Your Creative Mandate

Over many years, we’ve advised our Second Wind member agencies to become more consultative, and to position their firms as strategic marketing partners with their clients. So, it may sound strange for us to “change horses in midstream” and advise you to build very creative organizations that produce work clients can not only be proud of, but that will start cash registers ringing with abandon.

Why are we changing horses? Well, we’re not exactly changing. We still believe that agencies must have a strategic view of their clients’ businesses and be their marketing partners. Instead, we imagine we’re now riding two horses down the middle of the stream. On one side is the strategy horse, and on the other side is the creative horse.

We’re riding these two horses because of what we hear from clients and prospects: what clients look for most from their agencies is new ideas. Ideas are the one thing most clients can’t produce. They can strategize, they can buy printing, they can place media, and, in some cases, they can even do artwork. But, by and large, few clients can do creative work.

One of the secrets to maintaining client relationships through thick and thin, and attracting new clients, is to offer them the services they want. Many clients are not interested in full-service, agency/partner relationships. They are interested, however, in specific creative solutions to their current marketing problems. You have to work hard to give them what they want.

Following are some tips for you to begin to turn or further move your agencies into being more creative entities.

Base every piece of creative on research and strategy. Nothing is creative unless it accomplishes a business end for your client. 

The devil is always in the details. In doing better creative at your agency, the details refer to the input process. You must work hard to develop a first-class system of getting sound input from the client’s head into the brains of the agency’s creatives. Remember: garbage in, garbage out! 

Once the input is in the agency, you must nurture a proper atmosphere for brainstorming. Good brainstorming takes a lot of work. And to create great work, it is absolutely mandatory to include the input of a number of people. The best creative work is seldom produced by individuals locked in rooms working in a vacuum. Almost all great work is done by small groups of dedicated people who work to blend and refine ideas into pure gold. 

Great creative agencies self-examine and constantly critique their work to ensure it continues to meet standards. We’ve mentioned this before: one agency uses what they call The Wall: a place in the back of the agency where every important job is posted so all who walk by can write their comments. At the end of the month, all of the samples are pulled down and discussed at an agency-wide meeting. 

If you want to do great creative, you have to learn how to sell it. Picture this: you are pitching a proposal to four guys in gray suits who own a battery company. These hard-core manufacturers are receiving a presentation from hippy-dippy L.A. agency people who want their business. The agency creative director gets up and says, “We think what you guys need to fully display your product is a little pink bunny.” 

We tell you the truth: great creative must be sold to clients. In fact, we’ll go a step further and say that great creative must be sold even to account executives and often, to agency management as well. 

You must build a creative culture. There is an emblem in the middle of the obligatory basketball court at the TBWA/Chiat/Day South L.A. headquarters. Surrounding a pirate flag are the words, “God, Guts, Creative.” The point is, if you can’t build a culture where your people will “die for the creative,” you cannot have a great creative agency. 

You must give a damn. Many owners of smaller and midsize agencies are simply glad to be alive and in business. They take clients on the basis of how much they will spend, not on the quality of the work expected. Great creative agencies are careful about the work they take on, pursue new business with the goal of finding clients who want great creative ideas, and hire people who help the agency achieve even greater creative heights.

As we used to say in the ad biz, start doing creative work that you can run up the flagpole and have people salute.