Battling tobacco can turn heads
For advertising agencies that win high-stakes, anti-tobacco accounts, the business can be not only lucrative but also a catalyst for national visibility.
"More often than not, it happens," said Roger L. Gray, president and chief executive officer of GKV Communications Inc., which last week was picked to develop Maryland's $14 million anti-tobacco campaign. "When you're dealing with social marketing, you have to push the envelope even more. You're trying to get a lot of people to think about the issue and then act on the issue. You're working across all demographics, which is not like a product or service."
And that kind of edgy, creative work often turns heads.
It worked that way for Miami-based Crispin Porter & Bogusky - a 50-person agency when it bid on Florida's anti-tobacco campaign in 1997. Today, at least in part spurred by that win, the agency is twice its 1997 size. It works for Coca Cola, is helping BMW launch a new line of cars and does national anti-tobacco work for the American Legacy Foundation.
The agency's annual billings rose from $69 million in 1997 to $165 million in 2001, agency officials said.
"I wouldn't say landing an anti-tobacco account is an automatic launching pad for an agency," said Jeffrey J. Hicks, president/partner of the advertising agency. "But, it can be. It was for us. This account played a gigantic part in our growth."
Crispin's strategy in its Florida campaign was to try to make the choice not to smoke as "cool" for teens as the Marlboro or Camel brands. The campaign revealed facts about the big tobacco companies and the methods they use to win over smokers.
Even though the campaign aired only in Florida and targeted teens, it became known nationally after being featured on Good Morning America, the Today Show and 60 Minutes,Hicks said.
GKV comes to the scene after a lot of anti-tobacco work already has been done across the nation.
"This agency ... is going to have to accommodate the fact that now Phillip Morris is spending a lot of money on anti-tobacco advertising, as are a lot of states and other national organizations," Hicks said. "Maryland is going to have to look and see that there's a very cluttered landscape in anti-tobacco."
Gray said he has seen much of the existing advertising and will even use some of it, rather than develop new creative work, in some target markets.
"While it's not virgin territory, I think there's still a lot of room for good creative work," he said.
GKV's planned campaign takes a grassroots approach, encouraging people to talk with others about not smoking. It also will personalize the anti-smoking message, Gray said.
The chance to do high-profile work attracts creative talent, thereby assuring that GKV will have a good pool of applicants to fill an anticipated five to eight new positions, Gray said. The firm has about 55 employees. The account will be among the agency's top three in size, Gray said.
Maryland is considered a model in tobacco control within the country. The state has approved landmark legislation banning smoking from the workplace, raised the tax on tobacco products and instituted buyouts of tobacco farms.
And that reputation only raises the stakes for his agency, Gray said.
"There will be a lot of eyes on what the state of Maryland campaign will be and how effective the campaign will be," Gray said. "I think we have the talent in the agency to rise to the occasion. ... The onus is on us to continue the momentum."