“Don’t take my idea.” “I had that idea first.” “He stole that idea from me.” Work in advertising? At an agency? How many times have you heard those lines spoken? How many times might you have uttered them — or even shouted them — yourself.
It may be true that every campaign, platform and creative execution started out as someone’s chicken scratch on a pad of paper, but our industry’s obsession with giving credit to one person or worse yet encouraging us to always make it about the “me” instead of the “we” continues to hold agencies back from developing modern, interactive, social ideas.
Granted a pure ad idea – tv script, print ad, billboard – might easily be attributed to one person or team; a script or a layout doesn’t get touched by that many people. But what about a digital experience? When does it actually become an idea? After that very first sketch? What if it evolves into something quite different as it gets developed.
A couple of years ago I had an idea for a Twitter based conversation about SuperBowl ads. But someone else suggested tying in sentiment analysis and all the measurement that actually made BrandBowl the experience it became. What got created went far beyond the original brain fart.
Right now I’m working on a new social media sports experience that ties together content, fan participation, data analysis and advertiser engagement. But it’s possible that the true idea – maybe it will become a platform upon which aspiring sports writers can launch their personal brand – won’t even become evident until long after we’ve been through beta. What will the idea be then? And whose idea will it be?
I’ve posted here in the past about Made by Many’s Skype in the Classroom. Heck, in that case MxM didn’t even know what the problem was never mind the idea that would solve it. That emerged from the teachers who actually use Skype. Again, what was the idea? Whose idea was it? Should credit go to the person who identified it when it became apparent? Why not to whoever conceived the process by which the idea was discovered?
I’m not suggesting that great ideas don’t spring from the heads of great creative people. Or that we should encourage team-think to the exclusion of solutions generated by singular talents. It’s just that if we place more emphasis on the idea itself and less on who deserves credit, we might get to better ideas and find that more people want to work on them and make them better.
Years ago, Google’s Marissa Mayer was quoted as saying that at Google the company tries to avoid territoriality and strives to “give the ideas credit, not credit for the ideas.”
I think that as advertising agencies try to get better at building stuff, creating in the digital space, thinking socially, and involving customers and users in the process, that would be good advice for all of us to heed.
Last night at 3:00 am my power came back on after 40 hours of no electricity. I could hear the NStar crews out on the streets in the middle of the night, working under makeshift lights as they cut away fallen branches, repaired a transformer and restored the neighborhood’s electricity.
So these guys (and women) really do work through the night like the relentless PR claims say that they do. Good to know. At least someone at the utilities is doing his job.
It’s hard to give anywhere near as much credit to the people who manage NStar’s social media, however. Or its website. Or its phone lines. It’s one thing to expect customers to go without electricity after a hurricane. But it’s another to assume they should tolerate even a temporary void of accurate information in an age of social media and digital technology.
In Massachusetts, NStar offered a call-in number to report an outage. But every time I got through I found little or no information at all about which towns were out or when they might be back online. A website was even less useful. Updated every four hours it simply said the same thing over and over: recent hurricane conditions had produced numerous outages, crews are working hard, you might expect to go without power “for several days.”
A Twitter stream did demonstrate NStar’s ability to be consistent. Here @NStar_News pushed out tweet after tweet claiming that crews were working hard to restore power. Good to know. But what I really wanted was useful information. A response to my inquiries. A way for customers to share updates with each other. I learned more from other users I found on Twitter by searching my community and keywords such as “outage” and “NStar” than I did from the utility itself.
It seems that in this day and age it would have been awfully easy to put up a map of where crews were working and show where they’d go next. Easier still to create a way for customers to see where others in their neighborhoods or communities did or didn’t have power so they’d have a sense of whether they were an isolated case or part of a large pocket. Why not equip crews with a simple device that lets them automatically check in where they’re working so that families in a blacked out area at least know if they’re being tended to? And at least get a real person onto YouTube providing hourly updates of where you are and what you’re doing, instead of a five month old video about a “Walk for Children.”
My loss of power was a minor inconvenience compared to those whose homes were flooded or damaged by downed trees. And I don’t fault utilities for taking days, even longer, to restore power when they often have to go house to house. Like I said, the crews were out at 3:00 am.
But in a day and age when we have the tools, the platforms and the technologies to keep customers updated in real time, when we can even invite those customers to be part of the process, there’s no excuse for leaving customers in the dark when it comes to information.
NStar, if you want, I would be more than glad to offer advice and guidance on how to develop better, more effective social media practices. Let me know.
Ad agencies are really good at certain things. They’re masters of simplifying and focusing. They’re great at creating – or better yet revealing – a brand’s story. They know how to get attention.
But there’s a whole new set of skills and talents they ought to be developing as they encounter change in the form of new technologies (mobile), new engagement platforms (go ahead, pick one) and new agency models (think Victors and Spoils)
I recently had the chance to interview a number of my peers (a video is in the works) including Goodby’s Gareth Kay, Google’s Ben Malbon and Crispin’s Scott Prindle. We talked about our biggest challenges and how to address them. Five themes stood out.
Focus on innovation
It’s easy to stick with the tried and true, relying on traditional media metrics to make decisions about where we spend clients’ money and run ads. But playing it safe is the riskiest thing we can do. Agencies need to stay on top of changing consumer behaviors, master emerging technology and re-invent our own models in the process. Finding a way to make innovation part of the culture is key. You could set up a lab or skunk-works to experiment more as Ben suggests. Convince clients to dedicate five percent of their marketing budget to R&D as Gareth advises. Or attempt to invent your own new products and services as we’ve recently begun to do at Mullen.
