'Anatomy of an Ad' Helps Ad Age Keep Grand Neal in Crain Family

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In 2015, Crain Communications' Automotive News/autonews.com received the prestigious Grand Neal Award for coverage of a very serious issue—GM’s ignition-switch recall.

A year later, Ken Wheaton, editor of Crain’s Advertising Age, sat among colleagues at last week’s Neal Awards not really thinking his group’s equally well-done but obviously lighter 2015 Super Bowl package could win in the same category. Yet—just like Spotlight won the Best Picture Oscar this year but The Artist four years before—it is excellence not subject that gets rewarded.

“We’re in an interesting space, a little more voicey than most B2B books,” Wheaton said yesterday, adding that others at Crain might say, “’Oh, they’re the crazy kids around the corner.’" Here’s what Leanna Orr, managing editor of Chief Investment Officer magazine and chair of the Neal Awards judges selection committee, said about those “crazy kids”:

“Ad Age’s rigorous and beautifully produced Super Bowl coverage leveraged top-notch original reporting with an array of digital tools used to their full effect. As B2B media peers, the judges found Ad Age’s work both inspiring and humbling—and truly deserving of the 2016 Grand Neal award.”

Ironically, Wheaton said that 2015 was probably the first year they weren’t up all night before the big game working because it was their first, all-digital package. Each Super Bowl ad requires Ad Age to do a mini-movie review. That was Wheaton’s job last year, and he recalls some agencies releasing them as late as possible—not a happy policy for those still doing print.

But it was also the first year that Ad Age put together their Anatomy of an Ad package for the Super Bowl. That feature has been such a hit with their audience that they’re trying to find an Olympics advertiser to partner with for the summer.

“We were lucky enough to find a marketer to go behind the scenes with from start to finish,” Wheaton recalled. “They really trusted us to keep a lid on a very big investment. It was the first time that anyone showed something like that. The advertiser was Loctite glue, owned by Henkel [a German Fortune 500 company], and they just had this wild idea for an ad. I think they spent 95% of their 2015 budget on that ad.

“Anatomy of an Ad got very good trade news coverage, and we did it with MasterCard for a big soccer final and then with Intuit and Death Wish Coffee for this year’s Super Bowl. People like behind-the-scenes stuff. It also shows the business strategy behind the ads and what the creative process looks like—can be a little crazy but you also see some commonalities.”

Wheaton added that a Super Bowl chart of commercials they do each year “kills it every time.” It’s quite competitive to find out who the Super Bowl advertisers will be. (The reporter who covers it for Variety used to work at Ad Age.) “It’s one of our highest traffic [generators].” Ad Age’s Super Bowl ad-review pages are so popular that they crashed the website the day after the game, when everyone wants to be prepared for the inevitable water-cooler discussions.

“People want to see our take on it”—consumers and businesses, Wheaton said. “What do we see as well-crafted?”

Also in the winning package were news stories about strategy—what show will the network air after the game, how much money are ads going for, for example—and other digital pieces.   

Wheaton is very quick to point to a talented team behind the award-winning package. “Simon Dumenco was editorial director at the time, Matt Quinn executive editor. Nat Ives, our current executive editor, also did a lot of work on the overall package and sort of shepherded all the pieces. I should mention Jeanine Poggi and Anthony Crupi, both of whom cover TV for us. (Jeanine also won the Neal for Best Range of Work by a Single Author.) Nathan Skid is video production manager and David Hall associate multimedia producer

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…