Thoughts on a Mentor

While there have been many professionals who have impacted my professional development over the last two decades, recently, Whitney Hess asked me to pick one. I picked William Donnelly, a professor at Temple University who taught Media Planning and Marketing Media Products. She was kind enough to publish my terse answers on her blog here as part of her Mentors and Heroes series, which I highly recommend. Lots of interesting insights there.

What Whitney really did that I appreciate most, though, is getting me to continue thinking about the ways Donnelly has affected my career beyond those answers:

Great advertising is entertainment

While the head of Y&R global planning, Donnelly created Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Years’ Eve. Why? To launch Dr. Pepper from being a regional soft drink to a national brand. At the time, the networks didn’t have a good national show on New Years’ Eve. As I understand, it was basically dead time. Creatively using the brand’s dollars to develop entertainment that suited the audience, both the drink and the show took off. Without interrupting, this shrewd concept weaved both the brand and the programming into the national scene for decades. It’s seemingly unimaginable to have New Years’ Eve without that show now, having spread across the world.

As brands are starting to search for these kinds of opportunities again today, it’s a constant reminder of insightful media planning leading to win-win scenarios for everyone involved: from the brand to the network to the audience and the agency.

Screenwriting Insight

Aside from his instruction on media planning, as I was focused on screenwriting, William spent a lot of time outside the classroom giving me brutally honest feedback in my development as a screenwriter. His knack for understanding narrative structure, and especially building conflict, helped me immensely.

Even 15 yars later, I still remember sitting in a small office listening to him draw an analogy of the hero being chased into a tree as a result of the false solution, having rocks thrown at him, until he’s barely hanging on to a branch with his fingertips when he finds the solution that finally solves the problem and allows the character new strength to leap off the branch and vanquish his foes at the last possible moment.

Good Media Planning Means Your Audience Writes The First Draft

Having good data through the media planning process should show you a complete picture of your audience’s media habits. Where the audience indexes highly is a first step. But then there are two additional colors to shade your portrait:

1) What other groups index well within those vehicles. This will lead in some interesting directions that can help build a case for a vehicle and associated audiences you may not have considered.

2) What is the existing editorial or content where the score is high? Don’t just use this information prima facia for the buy, look at the content here, what has been popular with the audience. This is the work that will help lead your creative. The content has clearly been vetted by the audience. It’s what they look to live through vicariously, where they get catharsis, what they hope to attain or get value from. Looking into the content this way will also show who you’re up against competitively. All of this provides a great foundation to create advertising and content that resonates and stands apart from the rest of the clutter.

With all that said, I never did continue along a path of media planning or screenwriting. But William Donnelly sure did create an incredible framework for the strategy, writing, design, and user experience work I do to help brands today.


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