On client service...

I love LinkedIn. I posted a response this morning to a question I came across on LinkedIn Answers. LIterally three hours later, I got a telephone call from a woman in Texas who runs an agency in Texas interested in partnering with Traction.

The question was "How do you maintain excellent client service levels when an Account Manager leaves or you acquire a new client?" It's something we've given a lot of thought to over the last year, so I thought I'd share my answer here.

I'd say there's three main things you can do to maintain excellent client service levels in an ad agency.

The first is having processes in place that ensure communication between the client and agency are crystal clear (and that both the account team and client understand those processes). At the root of nearly every client relationship that I've ever seen go bad is poor communication. Conference reports aren't a waste of time. They avoid miscommunication. Creative briefs should be rigorously crafted and should leave no room for misinterpretation.

The second may sound obvious, but it's hiring good people. We always have a handful of account people in mind that we may want to bring on months before we need them. That way, you never have to settle when a new account comes in and we need to hire someone fast.

The third: be willing to walk away. I mentioned above that the #1 reason agencies and clients break up is miscommunication. The #2 reason is that there's just not a right fit. When my agency was 4 people and worked out of the spare bedroom of my apartment (7 years ago) we had a different cost structure than we do today at 30 employees. If you want to be great, you have to add process as you grow in order to maintain the quality of work. It's important to honestly ask "are we a good fit?" and if not, to just walk away. Otherwise, you're putting your client service people in the position of having to justify your agency cost structure again and again. And that's almost guaranteed to lead to a bad relationship.


BBQ Smackdown: The legal opinion

As some of you may know, we recently had a BBQ Smackdown competition on the sidewalk outside of Traction after our General Manager, Russell "Krispy" Quinan, challenged me to a meeting of the meat. Since then, some controversy has erupted. Our council, the esteemed Todd Moreno Esq. (who apparently has too much time on his hands) has issued an official legal opinion. I leave it to you, dear reader, to judge...

86 Cal. Burp. 469 (2008)


A chill wind blows through the halls of Traction, threatening to turn brother onto brother, as it extinguishes that fire of life that brings to our nearly civilized society the treasure we call Damn Fine Barbeque.

Mired in a pit of saucy Controversy, the fine people of Traction (as well as Giese) have demanded closure to this Great Debate. True, some have begged for silence. One has called for barbeque every Friday. But for those who cry for Just Resolution, gather thy knives and forks and take heart! (And if one’s is too encased in fat and cholesterol, take another’s!)

For here at Traction, like the clanking of a cowbell before its owner is duly processed, Justice Rings! And so Gentles All (as well as Giese), with an open mind, aided perhaps by our favored elixir of free-thinking, The Sacred Scotch, which comforts the weary brow, lulls fear and anxiety, and so often liberates us from the oppressive burdens of consciousness, we will seek to end this conflict and bring peace down to the very bowels of this Fair Company.


This case comes on appeal from Adam “Rib-Man” Kleinberg (Rib-Man) over allegations of voting irregularities, undue influence, bribery, conspiracy, and fraud, involving that contest entitled “Barbeque Showdown,” in which “Krispy” Russell Quinan (Krispy) was declared the winner by a certain Theodore Fanning.

For the purposes of this appeal, the parties have stipulated that Mr. Fanning, despite his shady past, questionable reputation and penchant for pedicures, accurately counted the ballots found in the event’s official ballot box. The only issue at bar therefore is whether certain ballots should have been counted in light of post-election admissions made by two voters.

Statutory jurisdiction is found in the Frank and Baloney Act of 2005, as well as the IV section of the Controlled Sauces Act, Subchapter J (4)(u) of the Smoke Flavoring Act, and Article LXIX of the Mutual Meat Consumption Accord.


The Advertisement

Respondent Krispy’s Exhibit 1 is an advertisement for a Barbeque Showdown between Rib-Man and himself. It is true that no mention of meat is made, save for the term “rib” in “Rib-Man.” Contrary to Krispy’s assertion however, the ad does not say to “come to the Barbeque Showdown.” In fact, it doesn’t convey much at all, except for what can be gleamed in the fiery menacing from a smiling Krispy aimed at an unsuspecting (and evidently debauched) Rib-Man.

This advertisement’s persuasiveness as affirmative evidence for the validity of making vegetables part of the competition is therefore as limited in use as Eric Ryan's green leprechaun suit on Memorial Day. Nonetheless, as Krispy is correct that no indication was made that this was to be an all meat event, this advertisement cannot serve as the basis for disqualification.

Comedy Mirroring Reality

On appeal, Rib-Man complains that the two photos presented in both the advertisement and the ballots were prejudicial and likely cost him votes, given that his likeness was less than flattering. Assuming this argument is serious, and it not made simply in response to Krispy’s wimpy equity arguments discussed below, the following conclusion has been reached:

Rib-man, you really do look like that and we’ve all seen you look worse. Get over it.

