Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Brand Suicide, Comment, Perspective, Planning, Standards
One of the things that blows me away about ad agencies is how many people they many have in them.
Of course, part of this is that every 5-10 years, we invent a new discipline to incorporate.
Can you see the theme?
Yeah, they’re all bloody planners.
We sit there pontificating about how we add to the work – elevating conversations or connecting to audiences – but what if we ultimately exist just to help our agency bosses pull back some of the fee they’ve lost by selling the value of creativity down the river?
OK, so I don’t think planners are useless [even though I would say that, wouldn’t I] but the fact is, when I look at the amount of people inside an agency, I wonder if the quantity is driven more by the managements focus on creating process [which creates money] or this is what it takes to play in the modern communication World.
I may be cynical, but I think it’s the former.
When we started cynic, we did an incredible amount with just 4 people.
Sure, we farmed a lot out.
Sure, we were reliant on collaborating with other specialists.
But the amount of work we did as a foursome, was easily on par with the output of agencies with 10 times that number of staff.
And in terms of quality – both in terms of idea and execution – we were miles ahead of so many of the agencies, which was reflected in the projects we ended up being given to work on … from helping design airport lounges for Virgin to helping NASA position themselves to get more cash from Congress to building mopeds with Piaggio that were designed around a countries needs rather than just a riders.
But here’s the thing … as we got bigger, we got slower.
We found ourselves allowing processes to impact our creation.
We looked at ‘how to get things out the door’ rather than what will make the biggest difference.
Sure, some of those processes were necessary, sure some were valuable … but some – in fact, a lot of them – were processes that ultimately achieved nothing. Created because we felt that’s what we had to do rather than what was the right thing to do.
I’m ashamed to say it took us a long time to realise the horrible path we were going down, but we ultimately corrected it and while that resulted in us making less money – there’s definitely cash to be made in process – it made us happier and got us back on track developing ideas that made a lasting difference.
I mention all this because I recently read a quote that sort-of sums up the issue cynic went through and the issue facing adland now …
“Being a technology company means that a single programmer’s work can boost the company’s profit for years. In a media company, one person’s work gets noticed perhaps for a day, and then vanishes in the stream of fresh news”
But my point isn’t about tech vs media – though that’s an interesting point in itself – I’m talking about what the quote is really about … empowerment vs process.
When cynic was firing on all cylinders, it was when we empowered our talented people to make decisions and take action.
They would always surprise us and we would develop ideas that were infectious and intriguing in ways we never expected.
Where it went wrong was when we started conversations with ‘the process’ rather than the ambition.
But ironically, process seems to be where a lot of agencies like to play.
Probably because they know – as we discovered – process pays.
Process keeps people in jobs.
Process boosts share price.
Process keeps the wheels turning.
If the truth about planners is they exist for no other reason than to help agencies make more money from clients, then maybe the truth about the modern ad industry is that it exists to simply do the things the clients don’t really want to do.
Or delay the decisions they don’t really want to make.
Now compare that to how the tech industry operate.
They are hungry.
They believe in their potential and capability.
They empower their people because they know freedom creates opportunity.
Sure, there’s wastage … dead ends … loss of cash …
But their focus on talent, speed and empowerment means they discover it quickly, learn from it, adapt and move on … because their ambition is to find the thing that can create something huge because they know huge means money.
And guess what, the corporate world believe in this too.
They don’t see it as a loss, they see it as an investment.
Adland used to behave like this.
Adland used to think like this.
Clients used to view us like this.
Maybe it’s time we got back to it?
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