We know how fast our world is moving. We live the new faster reality every day. I date myself (and I know better) when I talk about those halcyon days of 16 and 20 week production schedules, with seemingly leisurely weeks set aside for creative musing and problem solving.
I get it. My attention span is as short as the next consumer’s, as squirrelly as any middle schooler’s who can’t focus on a conversation because their phone is vibrating with new information they could definitely live without. I get that our clients are vying for the attention of people doing 10 things at once and not spending very much time on any of them.
We need to strategize, plan, create, produce, optimize, traffic, track and analyze, revise, re-optimize and re-traffic all in the same amount of time we used to do just two, maybe three, of those things. It’s mandatory for us, with our clients, to establish the “faster than the competition” performance standard, Marsha Lindsay noted at Brandworks. I get it, but we need to do it while remembering we are in the business of intellectual property; that great work doesn’t happen without creativity and a respect for its process.
John Cleese reminds us in his brilliant 1991 Creativity Forum that “creativity is not a talent, it is a way of operating.” He talks about developing the ability to play, “allowing the time and environment to play with ideas,” to explore them, not for any immediate practical purpose but just for enjoyment. (Play for its own sake.)
Guy Claxton, the author of Hare Brain Tortoise Mind, stresses Einstein’s take on the importance of “two kinds of thinking: one dependent on reason and logic, and one that’s less purposeful, it’s more playful, leisurely and dreamy.” He says that allowing the mind time to meander is not a luxury, but a necessity.
How does that dreamy and even scarier, leisurely, way of thinking coexist with the speed to market mindset? How does one develop and enable a faster innovation cycle, not just for products, but also for ideas and creativity?
A good start is alignment, focus, and a common goal.
We, with our clients, need to start with the end in mind and an acceptance of the sacrifice it takes to achieve it. We need to be aligned with our clients from the start and make their goals our goals. They need to understand our process, our need for ‘play’ and they need to believe us when we tell them we share their vision for what success looks like.
At an Ad Age Forum in June, when asked about an ideal client/agency relationship, IKEA’s CMO, Leontyne Green Sykes, stressed the importance of transparency and openness. IKEA is famous for agency hopping, which Green Sykes noted and said ‘she recognized that we now need a partner who truly understands our business, our style and brand, and one which can challenge the company’s internal thinking’. On that same panel, Crocs CMO, Andrew Davidson, stressed ‘the strong need for marketers to work with creative to help them understand the landscape the brand competes in.’
Jumpstart Day is a valuable tool with which to establish a trust and an agreement on what success looks like. A day or two for the client and agency to share backgrounds, compare notes and examples on the kind of marketing ideas each other is drawn to, to spell out expectations, communicate and agree on goals and focus on a plan to get there. In theory it’s all good, but we need, in my opinion, to make sure they’re not trees falling in the forest.
They can happen and disappear. The client forgets what we agreed on that day or maybe the team back at the agency doesn’t get the revelations or insights that may have been shared. We can do better. We can help our clients do better. Or maybe we discover some additional tools to align with our clients and focus our efforts. If we can nail that early on, we may free up some more time for the ‘play’ needed for the truly great ideas.
Early agreement on goals isn’t as easy as it sounds. None of this is. Goals can be as lofty as Alex Bogusky’s new Boulder agency’s aim to create more American jobs by helping hand picked clients who want to bring more of their overseas manufacturing onshore. (Whew.) Or they can be more straightforward such as an increase in new patient visits or a certain number of new insurance policies sold. Regardless, we need to agree early on what the objectives are and not veer from that. We need to discuss with transparency, candor and honesty what it will take to get there. And we need to trust each other.
John Cleese said it’s ‘easier to do trivial things that are urgent than important things that take time.’ I think we feel a little of that every day. The trick is to operate faster, be more fluid, more flexible and still nurture an environment and processes that allow for necessary play.