The Home Grill Advantage

Krispy asserts that the contest was unfair, in that he was unable to use his own grill like Rib-Man. Presuming Rib-Man and Krispy both knew about the failed delivery of the official contest grills at roughly the same time, it must be wondered: If Rib-Man was able to run home and get his grill, why couldn’t Krispy haul his skinny ass home and nullify the advantage?

Whether Krispy’s choice in not doing so was simple laziness or a play for sympathy, the perceived inequity was something to object to at the time of the competition. Having decided to participate, the issue must be deemed as waived.

The Tears of a Krispy

As an ancillary argument, Krispy maintains that he may have lost votes because certain judges considered his meat to be overdone. Krispy however, by his own admission, tends “to cook things more well done.” It is therefore unclear whether he is attempting to make his very cooking style a handicap, admitting that his meat was indeed overdone, or simply lamenting an ill-conceived appeal to the jerky lovers in attendance.

Regardless, one should expect contestants for best barbeque to closely monitor their creations, particularly if faced with a strange grill or the possible use of Tack’s military-grade “charcoal.” Krispy cannot therefore be said to have been unduly prejudiced. In the words of that culinary icon, Aunt Jemima, “You betta watch what you do wit dat meat o’ yours, Boy!”

Krispy: You should have watched your meat, Man.

Fraud or Marketing: Who Can Tell?

As part of his case, Krispy presents the question as to what “meat” means, suggesting that since vegetables have a “meaty” area, they might well be considered “meat.” Herein lies the basis of Rib-man’s fraud contention, and anyone who has bitten into a tofu “burger” would understand the outrage. But while Krispy might be guilty of trying to bamboozle a lawyer with wordplay, there is no evidence that he actually tried to pass his vegetables off as “meat” during the contest. Rib-man’s reactionary fraud allegation must therefore be dismissed.

A Conspiracy Afoot?

It is undisputed that Rib-man was unaware that vegetables might be part of the competition, thinking only that he just had to beat Krispy’s meat to win. It is also undisputed that Mr. Fanning, the guy in charge of the event, issued no warning to the contrary. (And certainly Krispy did not let Rib-man know of his plans.) It is further undisputed that Mr. Fanning neither made criticism of Krispy for his tactics, nor gave any admonishments to the assembled judges in order to mitigate any inequities that might arise.

Even with Mr. Fanning’s involvement however, can anyone say something nefarious was afoot? Again for lack of evidence, Rib-man’s nutty conspiracy allegation must be discarded.

The Bullshit

Krispy would have people believe his self-admitted unilateral decision to add vegetables to the menu only demonstrated his care for the health and digestive systems of the entire staff.

Yeah. Save it for the marketing pitches, Krispy.

No One Likes A Green-Noser

In a secondary bid, Krispy suggests that his accommodation of Alternative “Meat”-Styles should translate into something akin to points in deciding who does the best barbeque. Sorry Krispy. There is no “extra credit” in the world of barbeque. Just be glad that pandering to the dark, green desires of a select few did not amount to bribery.


This opinion is largely concerned with Vegetarians, and an unfamiliar reader may discover much of their character and a little of their history. Vegetarians have been living and grazing in the eleven districts of San Francisco for many years, quite content to ignore and be ignored by the world of the Flesh Eaters. The Bay Area being, after all, full of strange creatures beyond count, Vegetarians must seem of little importance, being neither renowned as great warriors nor counted among the very wise. In fact, it has been remarked by some that Vegetarian’s only real passion is for veg, a rather unfair observation, as they have also developed a keen interest in the practicing of yoga and the smoking of ganja-weed. But where their hearts truly lie is in peace and quiet, and good tilled earth, for all Vegetarians share a love for things that grow. And yes, no doubt to others their ways seem quaint, but today of all days, it is brought home to me: It is no bad thing to give the little blighters a good whack now and then.

“I’ve never trusted Vegetarians, and I never will. I’ll never forgive them for killing my boy.”

Rib-man again raises the issue of conspiracy and bribery, this time involving the two Vegetarians whose deciding votes lost him the contest. It is generally known that Vegetarians can be bought, sometimes for as little as a few sticks of celery. What is not commonly known is that vitamin deficiencies can also leave them addled, and susceptible to suggestion. Rib-man’s charge of undue influence is based upon this latter trait.

It is also known though that Michele would rat out her own husband for a good bottle of tequila, and that one’s more likely to get that questionable expense reimbursement from Greg after he’s had that last beer. The point is that neither a propensity nor susceptibility is enough to prove wrongdoing. Suspicion is not evidence, Rib-man. (You of all people should be grateful for that…)

Why Veggie Girl Can’t Read

Rib-man’s greatest argument for voiding the two votes in question stems from the plain language written upon each ballot: “Whose Meat Is The Best?” It was on the answer to this question that the two Vegetarian judges were to have voted.

