Thursday, December 24, 2009

One little, two little, three little India posts

[Editorial note: Black Sheep Leader of the Flock, Aimee Woodall, took a two-week trip to India in search of business inspiration and personal affirmation. Over the next few weeks she’ll explore her discoveries on Shear Creativity. Enjoy!]

I embarked on this trip with nothing but my die hard, love-and-live-what-I-do attitude and the determination that the next two weeks would be a completely profound experience. My 15-hour flight provided ample opportunity for me to contemplate the possibilities and make plans to seize every ounce of value from this exploration, but nothing could prepare for what would come. This account of my experience is a compilation of a complete absorption of a place I could have only imagined in my dreams – every observation – every sight, sound and smell (okay, I grew tired of the smells pretty quickly) is here, and I hope you gain as much insight as I did. Besides having one of the most incredible trips of my life, here’s what I learned:

My experience: It's the little things that count.
Business translation: Small, sweet gestures can make a big impact.

I knew going into this I would witness the kind of poverty I’d only seen in National Geographic magazines and documentaries. Yet, what I found was so much more than I expected. Street corners were filled with beautiful wide-brown-eyed children begging for food, and even as I acquiesced with rupees here and there, I knew I couldn’t rescue them all… or even one of them. BUT, what I could do was make them happy. So, instead of giving them money that they then passed along to someone else, I bought a bag of caramels and gave them pieces of CANDY instead. And you know what? I’ve never seen a happier child! I can’t imagine a more rewarding experience than bringing a moment of joy to a little kid who has seen so few times of pure exhileration in his life. I’ll never look at candy the same way.

LESSON: Give them cake. Or candy or maybe just a phone call or note in the mail to let them know how you care. I’m talking about clients. While we may get paid for our big ideas and grandiose presentations, it’s showing that we are aware of their feelings and share in their triumphs and letdowns that solidifies a relationship. Sometimes it’s just the little things.

My expereience: I’m not hungry, but I’ll eat.
Business translation: They don’t need it, but if it’s good, they’ll buy it anyway.

When I left for India I thought I was in trouble. I’d had Indian food in Houston a couple of times, but never really enjoyed it. And I love nothing more than food and eating. So how was I going to get along for two weeks? Would I enjoy the food – or have a constant rumble in my belly? Ohhh, quite the contrary. While some may have worshiped at the temple, I was worshiping the food. Even sitting here writing this blog I’m craving it and wondering if there’s anything on this side of the Pacific Ocean that will remotely compare to the things I devoured in the east. Parathas. Samosas. Biryani. Dal… I could go on and on. I ate (I guess this is not entirely unusual for me, but still) even when I wasn’t hungry. Just because the food was SO. DAMN. GOOD. My fellow travelers learned not to bother asking, “Are you hungry?” because the answer, I assure you, was always, “I could eat!” And I did. I’m pretty sure I should have been charged extra for the weight I carried home on the plane.

LESSON: The point is that a good product or service can become addictive. Maybe you don’t even NEED it, but it’s so freaking good you can’t pass it up. And that’s the goal of any good marketing campaign. Make them believe they need what you have to offer through expertly phrased copy and carefully executed public relations tactics and advertising, and your audience is sold. Conversely, it’s often a struggle to convince potential clients that marketing is necessary… many times they think they can handle it themselves or want to have total control, but in reality, it’s best let the professionals do their job. You’ll see.

My experience: I can now sing three songs in Hindi.
Business translation: Repetition creates memories.

There’s very little American television in India, which was probably for the best. I didn’t spend much time with the tube on. But, when I did… just for the sake of noise and “entertainment” while getting ready to leave the hotel, or while attempting to sleep off the jet lag… I noticed something. Indian producers (at least on the channels I was watching) run the same content over and over. And over. Whether this is their choice or the Bollywood folks’ footing the bill, I’m not sure. Probably the latter, but regardless… There are three Bollywood flicks playing (or soon debuting): 3 Idiots, Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year and Pyaar Impossible. And I know each of the trailers and music videos by heart – because I saw them probably close to 350 times during my two-week stint. I don’t speak a lick of Hindi (well, maybe six words), but I can sing you three songs and a recite a few catchy movie trailers start to finish. And, with my Texas accent, it was quite humorous for the locals. What can I say? I was meant for the stage.

LESSON: The obvious take-away is that there’s something to be said for repetition. I mean, I have no intention of seeing those movies, but I sure as hell can tell you about them. And, like it or not, that’s good advertising. Keeping it catchy… maybe even annoying and, if you’re lucky, funny… so much so that it sticks in their heads and won’t let go. That is the key to any great campaign. Go for it! Find something latches on to your customers, and repeat!

Next week I’ll continue with more of my India life lessons, but for now, enjoy the holidays and consider what I learned on my trip. Another lesson to keep in mind: hand sanitizer. Until next week, over and out.

Friday, December 18, 2009

It's the most wonderful commercial time of the year

Trees. Decorations. Food. Families. Traditions. Carolers. Peace. Of course these are all important parts of the holiday season. But, amidst all the hustle and bustle, we can’t lose sight of what’s most important.


And really, we wouldn’t have presents without something even greater than all of that.

Commercials.  How would we know what to buy?

Holiday advertisements are like the marketing play-offs leading up to the Super Bowl of television commercial airing, which is, of course, the Super Bowl. It’s the time for all retailers far and wide to spread their message, show their potential customers how their products will add meaning and romance to their holiday and remind us all how important it is to make lots of purchases.

