#AWX Recap 1 – Considering the Client-Agency Creative Partnership

Last week was the 10th Annual Advertising Week here in New York City.  I wasn’t able to attend as many events as I did last year, but would like to share my thoughts on a couple of panels I did attend. This post originally appeared on TheAWSC.


Advertising Week kicked off Monday with the usual bevy of panels and events throughout midtown Manhattan. I had hoped on attending several of the talks, but, as is often the case, work found of way of altering my plans and my schedule. But I was able to make one session, and it was one I’m glad I caught because it touched on a subject I don’t often hear discussed. Entitled Unlocking Client Creativity, the panel, moderated by Jennifer Rooney, CMO, Network Editor, Forbes, focused on how agencies and brands can work together for greater creative output.

Having worked in the agency world, across various industries, for more than a decade I can tell you that this is a vital issue, and one that is rarely focused on.  We’re all familiar with the usual paradigm: Agency bleeds and sweats, then presents the ideas to a client who, not unlike the Roman Emperors of ancient times, gives a thumbs up or thumbs down to the ideas. It’s been this way, well, it’s been this way as long as there have been agencies and clients. I think we all pretty much take it for granted that that’s the way it’s done.

I’ve been involved in my share of agency-client brainstorming sessions, but these never quite feel like a real stage for true creative ideation. It’s more of a team bonding exercise, or a way for the agency to show that they really value the client. Everyone leaves saying what a great time they had and how terrific the session was, but I don’t think I’ve ever really seen breakthrough ideas come from such an arrangement.

But this session was about getting deeper than that. It was about true partnerships. How in-house agencies can work with outside agencies; how (and when) it might be appropriate to engage ‘the crowd;’ and the importance of setting up methodologies that can help keep things on the right course. The panelists included execs from DDB and their client, Glidden paints, as well as Nancy Hill, President and CEO of the 4As, as well as Terry Young, CEO and Founder of Sparks & Honey.   Young made a point that I thought was quite important, noting how crucial it is for client-side decision makers to be involved throughout the process, rather than just at the end. Nothing’s worse than spending weeks on an idea only to have it killed by someone who hasn’t been invested in the idea at any point along the way.

I can see why co-creation with the client would be a challenge. Do they have the resources (time, skill) to participate? Will ego (on both sides) sabotage the whole operation? Does compensation need to be factored differently? Fair questions, but in an industry where some things are broken, and others are being significantly disrupted, it’s worth considering an idea that, if correctly executed, could lead to more work being sold.


Innovation as Creativity

At the Cannes Lions Creativity Festival this year, Y&R put together a slick little book that featured thought leaders from around the Y&R global network providing their POV on Creativity & Innovation. I was honored to contribute to this book, along with people like Tony Granger, Y&Rs’ Global Chief Creative Officer; Sandy Thompson, our Global Director of Planning; and, John Gerzema, Executive Chairman of BAV Consulting.

Here’s my contribution to the book, in which I argue that creativity and innovation are no longer two separate things, but increasingly connected in novel ways…


Innovation and Creativity Aren’t Just Inextricably Linked, They Are Part Of The Same Whole

If you think about it at all, you probably think of innovation and creativity as two distinct things. Innovation happens in the lab, creativity in the studio. Innovation is the domain of the business, creativity of the artist.

Now, perhaps you could argue that creativity has been innovative. Think of Picasso, or Borges. But it’s not so easy to think of innovation as being creative. Innovation makes things better (sliced bread) or more efficient (the assembly line) or better and more efficient (the Snuggie), but rarely has innovation been creative.

The Listening Machine – Innovation as Creativity

Or at least it wasn’t. But something has changed. Innovation has become sexy. Maybe we have Steve Jobs to thank for this. Apple makes products that not only deliver industry-leading innovation, but do so with a design aesthetic worthy of a museum.  It’s no coincidence that innovation has undergone a redefinition at the same time as the rise of design over the last decade or so.  The ascendency of digital culture, the removal of barriers to entry and a networked world mean that the traditional roles of innovators and creators have blended and merged.

Increasingly we live in world not of innovation and creativity, but rather innovation as creativity.  Take a look at Kickstarter. It’s filled with technological wizardry masquerading as art. Or is that art, with a hearty engineering DNA?  Either way, it’s clear that we’ve entered a new era. An era where “Creative Technologist” is an aspirational job title in the ad industry.

Nowhere is this paradigm shift more evident than in the emergence of the New Aesthetic, as preached by James Bridle: The New Aesthetic is not a movement, it is not a thing which can be done. It is a series of artefacts of the heterogeneous network, which recognises differences, the gaps in our overlapping but distant realities.” In short, the New Aesthetic is being created by our manipulation of and reaction to digital technology as a driving force in contemporary culture. From Bit Torrent to bots, technological innovation is informing a new creative grammar that is being picked up by everyone from youth subcultures to Madison Avenue. The brilliant, and often beautiful, hacks of the Xbox Kinect system eloquently demonstrate our headlong rush towards this New Aesthetic. Projects like The Listening Machine or Cosmic Quilt soon will be commonplace rather than aberrations.

So, who wins in this new world, the creative innovators or the innovative creators? Is it enough to be creative without the capacity to design and deliver a tangible product? Is there still a market for solutions that don’t inspire? How will traditional creative thrive in a world where brand and product purchasing choices are made by artificially intelligent agents rather than humans? That will call for solutions that rely just as heavily on technological innovation as they do on creative breakthroughs.

