The new creative team and getting it to work

The new creative team: with more people and more perspectives, the person at the top of the T must understand all roles and how they work together

I get asked to talk a lot about how Mullen has changed over the last couple of years, more aggressively transforming itself from an “integrated ad agency,” with all the disciplines – strategy, advertising, media, digital, social, PR, direct, analytics — under one roof to a company that has worked to become “unbound” in its thinking and approach to problem solving.

It seems that agencies everywhere are struggling to achieve their version of the above, either trying to become more digital in their thinking or more versed in conversation marketing.  And it’s no surprise that advertisers, too, grapple with developing the formula for how to assemble a team of partners and allocate marketing dollars in an age when the options across paid, earned, owned and user-generated media continue to proliferate.

For me the challenge is easily defined: we can no longer buy attention. The best crafted brand stories may be memorable, but only if someone hears them. And as consumers become more inclined to speak, share, comment, update and check-in rather than listen and absorb, we need to get out of the business of telling stories and into the business of getting others to tell them for us.

So what do make if we don’t make stories?  Experiences.  Experiences that earn attention, invite participation, inspire co-creation, provide utility and inherently generate more content.  Those experiences can be big, game changing programs like Pepsi Refresh. Or simple, more discrete events like Brandbowl. They can exist on a single platform such as Facebook, or stretch across numerous sites and communities.

But no matter what they look like, they’re more about building something than saying something.  To quote Gareth Kay, “They’re not advertising ideas; they’re ideas worth advertising.”  And creating them takes a different kind of thinking, a different kind of organization, and a different kind of team.

In the old days you assembled a writer and art director, gave them a brief and hoped they came up with something great.  Today, you’ve got whole different mix of people on the team.  You can see the challenge already. How do you get all of these people to work together seamlessly? How can you assure they comprise an interdisciplinary team rather than a multidisciplinary team? And who’s the benevolent dictator?

Here are the 10 things that I’ve found actually help.

Start with the user

Read Tim Brown’s Change by Design and you realize that anything you want to create – product, experience, environment, and process – starts with the user.  From a marketer’s perspective that means understanding a customer’s relationship to content, technology and community — not just to a category or even the brand – and finding a way to add something of value.

Change the team

You can make ads with a writer and art director. But if you want to conceive and execute platforms, utility and experiences, you need IA, UX, technology, connection planning and social media working together. This is a significant change for many agencies but one that is absolutely essential.  It may come with pain and resistance but what choice to you really have? The post digital days are upon us.

Place different disciplines closer to each other

In a creative organization people need to be comfortable and familiar with each other or they’re reluctant to take chances and share ideas.  It helps if they sit near each other, hang out with one another and engage in an occasional game of Ping Pong.  Don’t isolate departments that you want to be interdependent.  Figure out how to physically unite them.

Re-write the brief

The brief has remained unchanged for years, almost always answering the question, “What do we have to say?”  Better to answer questions like, “How will we get this brand talked about?”  “What can we create of value?” “How will we get people to participate?” “What can we make, invent, build that’s worthy of being advertised?” Ask those kinds of questions and see what you get back.

Get everyone involved at the start

In the old days everyone was on hold until the core creative team emerged from its lair with the idea (the message, the spot, the tagline.)  If you get everyone to work together from the start the thinking will be richer, the solution won’t be an ad, and the idea will transcend any one medium. The last thing you need to come up with is the message.

Appreciate everyone’s perspective

Expect some adversity and disagreement for sure.  But the quicker you can get the art director to understand that the UX person isn’t trying to screw up the look but is trying to make things work better, the faster you eliminate design for design sake.  I often suggest that people practice looking at a problem from their peers’ points of view before rushing to judge someone’s recommendation.

Know each others’ names

I guarantee that if your agency has more than 150 people and experiences any degree of turnover that at least half the time there are people in the room who don’t know each other. Make sure everyone introduces himself and actually says something at the beginning of a meeting.  Believe it or not it increases the likelihood everyone will speak his mind and offer opinions during the meeting.  It also helps counter balance the one or two vocal people who tend to dominate.

A great book filled with ideas for anyone trying to change an organization

Develop leaders who can cross the T

Whoever leads the team – traditional CD, digital CD, planner, media director — needs to understand and respect all the roles and how they work together.  These new leaders may be few and far between but the worst thing you can do is let a narrow perspective drive the process.  The person across the top of the “T” is the most important member of the team.