This year is no exception. In fact, we’re pretty impressed with quite a few campaigns going on right now.

GAP – Gap has always had a knack for seasonal promotion, and their ads really haven’t changed much over the years. What was once flat-front khakis is now plaid button-downs, but they’re basically still the same people dancing around an empty room. Only what’s great about this year is the ‘Holiday Cheer’ theme they have going featuring actual holiday cheers. You know, as in CHEERleaders. It’s clever! They even have a cheer factory and few viral videos which are pretty great. Maybe we’re a sucker for rhymes, or maybe we just like organized dances and those adorable little girls with boots. Whatever it is, it’s a great way to sell holiday spirit without the sap.

TARGET – It’s hard to put our fingers on what makes these ads so fantastic. It’s just dry humor and awkwardness at its best. No cheese. No predictable storylines. And yet somehow they get their point (save on  gifts at Target without sacrificing quality) without sounding pushy, saccharin or irritating. This is truly a modern, funny campaign.

LEXUS – Normally we hate car commercials. They tend to be over-glorified, unrealistic and pointless. But the December to Remember campaign is pretty good. It’s sentimental without being TOO mushy, and the videography is interesting. It’s just a nice holiday commercial that speaks to the brands class and elegance.

BURGER KING – This one is phenomenal. Recognizing that no matter how great their food is, nobody wants a cheeseburger as a gift, they are suggesting you give them to the people you care about LEAST. There’s nothing we appreciate more than a company that doesn’t take themselves too seriously, and this takes it to a whole new level. Loves it.

And then, there are the losers.

Jewelry commercials – It’s been said before, but these are the worst. Kay…  Zales… whoever else is out there that makes diamond-studded heart-shaped necklaces. Stop. Your products are dated and so are your commercials. You’re going on the naughty list until further notice.

Do you agree with our holiday commercial assessment? Do you have any other favorites or naughty list contenders? Let us know!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

5 things Black Sheep did this year that we’ll probably do again next year

Everyone knows about New Year’s resolutions. Gross. Talk about totally disappointing yourself. We are NOT going to do it. Instead, we’re focusing on the wonderful things we’ve done, and we’re vowing to keep on doing them. It’s not that we’re perfect, but it’s easy to lose sight of what really makes a company unique, and we need to be sure to hang on to those idiosyncrasies tightly. You too can learn from patting yourself on the back and making an effort to not change a bit.

Here are the things you can expect from us next year.

1. Being perfectionists. Like I said, we’re not perfect, be we know what we want, and we’re not willing to compromise. Our logo took nearly SIX MONTHS to come to fruition, and it’s not because we work with slow designers. It’s because deciding on a logo was like picking out a prom dress. A lot of them may fit, but you know when it’s “the one.” The color’s perfect, it’s not like everyone else’s and it totally speaks to your personality. Everyone will be jealous. And that’s exactly what happened with our branding.

2. Ignoring the riff-raff. When you’re the one doing things a little differently, people are going to pay attention – and that’s a good thing. But with all the hype and praise, you’re going to encounter derision and what we like to call “hating.” And that’s okay, because it means you’re doing your job. Don’t let bad press or snide comments set you back. Haters are going to hate! Soon, the dust will settle and your antagonists’ animosity will subside… if they’re smart. Take it from the Black Sheep – we don’t give a s#$t what people say, and we’re much happier for it.

3. Keeping up with the Jones.’ No, we’re not trying to one-up the neighbors, but we are always staying informed. News, pop culture, politics, music, books, trends – you name it, we learn about it. It’s part of our daily routine, and it makes us better at understanding the people we’re trying to reach out to – the general public! What are other advertisers doing? Does it work? Would it work for our clients? Maybe! Staying aware gives us more brainstorming power, more fresh ideas and it guarantees we’ll sound smart at cocktail party. Which is totally clutch.

4. Networking. Meeting new people is obviously an asset to a business – it’s how we meet people, get referrals and make connections. It also allows us to participate in all the fun local events and be aware of the different scenes throughout the city. We’ve met so many awesome lads and ladies this year, and we’re definitely looking forward to keeping those relationships and building new ones. Seeing our faces in the social section isn’t so bad either.

So what do you think? Are you going to forgo the New Year’s resolution this time? What will you be doing in 2010 that you’re already doing? We can’t wait for 2010 and exploring all the new and exciting ways we can do what we do best – be ourselves!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It was a beautiful day for a protest

Well, well, well. We did it. The big Little Bigs protest we’ve been hyping happened today, and we are stoked.

The air was crisp, the sun was out, and Black Sheep hit the streets with our signs in our hands and our mission in our hearts. We walked straight up to Little Bigs at 11:30 (to beat the crowd), set up camp and let the mushroom slider we miss so much guide the way.

We were met with friends, followers and media (thank you, EVERYONE), but when Bryan Caswell, the chef and brainchild behind Little Bigs appeared on that patio, we knew we had won. He admitted, in so many words, that he too longed for that ooey gooey mushroom slider, and in an effort to appease the masses, he
would bring the Portobello back on a limited basis.

We’re calling it a victory.

So, how did we manage to pull this off? It wasn’t easy (okay, it wasn’t really hard either). It took a clever angle, a lot of support and some really awesome Sharpies.
If you’re planning a protest, here are some things to keep in mind.

TALK IT UP. We were fortunate enough to have some gracious writers from local outlets get excited about our cause and write a few words about it. We got people talking and engaging – and whether they had good or bad things to say, the point is they paid attention.

