Should agencies present only one creative idea?

Asda's marketing chief has a process that may not be to everyone's liking.

Asda: Christmas ad by AMV
Asda: Christmas ad by AMV

For many of Campaign’s readers, hearing about the way Asda’s chief customer officer, Andy Murray, prefers to work with his agencies will have felt like a bucket of ice water over the head.

Speaking at Media360 last week, Murray explained why he prefers to hear only one idea in response to a brief and why the agency receives feedback from his entire marketing team almost right away, after being asked to leave the room.

In April last year, Murray appointed Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO to lead what he called an "ecosystem" model that also includes Proximity, Redwood, EG+ and Wednesday.

Murray admitted that the system had been "demotivating" for agencies, but insisted it was mutually beneficial for both sides of the relationship. He had only changed what he asked of his agencies, Murray said, after implementing major changes to his own marketing operation that were informed by a desire to "be the client I always wished I had" when he was working agency side. Before joining Walmart in 2013, Murray was founder and chief executive of Thompson Murray, which later became Saatchi & Saatchi X.

There’s a cold logic behind Murray’s assertion that if an agency feels the need to pitch multiple ideas, that means "someone has a bad strategy or didn’t communicate the brief" – but his system is surely anathema to many creatives, who thrive on the understanding that there is no one correct way to do things.

It poses an equal challenge to planners, whose work was jokily characterised as post-hoc rationalisation by Murray. He told the conference he had no interest in seeing strategy slides during the 10 minutes agencies are allowed in which to present.

And everyone in the industry ought to recognise that, no matter how well-justified by data, insight and testing, any creative idea ultimately involves taking a punt.

Despite what might look like ruthless efficiency, Murray insisted his approach actually meant better engagement. "We owe the agency high-quality feedback and you can’t do that by committee," he said. "I’ve not found a more effective way to do that – in the end, it absolutely makes it better for everybody."

So has he solved a problem not everyone knew existed?

Sarah Douglas

Chief executive, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

Clarity, communication and trust are the cornerstones of all highly functioning relationships. Clients can and should expect their agencies to know them well enough to have conviction about what is the best right answer. That’s effective partnership. But when it comes to creativity, the only rule is that there are no rules. Sometimes you get to the best right answer by looking under the rocks of different ones. Sometimes you strike gold immediately. There is no single path, only a single guiding philosophy. Have informed and brand-worthy conviction. One route or not, if you don’t have that, Andy is right: you don’t have anything.  

David Abraham

Founder, Wonderhood Studios

Managing the inherent tensions between conviction and collaboration in client/agency dynamics relies ultimately on people as much as process. Andy’s method is bracing but useful whenever the broader brand platform is already agreed and working well. But when clients are looking for a completely new direction, we think a two-stage process works better.

The first being a loose "wall session", where we share a number of different creative territories that are designed to elicit a specific cultural response. These areas could be built around a TV show, a quote, an image – anything that indicates the essence of what we want to evoke. These sessions tease out a general direction without wasting agency time and should be participative. Once the general direction is set, we will then present a single recommended creative route. At Wonderhood Studios, these final proposals always demonstrate how paid/interruptive ideas and co-funded/earned content can work better together to overcome audience fragmentation and support improved business results.

Adrian Rossi

Creative chairman, Grey London

This is not a question about one idea. Behind this is a more fundamental one of trust. The world is more clouded than ever by a lack of it. You can barely believe anything you read (apart from this). Which is why trust is more important than ever. All my clients know that we have walked through fire, gone to the edge and sometimes over, missed birthdays, sweated blood and gone through a forest of paper (all of it recycled) to get to the one great, precious idea that lies cradled in front of them. They don’t expect to see all the sweat that has been spilt in their name because that is where partnerships are forged – through mutual trust.

Ant Nelson and Mike Sutherland

Executive creative directors, Adam & Eve/DDB

As a rule of thumb, don’t present anything you wouldn’t be happy making. Whether it’s a pitch to a new client or a presentation to an existing one. If you have one killer route that the agency truly believes in, then just present that. Showing confidence in your work will give the client confidence in the agency (unless you’re a million miles off, then it’s just awkward). Having said that, there’s usually more than one answer to a brief. When the creative stars align and you find yourself with two, even three, routes that send tingles down your spine, then don’t hold back and present all of them.

Emma de la Fosse

Chief creative officer, Digitas UK

Andy Murray only wants to see one idea from his agency? You only need one word to respond to that: brilliant!