When I was recently appointed to my role at TVC, industry magazines failed to carry the story. Obviously, this was a significant blow to my ego, but the reasoning made some sense. It’s not really an above-the-line story and TVC is not a traditional PR agency, so it doesn’t really fit anywhere.
This sums up quite a lot about the state of our industry. In a world where every moment of our customer journeys and connections with brands and products combine in myriad interconnected interactions, we are still playing by fixed rules that don’t really exist.
If I walk into McDonald’s and ask for a Big Mac, I’m then asked whether I want fries with it. Do I want a Big Mac meal? Do I want to go large? These continual questions lead me into the McDonald’s eating ecosystem.
It seems almost impossible to resist, because, by opening the door to deliciousness in asking for a Big Mac, I have created the possibility to wallow in the entire MaccyD experience.
By understanding that, as soon as I walked into the restaurant I was looking for an economical, relatively satisfying experience, McDonald’s offered to enhance that experience for little additional spend and thus provide greater customer satisfaction.
This is pretty much the opposite of how agencies convince clients to work with them.
You need strategy and consultation, above-the-line ideas that can only be provided by a beardy copywriter and art director (and that’s just the girls), and below-the-line work that clearly requires a specialist designer who understands the intricacies of a flyer. Then meet our digital friends; they have glasses. And, lastly, there’s PR to amplify everyone else’s work but not have any ideas of their own (although they do have posh shoes).
Clearly some agencies offer a one-stop shop and some agency owners want you to bounce around their shared agencies. Hence the new desire to put agency groups into one mega office and hope everyone gets along in some crazy adult version of kindergarten. But, generally, clients have to deal with a plethora of various people across every communication aspect.
This doesn’t even include the media agencies that have their own creative units and, of course, the clients who want to bring some – if not all – of their work in-house.
It’s the Wild West out there at the moment.
The majority of communication and selling has remained relatively constant since the start of the 20th century, but the rise of social and digital has changed the game. We are all learning the rules and different ways of working with new words such as ‘integrated’ and ‘content’ leading our pitches and, like anyone learning how to play, we are making mistakes and discovering new techniques. Creativity in this world genuinely knows no bounds and I can’t think of a more exciting time to be part of this industry. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t pitfalls.
Working as a broadcast creative director (for Disney and NBC/Universal), I looked after above the line, below the line, on-air, digital, social, PR and new media without batting an eyelid – it was just what you did in a fast-paced environment. Moving to an agency structure, there are so many chefs, it’s tough to remember what the recipe is supposed to be.
Recently, one of our major clients (whom we share with at least five other agencies) came to us with a problem. It was launching a major product and its traditional ‘lead’ agencies had failed to answer the problem. The client came to us late in the day to see how we could help. By using our strategic and creative skills, applied through non-traditional means, we came up with something that answered the brief and more than fulfilled the client’s expectations. It might have come to us by default but the answer matched and exceeded a traditional approach.
Concentrating on the message and not the medium is not a new refrain but as the growth of social communication grows, it becomes significantly more important. Major advertisers, such as Nike, PepsiCo and Procter & Gamble, are moving ever greater resources away from above the line in favour of alternative communication, and the growth of consumer sharing means that work designed for individual territories can be a massive hit anywhere in the world – stand up and take a bow, ‘Dumb ways to die’.
When I was a client, I just wanted great ideas that connected my product with my audience to produce understandable ROI. It doesn’t sound difficult, but now, the complex array of agency choices and approaches available to a client turns it into a minefield. We don’t even have understandable rules of measurement any more: ‘reach’, ‘likes’, ‘shares’, ‘brand engagement’ – by these rules, any campaign could be manipulated into being a success.
We need simplicity and clarity without hitting lowest-common-denominator work. Agencies need to be less precious and more respectful, and clients need to understand that everyone just wants to make awesome work that makes every day a good day to go to work. I’ve just realised I sound like the Jeremy Corbyn of creativity (although, hopefully, with significantly better dress sense).