WEATHER. Again, we were fortunate that the storm allegedly hitting Houston tomorrow didn’t decide to get a head start. If you’re planning such a dramatic event, make sure the weather is bearable for the people coming and those passing by. Oh, and wind. It makes sign holding and positioning kind of difficult, so if you can find a protected area, use it.

GET YOUR STORY STRAIGHT. Whether you’re holding signs with funny phrases or dropping sound bites for the press, it’s a good idea to know what you want to say and how you want to say. The protest today resulted in a lot of questions from strangers, Little Bigs patrons and reporters, and if you follow in our footsteps, you’ll have a similar experience too.

LET THEM EAT. It is highly recommended that you feed your fellow protesters. Emaciated participants can quickly lose energy and spirit if they’re deprived of nourishment, plus, it’s a good incentive to get people involved. Who wouldn’t hold a sign in exchange for a delicious lunch? Not us.

THE SHOW MUST GO ON. Maybe you didn’t have as many people show up – even we were expecting more. Maybe your signs were stolen by a homeless person. Maybe your crazy protesting caused a traffic accident on a major thoroughfare. The point is, when it comes to protest, you can’t let the little things get you down. As with any event, things will happen, so roll with the punches and have a good time.

Our protest today was filled with a range of protesters, some protest professionals and some riot rookies. What about you? Do you protest? Will you? Share your experience with us in the comments below!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

7 ways to chip off the old [writer’s] block

Writer’s block. It strikes at the worst possible time making what would be a simple, fun exercise an exhausting one. It is exacerbated by stress, and often, leads to endless hours of frustration and hundreds of pages of useless copy, discarded for eternity. At least we don’t use typewriters any more, right? Copywriters back in the day must have been the leading cause of deforestation and global warming (as if advertisers needed any more blemishes on their reputation).

So what’s a wordless wordsmith to do? Here are some ways to cure the linguistically challenged.

1. Misdirection. Try thinking of topics completely irrelevant to the task at hand. If you’re supposed to be writing about the social consequences of performance monkeys (what more can you say?), start from a different angle. Maybe it’s sandwich making, Disney princesses or firefighters. Sometimes the most random approach results in the most interesting, creative outcome.

2. Move and Shake. Get up. Go do something. Anything that will distract you from ruminating over those darn performance monkeys! Clean your office, go for a jog or call your grandma – she misses you! Once you allow yourself to relax and step away from the computer, the creative juices will start flowing once again.

3. Ask someone else. A different set of eyes, ears and brain cells can make a world of difference, and having a conversation can provide a fresh perspective to the problem. Experts tend to be TOO involved and often lose sight of what they have to offer - give someone else a chance to think for a change.

4. Research. What are other people saying about performance monkeys? Maybe you can build off someone else’s idea or maybe their opinion will spark a thesis of your own. Gathering as much information as possible will allow you to view the problem holistically and give you a more knowledgeable outlook going forward.

5. Wait until tomorrow. If you have the option, nothing beats getting your beauty rest. Who knows? Those performance monkeys may come to you in your dreams with just the right story… or maybe when you wake up, rested and refreshed, you’ll have the energy to tackle that writing once and for all.

6. Write exactly what you know. Right now, you think nothing more can be said about the social consequences of performance monkeys. So say that. Tell us what led you to believe that, and speak honestly and openly. A candid piece will come naturally, and even if it’s not your final draft, it will get your writing gears running smoothly.

7. Or, you can just write about writer’s block. That’s what we did!

NOTE: Happy Thanksgiving to all our followers and supporters! Have a wonderful Turkey Day, and get plenty of rest because next Thursday, December 3, we are protesting the disappearance of the Portobello mushroom slider from Little Big’s. Contact us ASAP to join in on the fun as we make a scene and bring that baby burger back!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Black Bean Slider and Lazy Ads: 5 Things We’re Totally Against

Black Sheep are typically happy people. We love things with bubbles, miniature animals and coming up with fun ways to get noticed. We love Airstreams and good music and Mexican food. We love making things and causing riots and celebrating success.

But today, we’re protesting. The following grievances must be aired, and while we apologize for the negativity, we will not rest until the following egregious errors are rectified. It is our civil creative duty to stand against the following:

1. Lazy ad campaigns. If your ad is a sad rip-off of the Got Milk? ads, please stop. If you use the suffix “–ista” in reference to something women might aspire to be, don’t do it. Target, we normally love what you do, but if we hear “frugalista” one more time, we might lose it. Furthermore, if you use quotes or definitions as the primary content for your campaign, we’re tired of it. We want something more creative – something that really tells us your product or service is special. That trend is over – waaay over.

2. WiFi Robbery. It’s bad enough when places don’t have WiFi, but you know, whatever. Maybe it’s too expensive to gain access to the Internet. The economy has been hard on us all. But charging us for it? Come on! You’re already paying for it, and it attracts us to your store. We drink your coffee and tea and eat your delicious snacks. We buy your books. Don’t make us sign up with AT&T or T-Mobile. We will just go away! Borders, thank you for rectifying this situation – smart move.

3. Bland company names and services. Maybe there’s nothing you can do about it because that’s what you’ve been called for 50 years. BUT, if you are naming a company RIGHT NOW, stop. Do not use the following words: Technology, service or solutions. These words mean nothing, and nobody will know what you’re talking about. Furthermore, when describing what you do, don’t tell people that your defining characteristic is relationships and customer service. Give us tangible facts – not hollow claims. Your reputation as a friendly, hospitable business will speak for itself.

