October 2015

I sat in a creative department meeting yesterday…we had some refreshing dialogue about a lot of subjects. One in particular has application to the rest of the agency, i.e., the importance of our creative product to long-term growth.

Obviously we talk a lot about creativity here…and there appears to be a constant battle between those who are dedicated to making sure we do what we know the client will buy, and those who are dedicated to doing something new, different, out-of-the-box.

So let me, hopefully, clear up a few philosophical battlegrounds.

Doing what is “safe” is about staying within the lines!

Creativity is not!

When you were a kid with your coloring book, which did you do?

We’re in business to be profitable, so I fully understand that processes and well tenured client considerations are necessary to keep the peace and to keep collaboration at the forefront.

However, we are also in a creative business where the phrase “I know what the client will buy” inhibits creativity, and in my opinion, growth.

The tough part is that we have to all learn to live with this dichotomy.

Creative people have to abide by the boundaries of a creative strategy and yes, client/account service considerations.

Account people have to accept the unstructured way creative people arrive at a concept, be open to new thought, give them the time to come up with the right concept, and most importantly, be willing to sell new ideas with conviction.

The mutual goal is to deliver a superior product to our clients. As a result, we will be rewarded with more work.

If client constraints don’t contribute to that goal, it’s our job to educate the client that they are not letting us do what they hired us to – “A” work that will grow their business...and by the way, I’ve seen a lot of “A” work lately at CMG. Good job.

When you really think about it, advertising is all about the consumer’s brain, not the clients’ likes and dislikes – and not the agency’s likes and dislikes.

Marketers want consumers to behave in ways that are beneficial to them. Those behaviors are driven by perceptions - perceptions that reside in the consumers’ brain. And the purpose of advertising, and other forms of market communications, is to change (or maintain) those mental perceptions about the client’s brand. No matter what you call it; advertising’s job is to work on the customer’s brain…and, to do so in a way that enhances the life of the customer, while providing economic benefit to our clients.

Messages that modify the customer’s mental perceptions skillfully can alter behaviors in ways that are stunningly successful for the client. Doing so poorly can have equally disastrous results…and I want to make sure that nothing we do here at the agency facilitates disastrous results.

When we are asked the question “what business are we in?” the answer is hopefully, “We are in the idea business. We create and communicate ideas that change consumer perceptions and behaviors in ways that enhance their lives and benefit our clients.”

That’s a good and true answer.

This is why intelligent clients hire agencies; for these powerful ideas…ideas that move the client’s customers…ideas that ring the client’s cash registers…ideas that the clients are not able to create for themselves.

Ideas should be at the core of what we are all about.

Unfortunately, not enough agency people answer the question this way. Frequently they will say, “We create and place ads for our clients.”

That may be an accurate answer, but it is not a good one. It is far too limiting. It misses the grand purpose of advertising, creativity, and its benefits. It addresses the stuff that agencies do. The things they make. But, it does not recognize the marketplace outcomes that clients expect.

Ideas that successfully deliver market outcomes have quite a different value proposition than the work that is “safe”, “quickly done” and “cost driven”. Their economic value rests in the business benefit they drive to the marketer. What it costs to create the idea is immaterial. And, the value to the marketer is not immediate. It accrues over time.

The idea of creativity that is safe, quick and cheap has led many clients to a false and terribly dangerous assumption that the value of ideas is directly related to the hours it takes to create them…that an idea is a commodity.

This is a patently stupid notion.

Ideas have their own lives – the creative team reminded me of this today. They don’t happen on the time-clock. Some times great ideas come quickly - even instantly. Other ideas can take a more difficult course. They can take countless hours of excruciatingly hard work, stress and frustration to reach the same kind of outcome. Ideas come how they want to come, when they want to come.

Having said that, great ideas are more likely to come, and usually do so more quickly, in an organization that inspires and celebrates innovation. This spirit of freedom to create is the secret of great agencies…and I want us to give our creative team the time and freedom to create big ideas whenever and wherever possible. But this type of culture will never grow unless everyone in the agency embraces it.

The fundamental truth is that the value of an idea is in the outcomes it delivers. Not in how many hours it took to create it.

Pogo was a wise and loveable possum in a comic strip some decades ago – yes, I am dating myself. One of his more famous quotes is, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Clearly, the commoditization of ideas is taking a terrible toll on the advertising business – an industry once known for its joyful brilliance has, in my opinion, been sliding into mediocrity for years. I don’t want CMG to make a similar slide.

I continue to believe that the basic truth is that intelligent marketers hire agencies for ideas that will change consumer behavior. It’s as simple as that.

Sure marketers need “stuff”.
They need ads.
They need commercials.
They need websites.
They need social media.
And all kinds of other stuff.

But the smart ones know that anybody can make stuff – which can make an agency vulnerable at any time. They also know that only the exceptional can generate ideas that move their consumers…and if they don’t really know this fact, then we need to be doing a better job of educating them.

Ideas are what they really need.

All this to say we have great talent at CMG – in all disciplines.

Let’s make sure we all respect each others talents and do everything we can to allow each other to do the best work possible.

Let’s encourage each other to excel.

It will lead to growth and prosperity for our clients.

Joe Bouch