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.
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:
Atul Gawande: A Checklist Manifesto
Derek Robson, Goodby Silverstein and Partners: Agency Evolution