4. PC Fonts – PC fonts are great for many things: Word documents, Excel sheets… even PowerPoint presentations. And that’s about it. If you use these fonts in your logo or on your printed collateral, people are going to know it wasn’t done professionally. Real designers use fonts that normal folks don’t have access to – or at least the kind that don’t come free with a laptop computer – and that’s how they create brands unique to their clients. When it comes to design, leave this work to the professionals.

5. Mediocre burgers and sliders – This is a huge issue with Black Sheep. Our favorite slider joint, Little Bigs, had a great thing going. While everyone else was offering nothing but standard beef sliders, they took it to another level with their tiny Portobello mushroom slider. That delicious little mushroom burger was our favorite, and now it’s gone, replaced by a lackluster black bean substitute. And this makes us very, very sad. Perhaps, the saddest we’ve ever been. Which is why Tuesday, December 1, we are taking our complaints to the streets in a BIG way. We are holding Bryan Caswell, the brainchild behind Little Bigs and this horrendous mistake, hostage (sssshhhh, don’t tell!) until he surrenders to our demands and brings the Portobello slider back. We’ll be meeting early to make protest signs and prepare for what might be the greatest battle in the history of our city. Are you with us? This is not a joke. Black Sheep do NOT take food lightly.

Whether it’s uninspired marketing, greedy coffee shops or the denial of our favorite slider at Little Bigs, it is important to ACT NOW. Take a stand against these horrible offenses, and together, we can make a difference one miniature sandwich and business name at a time. With enough support, we can do it, but we need YOUR help. As we present a united front against these wrongdoings, we are asking for community involvement. To volunteer your time for a good cause and stand up for the creative good, contact us at

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How Watching Television Can Improve Your Marketing

If Black Sheep made television shows (it’s gonna happen), we would win Emmys L and R. You know why? Because we love entertaining. In fact, if someone made a reality show about Black Sheep (just an idea, executives at major broadcasting networks), it would be like all of our favorite shows rolled into one hilariously fantastic, dramatically different agency. But that’s just us. We take cues from this spectacular programming because we recognize the importance of performance and the necessity of theatrics in our “everyday” work.

Let’s take a look at some of our greatest inspiration.

Glee – This show took what was just another played-out high school storyline, threw in some great tunes and questionable dancing, and abracadabra… semi-attractive stars were born. And they’re all about the mash-up – combining two unlikely disciplines and bringing them together. Adding a little extra flair to your campaign, presentation or event never goes to waste. Incorporate video, live performances and music, and before you know it you’ll be entertaining instead of just spitting out information. Black Sheep’s The  Rhyme and Reason to Outsource campaign for PFS Group, an accounts receivable outsourcing provider for hospitals, involves an elaborate characterization of Dr. Paid, the company’s own celebrity rapper. Dr. Paid has an album with songs, a fan page, magazine articles and news interviews available explaining his involvement with PFS and the outstanding services they provide. We mashed things up and took the entertainment value to a whole new level. And now, Dr. Paid is famous… at healthcare finance trade shows anyway.

Mad Men – Of course this seems like an obvious choice, but we’re not going to tell you to come up with advertising campaigns like these skinny tied skirt-chasers. Not at all. What you should notice with this show is the amount of intrigue and hype they create. Think about it – in one hour-long episode, NOTHING really happens. Just subtle nuance and suggestive foreshadowing. For your next campaign or publicity stunt, try to arouse that same kind of mystery. Instead of being up-front, plaster the town with ambiguous flyers or send obscure messages to your customers. People will be so overwhelmed with the need to find out, they’ll be hooked. Just like we are at 9 pm on Sundays. Once, in order to attract a major client, Black Sheep arranged for 25 hand-delivered envelopes filled with photographs and clever phrases to our target contact along with several personalized animated videos. By package 17 he’d already acquiesced to meeting with us for lunch to propose a contract. Who wouldn’t want to meet a secret admirer?

30 Rock – Funny one-liners, crazy scenarios and outrageous antics – that’s Black Sheep in a nutshell. We whole-heartedly believe in making the audience laugh… no matter how serious you might be about your business. People want to have a good time, and that’s all there is to it. How can you inject humor into your materials? Well, we can’t tell you HOW to be funny, but we will share an example of how we did it. One of our clients owns a bar, and we decided displaying mannequins outside would get some attention. We dressed them in silly outfits and even started a blog dedicated to following their every move (not real moves… because they’re plastic, but you get the idea)… scandals, awkward nights out and even the adventures of losing your pants! And because they only have one real facial expression, the jokes pretty much write themselves. Customers love it… and so do the bartenders!

See what we mean? There’s nothing more important than logging several hours of television-watching each day to learn from the best. Once you learn how to entertain your audience, they’ll forget you’re trying to sell something, and they’ll be coming to you for more. So sit back, relax and pour yourself a cold one. You’ve got work to do.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How to brainstorm like a BAAAd ass

It’s a simple goal: Come up with the most amazingly fantastic, mind-blowing, yet inexpensive, and completely original idea possible. At Black Sheep we do it all the time, but even for us, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Drawing from our many experiences, we’ve gathered a few go-to tricks, and if you stick to the rules, they’re sure to result in something spectacular. Or at least make you laugh. Either way, it’s a good time.

