Saturday, February 25, 2017

In Conversation: Terry O’Reilly

Winnipeg Free Press—PRINT EDITION
by Ariel Gordon

Former adman Terry O’Reilly has spent the last 10 years on CBC Radio, talking about advertising and then the broader world of marketing.

He is launching his second book, This I Know: Marketing Lessons from Under the Influence, on Monday at McNally’s.


Free Press: What do you want people to know about This I Know?

O’Reilly: I wrote this book for one very specific reason. Most of the companies in this country are small to medium-sized businesses. Almost none of them have a big advertising agency on speed dial. This book gives entrepreneurs the kind of high-level marketing thinking they normally wouldn’t have access to. From how to analyze your greatest marketing opportunity, to crafting a killer strategy, to why going the extra inch might be smarter than going the extra mile, then how to take all that thinking and turn it into compelling marketing. I hope this book becomes a very well-thumbed companion.

FP: First, you worked at an ad agency. Then you created Pirate Radio & Television, a company that produced radio and television commercials for ad agencies. Then you started one radio show for CBC, and then another, looking first at advertising and then marketing. 

It looks like a logical progression from the outside. What did it feel like on the inside?

O’Reilly: I just read UFC fighter Georges St. Pierre’s fantastic book The Way of The Fight. He maintains a "white-belt mentality." In other words, he’s always in learning mode. I’ve been in the advertising business for over 35 years, worked on over 10,000 commercials, and I’m still learning. Each career step was a weigh station. The stakes got bigger. The lessons more vivid. The epiphanies more surprising. This book is a collection of that accumulated wisdom — so far.

FP: What was your favourite campaign that you created? What’s your favourite campaign by someone else?

O’Reilly: My favourite campaign was for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. They desperately needed to attract younger subscribers. With only a tiny budget, I wrote a radio campaign that generated more subscriptions in a few months than they had received in the entire previous year. And did it with a highly unusual campaign. Proving (again) that creativity is a powerful business tool.

My favourite advertising campaign of all time was the Volkswagen advertising of the 1960s. Created by ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach, they took a small, ugly, underpowered German car in a post World War II world and turned it into the most beloved automobile of its time. They did it with wit and self-deprecating advertising. It had never been done before. Best advertising of all time.

FP: What would be your first tip for small business owners? For young people getting into marketing?

O’Reilly: Decide what business you are really in. Molson isn’t in the beer business, it’s in the party business. Goodyear isn’t in the tire business, it’s in the safety business. Whitewater rafting companies aren’t in the personal transportation business, they’re in the personal transformation business. Until you really know what people are buying, you’re marketing will never be relevant. As someone once said, people don’t buy three-quarter-inch drill bits, they buy three-quarter inch holes.

I would tell any young person getting into the marketing business to read. Read great business books. Read great marketing blogs. Pour over advertising award annuals. Be a thirsty sponge. The lessons are many as long as you have your antennae finely tuned.

FP: How is social media affecting traditional advertising, like print and broadcast media?

O’Reilly: Every year, more and more advertising money is being plowed into social media. It’s a conversation. Most traditional media is a one-way monologue. It has to figure out a way to co-exist with social media. When radio appeared in the 1920s, many said it was the end of newspapers. But papers got smart and started printing the radio program schedules. It learned to co-exist. Traditional media has to redefine itself, too.

FP: What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?

O’Reilly: I have two books on the go. One is The Case For Creativity by James Hurman. It proves that award-winning advertisements outperform non-award winning work by 300-400 per cent. That’s important, because most clients think award shows are useless. That is an uninformed point-of-view. The other book I’m reading is Five Presidents by Clint Hill. He was the secret service agent who jumped onto the back of the limo the day JFK was assassinated. He worked for five different Presidents. Fascinating to read the differences.

A weekly radio show/podcast is a cruel mistress. During the run of show (January to June), my writing is consumed and confined to the program. It’s a seven-day-a-week proposition during that period. But I love it. It’s "joyful stress."

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.

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