The word "idea" gets overused. Even worse, the phrase "big idea" gets used too often. In our business, this can mean anything from a commercial printed on a urinal disinfectant cake all the way to an idea created for a client which informs every aspect of their communication both internally and externally and that transforms that client's business.
We are no longer ever faced with the blank page and a client who is waiting for a single TV script or print ad. This scenario, by which many of us entered the business, is just not reality any more. Particularly with international clients, we are required more than ever to develop a brand philosophy.
From this philosophy flows what we would traditionally call the "ideas". These ideas might be in the form of a new product, a way to design a retail space, a website, content, of course commercials and even toilet cakes.
For us this kind of idea or brand philosophy comes from a thorough interrogation of the client's particular issues and history with lots and lots of talking amongst ourselves.
Sometimes the idea comes in the form of a written line. It might, on occasion, be a visual or graphic interpretation. In the case of the adidas +10 World Cup campaign, the idea was a symbol and a number. After deciding that we have the idea, it unlocks the door to all the forms of communication. And it never fails. These truly big ideas are always capable of being applied to absolutely any medium.
Therefore it is essential to develop an internal structure which aligns the disciplines of all the departments found within the agency. To have individuals who are technically proficient in different areas - such as digital, planning, design, retail and creative -but who all get involved in the initial stages of searching is the key. Each person in the chain is involved in developing the core idea so they have an innate sense of how to apply it.
Only with this structure can there be a seamless delivery of the big idea.
Communications planning entails treating the idea with respect and encouraging it to flourish in all relevant communications channels.
Translating the big idea into individual elements that reflect the customer's journey from exposure to an ad message, all the way through to a retail or website destination requires a strategic framework and an array of specialist creative talents.
Increasingly, collaborations between communications planners and creatives are resulting in ideas that transcend advertising. Ideas that propel the client's brand message into areas more often associated with entertainment, architecture or publishing: full-length films, TV shows, store design, online content, magazines, books and large-scale public events. This process has the potential to transform clients' businesses.
There are interesting opportunities ahead for agencies who own the big ideas. The line between commercialisation and entertainment is a blurry one. Persuading TV networks to develop entertaining branded content involves a bit of arm-wrestling. Today, digital already allows brands to have their own media channel in place; engaging with their audiences the way they want.
But digital is not simply about a great standalone technological solution. It's about taking the opportunity for the big idea to come to life in a medium where consumers can truly engage with it. Even if it may sound like preaching the obvious, there are still many traditional clients and agencies following an old fragmented model which usually means a network of ATL agencies, a pool of web agencies and a handful of retail consultants. Such a roster of different agencies that specialise in certain media channels, severely damages the seamless delivery of the big idea. Nowadays, a digital-specific agency that only executes digital campaigns is as old-fashioned as an agency that just makes TV ads.
The art of design in delivering the big idea is to create a constant, yet ever changing, red thread that runs through the communication: in film, content, digital, print, retail or even on products themselves. The role of design is to ensure that whatever pieces of communication consumers come across both have maximum impact on their own, but also work seamlessly together with any other piece of communication in the campaign.
The retail experience is crucial. In the past three years, the budget spent on in-store communication has tripled; currently EUR2 billion. That's one-fifth of all adspend. The fact that 70 per cent of all purchase decisions are made within a retail environment has made it fundamental for brands to make the most of this channel when they seek an effective dialogue with consumers.
It's this dialogue at retail level that not only contributes to the communication of the big idea, but also delivers the business punch. It is at retail that strong communications can convert the big idea into big business results.
The most beautifully constructed and executed campaign can be totally lost if it's not taken through to the point of purchase - the point that is the main contact between the consumer, the brand and the product.
In recent years the traditional art buying, broadcast, and interactive disciplines have merged into one fully integrated production approach. The producer's job is to harness the full potential of the creative big idea and realize it as content for all available media formats. Two years ago, a typical production might have yielded three minutes of film from a few days of shooting. Today, with the same time on set, we are producing over 30 minutes of film, countless images for print, outdoor, retail and PR, and the digital assets needed to create a truly integrated and interactive brand experience.
Throughout this process, project management is fundamental in bringing the departments and disciplines together. It's there to provide the fusion between big creative idea and the "real world" production realities until the magic stamp of approval is given.
By having all of these disciplines working together under one roof, it is possible to create one seamless and engaging conversation with consumers that weaves itself through all media.
Richard Bullock is the executive creative director, Stephen Yeomans is the communications planning director, Julian Wade is the design director, Stephen Hancock is the lead retail designer, Pierre Wendling is the digital director, Cedric Gairard is the head of production, Michelle Hopkins is the head of project management at 180.
AT A GLANCE
Name: 180 Amsterdam; 180 LA
Founded: 1 October 1998 (Amsterdam); 1 January 2007 (LA)
Principals: Alex Melvin, Guy Hayward, Chris Mendola, Peter Cline (managing partners); Mike Allen (managing partner, LA); Andy Fackrell, Richard Bullock (executive creative directors); William Gelner (executive creative director, LA)
Staff: 133 (Amsterdam); 33 (LA)
What's the future for independent agencies? To lead the evolution of communication
How will you be part of it? By developing powerful ideas that will transform the fortune of our clients' brands.