Role play – It sounds naughty, but it’s only as dirty as you want it to be. Use your imagination, and approach the problem from a ridiculous, unexpected perspective. Pretend you’re in colonial times, or Egypt or that you’re a clown with superpowers from Iceland. Maybe you’re a golden retriever or a president or a teacher – from the Stone Age! When you put yourself in someone (or something) else’s shoes, you’ll start seeing the problem with a whole new point of view. It’s the less-than-obvious scenario that gets the attention every time.

Steal ideas – If you’re brainstorming in a group (and you should be), this is a little activity that allows you to steal your neighbor’s ideas. And make them better. It goes like this: Everyone in the group writes a simple idea or thought down on a piece of paper. Pass the paper to your left and the next person builds off of the first one. Repeat until everyone’s worked on everyone else’s original, and see what you come up with. You may not get a fully fledged solution, but you’ll definitely get the creative juices flowing.

Pull the trigger – This one’s another group activity. Brainstorm as many ideas as possible – there is no wrong, stupid or throw-away answer. Pick the best one and use those as “triggers” for more ideas. Continue until you’ve found the perfect answer. You will!

Be an astronaut  First, before getting together as a group, give everyone the chance to come up with a list of their own ideas.  Next, two people will sit together and discuss, covering everything on their lists. Then, add a new person to the group, discuss and repeat, until everyone has shared all their thoughts with the group individually. These steps make it difficult for a member to “hide” in the group or get squashed by bigger and louder members, and it’s a technique that has been proven by NASA! We trust those guys.

Follow the rules – 1. It’s a brainstorm, not a blamestorm. Don’t belittle other people’s ideas, kids. It’s just not nice, and it’s ultimately counter-productive. 2. Go for quantity over quality. The more ideas on the table, the better. 3. Drink while you think. You’ve heard of a drinking problem, well this is a drinking solution. Let loose, and throw a few back. It will make the creative process SO much easier. 4. Let the record show. WRITE everything down! Save your ideas for future brainstorms, and don’t risk forgetting the ones you have now. We’re talking to you, Paul Kinsey.

Sounds like fun, right? It is! Do you have your own brainstorming secrets? We want to hear them! We want to try them out! Share in the comments below, and let’s start a brainstorming brainstorm. 

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Is brand new better?

The Black Sheep have been doing a lot of driving lately, but we’ve always got marketing on the mind. One of the most common road-trip discussions we have revolves around the many billboards and buildings we see traveling from city to city – remember, we’re from Texas, so the only alternative landscape is a cow or two.

Now, we don’t consider ourselves opposed to change. We’re all about moving forward and staying ahead of the game. Everybody knows that. It’s just that we’re not sure we agree with some of the mumbo jumbo that’s going on out there. There seems to be a disheartening trend in rebranding, and frankly, we’ve got mixed feelings about it. Here are some of the brands that caught our attention:

Holiday Inn Express – Admittedly, this one needed some work from the get-go. I understand that they wanted to convey that their budget hotel is clean, green, fresh and modern. Fine. All good qualities for a $59-a-night establishment. But, in our opinion, they’re taking it too far. Their green is too green, their blue is too blue, and their “H,” while an improvement from their previous font, just seems to be trying too hard. What happened to classy and understated? This whole image just comes off as cheap, and while that’s also true of Holiday Inn Express, it’s probably not something they should flaunt in their logo.

Pepsi – This to me can only be described in three letters: W. T. F. They had one of the most iconic brands in the world. Their wavy circle was neither overbearing nor outdated. It was simple and clean. So why change it to whatever that thing is now? It accomplishes nothing. And again, it looks cheap. What’s even worse is their “Refresh Everything” billboard campaign that looks like it’s straight out of a third world country. I’m not hating on the industrially underdeveloped, but I don’t think anyone looks to them for advertising inspiration.

Jack-In-The-Box – This one we haven’t quite made up our minds about. It’s definitely a departure from their old look, which seems almost retro-kitschy at this point. Maybe that’s not a bad thing? Their ads in general have always been so great, it never really bothered us. But, maybe this new “3D” box isn’t so bad either. They are certainly guilty of over-modernizing, using robot-style fonts underneath the icon, which makes me think someone unaware of current styles made that selection. [Shrug]. I guess we’ll have to give them the benefit of the doubt. We’re keeping our eyes on you, Jack.

Let us just say, for the record, we’re totally in favor of revamping your company’s look. Dated brands are the worst, and they’re totally detrimental to your image. Just don’t go from bad to lame. This is a decision that has to last a long time, and you shouldn’t rush into anything. Hey, we’re still trying to figure it out ourselves.

So what do you think? Do like these new brands? Have you noticed any others? We want YOUR opinion!

Friday, October 23, 2009

What you can learn about crisis PR from Perez Hilton

Once you start, it’s nearly impossible to stop. You think you’ll do it once… just today… and then you find yourself a month later entangled in utter madness and completely devoid of rational thinking. They will make you do things and say things you never thought you – an intelligent, well-rounded person – could possibly do. They will change you. Forever.

I’m talking about celebrity blogs. Perez. TMZ. The Superficial. Defamer. Gawker. Click the links if you DARE.

But why are these trash sites so compelling, so completely… addictive? Because people love gossip. They love to see someone fall from grace, and they love to watch them suffer. Let’s face it. It makes us feel better about ourselves. And yes, I am a professional psychiatrist.

