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Mississippi ain’t no New York and that’s just fine

Yes, I know this month’s column was promised as “part two” of tips on Internet marketing. However, my editor reminded me that this issue of the MBJ has an advertising/marketing focus, so I thought I would write something that is more a commentary on the advertising industry in our state as a whole. Next month look for the exciting and thrill-packed conclusion to optimizing your Internet marketing. For now, on with this month’s special, and possibly collector’s edition, of Adworks.

I’m writing this column sitting in LaGuardia airport in New York City waiting for my flight to board (delayed). I’ve been here for a client meeting. Now think about that for a moment — a company headquartered in New York, the fertile crescent of advertising, is working with an ad agency based in Jackson, Miss. Why? Maybe they like our quaint accents. Maybe they like our home-spun proverbs (I did enlighten them with the Southern truism that you can make just about any derogatory statement about someone you want, as long as you follow it with ‘bless their heart’). Maybe we’re an interesting novelty to a more sophisticated crowd. Maybe we’re the exotic natives they like to parade through the streets of the colonial capital.

Or maybe, and here’s a crazy idea, maybe, just maybe, they like the work we do.

Wait a minute, that can’t be right. New York sophisticates impressed by the work of lowly Mississippians. Can’t be. We’re fine marketing to our own, but there’s no way we can compete on a national stage. There’s no way we can match the brain trusts of the big New York ad shops, right?

Wrong.

Something my father told me when I was younger, something that has always stuck with me, applies here. “Son, we’re all people, all made of the same stuff. If any person can do something, I think there’s no reason why I can’t do it to. We’re all people, after all.”

Or something along those lines. But you get the idea. Makes a lot of sense, now, doesn’t it? In a world where titles mean everything, where working for a big company in a big city automatically gives you the perception of superiority, it is almost an epiphany to realize those people churn out the same kind of work we do. Sometimes their work is better. Sometimes it is not. But there’s never any indication that “big city” work is consistently on a whole different level.

I remember several years ago sitting behind a two-way mirror, watching a focus group discuss concepts for an ad campaign we had put together (naturally they were ripping the campaign to shreds, as focus groups are apt to do, but that’s a discussion for another column). At one point, one of the more talkative members of the group noted that even though he “didn’t like the ads,” he did think they were rather “slick,” and would like to meet the “New York marketing executives who came up with it.” Funny. I’m from Northeast Mississippi. The other account executive on the campaign was from Madison. The copywriter and art director were from Jackson and Clinton, respectively. The guy had probably seen all of us in the grocery store before.

That’s to not to say all Mississippi ad agencies are exclusively populated by Mississippians. Just at my agency, we’ve had employees from all across the country, and even from a couple of different hemispheres. But a Mississippi agency made up of 100% Mississippians wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, either. The point is, talent is talent, plain and simple. Geography doesn’t matter — gray matter matters.

If you take a look at the client rosters of the major Mississippi agencies, you will probably find a few surprises. National, sometimes international, brands being serviced, and serviced well, by Mississippi agencies.

Now, what really chaps me is when a Mississippi-based company makes it a point to search outside of the state for “superior marketing expertise.” I can understand companies outsourcing certain functions to other locales — why pay $10 for parts and supplies when you can get the same thing from overseas for $2? But explain to me the logic in doing that in reverse: Why pay $100/hour for marketing expertise in Mississippi when you can go to New York or Chicago and get the same marketing expertise for $220/hour?

And it is the same marketing expertise. Don’t give me that baloney that the quality of work coming out of the bigger ad agencies is better. Like I said, some of it is better. A lot of it is not. A few years ago, my agency won the grand trophy at the New York Festival’s Advertising/Marketing Effectiveness Awards. In a competition among basically every agency in the world, we were the only American shop to win a grand trophy (two others went to agencies in Germany and Japan). And I just use my agency as an example because I work there and know the accolades we’ve received. Every other major Mississippi agency has gone head-to-head with other big “national” shops, and bested them in many instances.

As I’ve stated in this column before, I’ve had the opportunity to leave Mississippi and take jobs with bigger agencies. Why didn’t I go? Mainly because I’ve always been a person who values quality over quantity. There is no better place in America for my wife and I to live our lives and raise our kids. There’s no place in America with better neighbors. And as far as I’m concerned, pound for pound, there’s no place in America churning out a better quality of creative advertising. Maybe we don’t always have clients with New York budgets, but Mississippi agencies darn sure produce New York-quality work. No, wait, one better. We produce MISSISSIPPI-quality work, and that is something of which we can all be proud.

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