Consensus vs. discord

Recently one of the creative directors I work with told me she was frustrated by the fact that “not all of those on my team see things my way”. “Lucky you I thought” as I was transported back in time to a meeting in which I was told that I wasn’t a good fit for Ogilvy’s Direct Marketing Account Service team because (while clients liked my work and asked for me by name) I saw + thought differently than Ogilvy’s other (Sr.) team members did + was a threat to their culture.

In the world of advertising there’s a time and place for consensus: client service, accounting, media, production and traffic + talent payment departments are constrained by their obligations to fulfil a (legally binding) project contract on time, budget + strategy.

Agency creative teams have the most latitude, but even they can feel pretty constrained when working on large accounts where the brand standards dictate, tone, manner, typeface options, colour palate and acceptable layout options for all media as well as the “required legal and disclaimer copy”. These brand standards can be hundreds of pages long and suck the life out of any creative ideation session. In these cases the challenge for the agency as a whole is to pull together a VERY tight brief (with the client) that enables the creative team to quickly understand and creatively interpret the USP (as opposed to just playing with nice pictures + superlatives and then seeing what sells). 

In the smaller agencies I support the creative briefs are not informative or insightful and the account service managers are not very experienced. In turn the creative teams are forced to fake it: they’re asked to find some nice pictures + add some nice superlative headlines, present them to the client as an insightful solution – and “let’s see what happens”.

The short answer is very little. Poorly thought out ads don’t sell.

I’m meeting more and more people who are prepared to forgo the heady international agency big brand building experiences in favour of lesser known brands or products that are still in the self discovery phase of their existence. With brands like these, creative teams get to pull out all the stops and do some genuine clean sheet-of-paper thinking. They get to put more of their skin in the game and make a real difference.

When you get to invent, reinvent or reposition a product or service don’t try to get the whole team seeing + doing the same thing. Celebrate and explore the different ways in which they manage to solve the problem (on strategy). Then present their variety with enthusiasm, not with an apology.

Don’t judge – curate!