Become a learning organization

With the proliferation of technology, digital platforms, social media networks, APIs, crowdsourcing, and iPhone apps it’s impossible for any one person to keep up.  You can read tech blogs, bring Google and Facebook in to present their latest and greatest, and experiment with every new platform yourself.  But it’s not enough. You need a mindset and a means to keep everyone up to speed and informed of what’s new.  London’s Made by Many sent 18 of its 23 employees to SxSWi for five days. That’s a commitment to learning. And one that’s likely to pay off in terms of collaboration, employee morale, and fresh thinking.

Got other ideas for how to stay relevant and change for the better?  Please share.

Other content and links:

Books:

Atul Gawande:  A Checklist Manifesto

Presentations:

Derek Robson, Goodby Silverstein and Partners: Agency Evolution

62 comments
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MonaAli

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a game
a game

Es genial ver a una compañía no sólo de hablar con este modelo, pero en realidad la actuación y la entrega de ella. Reciente de nuevos negocios de Mullen gana reforzar el éxito de este enfoque. Mi única pregunta adicional en relación con los títulos. En caso de los títulos tradicionales desaparecen y caen todo el mundo bajo el título de Conservador de marca o un Abogado de marca? De esta manera las líneas son borrosas a continuación de manera significativa e integrada. ¿Qué piensas?http://www.agame.fm

gvnb
gvnb

Hi,

This is a great site for encouraging creativity, and recognizing the organic nature of getting your brand known, not by having big bucks, but by engaging people in the human based advantages of what you offer. Perhaps the new "bottom line" is how much good your offerings do for the human race and individuals and not the money. But...that said, the way to make money may be through the human benefits, not the greed to get all you can and damned be the fall out. Just a thought.

gvnb10412@yahoo.com

www.lucidprocrastinatosclub.blogspot.com

AdamRotmil
AdamRotmil

What do you do when you're trying to help someone on-site and you realize that there isn't a team? That is, there are several people who do their own thing, but none of it is integrated and you're not in charge of this one. In fact, it's unclear who is in charge? Let's say this scenario is "very similar" to something I'm doing, trying to help an organization, but finding it awfully frustrating that there is no art director, no conductor, and in fact not much speech among people. I'm concerned that if I just make a list of suggestions for organizational planning and bring it to the company president, they'll just dismiss it as impertinence. What would you do?

John Kaminsky
John Kaminsky

Edward,

Just came across your post via Twitter today, very interesting and certainly true of how agencies need to evolve. However, you threw me for a loop with the "T" representation shown here. My understanding of IDEO's "T" was that the vertical leg of the "T" showed great depth in one area of expertise, while the horizontal crossing showed breadth of understanding and empathy for many related disciplines. Referenced in this very old article Tim Brown wrote for Fast Company: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/95/design-strategy.html?page=0%2C1

I haven't read "Change By Design" yet - has the "T" concept evolved over the years or is this your own variation of the concept?

neilperkin
neilperkin

Hi Edward. Great post. Just to let you know that it's been shortlisted in the vote for Post Of The Month over on Only Dead Fish:
http://bit.ly/cc4jsp
.-= neilperkin´s last blog ..Geotagging The World =-.

Tito melega
Tito melega

Edward, you make me wish I've chosen copy writing and not art directing (with English as my second language) as a career path.

I have been getting calls to help digital (design) shops step up to be "more." It has been interesting, to say the least, seeing the expression on people's faces when the new team, re-writing the brief and the importance of becoming a learning organization topics come up. I am endlessly surprised by it.

I do believe we are in the business of creating stories and experiences. In the case of stories, we're just telling them differently or, as you pointed out, getting others to tell them for us.

To your point of starting with the user and finding a way to add something of value to their lives I would add that we must do so "continuously and repeatedly." The moment an idea is successful, hit them with your next big one. Just make sure that, in judging a concept, you don't forget to ask, "What does the News/PR release would read like?" Or, to put it in Gareth Kay's words, “Is this idea worth advertising?”

Thanks for a good post.

@titomelega

Eric L. Steckel
Eric L. Steckel

I really liked the article, and most of the points in it. I think the model of the creative team within traditional agencies needs to be shaken up. Emerging agencies that figure out how to utilize the new bag of tricks in integrated campaigns will be the ones to benefit.

One sticking point I had was that "Message is last." I can't really agree with this. It seems to me from experience that just having an audience talk about you you, or amazed by your invention, does not suffice. What they are talking about or amazed about has to reflect the message, or the brand promise, in some way. It cannot be an after-thought.

