Creative Director Greg Bokor Shares His Thoughts on Large and Small Marketing Agencies, the Importance of Branding, and Ways Brands Can Stay Relevant
In the world of marketing, there is change and there are constants. There are large international agencies and considerably smaller, local ones. Agencies have major accounts and they have minor, though no less significant, ones. I spoke recently with Britton Marketing & Design Group’s creative director Greg Bokor about the changing climate of marketing, and asked him to share some insights about the dynamic world of marketing and the pros and cons of large and small agencies.
“Giving back, standing for something, creating something relevant or linked to your brand is the price of entry these days.”
Bokor came to BMDG last October by way of earlier stints with BBDO in New York City and Mullen (now MullenLowe) in Boston. He attended art school at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, and freelanced at a number of agencies throughout the country. His very impressive résumé includes work for such brands as JetBlue, Travelers Insurance, L.L.Bean, Johnnie Walker, American Eagle Outfitters, Target, American Express, Stride Rite, CompUSA, and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. In the six months he’s been on staff at BMDG, he’s worked closely with the agency’s team that spearheads the Sherwin-Williams accounts.
Q: Talk about the importance of branding. What does it mean to you?
Bokor: Branding is your company’s personality. People without personalities don’t typically have many friends. The same goes for brands.
A great example of the power of branding is the campaign I worked on while I was with Mullen. The Victorinox Swiss Army account was up for review, and Mullen was invited to the pitch. The company, known primarily for the reliable red pocket knife that bears the famous white cross, had been coming across as rather generic. At the time, Swiss Army was starting to expand into luggage, watches, and outdoor apparel. It had started to go way beyond the knife, but it was smart about choosing to embrace additional products that were authentic.
We knew that Swiss Army had a huge authenticity story. We felt that we needed to come up with a big idea for the vision for marketing this longstanding brand’s story. The result was a campaign centered around a single word: equipped. The word captured the essence of the heritage of the brand. I knew that we had the chance to dive deeper into the history of the brand — to bring it to life and give it a personality.
The pitch was smart, witty, and well-designed. It really was beautiful. It showcased the company’s rich history, but it was contemporary at the same time. The agency prepared material designed primarily for print — ads that would appear in outdoor and men’s magazines. We showcased our concepts at the pitch, and they [the Swiss Army principals] loved it all — the team, the idea, and the work. We got the account, and things evolved from there.
“Branding is your company’s personality. People without personalities don’t typically have many friends. The same goes for brands.”
Swiss Army is a good case history. Not only did the [design] work help the client, it gave Swiss Army a voice and a personality. The campaign was also recognized globally, winning Cannes [Lions Festival of Creativity], The One Show, ANDY awards, and others.
Q: What was your role in the Victorinox Swiss Army marketing campaign?
Bokor: I was the creative director and the art director. I headed up a team of 12. We worked on the account from 1998 to 2000. Of all the campaigns I’ve worked on, even though it was not the largest, it was one of the most memorable. It’s pretty remarkable what work like that can do for an agency and for an individual career. For a fairly small account, it was pretty high-profile. It’s still talked about today.
Q: Clients obviously have diverse needs, depending on what they’re trying to accomplish and what their ultimate goals are. What are some of those varying needs?
Bokor: How an agency approaches things depends on whether a brand is launching a new product or is hoping to embrace a new brand vision. Taking advantage of current events and how they may link to a brand is another key consideration. This is especially relevant where social media is concerned. Creating a brand from scratch poses its own set of challenges. In that case, marketing needs to encompass how the brand looks, how it sounds, what its mission is, and how the brand wants to come across to consumers.
Q: What are some commonalities when it comes to client needs?
Bokor: Whether you’re General Electric or Vera Bradley, you need to stay relevant. This isn’t just product and service offerings; it’s what you stand for, believe in, and support. There has been a huge increase in the importance of corporate responsibility, which is a great way to connect to customers that you normally might not.
