

So I was thinking that in Israel it’s much different because of things that have gone on there and the people are aware of their surroundings and there are disasters, things that happen, but also disastrous things that don’t happen because people know, Hey, this looks a little suspicious. They tell the authorities, it’s taken care of.

So I said, if we could just get Americans to be aware of what’s around them, and if they see something that is kind of out of whack, they don’t keep it to themselves. They tell authorities, and if it is something bad, they can help to avert it. And if it isn’t something bad, okay, fine.

You take that chance. The fact that you could possibly avert a disaster is worth do something and there’s nothing. That’s the thing that you really hope for. So now I asked myself, what would I tell people to do? What would the advice be? And just very simply, if you see something, say something and that sounded good to me.

I took out, I have a charter that I’m never without, and it just wrote it down. I looked at it and I said, it looks good. It sounds good. We’re going to go, I’m going to go with that. That Thursday. There was a meeting at the ad council to discuss what the advertising industry could do in terms of creating some kind of campaign.

And there were a good say more than a dozen agency heads there. And everybody talked about what they would do. And I saved myself for last. I said, well, I kind of did something. And I showed them the campaign. I had six ads in it, at the time, the lead ad was if you see something, say something and then the ads that followed, that drop down to be the slogan at the bottom with a different headline each time.

And they thought that I nailed it. And the head of the ad council had a meeting set up with the Justice Department that next Thursday. And she said, I’m going to show that to them and present it. Now, it was interesting because I did it for it to be a gift from the advertising industry. I got no money for it.

I didn’t want any money for it. In fact, I insisted that I not be paid at some way, did it. I did it to save lives, not to save money. And, she showed it to them and she thought it would be like a slam dunk and they wanted nothing to do with it. That was what do we need that for? You know, this is silly.

You know, it was, we definitely, you know, forget it, they shut the door on it. And they said, well, also, what would happen if somebody called? That’s kind of the idea. So she walked away very disheartened. Told me about it. I wasn’t exactly happy about it either. And for the next nine months, I was like the ancient Mariner, everybody that I could, I would tell about the concept and we really should do it, and nobody really was interested at all.

The one thing that I got, the most positive thing, and I get that a lot for the cause related stuff that I do, they say, oh, this is great. Somebody should do this. They really should. Which means somebody other than me. And so I learned that pretty darn fast. And about nine months later, I got a call from my client at the MTA.

And she said that, the brass decided that they need a security campaign. And do I still have, if you see something say something. And I said, yeah, I do. Got no interest in it whatsoever. So she said, could we use it? And okay, there were a client at that time spending about $15 million a year. I’m not going to say no under any circumstances.

But I said yes, because I wanted to see it out there. And I said, there’s just a couple of provisions. I said, number one, no one makes any money on it at all. Anybody is free to use it for anti-terrorism stuff. But they can’t get paid. That’s not what it’s about. Number two are sharing the copyright and number three, I get approval before things go out.

Okay. If they said, okay, fine. That’s a deal. Ironically, the only thing that they stuck with was that I wouldn’t take any money. And then it was eight years later, the Department of Homeland Security woke up and they adopted the campaign. And it happened after the Times Square incident where they found a smoking bar. One of the vendors, a t-shirt vendor, and he reported it to a mounted police who called in the bomb squad. And sure enough, there was something that could have gone off and the fuse cotton was still smoldering and they saved it. And if it had gone off, this was a Saturday in Times Square, which was busy as could be. It would have taken out thousands of people.

And when the vendor was interviewed and there he was going into a car, the reporter said, what would you tell New Yorkers? And he looked at the camera and he said, if you see something, say something. That’s when the lid came off. Really. And I got calls from all media, all over the world, actually. The French set in a camera crew to interview me. Germany.

We did it on the phone for radio. I was on the radio in New York, for two and a half hours in fact, for an interview. I don’t think I could talk that much about anything, but the questions kept coming and coming and coming. And that was another thing that took on a life of its own. I never promoted it.

MTA never promoted it, and the first week it was out, somebody sent me a fax of a newspaper in Canada, excuse me, in Australia. And the accents are kind of similar every once in a while. Anyway, and it showed the Perth Train Station with a huge banner going all across like five tracks. And it said, if you see something, say something the way I designed it. Very simple, clean.

