Why do all the good ideas die young?
Why is it that out of the sheer volume of marketing communications that are blasted out every day, there are only ever a handful of standout pieces? Ask any agency creative what their favourite piece of work is and they’ll stare wistfully out of a window and tell you it was something that never ran. Something that was enough to win a pitch, but apparently not enough to sell product. Or worse still, the idea started out pure and powerful and was then watered down and chipped away by ten rounds of amends and feedback until the excitement everybody felt when they first saw it became a distant, bittersweet memory. Now, this isn’t a rant about how clients don’t understand us and never let us run our best work. I’ve always found that ‘agency crying into their Frappucino’ shtick a bit nauseating. But, it does seem that in a weird way our industry may have systemised mediocrity. And it’s not as simple as ‘the client/agency doesn’t get it’.
So, let’s try and figure out what’s going on. Firstly, I don’t think agencies work hard enough to understand what the client’s trying to achieve. I know ‘getting results’ is the first slide in all of our cred decks, but are we truly practicing what we preach? We need to be able to define how we’ll know if it has worked, how we’ll know if it will exceed expectations or indeed how we’ll know if it bombs. But, and this is a big but, often if you’re trying to do something brand new, this can be tricky. Because we honestly don’t know, it’s new, untried and untested. Try getting that by a Finance Director who’s staring into a Eurozone crisis and a huge monthly payroll. So you try and fill the gap with strategic insight, your track record and, being truthful, going with your gut a bit. But make no mistake, with new stuff there’s a leap of faith involved that can be uncomfortable.
The second thing is creative judgment. Everybody has an opinion; it can’t be helped. There are so many stakeholders with different points of view, you find yourself arguing about copywriting with procurement and colours with finance. And it’s so, so easy to fall into the stereotype of being the precious agency who doesn’t want to spoil their ‘creation’.
On top of all of that you have an incredibly challenging digital and social environment where the mediocre dies and the exceptional thrives. Ensuring that your work is brilliant has never been more important. Clients get this and the pressure to produce results in this increasingly unpredictable landscape is intense. But the traditional agency/client way of doing things isn’t geared to deal with this level of speed and risk.
What do we do?
Galileo said ‘Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so.’ It’s not enough to just say this is new and difficult to measure, we have to find a way. Also, if we’re asking a client to do something new and untested, our head should be on the block right there with the client’s. It’s all well and good to have faith in something brand new when it’s not your money on the line. If you really believe in it, put your money where your mouth is. If it pays off, everybody shares the rewards, if it doesn’t, everyone shares the pain. But you’re in it together. I think you’ll find that the desire to measure this cool new piece of tech’s effectiveness will be heightened if you do this.
Secondly, when it comes to creative, the first thing the agency needs to ask itself is, ‘Who are we doing this for?’ Are we doing it so that we can feel clever? Or maybe we want to make one of those cool YouTube videos that feature crowds of people filming our work on their iPhones that agencies like to email round to each other? FYI, I’ve never had a non-marketing person email me one of those. Or, do you think this explosive piece of work will bring a better result for the client? And what’s your reason for thinking that?
We all bang on about delivering results for our clients, but make no mistake, this is an ego-driven business and you can use it for good or bad. You can get the client past personal dislike if you can convince them that the target audience will respond. This is the only context on which you can have a meaningful conversation about creative, and if you can’t convince them, well maybe it’s not right. Loving it isn’t enough. It has to, has to, has to work. That’s all the client cares about, it’s all their manager will care about, it’s all the CEO cares about. It should be all we care about.
Head of Agency,
Five by Five
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