It’s about the creative ideas, stupid!

Hey agencies, here’s my recipe for your success.

Be very clear on what your role is, and do it very, very, very well.

That’s it.

A good friend is attending a digital conference and he posted on Facebook one of the “clever” points made by a speaker:

“If a product isn’t that good we shouldn’t fix it with a great ad. We should be able to help the client make it a greater product”

Typical starry-eyed, faux-inspirational, conference-speaker nonsense.Here’s my reply to him.

“Hmmm…I don’t agree. Or, I agree only if it’s the exception rather than the rule, and we’re talking about a little nudge to get the product over the top, not major surgery. When you spend more time and focus being a marketing consultant than an ad agency, sooner or later you’re going to get your ass kicked by either a real marketing consultancy (on one side) or by a truly creative ad agency (on the other).”

I think this is an important point to analyze, because although the speaker’s sentiment is likely well-meaning, one might even say entrepreneurial… 9 times out of 10 it is a recipe for mediocrity. And mediocrity in our business sooner or later always leads to death.

Hey…ad agency people! Wake up!

The single most important reason we get paid is to come up with the very best CREATIVE IDEAS that help solve business challenges for our clients.

Again, (in a different color)…the single most important reason we get paid is to come up with the very best CREATIVE IDEAS that help solve business challenges for our clients.

Anything else that you do for the client is fine, as long as it’s in the service of facilitating those great ideas, which are your ultimate output.

You’re deeply involved in product ideation? Great! Just know that sooner or later a specialized company like IDEO will come in and do it with a better methodology, with more resources and a much sharper focus than you. (So I hope at least you’re being able to translate this involvement into a superior creative idea. And I hope you’re getting paid extra for it, or you won’t be profitable.)

You’re deeply involved with optimizing business process? Great! Just know that a “real” business consultancy like McKinsey or BCG will be brought in the day the CEO (not the CMO) decides he needs outside help for a life-or-death issue. (So I hope at least you’re being able to translate this involvement into a superior creative idea. And I hope you’re getting paid for it.)

You’re deeply involved in their strategic planning? Great! Just know that the best and biggest marketers are developing their own in-house strategic planning departments (eg. Kraft Foods) and will eventually want to call the shots on the things that matter. (So I hope at least you’re being able to translate this involvement into a superior creative idea. And I hope you’re getting paid for it.)

You’re deeply involved in marketing plan development? Great! Just know that when a real CMO comes in and decides to upgrade the level of the marketing department so as not to have to outsource their very reason for being, they will either hire your staff or hire better marketers and get it done in-house. (So I hope at least you’re being able to translate this involvement into a superior creative idea. And I hope you’re getting paid for it.)

You’re deeply involved in branded content creation? Great! Just know that independent producers and artists who focus on only that will, over the long-haul, be able to do it for less, and likely better than your over-stretched creative and production departments. (So I hope at least you’re being able to translate this involvement into a superior creative idea. And I hope you’re getting paid for it.)

You’re deeply involved in the minutiae of production? Great! Just know that (unless you’re routinely hiring the very top talent in the industry), that very top talent can always come in and do it with more imagination and flair than you, because that’s all they do. And you’re not even necessary in that equation, because a client with a strong in-house agency can hire their own production companies, ala Google Creative Labs. (So I hope at least you’re being able to translate this involvement into a superior creative idea. And I hope you’re getting paid for it.)

Here’s a thought…how about taking all that deep knowledge and translating it into a unique, powerful, fresh, momentous creative idea…and giving it life through multiple channels in a way that touches the right people in the right way at the right time for maximum effect? Why, that’s what WE do, and we do it far better than anyone!

Levi’s “Go Forth” – making the brand stand for the raw idealism and unbridled exuberance of youth…that’s powerful if you can pull it off. And I believe they do (at least, so far). Eat your heart out, McKinsey!

Chrysler “Imported from Detroit” – giving a tarnished brand a chance at resurrection by tapping into the dormant sense of pride of the American people? Wow. Eat your heart out, IDEO!

“But wait!” you ask…”aren’t we supposed to know our client’s business better than they do?”

Of course we are.

Being involved in the client’s business greatly improves the odds of us hitting the big idea, and builds strong partnerships. And this is good business for everyone.

Also, specialized agency departments or business units will have their own business model which can live off of a different final output (like shopper marketing consulting, product design, digital production, etc.). And this is also good business because everyone is clear on what they’re paying and what they’re getting.

But consider this: we’re always moaning to the clients about how the creative brief has to focus on the key ONE thing, how jamming a message full of benefits is counter-productive, etc. And then we go and sell ourselves to the client as a multi-pronged, cross-functional, multi-dimensional, paradigm-redefining, integrated jack-of-all-trades? Please…

Folks, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that being woven into all parts of the client’s business will keep us safe for ever.

It will do so only as long as the final output is great creative ideas that solve business challenges.

We are what we are.

Let’s own it, and let’s go out and kick some ass.

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One thought on “It’s about the creative ideas, stupid!

  1. Pingback: Product design in the hands of creatives? Hilarity ensues | adboardingpass

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