And I was amazed to see it. And a few days later, I got a call from someone in Australia, had an agency. He said, God, that was so amazing. And he said, how did you get them to put a credit on it for you? That’s so unusual. I said, I don’t know. I didn’t ask. But he said at the bottom and said creative core came partners.

So I said, gee, that’s nice. And from then it just got picked up and picked up and picked up. And now it’s, I’m terrible with numbers. I have to add two plus two. I get five if I’m lucky. But it’s way over a thousand places in the world. Institutions are using it. And like I said, it went there on some steam.

I have a very good friend. Who’s a consultant. He said, do you realize? So that is the first viral campaign and didn’t even have the internet working for it. So I said, I never really thought of it that way. All I care about it just saved lives. They still use it regularly. It’s still doing its job.

It said to me that advertising does work, which is a good thing, especially if you’re in the business.

[00:32:15] Stephanie Liu: Yeah. Well, that’s amazing. I never really heard the full story for then. It was probably one of the reasons why I love Agency Accelerated so much is that I could learn so much from our guests and the work that they’ve put out there.

That campaign in and of itself is just so impactful. And it was a shared value that everyone around the world can really hone in on. It resonates, it resonates so well. And I think I probably even said the same thing to my little one where I was like, you know, you’re going to school and if you see something, make sure you say something and yeah, it’s wow.

That’s, that’s a great legacy to have there.

[00:32:58] Allen Kay: I think an important lesson for agency people and clients, and that is the public is pretty smart that they penned, particularly clients tend to talk down to them all too smart for the room. Whenever anybody says that, I say that, get a smarter room.

What’s the best way that I could put it? Okay. The MTA was concerned with the idea. Of course, they were afraid it might have backlash. It might like make people scared and they would stop taking the subways and the buses and it would kind of backfire. So they did research. They had a number of groups and they showed the campaign.

And then, you know, we all held our breath. I kinda didn’t cross out a feeling. I was, it was going to come out and to a person, everybody said, this is a wonderful thing. In a million years, they would never think the MTA would do something like this. It is so smart because they can’t be everywhere. Police can’t be everywhere.

And they’re asking for our help to save us and our friends and our neighbors. You know that New York has 8 million people. They said that gives us like 16 million eyes looking out for things, which gives us a lot better chance of averting disasters. And they applauded it. It was great. As soon as the research was over, it was up in the subway.

So that was it.

[00:34:45] Stephanie Liu: Wow. That’s amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that. In fact, we have Anthony Sammu, who is tuning in right now, and he says as a former New Yorker and someone that worked search and rescue at ground zero, thank you.

[00:35:03] Allen Kay: Great.

[00:35:06] Stephanie Liu: Yeah. Daniel Kerry says what a great guest. So if you’re just tuning in, we’re talking about adding the digital advertising landscape and what’s changed for marketing agencies. But first, a quick reminder in bonus, this show is brought to you by Agorapulse, voted the number one social media management tool by customers on the planet’s top review sites.

And if you’re looking for an easy way to increase and diversify your agency’s revenue streams, Agorapulse has a free webinar to help you do exactly that. Head on over to to sign up, learn, and start driving more revenue from social media services. So Allen, let’s go back to advertising. Our audiences today, they particularly among marketing agencies, right?

They’re heavily focused on digital advertising platforms like Google and Facebook. And I’d love to know how someone with your extensive background views today’s advertising landscape. How have things changed?

[00:36:14] Allen Kay: They have changed in execution more than anything else. But another way that they’ve changed is an understanding the basic principles of advertising, which haven’t changed at all.

Whether you’re online or on TV, the things that go into persuading people have not changed because human beings have not changed. Whether they’re watching television or a computer screen, they’re still the same people. And you know, this is no secret, a lot of criticism about advertising that, you know, what happened, it’s stupid. I don’t remember the brand. It’s mindless. The things are funny. They try to be funny, but they’re not. You hear all of this stuff and that’s because somewhere along the line, the principals were either forgotten or ignored, or never taught. And every once in a while you see something in any medium that nails it, that people know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

I’ve seen stuff online, this embarrassing on TV, embarrassing. And then I’ve also occasionally see something where they knew what they were doing. They knew the industry. I mean, we’re here to help other companies be successful. That’s our job, not to show off, not to really show how creative we are, but to show how smart we are.

