Brands aren’t the colors, shapes and typefaces that companies use to distinguish themselves from all other logos. A brand is how we talk, listen, respond to and care about those we want to know. No longer just interrupting with a quick message, it’s a two way conversation in an open forum that lives on the permanent record. It’s no different than the kinship we share with our friends, family and loved ones. It has the power to turn strangers and acquaintances into deeper, more meaningful relationships with the intention to grow up and old together.
A strategy is the contract written between creative and client; a simple structure of direction that when followed plots a path where both sides agree to a common end. But strategy is nothing without the human element. If the emotional insight is ignored, we miss the root of what scares us, nurtures us, joins us and motivates us. This insight taps into the things that make us human and form real and meaningful relationships. These last far longer than convincing someone to try your product for the very first time. If we think only logically and ignore emotion, we’ve failed in the most basic way.
As brands, we can say anything we like about ourselves: The Biggest, The Fastest, The Cheapest, The Strongest. We can put millions of dollars behind each claim to make them pervasive and ubiquitous. We can meet our audience at every media source, social channel and new technology. But if we don’t fulfill on our promises, we’re liars. Once we lie, trust is lost. When trust is lost, all is lost.
This messy little combination of opposites is inextricably connected. Art is an emotionally charged experience that can change lives with depth and meaning or, at the very least, the way we see life. But art can be nothing more than a frivolous little exercise without a patron to expose it to a broad audience while commerce can be nothing more than a heartless transaction without a larger purpose. At first, they don’t appear to coexist naturally but together they are the engine that drives the culture and economy.
Marketing is a faith-based religion. If you believe, the possibilities open, things that shouldn’t be become and the world is more than limited to what’s worked in the past and what seems simply apparent. Belief makes the promise to fill the void. Belief becomes commitment, commitment becomes action and action becomes results! If you don’t believe, synicism is your talisman, you’re in this alone and the idea of imagining the impossible is impossible. Choose wisely.
Feel that? It’s another brilliant idea you’ve spent days and nights and countless soul-twisting hours only to watch die. Want to avoid that feeling? Push out another thing that just meets the specs of the job. But be prepared, it’ll most likely be met with the same level of disinterest. Instead, try to incite a conversation, an opinion, feelings and you’ve drawn the attention of fans and critics, alike. You’ve created a conversation, an argument, genuine interest. Congratulations! You matter. If you’re going to do something, do something that puts your soul on the line. It only hurts when you care.
Tell me a story. Now tell it quicker. Now change it in the middle. Now tell the one theme in a variety of ways. Now make it sequential and lead the viewer from one touch point to the next. Now make the story portable and follow your viewer from experience to experience. Now make the story end happily ever after and turn your viewers from a consumers into advocates so they can continue your story to everyone they come in contact with. Now do it again!
The things we love inspire us. They give us energy and make us want to create. Whether it’s a person or an experience or a culture, our love of life is heightened and we want more so we create more. Seek out that thing that you love. And if you don’t know what that is, seek love. If you already have some, seek more! There’s never enough. You’ll probably notice that things grow in your wake and all around you. These are the guidelines that empower us to create and love our work.
We come up with hundreds more ideas than are actually bought or produced. It’s not that all those dead ideas are wrong but just too beautiful to live in a world that must solve business problems. Oftentimes they’re killed by a test score or an arbitrary comment from a well-meaning client or maybe your own boss who just can’t see it. But once in a while, your shiny, good idea makes it through the gauntlet. Relish it! Do we have to fail to succeed? Well, no. But success certainly feels more powerful when you have.
If someone comes up with an idea that enhances another idea in progress in an unexpected direction, the value to the work is expanded and in turn, the agency’s value to the client is strengthened. This is not limited to the creative department. Great ideas come from all directions. In particular, the media department or an account manager or strategists can shed light on the creative product from fresh and unexpected directions. All along the way and when celebrating a win, everyone feels an investment in what the agency produces so the culture is fortified.
Every client is different. Some require enormous amounts of attention. Others just want to be dazzled at the presentation. For those interested in being a larger part of creating the work, it’s an open invitation. These are opportunities to understand their particular needs. There are a variety of tools to include them: ‘Tissue Sessions’ with their brand team that actively include them as part of the strategy/creative team. ‘Adlobs’ (ad-like objects) present a top-line of an idea to gauge the client’s or their market’s receptiveness to different directions in rough form. ‘Open Brainstorms’ investigate perceptions even before any creative work is begun. Throughout, agency/client relationships are strengthened.
When you build a place where creative people can do what they do best and feel empowered and protected, word gets out. They tell their friends and good gossip grows on the street. Meanwhile, the industry at large starts noticing better solutions coming from your department. During every day in the process, when a writer or designer from another company or a freelancer returns to their desk they make a basic comparison of what they’re doing at their current job to what they could be doing at your place. They’re predisposed to take your call. Or, if they have innate initiative, they’ll call you. This is our stamp of pride, and we find many clients coming back to us for more of our perfectionist-backed work.
A strong concept begins long before the epiphany that identifies a well-conceived idea. Once you discover an idea that puts a chill up your spine, chances are, it began with a unique and clear strategy based on an honest, human truth. This forms the foundation for fresh creative to flourish into a compelling story whenever and wherever the intended receiver encounters it. A strong concept is an infectious bolt of lightning that’s sparked by a solid strategy. When it’s true it reaches the heart.
The ideal creative department is a balance of the discipline required to produce creativity-on-demand and the spontaneity that can form camaraderie and give it a sense of identity. It’s an open place where creativity is not just used to solve problems, it’s how people feel and express themselves when they come together inside or outside the office. When that balance permeates the creative department it’s not just a group of people producing deliverables, it is a seminal team.
An agency’s culture is its most valuable commodity. Nurture it and it grows. Poison it and it dies. The biggest misconception ever introduced to the advertising business was the idea that creatives and account managers have entirely different agendas and priorities and can never completely trust one another. Nothing works without respect. The ideal agency management/creative relationship is one with a seamless free-flow of information, ideas and approaches unencumbered by walls, departments or hierarchy. Everyone should feel a sense of contribution and pride with a vested interest in everything that results.
In the event we lose a pitch or the process falls short or work is rejected, group debriefings are essential. Things can only be improved by evaluation and discussion to form better practices. We are in the communication business — everything is solved with communication.
“Open Creativity”: As Creative Director, my responsibility is to provide an environment where ideas flourish whose boundaries aren’t limited to the creative department. Creative executions are the agency’s final product but every discipline within the agency informs them. The best work is an ego-free, free-flow of creativity from all the minds that touch it from beginning to end. The joy at the heart of creativity should run through the halls and pop up in unexpected places, people and ways. Everyone is creative! Art directors, copywriters and designers can be inspired by an insightful strategy, a unique media placement or the unexpected research number. The creative department can return the favor by transforming that information into fresh and surprising ideas.