David Neff | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

David Neff


Philadelphia-based Neff Associates, founded in 1987, is an advertising and public relations agency that focuses on hospitality and tourism, real estate, business-to-business, technology and retail.


The Mistake: 

I recognized maybe two years ago that just having a typical ad agency and having all of your departments in silos—like, media buying over there, public relations over there, creative services over there, social media over there—wasn't going to work anymore.

I don't think this realization came from any one specific client experience. It was more about taking a 30,000-foot view on things like the Internet and the massive impact it was having on the world of marketing, and realizing that today, it's all one campaign. You're just using different platforms to accomplish the same goal. 

That doesn't mean that a client can't hire us just to do an ad campaign or just to do a social media campaign. We're still delighted to work with clients on these things, provided it's the right brand and the right account to work in that way. But we really tend to be more efficient when our clients let us do, not necessarily everything, but most of it.

If we're rebranding a company—and that's one of the main things our clients come to us for—or if we're creating a brand for a new business, of course you've got to come up with a great name to accompany a brand, but the next most important thing—maybe the most important thing of all—is the website. I have probably over the past two years turned away more business than I ever have before for that reason.

Some clients will come to us and want us to do a social media campaign or a PR campaign, and then we'll look at their website and you need to pinch your fingers together to even see their site on a mobile device. But if my people on the PR side are pitching to [a reporter] and that person sees that site, they simply won't have any interest. Because if that's the first thing they see, they're out. That just doesn't lend itself to an ongoing relationship.

So I'll say to them, "I'm happy to resume talks with you about whatever it is you're interested in working on, but if I was you, I'd really be thinking about investing in your website." Sometimes they listen and sometimes they go away, and if they go away, well, that's fine.

Today, it's all one campaign.

The Lesson:

It's critically important today to have everyone working together. Everything in our market today plays off of each other, and I saw that when you're working with smart, talented people who really get it, you just never know who's going to come up with a great idea. Somebody in public relations can come up with a great creative idea and somebody in creative can come up with a great public relations idea. That's why we like to include everyone in our discussions about our clients.

Follow David Neff on Twitter at @DavidNeffADV.

Photo courtesy of Neff Associates.