Maybe what can be said is that the creative team cannot be trapped by or confined by the message, but that the message has to come through the good idea. This can be humorous and obvious, like the Toyota "Swagger Wagon" or more grand yet obtuse, like Pepsi "Refresh" campaign. But either way, a viewer who's paying attention will get the message and hopefully have a connection with the brand that is more than just, "Hey, that was cool." In my opinion, that would be T-Mobile "Liverpool Train Station." Cool video, got lots of viral hits, but says little to me about their service.

Mike Scheiner
Mike Scheiner

It's great to see a company not only speaking to this model, but actually acting and delivering upon it. Mullen's recent new business wins reinforce the success of this approach. My only additional question is regarding titles. Should the traditional titles go away and everyone fall under the title of Brand Curator or Brand Advocate? That way the lines are then significantly blurred and integrated. What do think?

Edward as always your insights are appreciated and thank you for sharing your perspective.

Marc L. Grubb
Marc L. Grubb

I looked at the "T". I looked at Brad Noble's comb. Then I thought about bending that comb's spine into a circle, making the leader a a conductor - a "champion" of the idea. Also, the team members can see and communicate with one another better if arranged in a circle. (By the way Edward, I appreciate your candor!)
.-= Marc L. Grubb´s last blog ..CR Has a New Look – For Now. =-.

gordon nelson
gordon nelson

Ah yes, these are the parts I like about transforming a culture. "people practice looking at a problem from their peer's point of view" and "it helps counter balance the one or two vocal people who tend to dominate". Hmmm?

CC
CC

As I was writing these down I realized there are 9 things on the list. Is one missing?

Kala Horvitz
Kala Horvitz

I totally agree that we need a major transformation in how to structure our teams and creative briefs.

But a tricky part not to ignore when designing potential solutions is keeping costs in check. A ten person team sounds dreamy to me - I can think of even more very interesting disciplines to add to the roster. However in a time when clients are demanding that we do more for less, we're going to have to rework and reimagine compensation structures just as radically as we do the conception of creative ideas. (Especially for smaller clients/agencies.)

I think part of it will consist of what Tim said earlier about cross-disciplinary skill sets and the birth of fantastic new hybrid creatives.

The other part will come from experimentation. I know I'm constantly thinking about how agency profit works in this new age. I am very excited to watch as others explore alternate models.

Erik Proulx
Erik Proulx

Is Mullen actually reinventing the way we think about communication and how we develop it? I would have put my money on a small, privately held boutique. Perhaps I was wrong.
.-= Erik Proulx´s last blog ..If I Build It, Will They Come? =-.

@hazeliz
@hazeliz

What a phenomenal article Edward.Thanks for sharing and for asking us to share any other ideas with you.
I believe that an essential piece of the new creative team model you propose (which I love) is a Culture expert. Someone who understands the rapidly growing numbers of diversity. Someone who is at the forefront of the way culture operates and shapes our world.
.-= @hazeliz´s last blog ..Why > How > What instead of What > How > Why =-.

Jim Mitchem
Jim Mitchem

Great article Edward. Maybe your best yet. And I love that you put copywriter at the top of your list. There are moments here when I wonder about our role in this new age collaborative. You nailed it. For now.
.-= Jim Mitchem´s last blog ..Hitting Home - Oil and the Emerald Coast =-.

espeterson
espeterson

My apologies... part of my comment (the major kudos!) didn't make it in...

A post that has obviously sparked a lot of thoughtful discourse, Edward. It's been interesting to witness you/Mullen forge and illuminate for others the path toward the new agency model. In many ways, I have been unknowingly serving as the T Person in our recruitment agency. There are many challenges and much more to discover, but it makes for an exciting ride - one that I would never have imagined in my CD career. Nice to have you as a conductor.

A small tidbit from your post that struck me:

"Don’t isolate departments that you want to be interdependent. Figure out how to physically unite them."

Interesting how quickly things have come about. It wasn't long ago (a couple of hours?) that folks were extolling the virtues of working remotely. I've always been a believer in the team huddle.

Wessel van Rensburg
Wessel van Rensburg

"For me the challenge is easily defined: we can no longer buy attention. The best crafted brand stories may be memorable, but only if someone hears them. And as consumers become more inclined to speak, share, comment, update and check-in rather than listen and absorb, we need to get out of the business of telling stories and into the business of getting others to tell them for us."

I agree 100% with the need for change inside agencies and with the new roles you have described, but I have to take issue with this paragraph (and this coming from a social media person).

Some brands (especially FMCG's) and companies will still need awareness campaigns in some situations. Just last month Google did an above the line campaign for Google Chrome.