And I feel that if people got back to understand the just basic principles of advertising and apply it to digital media, you’re going to see a great awakening of creativity, smart creativity, bright, creative, effective creativity. I’ve been around long enough to see Benny mirrors of advertising. Sometimes we had likes, stellar periods and other times we hit the doldrums and when we had the great periods, it was because the advertising, had reason. They knew what they were doing.

They knew why they were, I’d say their reasons, the reason for being, and that was exhibited. And if we could somehow get that in and not be so hung up on the execution and trying to do another Star Wars, but saying, what do we have to accomplish? What is the best way to accomplish it? What’s the simplest way?

What’s the least expensive way? And what’s the most effective way? Then those are the things that I look at and what influences my work. The other thing that influences me is I believe in flesh and blood, more than bits and bytes. I think bits and bytes are great execution. Not I’m not against it at all.

But what I am for is for the advertising to have a sense of human, not a sense of technology. Technology scientists, okay. They’re into technology. Normal people are just into normal things, their children, their lives, their jobs, nothing to do with how things are done. But what things are done and what is telling them.

And I was helping them. And I say that use every medium available to you that will reach these people and put something in it. That will mean something to them. That’s what’s most important. Where it is, has to be correct. Otherwise you’re talking to the wrong people, but a lot of people in the business are just so focused on where it is and who it goes to.

And not what it’s saying. And that’s what I’ve made my career on. What is it saying? How is it influencing people and making their lives better. That’s caused a story of my life.

[00:41:02] Stephanie Liu: Yeah, that’s powerful. I love that because I feel like, as a social media agency owner myself. And I do see ads in my Facebook feeds and my stories and all these different things, they’ll get a chuckle and whatnot, but the ones where I’m like, I need this in my life, or I keep reflecting back onto it.

Or it’s something that it’s shareable in the sense that I’m like, Hey, I think this would help you, but it has meaning. And it leaves like this residue that you just can’t like, you don’t forget it. You’ll always remember it. And I’ll always be a part of you. And that’s something that you could really walk away with.

And so Allen, in your opinion, what do you think makes for a great creative director in the digital age?

[00:41:51] Allen Kay: Okay. Somebody that understands advertising, what it’s about; understands their customers or their clients. That’s number one. I have five kind of guidelines that I talk about. And whenever we hired somebody, I talked about this too. Really, really simple, and that is start with the customer, live with the client, uncover the obvious, keep it simple and follow through.

And if anyone were to look at the really successful, famous, basic advertising, you could trace those principles going through it. it A good creative director has to understand the business and the business’s communication. Once they do that, and they understand what a brand is about and how to tie everything into it, then advertising works.

Then it’s good. It’s smart. People don’t criticize it. In fact, they say, God, I saw a great commercial and you know, that car was fabulous. They talk about the product and not about the idea that the product materialized and morphed into 10,000 different cars. People are really not about interested in morphing.

And if one thinks that, oh, if I show these great techniques, it’s going to stop them. Based off of them, but it’s not going to touch them. It’s not relevant to them. Use your technique, come up with something that makes sense to people, that touches them. That gets inside. I call it penetrates the outside.

Cause everybody has armor against advertising. They don’t, um, no, all of a sudden they add it’s an added to that. I like Don Ads actually, if you see something that doesn’t come off like an ad, but sells the product and in a tasteful, intelligent way, to me, that’s the kind of advertising that I like to do and respect.

[00:44:20] Stephanie Liu: I love that. I’m very much into gear, especially camera gear. And I find that most ad campaigns around it are all about the tech and the specs and all the different things. And you already know this about me. I told you I have a six-year-old I’m like, I just need something where I could run and shoot and it’s stabilized.

That’s all that I need. When I see ad campaigns that make it easy for me to communicate, to persuade to my husband, we need this right. Then that makes it easier for me to share. And to me, I think that’s a powerful ad campaign too, where it’s a product or it’s a service, or it’s something that I know how to use it in my life.

Like it becomes a new habit for me. It’s a no brainer. It’s just like, oh, when I go out, this is the first thing that I grab. When we’re going to have a new family, adventure and whatnot.

[00:45:24] Allen Kay: That’s interesting. You should mention it, because that relates to B2B advertising, particularly the way I see it. Um, a lot of people say, oh, it’s just a trade ad.