“The faster we are the better we become,” declares Ben Malbon. Obviously such a sentiment runs counter to most agencies linear process – research, strategy, creative development, polish and perfect, present, produce, measure – but the fact is we should all learn something from software developers and the startup culture. Embracing agile, learning to prototype platforms and applications, and re-configuring teams and processes are changes we have to make if we’re to stay competitive. Look no further than John Winsor’s recent post on what CMOs would like to see from agencies.
Jeff Jarvis’s predictions that the middleman role would eventually disappear may not have come true, but the emergence of social platforms and the increased ease by which brands can engage directly with their consumers demand that ad agencies learn new skills and tactics– real time engagement, conversation strategy, crowdsourcing — if we expect to maintain our status. If we learned anything from the initial Old Spice Twitter campaign it’s this: creating experiences that earn attention will matter more than crafting messages that buy it.
Attract better talent
Last year I sat through presentations from the first graduating class at Boulder Digital Works, a program initially funded by an ad agency in order to develop more talent for our industry. When I asked the class how many of them wanted to go to work for an agency, even a digital agency, not one student raised a hand. They all want to work for a start-up company, or Google, or someone who makes things. It could be anything – robots, software, or digital services. We face a classic Catch-22. We need new, young digital talent if we’re to change our own companies. Yet we can’t attract that talent until we begin to change. Time to think about how we entice them. Do we mirror Google’s 20 percent time program? Or find some other way to show them that this is the industry to be in.
Liberate the next generation
EVB’s founder Daniel Stein likes to brag about how many of his company’s creations are the work of 23-year olds. Digital natives. Ben Malbon emphasizes that while agencies may think their employees are young, they’re not as young as those at Google. I recently watched two of Mullen’s 23-year olds make a presentation to the editorial staff of the Boston Globe on how the newspaper could do a better job of engaging Gen-Y. The duo did the research, shot and edited videos, created original content, recommended a business relationship and even crunched numbers to show how it would work. Now they’ve even closed the deal. As Rishadt Tobocawalla says, “we can’t teach this generation as much as it can teach us.” The sooner we give them the chance, the sooner we both benefit.
I have some pretty good video of Ben, Gareth and Scott (along with Matt Howell, Tim Malbon, Sheena Matheiken, Kim Laama, John Winsor and me) answering questions about innovation, new sources of inspiration, social media and talent. I’ll try to get it edited and posted soon. In the meantime, thanks for reading. And as always, feel free to leave your thoughts below.
Would you pay a penny per tweet for one day to support famine relief in East Africa. Would you pay even more? At a penny your 100 tweets would cost you but $1.00. Share 20 updates and you’re out a lousy 20 cents. But imagine if 10 million of Twitter’s users worldwide agreed to pay that penny and all tweeted 20 times. That would be $2 million dollars. Micro payments. Barely noticeable to the individual but quick to add up.
I have no idea how logistically challenging it might be to pull this off, but even if it cost $100,000 to set up, coordinating efforts among Twitter, PayPal and one of the credit card giants, it seems both doable and worthwhile.
We live in an age where we can tap into our collective cognitive surplus to co-create, share, spread the word and drive action. This is a a perfect case and cause. Right now my friend Tim Malbon and his colleagues at Made by Many and their mates at Good for Nothing are working hard to encourage collective ideas ideas like the one above; ideally some can get executed quickly in order to send relief to East Africa where famine is taking the life of a child every six minutes.
So far, lots of agencies and individuals have signed up to contribute ideas. (We have a team at Mullen working on a program that demonstrates the stark differences between our passion for food and the pain in a world without any. Hopefully it’s ready soon.)
You could help, too. Tell Twitter that you would pay $.01 or $.10 or even $1.00 a Tweet for a day. Send your message to Claire Diaz Ortiz, who heads social innovation at Twitter. She may or may not welcome your message, but then again, she might. You could also simply do it on your own, tell the world what you’re up to and hope it catches on.
And, of course, you can always write a check. Here are some places to donate.
I’ve agreed to pay $1.00 for each idea that gets rated genius. And to pay for my next 100 tweets. What can you do?
The other day, two links came into my stream at the same time. One was for this poster to quell the violence in London. The other was for this site to solicit aid ideas in support of East Africa’s famine.
One presented a message. One offered utility. The ad went in one direction only. The site encouraged participation and user-generated ideas. The one-way message seemed to scream “look at me, aren’t I clever?” The request for ideas, which may or may not work, simply said, “we’re not sure what to do, but maybe together we can figure something out.”
Don’t get me wrong, I like ads. Including this one. I’ve spent a good deal of my career making them and celebrating their ability to inform, inspire and entertain. I admire the craft that goes into executions that are both beautiful to look and a pleasure to read.
But something about this juxtaposition dramatizes the point that ideas that say are far, far less meaningful or motivating than ideas that do.
Obviously the poster is a parody — one of many – of the famous 1939 Ministry of Information banner, which may or may not have worked to promote morale in the middle of World War I. So yes, it’s a bit unfair using it make my point. Nevertheless, it serves as a reminder that we need to build things that involve our community, invite participation and lead to action rather than simply say things. Especially in times like these.