Krispy hopes to prevail by taking the word “meat” out of context (though his example of going to a local meat market and getting lucky employs “meat” in the non-vegetative sense.) But we need not turn the interpretation of a simple word into an exercise of mental gymnastics. While some vegetables have a “meaty” area, this does not transform them into “meat.”

But Krispy is right that no clear criteria existed for deciding “Whose Meat Is The Best.” If Vegetarians are truly as baffled by the word “meat” as Krispy claims, they could well have determined, due to either excessive alcohol or the lack of protein in their brains, that vegetables could rightly be considered “meat.” This they may well have been perfectly free to do. However, because this case turns on other grounds, it is not necessary here to delve further into the murky minds of Vegetarians.

When Justice Is Blind, Deaf, and a Vegetarian…

It is a basic element of Justice that no matter what laws, standards or criteria are to be applied, no judgment can be fairly reached until the evidence from both sides is duly considered. Therefore, while the two Vegetarians might have been reasonably free to decide their own criteria in deciding “Whose Meat Is The Best,” those standards had to be applied to the entries of both Krispy and Rib-man equally. In other words, it was simply unfair to decide “Whose Meat Is The Best” by only sampling the culinary offerings of one contestant and refusing to sample the other. For a judge to do so would be more contemptible to Justice than flipping a coin, for it would be like giving heads to one contestant, skipping the flip, and then placing the coin on the back of her hand heads-up. Fairness demands more. In this case, Rib-man should have had at least an equal chance at being given heads by the Vegetarians.

It is uncertain from the record however whether, after giving heads to Krispy, the Vegetarians actually tasted Rib-man’s meat. If it is true that they only gobbled Krispy’s vegetables, determining whose fare was truly better would simply have been impossible. Judging requires comparison. Fair judging requires fair comparison. Potential judges who tasted only one should not have voted and, if they did vote, their votes should be disqualified.


For the reasons stated above, this case is remanded to Mr. Theo Fanning for further deliberation. It is noted here that Vegetarians could have properly executed their judging responsibilities by simply tasting Rib-man’s meat. They did not have to swallow. Thus, with as little as one good lick or two, their duties could have been honorably discharged while still technically adhering to their self-imposed injunction against actually eating meat.

But though by their mistake this controversy arose, let no Vegetarian hereafter be upbraided or abused in disdainful language. We have had our sport, and they are after all but Vegetarians, harmless by nature. It would be unfair to expect such weighty matters to be of their concern, unkind to force decisions of this magnitude upon their small shoulders, and uncharitable to assume that the breadth of details here involved would capture their full attention. Even when not swimming in pools of drink, as they undoubtedly were that night, Vegetarians ought to be forgiven their frailties, with compassionate understanding on the limits of their judgment. Hold them not to account, Gentle People, for they are beyond fault, and not blameworthy.

As a final matter, Krispy’s comments as to this jurist’s shortsightedness have not escaped unnoticed. In that this and his other assertion were fueled by a modest observation, an off-the-cuff remark as one might say (however greasy that cuff might have been) --indeed, a thought that was intended as a private communication, no more will be said of it. To the extent however that Krispy wishes to claim judicial bias and urge a recusal in this case, such a motion shall now be given the respect it deserves.


LivePlace virtual world

Second Life had its five minutes of fame and has been quiet ever since. Seems like either the regular world wasn't ready for the virtual world on a mass scale or the virtual world wasn't ready to knock the socks off the real world. Well, take a look at this video put out by LivePlace for a web-based (no plug-in) virtual world called City Space. Of course, this doesn't exist yet and they're not saying when it will. TechCruch also has some comment up that part of this video may be ripped off. Nonetheless, it is very cool to imagine a virtual world with this kind of visual impact.


Have a content strategy

I was just quote in an article in AirTran Magazine (don't ask me how I got quoted in an article in AirTran Magazine). I was asked to comment on how small businesses can improve their websites. I think my answer applies to plenty of not-so-small businesses too. You can read it when you fly from Atlanta to Albuquerque or you can read it here:


If you want your site to support your business well, focus on your objectives early. “What are you trying to accomplish with your site? Getting leads to the sales force, online sales and marketing are all common goals,” says Adam Kleinberg, CEO of Traction, a branding agency in San Francisco whose clients have included Adobe, Wal-Mart and CamelBak...

“Start with your objective—let’s say driving sales—and ask yourself, ‘What can I do to make that happen?’” Kleinberg says. “If by driving sales you mean ‘enabling e-commerce,’ you could have a special offer featured prominently on your home page. On the other hand, if to you driving sales means ‘generating leads for sales guys,’ then perhaps a link to a free webinar with an opt-in email registration is better content. Th e content on your site should map back to your goals, and a clear ‘call-to-action’ should direct users toward the next step in their interaction with your site.”


Blast from the past...

I promised someone I would post this. This was a video we did for Sun a few years back (before they rebranded). Probably would have lived under the category viral video if YouTube had existed when we did this. Enjoy.