You know, it’s nothing it’s not important. And I tell my clients that the trade is only consumers that are paid to buy your product. That’s the only difference. Okay. So you have to make it worthwhile for them to pay for it. Cause that’s their job. They got to buy the best stuff. And when they hear that, it changes everything.

All of a sudden yet the advertising is B2C, even though it’s selling B2B. We always, my partner, Lois Corey and I, we always said, we talked to the person in the business person. Okay. And that’s where you’re gonna get stuff that people respect, they’ll watch. And if it relates to them and helps their lines, that’s going to help your client.

[00:46:41] Stephanie Liu: Yeah. I feel like it’s going back to the core human principles of we’re all just trying to do the best that we can. And if there’s a, a product or a service that’s really going to help me fulfill that, then give it to me right now, you know? And that’s what makes sense.

[00:46:58] Allen Kay: Just that you brought me in into another thing and that’s the intrinsic value.

When we’re talking about to prospects, are we interested in taking their account? We look at the intrinsic value. Is it something that is real inside the product? I’ve always said, if you have to have a million dollar sweepstakes to sell your product, you don’t have a very good product. Concentrate on the product and not just put that million dollars into product development and make it something that people really want.

And you don’t have to bribe them to buy it.

[00:47:45] Stephanie Liu: I think that’s brilliant because one of the things as a content creator, or even just as an advertiser is the importance of looking at comments and getting feedback from your audience, whether on social media or, they’re writing emails and such.

And I was reminded of one of my favorite features specifically about Agorapulse is it’s actually the ability to monitor comments and engagement on Facebook ads. It’s actually one of the few tools out there that offers that feature. And I think as an ad agency, it’s such a critical component to running successful advertising campaigns today.

Because to your point, you want to see, like, does this message resonate? Does it not? Or are there additional information in this ad that are making people confused? And so when you’re able to pull that into Agorapulse, it makes it so much easier. And so, the other thing that I’m thinking of is that agencies and creative directors who really want to shine will want to make sure that they’re on top of any type of audience engagement with their clients’ advertisements.

And that’s really one reliable way. You had talked about earlier for the, if you see something, say something campaign and there was a research group, where they had questions, and you would get feedback. Are there other ways that you’re getting feedback on campaigns that you’re doing for clients?

[00:49:23] Allen Kay: Yeah.

What I really look for is how it works in real life. I’m not big on black box testing. What I like to do is go into a mini market or micro market, and do your testing there, see how the product works, see what people say about it. And also, you make money while you’re tested, as opposed to just put it in a black box and you don’t make a dime.

And you may not find out things that are as real as putting it out in a real situation. I mean, I believe in research more than testing because if testing were absolutely right, nobody would have a failure. PNG would never have a failure. There would never be a flop movie because the only thing that gets out to the public is the stuff that breaks the bank in the test.

But then when it gets out in the real world, what did we do wrong? I think a lot is, I mean people really play down instinct and intuition. That’s what advertising is built on. And if a person along with everything else doesn’t feel it, they probably should be an accountant and not a creative person.

[00:50:58] Stephanie Liu: Yeah. That’s a really great advice. I was just at a conference recently. And they talk the importance about storytelling and how more often than not, people that are creating content. We’ll talk about the features and the specs and the benefits, but not necessarily how it made them feel. And I think a lot of times when we’re investing our money, our hard earned money and our dollars into things, it’s also very helpful to celebrate how it makes you feel.

Knowing that, like I made a smart move, I created these new family memories and tying in that emotion is always important. If you have someone on your team, that’s always just data, data, data, data, without really tapping into the instincts and all of that. That’s a huge part to miss out on.

[00:51:49] Allen Kay: Yeah. I call that advertising by the numbers and it’s like doing a painting by the numbers. You’re not going to do anything different or special. And it’s all pre-programmed. Numbers can’t tell you what to do. It could give you information, it could stimulate, but it’s a person’s brain that has the idea. A computer never had their heart broken by their first date.

A computer never gave birth to a child. And so you grow up, there are human experiences that I draw from, and I think all really good creative people draw from that have nothing to do with scales or numbers or whatever. If you look at a lot of great campaigns, you would say, okay, that came from a person didn’t come from a computer.

Computers are good for certain things, but not to rely on not to make your decisions for you because at all decisions would be to say, one example I give is if you have a problem and you feed it to a thousand computers, the computers are going to have the same answer. But if you give it to people, people are going to have different answers and somebody is going to come with something brilliant, or even more than one person because they have it.

