In 2006, TAXI was one of a handful of hot new agencies that opened up shop in NYC. It had quickly made its mark with some marketing stunts it had done for founding client Amp’d Mobile. And I, as yet unmarried and without children, was willing to do whatever it took to work there. So when they offered me a job, I took it despite the position being Business Development Director, a fancy title for “new business person” or “sales job with crazy hours.” I had run many new business pitches in my past agency jobs, but never had it been my primary focus. Before I knew it, I was on the phone with search consultants selling an agency I didn’t yet know very well, and winging answers to questions I didn’t know to expect.
The single biggest question these search consultants asked me was, “What industries are you guys interested in doing work for?” They were expecting “cars, beer, consumer electronics, etc.” Instead, my knee-jerk response was, “We don’t really care; we just want like-minded clients.”
Since becoming a client-side marketer, I’ve developed an appreciation for the “science” of marketing. I genuinely believe the “art” of advertising works better when it’s backed and influenced by the right dose of data and analytics. However, the agency gal inside of me still believes there is a LOT to be said for gut. “We don’t really care; we just want like-minded clients” was my gut response and to this day I believe that’s always the right answer. Had I been forced to choose industries TAXI should pursue, health insurance would not have made it into the top fifty. And yet the first business I pitched (and won) at TAXI was regional health insurer Blue Shield of California, which remains the best and most rewarding client I’ve ever worked with.
Health insurance is obviously a hotly-debated topic today, but it wasn’t making big headlines in 2006. It was well past the time of the Clintons’ botched health reform agenda, and before the concept of universal healthcare had been revived. And yet here was a California-based insurer publicly recognizing that health insurance was simply way too confusing, and pledging to make it easier. Blue Shield was in fact the first health plan provider to propose a strategy for Universal Coverage back in 2002. So this wasn’t just some fabricated position for marketing purposes: Blue Shield was willing to hear complaints, change its ways, point out its shortcomings. Our clients eschewed the “happy, diverse families running around eating apples and playing soccer” approach typical for (really boring) health insurance marketing, and chose humor instead to make fun of itself and its jargon-based industry that it rightly believed was benefitting from deliberate confusion. One of my favorite TV spots in our campaign was Circumcision.
The positive consumer reception of that approach prompted us to go further. We wanted to genuinely solicit consumer sentiment about the industry. So we created the Chat Box, a mobile unit we set up in different locations across the state designed to capture residents’ thoughts about the state of the industry, and recommendations for how Blue Shield could operate differently.
A year later in October of 2008, we took to the streets again, this time with “Uncovered,” an exhibit featuring dozens of statues symbolizing the millions of Californians who live without health insurance. The display was designed to unabashedly draw attention to the state’s 6.7 million uninsured, and it provided a grassroots platform for citizens to share their opinions with elected officials.
This kind of work isn’t the sort you can do with just any client. This was a set of clients, right up through the CEO, who believed in something truly important, and was unafraid to take a real stand in the media and, importantly for us, in their approach to marketing. I’m wholly unsurprised to see that they still do.