And that’s why, as PR professionals, our jobs are so important. Under careful supervision, follow the likes of PH and study crisis PR at its best… and more often than not… its worst. And then take what you’ve learned and apply the lessons to your clients’ crises. Lindsay Lohan will make your job look like a piece of cake.
For those of you trying to stay celeb blog-free (best of luck to you), keep in mind the following dos and don’ts of sticky situations.

DON’T avoid the facts – or the press. While celebrities have the option of living on a desert island for six months following embarrassing and/or difficult times, you don’t. Like, for instance, if you stage a hoax involving your small child and a large balloon, you’re probably not going to have the option of disappearing until it blows over [the state of Colorado]. Face the music and talk to the press to get the story straight. Once it’s all out in the open, people will move on to the next interesting news bite.

DO sincerely apologize if you’ve done something wrong. Even if you have to do it a million times… Kanye style. It’s hard to hate on people when they’ve admitted to the err of their ways and at least appear to be making amends. And if you need to apologize, DO it in person. Having the balls to say it out loud, face-to-face with real people will gain your audience’s forgiveness faster than anything else. David Letterman is the perfect example.

DON’T play the denial game. If you really didn’t do something, address it in a professional, tactful manner and approach the accusing party personally. If you DID, we’re going to find out the truth eventually, so why not save the embarrassment and move on? It’s hard. Everyone knows that. John Edwards knows that. Leann Rimes knows that. Jon Gosselin knows that. But you can be better than them.

DON’T make the same mistake twice. Once is forgivable… twice is embarrassing. If your client is not fixing their problems, it’s going to land on your face.

DO make an image-switch. This may be hard to pull off, but if your client’s on a rocky road, it’s your job to take things in a new direction. Ever notice that when celebrities (Paris, Nicole, Martha Stewart) go to jail, their next step is to pose for the cover of People magazine in a pastel twin set? See? They’ve learned their lesson, and now they’re good people because they’re wearing sweaters.

It seems like common sense, but questionable decisions are always made in the heat of a crisis. Plan ahead and know as much as you can about your client. The more informed and honest you can be, the better things will turn out for you and the people you represent. It’s a cruel world out there, so stay prepared and don’t spend any fewer more than 1.5 hours on tabloid sites daily. Shear Creativity’s all you need anyway.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In marketing, all's well that blends well.

The other day Black Sheep had the opportunity to attend the Lucky Strike grand opening, and of course, because we’re all about knowing what’s going on in the World of Awesome, we went. And it was awesome. For those of you who don’t know, Lucky Strike is a bowling alley with a full bar. Basically take everything you associate with bowling and forget it. That’s what this place is. They serve champagne. Champagne! Absolute perfection.

This concept got me thinking, and you know what I realized? Some of the best things in life are unusual blends of seemingly disparate entities. For instance… peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hybrid cars, iPhones, Ligers (bred for their skills in magic), laser-pointer pens, labradoodles, 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner… Heck, even Black Sheep’s leadership team is made of Aggies and Longhorns. It’s the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts theory,” and it’s what scientists call “synergy.”

This same principle also applies to marketing.

Marketing is a multi-faceted method for promotion and it encompasses several different strategic components. Public relations, advertising, social networking, Web marketing, guerilla marketing and branding work better alongside one another than they do by themselves.

Let’s say you sell pet rocks.

And you get a great article written up in the New York Times about how pet rocks are the most eco-friendly pets and that Paris Hilton and President Obama endorse them. Once millions of people read it, they’ll want to learn more… Where can I get my own pet rock? How can I get involved in sustainable pets? Well then, you’ll need a Web site. And that Web site will need branding featuring a unique pet rock logo and delivering all the information anyone could want through specific messaging. And that brand will depend on top-of-mind awareness through advertising and guerilla marketing…  Like when you decide to throw pet rocks in the middle of Grand Central Station. This will cause quite a ruckus, and tons of people will want to be your friend on Facebook.  While visiting your page, they’ll see the link you posted to your article in the New York Times. That’s only one theoretical chain of events that brings your marketing full-circle, but you can see how important each element is to the success of the entire campaign. And that’s synergistic marketing.
Black Sheep recognizes your need for synergy, and we can help create it. We work to establish all these angles for you and then bring them together. But, we are also happy to work with other advertising agencies, PR firms and your very own company too. Our goal is to make sure your entire marketing strategy results in something that’s bigger and better than any singular tactic, and we don’t care if we do it all or some of it. The goal is the WHOLE (that’s what she said), and we’re ready to do our part.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Theory of Evolution

The times, they are a changin’. Of course they are. Change is the only constant, even though it’s not always welcome. Texas adopted new cringe-worthy license plates… Vampires and cougars have taken over the world… Jim and Pam are getting married… And in PR-relevant news, major magazine publisher Conde Nast has shut down four of its magazines. Who’s next? Vogue? Glamour? After their four-issue expose on Bernie Madoff this summer, my vote goes to Vanity Fair.* (He ripped a bunch of people off in a giant Ponzi scheme…and he had a wife and a family. It’s a multi-faceted story. We got it. )

This is certainly not the first media giant we’ve seen fall – and fall hard – as of late, and as I’m sure my fellow PR peers can attest, it won’t be the last. So what does this mean for us? And what does it mean for our clients’ exposure? Well, we’ll have to be more adaptable and more ingenious than ever if we’re going to be successful. Smart businesses will look to new guidance in firms and agencies that aren’t afraid to try new approaches, and it will take just as much effort to publicize their companies as it will to gain their confidence. If your firm hasn’t opened its eyes to new ideas, odds are you’re about to get blindsided. Some things to look out for…

1. Social media. This one gets a big, fat DUH. We’ve talked about it before, and we’ll say it again, if you’re not doin’ it, and doin’ it and doing it WELL (whatever happened to LL Cool J? Oh right, NCIS.), you’re missing out. ‘Nuff said. [AND, be sure to sign up for Twitter Training THIS month.]