If people do not know about your product and you have deep pockets traditional 'shouting' still has a place to create awareness. It's hard to get that scale of awareness creation on tap otherwise.

But of course there is so much more that's on offer today, that I have to agree that the new creative team needs to look very different.
.-= Wessel van Rensburg´s last blog ..Battle vote – RAAK’s contribution to the UK elections =-.

Carol Phillips
Carol Phillips

Edward:
Thanks for articulating the changes so well. The whole notion of 'strategy' is shifting. Brand strategy still matters, but the concept of a communications strategy and brief are changing radically. The idea of 'message' seems quaint -- now it's about content, utility and experiences that engage. To get that right you absolutely have to start with the user.
Carol
.-= Carol Phillips´s last blog ..Millennials Value Few “Prestige” Brands =-.

tobe
tobe

Forward! A great piece. Hope you don't mind if I use it next time I teach my Video Advertising Campaigns course. I can spend my summer figuring out how to write briefs that work in the interactive digital environment. Now about "the target audience"...... hmmm have to work on that 20th century concept.

Allison Kent-Smith
Allison Kent-Smith

Well written, nice to see a thoughtful post about changes required and steps for getting started. Since we speak with many folks - both agency and client - we understand that very few organizations have it figured out. And, just when you've landed on a solution, the organization should be thinking 3-5 steps ahead. At BDW, this is why we started - and the top of the T person is what we produce (although organizations aren't quite ready for this person). Thanks Edward

bradnoble
bradnoble

I'd like to see that graphic a little differently. I'd like to see the role at the top as you have it, but the roles underneath like the tines of a comb. Have it read left to right, not top to bottom. And then connect these vertical tines to the top bar, to make the top what connects them all, not what rules them.
.-= bradnoble´s last blog ..bradnoble: @mxmaione just sent that along to my wife. Will keep you posted. =-.

Leif Rehnstrom
Leif Rehnstrom

Brilliant post. I agree about the team, getting everyone involved from the start and especially becoming a learning organization that constantly wants to be better. It's the connected agency where collaboration is in the DNA.
.-= Leif Rehnstrom´s last blog ..Weekly Twitter Candy / april 26-may 2 =-.

Vincent Roman
Vincent Roman

These are such simple pointers, but it is amazing how fast these basic constructs can break down. Forget about 150 people in your agency. Even in a 10 person team it can disintegrate. Incredibly so.

Having spent the last few weeks visiting different agencies, of varying sizes and asking basic questions about process and collaboration, it's clear many still have a LONG way to go!
.-= Vincent Roman´s last blog ..Define: Dogma =-.

Gretchen Ramsey
Gretchen Ramsey

"What can we create...the last thing you want to come up with is the message?" God, I love you, Edward. Another piece I'd add to execute this new team is redefining the traditional core disciplines based on their expertise for this new agency model. For instance, PR specializes in content creation, so this old PR department will now focus on its core competency for the new world, which is content.

So the idea is to look at what we have in each of the traditional disciplines and focus them on what will support this new creation-based economy. Maybe this falls under your learning header?
.-= Gretchen Ramsey´s last blog ..Creating Legacy: Who are You? =-.

Jill Atkinson
Jill Atkinson

I may sometimes forget that sarcasm and humour don't always play on Twitter ... but there's nothing to joke about when it comes to how we need to change and embrace new ways of approaching ideas and consumer experiences.

Your excellent post hit a nerve. We, being a television network, are going through some of the same issues when it comes to our advertising and promotion structures and processes. Our footprint is so large, it's been a challenge to bring disunited platform stakeholders - usually content creators, together under the guise of promotion, and even more difficult to change the culture around each platform operating as an independent unit. Idea and experience are central to everything we do, but in order to fully embrace that, we too had to change our definition of team - changing our paradigm to include all the skillsets needed to create a full 360 degree experience. It was difficult at first but our expanded teams are now used to working together, and the quality of the ideas that come to the table blow my mind. And why not? It's simply a function of getting used to working in a different way. Our art directors became hybrid art directors/flash artists. We wouldn't dream of briefing a project without our app developer, social media and online teams.

You have some outstanding advice here for those just beginning the journey and I'd like to urge anyone reading these comments to bookmark your blog for future reference.

Thanks for this.

Kevin Lee
Kevin Lee

Thank you for sharing great points. As you said, agencies everywhere(including here in Korea) are struggling to become more digital. Hope to see more and more ad people please recognize the unavoidable wave that we MUST change.

