A view from Ivan Pollard, a partner at Naked Communications

Perspective: Managed properly, tension in an agency can be a great thing

The human foot is fascinating. Google a picture of it and look closely.

If it were a piece of architecture, we would all be amazed by it. Such splendour, such grace and such strength. An ideal mix of form and function. There are 206 bones in the human body and more than a quarter of them are situated in your feet.

The foot in motion works, in part, through the creation and release of tension between ligaments, tendons and bones. And it can do great things as a result. Let us call this "healthy tension" - a term that is often applied to the process for developing communication programmes. But what does it actually mean and is it really healthy?

In the first agency I worked in, Boase Massimi Pollitt, there was a philosophy of finding ideas that were both relevant and distinctive. Relevant to the people they were designed for, to the brand they were created for and to the environment they were placed in. Distinctive because they stood out from the clutter, stood out from the competition and stood a good chance of sticking in your brain.

On the surface, this seems brilliantly simple and achievable, but there is a contradiction, a tension built into this quest. To be relevant means to be grounded in the commonplace but to be distinctive means to be extraordinary.

In seeking to resolve that tension, planners, creatives, media people and suits worked with and against each other at the same time. To the uninitiated, it might have appeared to be barely contained warfare, but to the people who ran the agency, it was a delicately maintained engine for producing valuable, brilliant and effective work. It was no surprise that BMP was lauded with effectiveness and creative awards by the bucketful.

Getting the balance right is very, very tough. It requires subtle management to keep people pulling against each other but in the same direction. It requires intelligent people to always challenge each other and yet always find resolution. It requires patient and trusting people to watch the craziness unfurl and yet maintain belief in the genius of what might happen. And it requires a shared commitment among everyone involved to strive for something brilliant. And when this works, this is healthy tension.

But like a finely tuned athlete, "healthy" can easily go wrong. This is especially true with specialised agencies working together in collaboration to develop big, integrated campaigns. The tensions get elevated to a company level rather than an individual one but the techniques for keeping things healthy should be exactly the same - trust, challenge, shared commitments and the pursuit of brilliance.

So keep it simple and always ask each other: Is it great and will it work? Is it relevant and is it distinctive? Although I am not sure what the answer has to do with feet.

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