Agencies are the Ocean Liners. Sleek, steady vessels following their routes. Start-ups are the Pirate Ships. Oblivious to custom, rough around the edges and ready to change course as it suits them.
I work at a large, global agency. We put a premium on creativity. We sell ideas and other things (like execution and actual business results). Today, those ideas are expressed in digital technologies and behaviors. That’s the way the world will increasingly head. There is a war for talented people who know how to creatively engage people via digital and social experiences.
We must embrace a new era of “creativity”
Insights and lots of diverse POVs lead to disruptive, valuable ideas. Really interesting and creative ideas sprout from putting different types of curious people in a room with the right coach. It’s not always about what’s on people’s business card that qualifies them in the room.
Certainly, the expertise they bring is valuable. That expertise might be in storytelling or architecture or shopper marketing or behavior change. It might also be in advertising. But assuming that ‘creativity’ is the rarified domain of the creative director and his tribe of writers and designers is just plain wrong.
Creativity comes from creating an atmosphere, a culture that values “creativity” in everyone, not “creatives.” That comes from a guy whose last job was as a Creative Director. Building a culture of creativity allows all types of people, with all types of time on the job to contribute. It works when we take the process of developing and cultivating creative ideas seriously. That means no more “magical thinking” about creativity. Oh, those guys on the 14th floor do that.
Agencies vs. Start-ups
Agencies have to change. And since agencies are largely a reflection of the brands they work for, I would argue that most businesses who value creativity (or innovation) need to consider change. Younger talent may be deselecting the agency world. If they cannot contribute because of hierarchical barriers, if they are not invited to be creative, then they will go somewhere where they can. Here’s how Jack Armstrong put it in Digiday:
“At startups, you start off being treated with respect and as an equal. The attitude is more “We’re all in this together” and less “Get used to it, kid.” There are no ropes to be shown, because startups are making up the rules as they go along. Startups are more receptive to the idea that you might be able to teach something, instead of learning what the old-timers already know. Life at startups just generally seems nicer than at agencies. At the end of the day, you can do the same work for people that actually appreciate you.”
I grew professionally in leaps and bounds in the three start-ups I worked in. There was a prevailing sense of “we are all figuring this out together” and people were judged more by their willingness, hard work and ability to get great stuff done.
Agencies sell experts. Or do we sell ideas? Technically, most charge clients for people’s time. Presumably that time is deemed valuable by the output of people’s efforts which very often ought to be remarkable ideas rendered in a way that can accelerate business. That means people within an agency must cultivate valuable and distinctive identities. If there is a group of people called ‘creatives,’ they naturally want to defend their distinct expertise at creative stuff.
It is time to let go of that. We need now what Miles Young Global CEO of Ogilvy & Mather calls “pervasive creativity.” (He didn’t call it “pervasive creatives”).
3 Ways to Help
Invest in Creative Collaboration
At Social@Ogilvy, some very smart people in our Hong Kong team led by Stephanie Chevalierand Jenna Boller, developed a collaborative workshop called Socialab. Originally, it was designed to help a diverse team that often included the client gain strength in thinking “socially.”
Socialab now describes how we collaborate routinely. It’s how we bring diverse expertise to a table to articulate a social brand character, a social strategy and the big social idea which we call the social experience. It’s also how we introduce people to the principles of social design – those behavioral triggers that drive people to share some form of word of mouth.
We invite social strategists, creative, brand experts, clients, tech and platform partners and more. Diversity is key.
Steve Simpson, Chief Creative Officer at Ogilvy & Mather North America, has begun new habit of holding his own form of creative “hackathons.” These are purposely named after the tech startup community practice of creating collaborative work sessions that treat everyone equal and create a climate that helps individuals contribute.
Hire New Disciplines and Don’t Tell Them The Rules
No mystery that the last two people we hired came from editorial and content backgrounds with the BBC and Gannett. The two before that from tech start-ups. And so on.
We need different brands to develop creative ideas that can actually come to life in today’s fragmented world. We need to make room for them once they are on board. I suggest we hire some of them without overdoing the on-boarding process. I would rather encourage these new souls to disregard how things get done and the ruts of our routines and see what happens.
Form Start-ups and Take Hostages
Social@Ogilvy was a start-up inside Ogilvy. So is Ogilvy Change (behavior change). No one asked us to create this business. We did it. We hijacked some people and resources and proved pretty quickly we were on to something. Had we embarrassed ourselves and failed in any significant way, I am certain we would have been duly punished.
Start-ups inside big, operational companies have to be a bit more ruthless. You will not find a “Fail Faster” motto anywhere on the walls of these companies. But forming your own thing can work.
Pretty soon, you find people inside the mothership intrigued by what you are doing and wanting to come on board.
There you have three practical ways we can change and put a little pirate ship in the ocean liners.