We’re already seeing that the people, agencies and brands that understand the intimate relationship between innovation and creativity are the ones that will thrive in the marketplace. Those that can’t adapt and apply the new rules will be left on the shore, looking on as the vanguard sail off to new lands.


Crowdsourcing: Has Your Opinion Of Crowdsourcing Changed In The Last Year?

Over time our feelings about various marketing concepts and tools change. What was innovative and compelling one day can lose it’s appeal in the months and years ahead. Of course, our opinions may change in the other direction as well as we come to accept ideas that we at first rejected as the marketplace adopts these new concepts. In this, the second part of my look at Crowdsourcing One Year Later I’ve asked panelists if their opinion of crowdsourcing has changed:


Sam Ford, Director of Digital Strategy at Peppercom, sees growth in the concept as ‘crowdfunding’ models take shape:

As we have seen the concept of “crowdsourcing” become accepted by a wider range of audiences, it both means great new innovations on what the concept can do but also that the idea is being taken up by people who don’t really know what to do with it. Certainly, the growing prevalence of “crowdfunding” models has presented a great new way for independent media acts to get projects up and running, for great issues of social need to be funded and for companies to find innovative new ways to conduct “corporate social responsibility” (you know, what companies should naturally just want to do as part of the community and culture). We write about a variety of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding models in our forthcoming book Spreadable Media (with Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green).

Aaron Bateman of Advance and the Agency Future blog has seen a maturity of crowdsourcing and acceptance by marketers:

I thought it might struggle to throw off its gimmicky mantle but the increasing willingness of marketers to experiment coupled with the constantly evolving way in which the Internet enables remote operations has created a kind of perfect storm for crowdsourcing operations. I’m yet to read or hear many perspectives from any creatives though. Obviously the success of a crowdsourcing company hinges on its output and the fact that so many seem to be thriving would indicate that there are good people doing good work.

Speaking of creatives, Nate Sullivan, Senior Designer at R2C Group, still has major issues with the practice:

I’m still of the opinion that crowdsourcing is an exploitive practice, participated in by uninformed, inexperienced, and unemployed creative talent and encouraged by the unethical proponents of this model. Crowdsourcing shouldn’t be confused with open source. They are completely different. The open-source community as a whole, benefits from the contributions and efforts of those participating. Crowdsourcing is about one thing and one thing only, uncompensated labor.

But Hank Leber, Associate Planner at McKinney and founder of Agency Nil, likes the direction things are heading in:

I´m happy to see less talking and more doing. The buzz + critique that presided over last year has turned into real people trying to make things work, and I love the discoveries that are emerging (i.e. some elements are meant for crowds, and others are not: design, production, ideation, concepting – yes. Strategy, analysis, media, client interaction: no.) There are a million mistakes being made, and it´s causing a lot of fast learning.  I´m as sure of the potential of crowdsourcing as I ever was; I´m thrilled to see many others considering its benefits and trying to make it work.

My colleague, Tracy Shea, also feels the concept still has legs, adding:

I still look at it as a way to engage many individuals, across global boundaries, to solve or participate in issues, games, science and innovation.


While it appears that many are now accepting crowdsourcing and excited by the potential, Nate’s viewpoint is well worth understanding. I highly recommend this blog post from David Airey, design author and graphic designer, entitled The disconcertion of spec. There are many in the creative/design field with major issues on crowdsourcing. This is a real fight for them and one that anyone who works in a creative field should consider thoughtfully.

Ideas, Insight & Innovation

Two recent articles that are worth tracking down:

In Sunday’s NYT Business Section there is an article that highlights the delicate dance between inventor and investor. Doug Hall, CEO of Eureka Ranch Technology, is developing a database, to be launched in 2009, that will help connect inventors with businesses looking for innovations.

You might also want to check out the May 12 issue of The New Yorker. Gladwell takes one of his trademark looks, this time into how conventional wisdom assumes ideas are generated. It’s become fashionable in 2008 to bash Gladwell a bit; first there was the Fast Company story about Duncan Watts and his challenge to Gladwell’s “Influentials.” Then, Slate gave Gladwell a poke for some truthiness regarding tales of his time at the Washington Post. But when Gladwell is on his game, as he is with this piece, he really is a pleasure to read. He can make seemingly dry topics come to life and provide a human insight that is truly illuminating.

Measuring Innovation, or How Long is a Piece of String?

Good article by the Freakonomics gang the other day. They asked a handful of really smart people how innovation could/should be measured. As you can imagine, a consensus was not reached.

Sure, innovation is often the result of systematic R&D efforts, but sometimes it’s just dumb luck and unintended consequences (wasn’t Viagara originally intended for heart patients?) The beautiful, and maddening, thing about innovation is that it can come from anywher and anyone. I’m not sure how possible, or beneficial, it would be to try and quantify it.

Monocle – Epitomizing the Eyecube mentality

The Eyecube concept (Innovation, Insight & Ideas) came to me in early 2002. I say this to cover myself because otherwise it could be easily construed that I derived the idea from Monocle, the supersmart global media operation that produces a gorgeous and always surprising magazine, as well as a very sharp website. The editorial is always smart and filled with intriguing and challenging articles. In a nutshell, these guys cover innovation, insight and ideas on a global scale, with a focus on business, culture and design.

Monocle, Issue 13Stories range from the latest in the travel and automotive industries, to retail, hotel and food trends. One recent video segment highlighted the frighteningly sophisticated world of video games in South Korea.

If your work inolves travel, or just collaborating with colleagues and partners from foreign lands, Monocle is a must. If your gig is strictly domestic, Monocle will show you what is likely to be hot here in the States in the not too distant future.