Big or small, traditionally focused or digitally focused, only one kind of agency will be left standing in the future:
The nimble one.
There is a grim future for agencies that have a process that looks like so:
Writer and designer team get Creative Brief.
Writer and designer concept, concept, concept, concept, concept…
Eureka! They stumble across an idea they love. Brilliant.
They present to their Creative Director.
Revise, revise, revise, revise, revise, revise, revise, revise, revise.
Think he’ll like it now? Hopefully so.
Re-present to Creative Director.
Looks good. Except just change this, this, this, this and this.
Writer and designer change all that stuff.
Cool. Now they present it to Executive Creative Director.
Nope. Won’t fly. Start over.
Writer and designer utter 500 curse words under breath toward ECD.
Concept, concept, concept, concept.
Present again to Creative Director.
Present to ECD.
Present to account person.
Present to account person over that account person.
Revise, revise, revise, revise…doesn’t the client hate blue? We should change that. Well, even though this is technically something the audience will never care about, we should probably put that in too. But let’s ask 3 other people to make sure. Joe sent Mary an e-mail on this to confirm and he’s waiting to hear back since she talked to that client in the initial meeting and he wasn’t there.
In the meantime, more changes.
Revise, revise, revise, revise.
Rehearse presentation to client many times over.
(Wow. And this is just to get out the door of the agency, huh? Sure as hell hope it’s stellar work by now.)
Present to client.
She pretty much likes it. Just a few changes to make and it’s good to go.
Back to the agency.
Revise, revise, revise, revise, revise.
Back to the client.
Almost there, just a few more things to tweak.
Revise, revise, revise, revise, revise, revise, revise.
Photo shoot. Who do we know? Him? Her? Them? Let’s take a look at a few different options. Better yet, let’s have 3 meetings on it before we decide.
Locations – where are we going to go based on the budget?
Meet, meet, meet, meet, meet.
Wow, so many options. I’m sure this won’t take long at all for us to settle on just one.
Color corrections. Tweak, tweak, tweak, tweak. Can we get this yellow more yellow? Can we get this red less purple and more red?
Oh, it’s not a print ad we’re talking about? A radio spot then?
Let’s listen to a bunch of demos.
Choose the talent.
Schedule the session.
Can you put a little more smile in your voice?
Edit, edit, edit, edit.
What’s that? It’s a video, you say? OK then. Edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit.
How’s the sound quality?
How’s the video quality?
Let’s go through several rounds of back and forth internally.
Who saw it? Did Jim see it? Did Lisa see it? Did Bill see it? Did Ann see it? What did she think? On the email, did you CC her and him and everyone but their dogs and cats? What did he think? I heard he liked it for the most part but had just a few tweaks. Oh crap. You know what that means.
Tweak, tweak, tweak, tweak, tweak.
Eventual client approval.
Media placement. Negotiations. Phone calls and emails fly back and forth.
One ad produced.
So how long did that take?
This process of production doesn’t work anymore. It literally doesn’t fit with the actual living world around it. It is the comet that is going to kill certain agency dinosaurs. Some of these slow-moving, methodical brontosauruses are dead already.
The rest of us in touch with Planet Earth will find a way to speak on behalf of clients in a way that balances creativity with a more timely approach. Put another way, we are able to say a lot more messages of relevance in the time you take to generate one message. One very expensive message.
Sure, it’s going to run many times over the next several months. OK. Congratulations. It’s still one message.
Meanwhile, once the dinosaur finally presents the completed ad to the world and it gets written up in trade publications and the creative team dreams of awards and the Executive Creative Director takes a picture with the client, one simple fact will remain:
That one ad, no matter how good or how bad, will have a very limited shelf life.
People may very well like it. But it still will have a definitive expiration date that may not justify the amount of work gone into creating it. It won’t run for years. If it’s like most, it will run for months. Heck, some even run just one or two times! It is a home-run-or-strike-out proposition. And nobody hits a home run every time out. But they can hit a lot of singles, doubles and triples.
Yet, I still believe there is very much a place in the world for traditional media. There is great power and beauty in a print ad done well, a radio spot said compellingly, a TV spot that captivates our senses and a direct mail piece that delights when we open it.
But the inefficient, long and winding production process that goes into creating it will be its undoing. Its process can’t compete with the fluidity of digital media and the immediacy of what we demand from brands.
Its only hope is an agency that breaks down the internal walls of approval and can get out of its own damn way so that great work can get out the door of the agency more frequently.
We have always strived for this in agencies. But now, more than ever in our fast moving world, quality will mean the life or death of an agency. We don’t need factories that churn out crap work more frequently either because that’s not a solution. Unless your solution includes miserable creative people who are continually looking for a job.
While some agencies can spend months coming up with one grand message, I will take a walk in a city full of millions of people who expect to access a website, view a Facebook page, connect with a colleague on LinkedIn, read a blog post, watch a video, share a photo, hold a Google+ Hangout or listen to a podcast on their smartphone or tablet – within only a few seconds.
Our demand for higher quality content from brands sooner rather than later isn’t a phase or describing some select group of people. It is the way of our world.
Quality in an agency system that lets better work rise to the top without overthinking, internal politics and logjams is the only hope. That takes three T’s: Talent, Trust and Technology:
Talent: You can’t fake talent at the Creative Director level. It comes from someone who knows a great idea when they see one. They don’t let logistics and technicalities bounce that idea off the table too soon. They don’t need to show it around the agency and collect a million opinions to know if it’s great. It requires the talent to write a Creative Brief that isn’t comprised of two sentences but gives the team real guidance (without confining them by telling them exactly what to create). And it takes the talent to understand that you’re not only in the business of serving the client but representing a hard-working team back at the agency that is counting on you to present brilliantly. It takes a special person to be creative, clear and captivating. You’ve either got it or you don’t.
By the way, you need talented vendors too. Not all printers, for example, are created equal. If you go with a trade printer who can get you a too-good-to-be-true deal, you probably shouldn’t be surprised when they screw up your business card that calls for rounded corners, unique textures and fancy die cuts.
Trust: You can’t fake trust. If you have the talent in the form of the best people in the right roles, how much second guessing and back-and-forth should there really be? Or if you have talented people who also have egos the size of Mt. Rushmore, there can be a lack of trust (and humility) there too.
Technology: The first two above are hard. They’re human elements. This one is much easier. When you have project management software like Basecamp (we use this at Caliber and love it – as do our clients), you are literally putting the team on the same page. Everyone can see the latest files, discussions, timelines, etc. It’s a beautiful thing. Assuming everyone actually uses it, it virtually eliminates the “Did you send me that latest version?” question that comes so often with conventional e-mail. This and other tools like it only make internal and external agency communication easier and faster.
When talent, trust and technology are humming along, you not only eliminate unnecessary steps in a cumbersome production workflow. You have a better culture and better relationships.
It’s not a big agency thing. It’s not a small agency thing. It’s not a traditional agency thing. It’s not a digital agency thing.
It’s an intelligent agency thing.
Because whether you realize it or not, life is happening while your ad is in production.
The future favors the nimble.