What they are fed is life experiences. What computers are fed are numbers. Let me just say one thing, because I don’t want to think that there’s only one way to do it. The benefit of computers with any kind of research is the interpretation of it. The interpreters of whatever they learned. They’re the brilliant ones.

And the interpretation could be different with every person that’s interpreting it. And then you got to decide that the people you hire, are they good interpreters? Have they nailed it in the past? Do they know what to look for and why to look for it? Some do, some are brilliant. And then others just look at a spreadsheet and say, well, that’s what the computer said to do.

And, you know, that’s it, that’s what you’re paying for and go do it. And they do it and it disappears. Invisible advertising.

[00:54:54] Stephanie Liu: I love that you bring that up because even with everything that’s happened within the last year and a half or so, right? There are different formulas, different strategies, different templates that advertising agencies have leaned on for so long.

And I think keeping in mind that there, when there’s a shift in mindset, when there’s a shift in consumer behavior, you have to shift your messaging as well. Otherwise it just comes off as tone deaf. You could have all the data for things that have happened in the past, but we’re here now. Even when we talk about artificial intelligence and whatnot, and the data that they scraped from the internet, it only goes to the internet to like a certain date and time.

It doesn’t factor in what’s happened within the last, you know, 12 months or so. So being able to shift accordingly is definitely going to be important.

[00:55:56] Allen Kay: I think something that relates to that, that there’s always been a pet peeve of mine. And that’s a process. Process rather than product, makes no sense to me.

When we first went into business, process was kind of having its hay day. Every agency had their own brand development process, seven steps to guarantee your brand is going to be successful. There were the same exact seven steps for everybody, but people call them something different, right? They gave it a different name to give it a different spirit.

Okay. We did not believe in that. Process is like processed food is always going to go in one way and come out the same way every single time. So what we said, and we did best when people would interview seven agencies that we were last, and we said that, look, you’ve seen a lot of companies and good companies and they all have some kind of process.

And we have a process, too, that we call it the thought process that we apply it to everything we do. We got applause.

It’s not boasting. It’s just real the way people are not the way business talks to them or thinks they are, that people are a hell of a lot smarter. If you give them smart opinions and the process doesn’t do that, it’s just like fancy footwork, but doesn’t throw the right punches.

[00:57:39] Stephanie Liu: Love it. Good. So to all of our viewers, Agency Accelerated, you know what we’re going to cover next is absolutely going to tie in everything that we just discussed together and make it super simple for you to get started. By Allen, let me tell you the comments have been blowing up. Daniel Kerry, for instance, he’s saying, he’s asking Allen, is there any particular author or ad man slash woman that influenced you in your approach?

Also, do you have a book? Because he would love to hear more of you and the work that you’ve done.

[00:58:16] Allen Kay: Okay. Bill Bernbach was the person that made good advertising what it is today. Because it came from people, not computers, not research. Volkswagen, it’s ugly. That wouldn’t come out from research. Research would have said, oh, that’s terrible.

You can say, product is ugly. I came from insight and intuition. So I would say Bill Bernbach for me is the king of advertising. He made it why I went into the business and why people I respect went into the business. They will say the same thing. He lit the fire.

That’s number one. As far as the book, people for many years that said, I should write a book, I should write a book. I thought who the heck would read it? I said for if anyone that is interested on LinkedIn, I do a series from time to time called Insight Advertising and there are little vignettes of things that really happened to me.

They deal mostly with how an ad is developed or how a campaign is developed. My thought process. And a lot of stories are pretty funny because they’re true. Many of them just have to do with the business in general and how it’s changed and my own personal experiences that are just really ironic.

I have 75 stories in it. I have another 25 ready to go, and if I ever find the time to do it, it’s called How to Think. That’s the name of the book. I do for friends and I guess people I want to impress, I guess, I will send a copy of it. It has not been proofread. I’m a king, the king of typos.

I got in the Guinness Book of Record for the most typos in one single sentence. If anybody would be interested in the book before it goes on sale, which would probably never will, I’d be more than happy to share it, if they like.

[01:00:54] Stephanie Liu: Yes, please. I think we’ll go ahead and add those into the show notes as well.

