More and more clients are expecting work that goes beyond what they’re asking for. If the brief calls for a new print campaign, the agency may throw in a microsite. Or an outdoor idea. Or a guy with a rickshaw. Whatever.
Problem is, while more and more clients are expecting this, and love to be surprised by additional work, these ideas rarely come to life. They get placed on the back-burner while the real (i.e., urgent, expected, and sometimes less-exciting) assignments are produced.
A few years ago, I was part of a team that helped create a giant snow globe in Times Square with live actors inside. I recently asked my old CD, Chris Hunter, how he sold that idea. (Giant snow globes are never something the client asks for in the original brief.) There’s a huge insight in his answer. Here’s what Chris told me…
I've found the way to move forward [beyond-the-brief work] is to link each idea to some kind of measurable engagement in order to demonstrate the value they add to a program.
In the snow globe's case, it had to do with NY being a media city and getting PR from that. These days I don't know if I'd recommend the Giant Snow Globe as an investment for the client because the return seems pretty low outside of Times Square. But tying online engagement / participation to a real-world installation -- and then incentivizing participation -- can start to demonstrate returns for a client, especially if the engagement aspect of the creative drives pass-along behavior. A snow globe that was web-cammed that would allow viewers to control what the actors did inside it, for example, would start to get at that (not a very creative example but you get what I mean).
Also, it's best to build in engagement programs (be they online, in a real location, or both) at the start of the brief development. This turns the extra thinking into a real assignment vs. a time-wasting exercise. If the client isn't disciplined enough to do this, then at the very least bundle your extra idea firmly to original assignment -- print in this case -- so that the two play off one another and are co-dependent. This starts to turn what was once a print assignment into something richer and more programmatic. And by this, I mean make it so that one cannot really exist without the other.
I guess what I'm suggesting is, eliminate the 'lucky-strike-extra' sensibility from your mindset and theirs. It will help make your engagement concepts seem more core and essential vs. extra credit.
(Chris Hunter helped his team win a Bronze Lion at Cannes this year, so he knows what he’s talking about.)
- Only 37 percent said they have a clear understanding of what their organization is trying to achieve and why.
- Only one in five was enthusiastic about their team’s and their organization’s goals.
- Only one in five said they had a clear “line of sight” between their tasks and their team’s and organization’s goals.
- Only 15 percent felt that their organization fully enables them to execute key goals.
- Only 20 percent fully trusted the organization they work for.
The Brothers Heath write, "As sobering as those statistics are, they’re very abstract. But Covey superimposes a very human metaphor over the statistics and says, 'If, say, a soccer team had these same scores, only 4 of the 11 players on the field would know which goal is theirs. Only 2 of the 11 would care. Only 2 of the 11 would know what position they play and know exactly what they are supposed to do. And all but 2 players would, in some way, be competing against their own team members rather than the opponent.'"
You've got to know what your agency's goals are, what they're doing to achieve them, and who they're using. Because if they're not as dedicated to creative work as you are, it will be a problem for you in the long run.
It's the reason portfolio students send their books to places like Goodby and Crispin and Boone/Oakley and not to...well, I won't name names. But you know who your last ditch agencies would be.
As many of you may be looking for your first job, I thought it might be helpful to see how I landed the jobs I had, and what made me leave. Forgive me if this is too biographical. It’s just my experience.
If you want the Cliffs Notes, here are a couple things that stand out to me:
- Every job I’ve ever taken came as a result of some connection I had. Even my first job came because my school notified me. Yes, a great book is the price of admission, and you can't charm your way into a job without solid work. But I owe a lot to my network of friends.
- I always stayed when the agency was dedicated to creative work, and I felt challenged.
- Every time I chose to leave a job, I tried to do it while I was on top, doing my best work. It’s a move patterned after Seinfeld ending his show before he got bad. I got frustrated at a few places, but I never wanted to leave a job out of spite.
What took me there: I received an email from my school job board that this agency was looking for junior creatives. I sent my work and got an interview. It fit my 5 criteria.
What kept me there: It was an agency dedicated to creative work, with really talented people. In my first six months I got into the One Show and produced a TV campaign.
What made me leave: Layoffs from the post-dot com bubble.
What took me there: After being laid off, my art director started freelancing at an agency where her old CD had taken a job as ECD. She needed a partner, so I rode her coattails there.
What kept me there: It was just a stop-gap freelance gig. I was offered a job, but it wasn’t really a creative powerhouse, so I kept interviewing. I made a ton of money freelancing, but was pretty unhappy with the opportunities.
What made me leave: Interviewing elsewhere paid off, and I took a job at a much more creative shop.
What took me there: My old bosses who were laid off from my original job started up a new agency. So I just went back to work for the same people I was working for to begin with.
What kept me there: Great creative opportunities, great people dedicated to creative work, and a culture focused on making our friends jealous of how great our jobs really were.
What made me leave: After three years, it was just time to move on. It’s not like I was going to get a huge raise or be promoted to CD at such a small shop, and I needed some new challenges.
What took me there: Once again, my art director took the job first, and I followed her a couple weeks later.
