#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.


Y&R Spark Plug: Igniting Innovation

Yoni Block, CEO of Interlude, Israeli rock star, Member of Y&R's Spark Plug program

Yesterday you may have read this AdWeek piece on Spark Plug, Y&R’s internal/external initiative to “embrace innovation in the digital space.” It’s a progressive idea, bringing outside companies inside the four walls of our agency. I’ve had the opportunity to play a role in this project, acting as a sort of liaison between the outside companies and Y&R and the Y&R account teams.  As you can imagine, such a proposition isn’t necessarily an easy thing to pull off. It’s new and different and scary for some (because it’s new and different), but at the heart of it, it’s an acknowledgement that things move quickly and providing new, innovative ideas to our clients is our number one priority.

As Y&R’s global CEO, David Sable, says in the article, [advertising has] “always been an innovative industry. It’s [all about] understanding that that’s in the industry’s DNA.” Today, innovation is coming at us faster than ever. The role of the agency partner is evolving and only those agencies that can adapt to, and harness, innovation will have a future.

The agency’s role then becomes how to understand these innovations and marry them to creative storytelling through the filter of the client’s brand. No easy task and not something that a small, specialized agency, no matter how good at their discipline, is likely to be able to do.

Confessions Of An Advertising Man

Savvy readers will recognize the title of this post as the title of the legendary book by David Ogilvy.  But this time the Advertising Man in question is not Mr. Ogilvy, but me. What do I have in common with the Madison Avenue legend? Well, mostly nothing (accept this I suppose), other than I too, now work at a Madison Avenue ad agency, Young & Rubicam.

And so now I, with apologies to Ogilvy, will offer my own confession. Yesterday we had an “all hands on deck meeting” for the entire NY office. Without divulging the details, I will say that I was absolutely blown away by some of the work that was shared. It was, as was the entire meeting, really energizing. I’ve never worked at a “big ad agency” before but have always held such agencies in high regard. Yesterday those feelings were justified. Y&R North American CEO Carter Murray and Y&R New York Chief Creative Officer Jim Elliott both spoke passionately and eloquently about the people and the work of Y&R, and what it means to work at an agency such as this.

I found myself thinking, “I want to do good work, better work. I want to do work that these people, my new colleagues, will be proud to be associated with.”  Maybe that’s corny, or maybe that’s me with a new job, but I was truly inspired by the people and the work.

Y&R New York is an agency in transition. There’s new leadership and an energy pervades the building. I’m extremely excited about some of the projects I’m going to be working on, some client based, some agency based. I’m looking forward to sharing some of them with you when the time is right.