2. Personal connections. Sure, we proselytize Internet marketing and it’s benefits, but nothing can match real, personal interaction and customized strategy. For instance,  just last week, Black Sheep made significant progress targeting one of our most prized potential clients by sending our key contact personalized videos (no, not THAT kind of video) and 25 small, but unique hand-delivered packages. And you know what? We’re having lunch with him on Thursday… just wait ‘till he finds out how effing cute we are. This kind of practice definitely translates to our existing clients and their PR approach, and it’s that kind of thinking that these tough times require. Forget the process and the press releases – get creative.

3. Media strategy. This goes hand-in-hand with the advice above. Now, more than ever, editors and journalists are stretched so thin they don’t have the time or space to weed through formally written press releases about your company’s 27th hire in the past 6 months. They need REAL stories, so find out what they’re into and send strong pitches… do it on Twitter or Facebook in a few short sentences, and give them an angle that makes it interesting.

It’s all about being smart with your practices and staying cognizant of your surroundings. Darwin said evolution was survival of the fittest, but in marketing, it’s survival of the relationships – be it online, in person or with media. At Black Sheep, we’d LOVE to get to know YOU and bring your company into the future of marketing. We’re knowledgeable, we’re hip to what’s going on, and we’re happy to get you on the right track. Socialize with the Sheep by following us at @aimeewoodall and @lindsaybosslet on Twitter.

*In all honesty, I enjoy Vanity Fair quite a bit, and I’d hate to see it go. I just think spending too much time learning about greedy people is a waste. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tweet Your Heart Out

At Black Sheep, we’re strong believers in the power of the Tweet. Some of our clients have told us they have been advised otherwise – that they don’t belong on Twitter and should stay away. And we couldn’t disagree more.

You’ve got something to say, right?

You provide a service or product to people, right?

You’re a badass at what you do, right?

The thing is, Twitter isn’t just for 12-year-olds and movie stars. It’s for everyone! It’s an equal-opportunity outlet for you to get your message to lots and lots of people. Why turn that down? It’s free! AND it gives you the chance to position yourself as an interesting, experienced and informed representative for your business. And who knows – you may learn something in return!

The social media gurus at Black Sheep have put together a few tips for effective Tweeting so you can get the most out of you 140-character message.

Be a know-it-all. You know a lot about stuff, so let everyone know. Offer tips and advice, links to articles you've found helpful and references to new and exciting innovations in your field. Be sure to answer questions and open a dialogue. In no time, you’ll be the go-to resource for hamsters, dryer lint, 1983 television shows… or whatever it is you know so much about.

Deal or no deal? Deal. Offer your followers an incentive for paying attention. Give them discounts, special promotional opportunities or insider information that will give them a reason to keep their looking balls peeled and their attention on you. Just don’t over-do it… you don’t want to give it all away at once (thanks, mom) and you don’t want to become a spammer.

Tickle their funny bone. You don’t want to be a robot behind a computer. Nobody likes a robot. Have a little personality and showcase it in your Tweets. It’ll keep things interesting and allow you to connect to your followers.

It takes one to know one. You can’t just start Tweeting and expect the masses to come running. Find other people who interest you – people talking about your favorite topics, your friends and people who might be in need of your help – and start following them. Odds are they’ll return the favor.

See? It’s so easy a 12-year-old can do it. So get started today. Got more questions? Still not sure what to do? Contact us or attend our Twitter training session next month, and we’d be happy to answer any questions.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fall Forward

Everyone’s always saying that the spring season is a time for new beginnings and a fresh green perspective. You know… the whole butterfly into a cocoon, baby animal thing. No offense to spring, but that idea seems a little played out. To me, fall was always the more inspiring time of year. Maybe it was the start of a new school year and the opportunity to by tons of new pens (who doesn’t love school supplies?). Maybe because my birthday is in October (FACT: Black Sheep are typically born in October). And this year at Black Sheep is no exception. We have a whole line-up of new clients coming on board! If you think about it, lots of new beginnings happen in the fall. The most important week in fashion happens in the fall. The financial calendar begins in the fall. 30 Rock premieres in the fall. So maybe now is the time for YOU to give your marketing efforts a spring fall cleaning and a chance to start anew. Ask yourself the following questions… Is your marketing plan the same as it was last year? And the year before? When was the last time you took a calculated risk? Have you been playing it safe for too long? Where do you want your business to be this time next year? What will it take to get there? And… DO YOU KNOW WHAT TODAY IS? The first day of fall! The day YOU should revamp your brand. Starting a new ad or branding campaign is like buying a new suit or a snazzy pair of Louboutins. It will give your company the confidence it needs to be bold and step up your game. You know how they tell you to dress for success… for the job you want, not the one you have? Well, the same philosophy applies to marketing. The bigger your statement, the greater the impression and the more credible you’ll become in your market. Ever notice how the strongest businesses have the best, most memorable marketing and advertising approaches? It’s no coincidence. It’s understanding the need to be different, stand out and make a statement. And now it’s your turn. At Black Sheep, we firmly believe in the power of a creative campaign. So let that first cool breeze of the year energize you, and let us know where you want to go. This fall, we’re moving forward.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Competition Beware