What kept me there: The first two years were hard, creatively, and I continued to interview around the country. Just as I was getting ready to bail, some clients began to demand more creative work. I was partnered with a more senior art director, given a raise, and used in more pitches and client presentations. I went from a junior creative to ACD within about 5 years.
What made me leave: Again, I kind of hit a glass ceiling. I became a go-to-guy my CDs could count on, which was an important step. But after a few years, it occurred to me that as long as I was the Go-To Guy, I wouldn’t be The Guy. So I began to look for more challenging opportunities.
What took me here: Through my agency network, I found an opening at one of our offices overseas. I was eager for experience on international accounts and an opportunity to prove myself abroad.
What’s keeping me here: Still feeling pretty new. Haven’t reached the top of my game yet.
What's going to make me leave: TBD
On the right is Mary Beth O'Neil. Lives outside of Indianapolis. Single mom. Two kids. Works at a real estate office. Drives a Ford Explorer. Likes Celine Dion.
On the left is you. Fixed-gear bikes, skinny jeans, PBR. You live in the city, take the subway to work. Really into the Arctic Monkeys right now. Working on a coffee table book of photos of broken coffee tables. So hip that your portrait is spray paint.
Okay, so maybe I'm stereotyping a little. You don't like PBR. My point is, this is you and your target. For most of the projects you work on in your career, you will not be your target audience. Not even close. Remember that. You should like your ads, but it's more important that your ads connect with her than amuse you. This sounds straightforward, yet time and again, I see work in student books, or have creatives pitch ideas that are obviously meant to entertain people like themselves.
Before I get too far, let me stop and be clear. I am not:
1) Disrespecting Mary Beth in any way. And when you're thinking about your target, neither should you.
2) Saying that you should do lame advertising, or ads that you think suck.
What I am saying is that Mary Beth probably won't get the irony of obscure German house music over visuals of robots in the style of old Japanese monster movies in her Tuna Helper commercial. Honestly, these are the kinds of decisions I see sometimes. Usually executional things. Weird for the sake of being weird. The kind of stuff that drives clients nuts.
Just consider your audience, is all I'm saying. If you get the chance, go to focus groups and listen to them talk about their lives for a few hours. Then come up with something great that connects with them.
I'm reading a book called Rejected: Tales of the Failed, Dumped and Canceled, in which various funny people recall not getting it quite right. As I was reading, it struck me how big a role rejection plays in what we do. Our job is basically a stream of rejection, punctuated by the very occasional stepping stone of success. Our partners reject our ideas. Our creative directors reject our ideas. Our clients reject our ideas. Heck, we even reject most of our own ideas. And success in our careers is determined less by how many successes we have, but more by how we handle all the rejections.
I also heard an interview with the book's author, Jon Friedman, on The Sound of Young America. He hosts "The Rejection Show," more or less a live version of his book. And in the interview, he explained how once he started doing the show, he became much bolder in his ideas. Because no longer were his failed ideas simply failures. Now they were material for his show. Having the show released him from fear and gave him greater freedom to just go for it.
The point is that you need to be able to take risks and put yourself out there. You need to have the freedom to fail. You want to work at an agency that allows it as part of its culture. An agency that celebrates the spectacular failures. Even more so, you need to give yourself permission to fail. And when you do fail, when you are rejected, get right the hell back up and fail again.
I love multi-media campaigns.
There are few things as inspiring when looking through the awards shows than amazing ideas executed in ways you've never seen before. The Mini launch is a great example of creative media executions. There are countless others that are newer.
These campaigns often include complex installations and things that have never been done before, so a lot of explanation is often required. Fortunately for agencies, they have the means to produce submission videos to award shows to demonstrate the breadth, creativity and sound business results to accompany these innovative campaigns in a clear, comprehensive manner. My agency actually has several people dedicated to this job.
You have your book.
The target audience for your book is a busy group of people. Campaign after campaign of lengthy description multi-media onslaughts may not always be the best approach.
To be clear, I think it's fantastic to see blown-out campaigns. Assuming they're great campaigns and blowing them out makes sense. (Times Square installations and transit dominations probably don't make sense for small start-up companies. Keep the realities of a brand's budget somewhat based in reality. Somewhat.)
But sometimes, I just want to know you can knock out some killer print ads or OOH or posters or something I can look at for 10 seconds and think, "That's cool," and doesn't have a gazillion moving parts.
And please know that blowing out your campaign doesn't make it good. As a recruiter at my agency recently said to me, "Just because you've done an iPhone app for your idea doesn't make it a good idea."
So what's the solution?
Before you blow out every single campaign in your book, make sure it calls for it. Make sure your book needs another blown out campaign. (I'd say two is the maximum amount I have the ability to fully take in.) Above all, make sure the ideas are great.
Show you can do something with legs. Show you can do things no one's ever seen before. Show you'll bring something invaluable to an agency.
But make sure you also, in easily digestible format, show that you can make a traditional ad campaign. Because once you start working, you'll have to make good old fashioned ads.
Give Peter some love (or disagree with him) in the comments section. You can also get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.