Subaru is a perfect example of this. In my opinion, the automaker has created some of the most impressive work of the past year or so in connecting its social concerns with its target audience. An amazing body of work around the carmaker’s zero-landfill program, #makeadogsday campaign, and animal-welfare efforts shows that having something in common with your audience and not just selling stuff can go a long way toward actually selling stuff.
Q: You mentioned some of the things Subaru is doing to connect with consumers on a more meaningful level. Can you discuss this idea a bit more?
Bokor: I really believe brands benefit by standing for something more than what they sell, whether that’s a product or a service. Take Ben & Jerry’s. The company makes a great product, but it also has real personality, and it isn’t afraid to take social and political stands. Brand loyalty transcends how consumers might feel about some of the causes the company supports. Some might say that for Ben & Jerry’s it’s easy to take a stand and get involved, that it’s almost in their DNA. They’re in Vermont, they’re liberal. But look at Oreo. A few years back [parent company] Nabisco posted images online of an Oreo cookie with rainbow creme filling. It was a statement. And in 2014 the CEO of the Louis Vuitton luxury group opened an incredible museum and cultural center in Paris that’s a reflection of his commitment to the arts.
“This isn’t just product and service offerings; it’s what you stand for, believe in, and support.”
Giving back, standing for something, creating something relevant or linked to your brand is the price of entry these days. Brands that don’t embrace this are missing an opportunity to have a richer, more thoughtful experience with their followers.
Q: You’ve worked for a number of marketing agencies. What are a few of the differences and similarities between large and small firms that you’ve observed?
Bokor: Over the years, I’ve worked at agencies big and small. With current trends, I believe clients are overthinking it when they assume that a large agency will give them better work and better service. I think it’s actually quite the opposite. Large agencies tend to be owned by huge parent companies like IPG [Interpublic Group] and Omnicom Group. With this arrangement there are bound to be different agendas, which don’t necessarily benefit most of the employees or, more importantly, the clients. To start with, upper management needs to please the parent company first and foremost. Big agencies are all about pitching. Once they win an account, they are on to the next one. The smaller shops like Britton Marketing & Design Group really value the relationships they have with clients, and they make better partners. I could go on and on.
Q: Please do!
Bokor: It has a lot to do with culture and community. The likelihood of having a stronger sense of culture and community is greater with a smaller agency. Employees at a smaller firm tend to work together and focus on a common goal. They also have more opportunities to work closely with their clients’ principals. I just think smaller firms tend to be scrappier, hungrier. Their employees aren’t just a number; they’re more invested, and as a result, they’re more inclined to work harder.
Another thing that you might see in bigger firms owned by a parent company is agencies making pitches against each other. Often there are egos involved and promises that can’t be kept. From an employee standpoint, the people you’re working with may not have your best interests in mind. From a client standpoint, trust can wear thin.
A small, independent agency will be way more dedicated to its accounts than a larger agency [will be]. Large agencies are often more concerned with getting larger. I absolutely believe a small agency can do what a large one can do. Sure, the bench is deeper at a large firm, but more people can translate into more people who aren’t taking responsibility or doing the work. With a small agency, you have better work, greater commitment.
Q: What are some of the challenges agencies — large and small — currently face?
Bokor: One of the biggest challenges is to convince clients that quality is still hugely important. It’s vital to sell the client on the idea and the execution, and the importance of investing in marketing.
Sometimes brands are fearful of losing something they never had. But in reality they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The hard part is convincing them they have to go for it. It’s important to slowly convince the client to buy in. You have to ease into it. They need to be made aware of the risks and what’s at stake.
Q: What makes BMDG noteworthy?
Bokor: Britton Marketing & Design Group cares deeply about every single project that comes in. I’ve never seen so much attention to detail and so much consideration given to the most basic forms of design and communication. Britton is a community as well, which most big agencies can only dream of being.