We will stomp you to the ground. Make you wish you’d never been born. Completely obliterate you.
We don’t play by the rules, and we’re not afraid to get dirty. So bring. It. On.
Fellow marketing agencies, we’re not talking to you. We ARE talking to the noise. To cell phones and commercials. To barking dogs and junk mail. To iPods, billboards, crazy people on the bus and traffic jams. To all the little things that clutter the minds and blur the focus of our clients’ target audience.
Because they’re the real competition, aren’t they? They’re what’s keeping your message from being heard. That’s why at Black Sheep we don’t take these distractions lightly, and we don’t just sit back and wait for things to happen. We set major ideas into motion. Here are some thoughts on advertising…
1. Literally, don’t be so obvious. If your business places ads in trade magazines, this is especially important. If you have a computer company, don’t use a bunch of monitor images. If you sell tractors, lose the tractors. All your competitors are doing that, and the only way you’ll get someone to pay attention to your ad will be to create a diversion. Think about the ads you read and the ones you skip… you probably flip past the boring ones.
2. Flower isn’t power. When using the written word to catch attention, don’t be flowery and dramatic. Using SAT words incorrectly only makes you look stupid. Be bold and funny. Select powerful terms and clever phrases to get your message across.
3. Be a rabble rouser. True, you shouldn’t be offensive with your marketing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a sense of humor. Pick something innocuous yet slightly edgy to make your point, and you’ll be remembered not only for what you say, but for how you say it.
4. Stupid is as stupid does. It doesn’t do any good to say something that goes over your customers’ heads, but you don’t have to be condescending. Think about how happy you are when you “get” a clever joke. It’s an immediate connection, and your audience will appreciate your acknowledgment of their intellect.
So take a look at the ads you have. Are you breaking the rules? Are you getting the most out of your money? Does anyone even notice what you’re saying? Give Black Sheep a call, and we’ll tell you how you can take your advertising… and your business… to the next level. Contact us today.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

This $*%# is Bananas

Since the inception of Black Sheep, we’ve taken our no-holds-barred, rebellious message to the streets. While the response has been “right on!” for the most part, when we explain how we engage in outrageous, unexpected tactics and guerilla marketing, there is still a lingering “huh?” in the air. And, that’s to be expected. Guerilla marketing has been a buzzword in the industry for a while now, and it’s often thrown around without full understanding… and if you’re not experienced in marketing, well, it sounds like a bunch of monkey business.

And that’s the inherent problem with this homophonic enigma. It’s not about being a gorilla. It’s guerilla… you know… as in warfare? Guerilla marketing is marketing which uses the element of surprise, allowing you (the business) to interact with your consumer in a way that’s unexpected. To catch them off-guard and make them say “Whaaaaaaaat?!?” To force them to yield to your message and not just stand in line for the next line of advertising ammunition from your competitors. Get it? The advantage to this is that while you probably see a million ads and commercials every day, you probably ignore most of it, and a successful guerilla campaign doesn’t give you that passive opportunity.

You don’t have to be stupid and crazy. You don’t have to be an idiot in a costume passing out flyers. That is the opposite of what we’re talking about. And it doesn’t mean you should forget advertising. What you should do is focus on how to take these traditional marketing mediums and turn them into something that grabs attention. Like this. Silly only works when it’s strategic. And then it really works.

And it works in layers. When you show your consumers that you know how to reach them in a new and interesting way, they not only get the message, they recognize your business as one that thinks creatively and possibly has a sense of humor… an understanding and connection to its supporters. It gives your company image… an identifiable personality… and helps you appeal to PEOPLE – not mass audiences.

Wanna learn how you can use guerilla marketing to boost your business? We’re full of ideas and advice. Email us at

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Flock About Town

Black Sheep. It’s the name of the newest agency in town… but why? What does it mean? And do we really need another marketing firm in Houston?

You’ve heard of black sheep before. It’s the metaphor for those of us who don’t comply with social norms… who stick out… who make the neighbors nervous. And that’s why it’s the perfect name for our company. The thing is, we have a little bit different approach to marketing than the other guys. We don’t have a four-step process. We don’t do the same thing for everyone.

Nope. We think about YOU – the client – and your clients. And then we think some more. We take a moment to digest everything that might be important to the success of your business and we put together a plan specifically designed to make it happen. Maybe it’s an event… and so then we’ll contact the media and Twitter and place ads all over town and hire piano-playing monkeys to put on a recital in the lobby of your building. Maybe we’ll send packages to your #1 target person containing ransom notes for his pen you borrowed last May at a conference in exchange for his attendance at your birthday party. Whatever. It might not make sense for the next person, but the point is, it makes sense for you.

And sometimes there’s a risk involved. Monkeys are unpredictable. But you know what? Monkeys get noticed. And isn’t that what it’s all about? So many marketing campaigns these days are centered around looking “corporate” and “clean.” I mean, we can do that – but if you want to blow away your competition – we don’t recommend it.

Is it starting to make sense? Yeah, we make people nervous (cause we’re awesome and a little outrageous). Yeah, we stick out (see previous paragraph). And we don’t follow these old-timey, antiquated rules for marketing that other companies live and breathe by. We just don’t believe in it.

But we do believe we can help you. Whatever your business, whatever your goals, we bring a fresh perspective to your approach. So be rebellious. Meet us for lunch. We’d be happy to brainstorm and get some ideas flowing. The neighbors never even have to know.