In 2008, The Gate Worldwide, a global advertising agency with offices on three continents, decided to do what many other agencies talk about doing but rarely do. The Gate wrote a book. “Death to All Sacred Cows: How Successful Businesses Put the Old Rules Out to Pasture” delivered the message that sacred cows deserve to die.
My interview with The Gate Worldwide’s New York president Beau Fraser sheds some light on how to get from idea to being published and how to leverage book authorship as a business development tool.
Before we get to the book itself, tell me about The Gate Worldwide and how the agency fits into the universe of multinational agencies?
We think The Gate fits nicely into the universe of multinational agencies. Here’s why: If you are an international client with a “small” advertising budget of say between $15 to $25 million, you really have no place to go. You’d get lost at the mega networks, while partial networks may not cover your marketing area. We have offices in cities of regional influence — New York, London, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore from which we can cover most of the world.
How do you deliver on your website’s promise that you are an agency that “makes considered purchases worth considering”?
We have an eclectic mix of clients in a broad array of sectors: financial, consumer, B2B, media, luxury and corporate.
Regardless of sector, one thing that all our clients have in common is that they market expensive, complicated, hard-to-explain and differentiate products and services that take thoughtful analysis and scrutiny before purchase.
Thus, we make considered purchases worth considering.
The Gate Worldwide is in a very small set of agencies that have written a book about advertising and marketing. What were the key business objectives for you and your colleagues in writing “Death to All Sacred Cows: How Successful Businesses Put the Old Rules Out to Pasture”?
Honestly, it was a lark.
We developed an ad for the agency that ran once in The New York Times below Stuart Elliott’s column. The headline was “Death to all sacred cows.”
A top publisher at Hyperion Books, a division of Disney, saw the ad and asked us to write a book about how businesses need to slay their sacred cows. Being the polite gentlemen that we are, we wrote it. They published it. And it has since been translated into nine different languages. Go figure.
While a lark, it has been a very beneficial lark. The fact that a top publisher approached us (versus being self-published) and that it has been translated into nine languages has given the agency a tremendous amount of credibility.
How did you pick the book’s subject? And, since titles are so important, its title?
We took an old strategy and executed it well.
Like so many small or startup agencies, we think our industry needs to change. But rather than harangue or disparage (the common approach which we think is both naïve and immature), we identified those rules, standards and approaches – or if you will, sacred cows — that the advertising industry blindly follows for no better reason than that’s the way it’s always been. We gave these rules an interesting moniker (sacred cows) and said, these sacred cows no longer will do; they need to be put out to pasture.
How does the book factor into your business development program?
The book played a central role in repositioning and growing the agency. Prior to “Death to All Sacred Cows,” The Gate was called Albert Frank Gunther Law: An old, dusty and frankly, irrelevant agency. The book gave us energy and credibility at a time when we did not have the client list, the work or even the mediocre client case studies needed to attract new business (or talent for that matter). It allowed us to change the subject and talk about what sacred cows prospects should humanely slaughter.
Needless to say, the book was used as a prospect mailer and as a giveaway in pitches. Both of which further underlined our credibility and authority in delivering communications programs that broke with conventional wisdom.
Has the book polished your image with current clients?
Yes. Good clients want their agency to succeed. They understand that success attracts better talent, which benefits them. Once again, it goes back to credibility and, secondly, branding. We became known as the “sacred cow” guys.
What are the book’s key themes and messages, and who is the target reader?
That if we do not question why or the way we do the things that we do, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.
As for our target audience, the book’s subject self-selected our potential readers who coincidently were the agency’s target: senior business professionals who push against the status quo, abhor formulas and want to do things differently. It has also helped us attract those clients who believe in the power of positive and intelligent change.
I am sure that a lot of agencies will be interested in hearing about your process from concept to publication. Beyond selecting the subject, what was your writing system, how long did it take to write the book, did you publish it in other languages and how did you find a publisher?
We’ve all heard this advice before: “Write about what you know in your own voice.” We followed that advice. Since the subject, sacred cows, lent itself to chapters, it was just a matter of coming up with the 24 sacred cows.
Since we were writing about something we know about in our voice, it was written pretty quickly. We started in early May and were essentially done by mid-September.
Since the publisher found us, what we needed was an agent. We networked our way to Luke Janklow at Janklow and Nesbit Associates, one of the premier book agents, and then pitched him. He called Hyperion and negotiated a far better deal.
It’s been close to five years since you wrote the book. Based on your experience, would you do it again? Are you considering writing another book?
Absolutely. “Death to All Sacred Cows” has given us a tremendous amount of exposure, credibility and most importantly, new business.
Write another book?
Ah, no. One book is enough.