Mark Trueblood
Mark Trueblood

Posts like this are always an eye-opener for me, as I come from the small agency world. Where I've worked, a copywriter / art director dyad or a copywriter (me) alone usually tackles the concepting and strategizing for traditional, interactive, and integrated/social media campaigns. We're also usually responsible for producing the work without enlisting "specialists." I'm not saying that's a better way to do things but it does require one to be VERY resourceful, continually research what's new, and be a fast learner.

Dane Hartzell
Dane Hartzell

Well said. My main takeaway was your comment about getting out of the business of story telling. I was just at a DMA conference last week and one of the Keynotes, the VP of Branding and Creative at Allianz, made the main point that a marketers primary job SHOULD be that of the story teller. When I asked her about the role of moderator or experience provider, she agreed it had it's place but was very uncomfortable with the idea. Just goes to show you how this idea is very new and leaders in our industry have a ways to go.

edward boches
edward boches

It may have evolved. But either way, in the new age of convergence, the team has an awful lot of specialists on it and it's best that someone knows how to get them to all work together toward a common goal. Yes?

edward boches
edward boches

Eric,
Good points. Mine was simply that we should invent the experience first, the message second, or last. It's not unimportant, just not the best place to begin. Pepsi Reresh is an idea first, a message second.

edward boches
edward boches

We are all learning, changing, trying new things, figuring stuff out, embracing change, attempting to get better and improve how we do things ourselves. What other options are there?

edward boches
edward boches

Wow. That's funny. That's what you get for writing them down. -;). I bet I left one out when I cut and pasted from word doc. Will have to go back and check original document.

edward boches
edward boches

Kala:
You hit on a huge challenge. So we need tools and practices to do it efficiently. We need an understanding of each other's roles so we use each other's knowledge and talent in the right way. And ideally we all become interdisciplinary ourselves. If you come up with a solution let me know. It is one of the big concerns.

edward boches
edward boches

We are trying. Sometimes succeeding. Sometimes failing. Often struggling. Frequently exhausted. Usually in some degree of pain. But every now and then we get it right, it all goes smoothly, the collaboration meshes, and the outcome exhibits the effort. Something like that.

edward boches
edward boches

Yes. Though that could be anyone. The digital strategist, the planner (do we still have planners?) The creative team. Plus via the web and social, we all have access to it and can incorporate it digitally into the brief.

edward boches
edward boches

Well it's not a hierarchy. Could have put CW at bottom. After the experience/platform is figured out, we might need some copy. ;-)

edward boches
edward boches

What's mine is yours. Take it, use it, make it better. Flattered to be part of the curriculum.

edward boches
edward boches

If they're not ready yet, they will be soon. Tney will need that person (choreographer, conductor, CD) or they will fail.

edward boches
edward boches

Brad:
Can't disagree with you. They are not meant to be a hierarchy. The T, in fact was first created by McKinsey, I believe, and is something that Ideo uses and thinks about as well. The real point of it is that there are many different disciplines on a team now; and in many cases they are specialities or expertises likely to have narrow perspectives or to look at a problem from one particular vantage point. Therefore those who can see things more holistically, yet with an appreciation for all the different roles end up playing really essential roles. Question is, do we have those people?

Vincent Roman
Vincent Roman

Agreed. It is a definite moving target, but the basics are inescapable and for some even those can't be done right.

Thanks for the great post and reply.
.-= Vincent Roman´s last blog ..Define: Dogma =-.

edward boches
edward boches

And you never really get there, as the target keeps moving. Every time we get a new RFP we realize that there are still skills to be mastered.

edward boches
edward boches

Gretchen,
Good points. I sat with a PR guy today who is heading up a crowdsourcing project, partnering with YouTube, creating content and inspiring it from others. He was so excited at the possibility of what he could create. Long way from a press release and far better results to show for it.

edward boches
edward boches

Jill,
Thank you for that vote of confidence. Glad to know that you have it working. What's interesting is that after people do it and get it they like it and see the potential. It's the initial resistance, fear or anxiety that you have to overcome.

edward boches
edward boches

Well we do still need the story and we can still create some of them ourselves, but we know how to do that, right? What we need to get better at is allowing others to tell, co-create with us, or even to become part of the story as it unfolds.

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  1. [...] Yes we’ve hired social media strategists or practitioners who were early adopters of Twitter and had amassed thousands of followers — people who had Klout, if you will.  But we’ve also recruited people who were masters of technology, tools and SEO techniques. We’ve brought in journalists for their writing and story development skill. We’ve even grabbed participants out of the Ford Fiesta Movement, knowing they could create content across all media. In every case we opted for talent first, then focused on whether they could be essential members of a larger social team. [...]