Hiring only agencies with category experience means you're locked into category conventions and aren't giving your brand the chance to evolve. Dan Santy explains how a little fresh thinking has been proven to take brands to the next level.

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  • Dan Santy
  • CEO

Breaking the Relevant Experience Myth

Have you ever been told you lack relevant experience because the widget manufacturer you’re pitching doesn’t see other widget manufacturers in your portfolio? Or, been told “I love your thinking and approach, but have you ever sold this product before?”

It’s quite maddening really. Hiring only agencies with category experience means you’re locked into category conventions and aren’t giving your brand the chance to evolve.

I have two examples of firms getting hired who DIDN’T have that specific industry experience and were quite successful.

Creative confidence opens doors

Crispin Porter Bogusky (at the time), best known for their ground breaking anti-smoking campaign for Florida that was taken nationally, is one of my favorite stories. Shortly after the campaign went national they were invited to pitch BMW for the launch of Mini in America. Now what’s important to know is, Crispin had never worked in the car business. But think about it, they also never worked on an anti-smoking campaign, of course not, there never was one of this magnitude. Monies paid to states brought about by the litigation of big tobacco made this possible.

My other favorite story…full disclosure it’s one of Santy’s long time clients…is about being asked to help a regional pizza brand improve birthday party sales. What the hell did we know about selling birthdays? We sure knew how to celebrate them, but that’s another post.

In both cases, the firms demonstrated certain qualities that gave these companies confidence to hire us. Marketers need to be willing to look at a problem from a new perspective and have the courage to seriously consider this option. I call it “what got you here won’t necessarily get you to where you want to be.”

For agencies: three necessary attributes

Beyond this, I’ve discovered three additional traits that are important for agencies to possess in order to get past the lack of “relevant” experience issue. First is the ability to uncover smart insights about the situation. In the case of Peter Piper Pizza (PPP), we discovered digitally savvy Millennial Moms were turned off by the pressure from managers to upgrade their kid’s party when booking in person or via the phone. Our recommendation was to build an online ordering tool that automated party booking. It reduced friction for moms and the results proved our hypothesis; over 350,000 parties booked since June 2010 with over $56 million in revenue generated. What’s more, the average check of a party was 50% higher when booked online versus over the phone.

Next you must have the ability to demonstrate that your experience is translatable. Based on the above story we told PPP of our in depth understanding of Millennial Moms. We talked about their online behavior, media habits and qualitative insights about what’s important to them; and, provided case studies about that knowledge. We approach all problems from an audience-first perspective. In order to develop meaningful solutions to a problem you must possess a deep understanding of what motivates people to take action and change.

Finally, and why BMW selected Crispin to launch the Mini, is fresh thinking. This is the number one reason clients should be considering firms that don’t have the exact relevant experience. Mini’s campaign wasn’t of the car tooling down a rained soaked mountain road, but instead quirky, fun and interesting ads that honored the brand’s personality. They won awards along the way, including a Kelly for magazine ads. Here’s a quote from a news article:

Mini said it chose Crispin Porter + Bogusky for the campaign in February 2001 due to its strength of vision for the Mini brand experience and clear focus on the unique position Mini said it would own in the automotive marketplace.

Everything Crispin did was fresh thinking in the category. And the results spoke for themselves: pre-orders for the car surpassed all projections by the automaker.

Take a chance

So next time, don’t ask if I’ve ever worked for a widget manufacturer, instead ask us if we have any fresh thinking we can bring to the category. Ask us to show you how our experience is translatable to your problem and what smart insights we have about your audience. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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