Intersection Advertising Agency’s Ally Robbins on Real Content: The Power of Story to Drive Action
If you ever need a measuring stick to determine whether your workspace is as cool as you think it is, take a quick step into Intersection in downtown Muncie, Indiana.
As Ally brewed us some coffee in the kitchen area to keep us alert during our 8 a.m. interview, I marveled at the open concept space, colorful décor and eclectic arrangement of comfy chairs and couches. Through full length windows I watched downtown workers walk by outside, their own cups of joe in hand.
This delectable office is Ally’s reward for over two decades of hard work managing teams of salespeople, producers and creators, most of those years spent in agency settings. She made the leap from Joseph David Advertising to Intersection in 2013.
Here, she has been able to utilize all that experience. The full-service agency handles branding, video production, graphic design, storytelling, event planning, and everything in between.
“We do everything from the start of the thought process to the very end, consider every touchpoint of how the brand interacts with consumers,” Ally said. “That’s where the name comes from, meeting at the intersection of brands and people.”
DIVING DEEPER TO DISCOVER WHY
Intersection is serious about getting to the core of any campaign or project. They have a Simon Sinek-esque obsession with “starting with why” that extends to every client, no matter how small. They spend time getting to know why their clients do what they do in an in-depth immersion process.
“It can take a full day sometimes. That’s especially hard for small business people who have no time, but we highly encourage them to do it. When this immersion process is skipped, we can miss a lot.”
The process of looking inward to determine why you got into business in the first place, who you are as a business and what you really want to accomplish is not easy. But to Ally, it creates an essential blueprint for everything that follows.
That’s because of Intersection’s “why”.
“If you think about what we do in advertising, we affect people’s lives, their livelihoods. Their workers are affected by what we do, the public is affected. There’s a lot of responsibility to do it well. That’s why I love this business.”
USING CONTENT TO DO SOMETHING
Ally Robbins is a straight shooter. So when you ask her how she defines “content marketing”, she’ll tell you exactly what she thinks.
“Content marketing is an industry term. It’s not a public-facing term. People don’t read content, they read stories.”
It’s a good point. Too often, the word “content” carries the connotation of text and multimedia that exist for their own sake. Window dressing. Not part of the function of the website, just filler.
A story, on the other hand, always involves communication. It demands a response at some level.
The idea is also much easier to explain to clients.
“We’re telling their story in a variety of ways based on how we’re going to deliver it. It’s pretty simple,” Ally said. “But we also ask, what is the goal? How are you going to measure the results?”
Nonprofit organizations, Ally said, are ideal clients to promote through content. They simply have the best stories to tell. It also doesn’t hurt that blogging, social media and email marketing can all be done relatively affordably.
In searching her mind for a good example, Delaware County CASA came right to the top. The Court-Appointed Special Advocate program assigns volunteers to children who have been removed from their homes. CASAs serve as a consistent presence for kids as the system drags them in and out of foster homes, attorney offices and courtrooms.
There is a severe shortage of CASAs throughout Indiana, and Delaware County is no exception.
”So many parents are being removed from the home because of the opioid crisis. 400 kids were on the waiting list for a special advocate,” Ally said.
The goal was to beat previous records for training class attendance. Intersection wrote and produced high quality social media content, updated the website and produced a television commercial.
They focused on what they could monitor in real time: social media engagement. When people shared video content, they just produced more like it.
- Video ads were delivered 45,833 times within premium online content.
- Target audiences spent over 371.21 hours viewing and interacting with the videos.
- 96.73% of video ad impressions were viewed in full.
The result? Delaware County CASA’s director, Ashley Soldaat, reported an 89% increase in volunteer applicants.
“It was a successful campaign,” Ally said. “They got more people to that training than they ever had.”
Content means nothing if it does nothing. Stories that move people to action are at the heart of Intersection’s work. It all begins with a thorough understanding of why a client like CASA exists.
But once you establish the why, what’s next?
COPY & DESIGN DOES NOT = CHICKEN & EGG
As a purveyor of marketing resources and LinkedIn Pulse junkie (come on, admit it!), you’ve probably heard the question: “Should copy influence design, or design inspire copy?”
Ally has a definitive answer. Copy first. Always.
“Make sure you get that right. Copy drives design,” she said, leaning forward to peer down at my pen, ensuring it was in use. “You can go create something great, but you need it to match the words. There may be something in that story you can create graphically that ties it all together.”
With CASA, as with all clients, a writer was in the room in that initial discovery session. He or she was listening for a story, for descriptions of the target audience, for the key words around which everything was to be framed, upon which everything was to be built. (It wasn’t me, and I’m frankly pretty jealous.)
“The writer should be involved from the very beginning,” Ally said, emphatically. “Everybody hears things differently. The writer is going to hear differently than the web designer, the developer. The wordsmith is going to hear the client say something that will become the golden nugget for the whole campaign.”
I asked Ally about how working with freelancers was different than in-house writers. She shrugged.
“I look at freelancers as an extension of our team. It should be no different,” she said.
IT’S PRETTY SIMPLE
There are certainly aspects of the work Ally admits are difficult.
Intersection does a fair amount of survey research, for example, that can involve the arduous task of parsing thousands of email or phone responses. Applying that data to determine the most ideal channels of communication among hundreds is a constant struggle.
“Conversion is the biggest mystery ever,” she said. “They say advertising isn’t rocket science; it’s harder. At least rocket science has formulas.”
Looking at the CASA example, however, it all seemed relatively straightforward.
“The recipe was good. People cared about the message, read it and shared it. It’s not much more difficult than that. Sometimes I think we (in the ad business) make it too hard,” she admitted.
They say that if you can’t explain something briefly, you don’t understand it well enough yourself.
Ally Robbins doesn’t have that problem.
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