Creativity versus channel: Havas Helia, BMB, LIDA & Mr President on why ideas not platforms define the best campaigns

The old days of “we’ll just shove ads down people throats” are long gone and yet creativity often loses out in an industry where effectiveness and speed are the norm for cost-focused marketers.

Ahead of The Drum Dream Awards, we caught up with judges, Trevor Beattie, Nicky Bullard, Steven Bennett-Day and Laura Jordan-Bambach to hear how they get clients to buy into the idea rather than being led by a channel, and lift the lid on the creative process.

Steven Bennett-Day, group executive creative director at Havas Helia

How do you persuade a client to buy into an idea rather being led by channel?

“It’s an interesting question for a bloke that’s worked in digital for the last 15 years, because we tend to be the ones getting stuck following the big idea from an agency. But recently that trend has changed, because the big idea is the culturally relevant thing and a lot of the stuff at the moment that is culturally relevant is coming as much out of digital world because that is the latest cultural thing.

“Generally I tend to try to get clients, even if they are channel focused, to sit back and hear the content – the cultural context and why the idea works in that context – then show them what that means in their channel. The process of getting them to buy into an idea greater than their channel is showing them where their bit fits.”

What’s your process for coming up with ideas?

“I can genuinely, honestly say that I don’t have a process. I don’t know how many people do. I’ve always joked about those old fashioned maps where in the middle of the sea there’s a dragon: well they drew the dragon purely because they didn’t know what was there. That’s why I think creative people are quite brave when they come into work somewhere like advertising or somewhere that’s meant to be half artistic and half commercial, because you have a start point and you know you need an end point but you don’t know what happened in the middle. I guess the way I look at it is finding out what the dragon is in the middle of the sea – I tend to go round and unpick all of the things that sit around that brief, that client, to figure out what the real issue is so I guess slaying the dragon, which sounds fucking cheesy."

Trevor Beattie, founding partner BMB

How do you persuade a client to buy into an idea rather being led by channel?

“That’s what you’ve got to do [put the idea before the channel] and there isn’t enough of that happening. I think that’s the golden ticket: if you can get a client to buy into an idea then where you put it is secondary. If they buy into an idea, an idea can last for years whereas some of the things we see judging are absolute one-offs, which might be a remarkable single event, but I do keep saying, ‘What are you going to do next year then?’ But if you have an idea it can run for years on whatever platform and format comes along and not enough of that happens, I don’t think there’s enough buying into an idea for a brand anymore. If you see a brand it should just represent an idea."

What’s your process for coming up with ideas?

“Just living with the brief night and day so that you experience life through the prism of the brief. So that everything you hear, everything you see… you become very boring because if you’re only working on gloss household paint then that’s all that you see. Every point of reference, every movie that you watch, every bus journey you take you’ll find something relevant to thing that you are constantly thinking about that’s the best way of doing it. It’s an illusion that you sit there and a light bulb comes on, it doesn’t work like that but you are affected by everything that’s around you. You harvest ideas I think that are already out there but you have to be single-mindedly focused on the thing that you’re working on.”

Laura Jordan-Bambach, creative partner at Mr President

How do you persuade a client to buy into an idea rather being led by channel?

“The way that we work at Mr President is really working with our clients up front to figure out what the right question is. We actually don’t get very many briefs that are led by a channel and if they are we sit down with the client and say, ‘actually take a step back from that’ and work out what the business problem is, what their audience is looking for and we connect the two. We take it from there and then that tends to get into the more interesting places creatively.”

What’s your process for coming up with ideas?

“Starting from the question: we are a very senior, strategic creative agency so all the strategists are very creative and all the creatives are very strategic. When we are looking at the problem we’re feeding in all sorts of things from social listening to as much data as we can find to primary research and bringing that in so we get a really good view of who the audience is first. [After we] find an insight within that so it could be an interesting piece of data or it could be a really interesting observation, but when you have that great quality of insight it makes it easy to execute great creative and effective campaigns off the back off that.”

Nicky Bullard, executive creative director at LIDA/M&C Saatchi

How do you persuade a client to buy into an idea rather being led by channel?

“I think it depends where you are starting with the brief. My agency is direct marketing so sometimes we are working on the back of a campaign that’s been created by an above the line agency. Other times we give them [the client] the freedom to start from the beginning: that’s where the big ideas come from so it depends on the brief and the media buy, if the media has already been bought – and it is the wrong way round – but if the media has already been bought and you have to work to that medium then you are a bit stuck, but if you can say, ‘Let’s just do the right thing at the right time to the right person’ you’ve got the holy grail but it doesn’t always happen.”

What’s your process for coming up with ideas?

“There’s normally looking at brief and seeing if there is anything on there that makes you say ‘Oh, that’s quite interesting’ and getting all the rubbish out of the way and then quite a bit of research. We research the market to see what other people are doing, find out about the customers and what’s going on culturally that might be relevant. It’s an absorption thing, you just absorb it and then the actual idea moment, you don’t know when that’s going to happen. It might be when you’re on the loo, it can wake you up in the middle of the night you just don’t know and that’s what’s hard about being a creative you don’t have a pile of paperwork that might take you four hours to get through you have no idea when you’re going to have an idea. There’s a process to getting the right information in but who knows what’s going on up here, that’s where the magic is.”

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