I learnt a few things being the creative head of great agencies like The Jupiter Drawing Room (JHB), Saatchi & Saatchi and Young & Rubicam. Aside from an in-depth knowledge of the business, strategy and creative approach behind a lot of very successful businesses, I learnt about the clients themselves, the people.
Every client I have met in the last 18 years wants the product that comes from the agency process, but not the process itself. By the way, it’s a process that has been around for about 150 years and it has remained relatively unchanged.
The marketers know what I’m talking about: first they brief the strategic agency and pray someone good works on their project. The strategist takes a couple of weeks to present something, again the client waits and finally, get’s to brief it into the creative agency.
More red tape and process means another couple of weeks of waiting in the expensive back office until at last some approved work can be awarded to a production house for yet another lengthy and frustrating process.
From lip service to real creation
The whole thing is fraught with errors and broken telephone experiences. No wonder then, that we have heard the phrase “Agencies are dead” in the hallways of some pretty big companies. Even some agencies have said it themselves.
So everyone talks about change and changing from ‘ad agencies’ into ‘ideas companies’ – we see new models and graphs and it all seems very exciting, yet the marketers still have the same frustrating waste of time they always have. Why?
It’s lip service. No one really has the courage to reset an entire agency, to truly apply a new model that challenges every norm ever invented. It’s simply too hard to even contemplate. Unless of course, you’re starting a brand new company, with no rules, no ‘big brother’ watching over you and the marketer at the very center of the process.
That is the future of the communications agency in my opinion. Combining the processes of the traditional agency model, bringing strategy, creative and production together to remove all the time wastage and red tape. So strategy and creative become one under ‘Creative Strategy’.
I have watched countless clients sit through strategy presentations while agencies use trees of documents to feed back to them their messaging, market, LSM’s, competitors and a lot of stuff the marketers already know. If the client is lucky, there is some insight amidst the barrage of information and every single person in the room looks up expectantly and says: “ok, what next?”.
Creative Strategy is not traditional communication strategy, it would be better described as ‘insight strategy’, asking the hard questions up front, revealing the truth of the company, its product and communications, and uncovering real insights from the market about how to be desirable to them.
Now the presentation tells the marketer who to talk to, what the message is and reveals the actual ideas and creativity of how it should all be done, in one. Which means the marketing/agency team can be quicker, more flexible and more versatile. It also almost always ends up in better quality work.
The hard truth is that marketers don’t need agencies anymore. They need true communication partners that live the brand with them. They need a small team of experienced professionals that almost become part of the marketing department, putting well thought out strategy and ideas on the table that will actually change things.
Only sometimes will the answer be an ad. It could just as well be a business solution, a distribution solution, a sales solution or even a manufacturing solution. That’s the difference between an organisation that truly generates ideas, over an agency that just makes ads.
Ideas with values
Creative Strategy is at the heart of big ideas. The best descriptor I’ve heard for creativity is the ‘process of coming up with original ideas that have value’. The key word there is value. It’s a value that is sorely underestimated by too many companies and it is something that has to change.
I humbly suggest that you have a look at the following link, it will be one of the most interesting 20 minutes of your life – www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html – ask yourself how important creativity is going to be to your company, going into this uncertain future ahead of us. Then ask yourself if your traditional agency can lead you into it.
You may just conclude that Creative Strategy is one answer to all the questions out there.