I think when you’re a part of the ad agency world, there’s always that saying of leaders are readers. And so whatever resources you have to share, I of course, would love to have that. I think Daniel Carries, Steven, and everyone that’s tuning in, you know, they’re all saying what an amazing guest, Allen. So much to learn. So much thought leadership here and such beautiful insight into how advertising has evolved over time and things to still stay true to.

Right. And so having said that, Allen, we’ve been talking since the offset of the show about these amazing advertising campaigns that you’ve accomplished. And I know so often you must have dealt with tight deadlines and limited budgets. What’s your secret? How do you succeed in the face of such adversity?

[01:01:55] Allen Kay: Okay. Every business has adversity. Every job has pressure and advertising is no different. And, you know, like some people would say, oh, you know, it’s so competitive. Give me a business. It is not competitive. Okay. And I’ll show you a business that’s out of business. So what you do is you deal with it every day.

I’ve never missed a deadline because I get things done first. I’m not a procrastinator. Some people get something and then wait until the last minute to do it. I do it the first minute and I make sure it’s right. So I’m ready to do the next job. There was a young man that worked for us that was the keg of procrastination.

His desk had things piled up like this and he was always late, always late. Oh yeah. I’m going to get to that. I’m going to get to that. He procrastinated procrastination. Okay. So, I figured bright boy, and I thought there’s gotta be some way to solve it. So I said to him, okay, look, put this in your mind.

Make-believe that your desk is nothing but hot coals and everything you put on it will immediately burst into flames and you’ll never have it again. And you won’t be able to do what you’re supposed to do. Okay. Just think about that. Within two weeks, his desk was clean and he was getting work out. Okay.

Just to put that mental picture in his mind that a desk is not a place for storage. It’s the place just opposite. Put things in your brain and get it out.

[01:03:53] Stephanie Liu: That’s smart. That’s smart. I feel like sometimes people just need a shift in perception. I think even as a content creator, when I first started, cause I’m still doing ads and you know, the social media work for clients, I would have my desk and I would do that.

And then eventually live streaming or being an MC and a host. I would have to be on camera. And at that point I had to separate the two. I was like, this is my work machine. This is my entertainment machine. And whatever’s on this Mac and one mini is only for the show and whatever’s here is only for work.

So I try not to mix the two because there’s an intention. Yeah.

[01:04:40] Allen Kay: Well, you’re doing a good job so I can say.

[01:04:44] Stephanie Liu: Well, thank you and Allen, I mean, honestly, it has been such a pleasure to talk with you and hear your stories and get your perspective on the advertising in agency life. If we were to direct our loyal listeners and our viewers, can you tell folks where to find you? Where’s the best place

[01:05:06] Allen Kay: Find me?

[01:05:09] Stephanie Liu: Find you. Learn more?

You talked about LinkedIn and the vignettes.

[01:05:13] Allen Kay: Yeah. There’s a lot of LinkedIn. There was a hell of a lot more, but my LinkedIn page was hacked a couple of yeras ago. Yeah. Yeah. And I had tons of stories in there that just went up in smoke. But they’re still submitted and the book has called them together. I think it’s a joy, it makes people laugh. I like to make people laugh for the right reasons, not to be silly or funny. Just ironic things that happen in life that are essentially amusing.

If anybody would like to send me a note or anything like that, it’s And if anyone would like to see the work that I’ve done in the past and I’m doing now, it’s under the company that I have since I went independent about six years ago. and I think there’s a lot to learn with a spoonful of sugar that helps the lesson go down.

[01:06:52] Stephanie Liu: I love it. All wonderful resources and everything. That’s all that we have today, folks, but don’t worry. You know, we still have a fantastic series of shows coming up. In fact, in our next episode, we’ll be talking to the incredible entrepreneur and evangelist Guy Kawasaki followed by Jairek Robbins, Lee Goff, and more.

So please, remember to subscribe to the calendar at If you want to be sure to catch our live episodes, if you enjoy podcasts listening, we’re excited to share that Agency Accelerated is also available on all podcast channels, including Apple podcasts, Spotify and Amazon.

Please subscribe, leave a review, let us know what you think. And not only that though, remember to take advantage of our free webinar on how to add agency revenue by adding social media services at And I don’t want to leave this just yet. I really have to say. Alan, Paula, Aaron Rose had said, Allen is an amazing human being so I want you to remember that.

All right, everyone, I’ll see you and your agency accelerating into the next show. Thank you so much.

[01:08:09] Allen Kay: Thank you.


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