Five Steps to Shaking Things Up

When was the last time your agency’s ideas made you uncomfortable?

Do they come in with concepts that flirt with the outer edges of the envelope?

Do the ideas they’re presenting include any that require you to squint to even see “the box?”

If the answer is no – then you should question their value. If they’re not triggering a few instincts of self-preservation in you during their presentations, they’re not earning their keep.

Why? Because anything truly creative, original and unique will generate friction. And to ignite anything – friction needs to be present.  Without friction, there’s no spark to create something that ignites. And ultimately – that’s what we all want.

The ideas that make a difference, that have impact, that surprise, delight and activate have a disruptive quality that should take you out of the comfort zone.

We’re all well-acquainted with the result of frictionless advertising and marketing. It’s everywhere we turn – bland, milquetoast, generic campaigns that contribute to the white noise in the marketplace. The same ideas get recycled. Concepts are regenerated. We see them over and over again.

The reason? It’s easy. It’s easier to sell the familiar. It’s easier to buy the familiar. It’s easier to get the funding, to get the buy-in, to get to consensus.

But good ideas don’t always come easy.

It’s understandable why the path of least resistance is appealing. Leaders of marketing organizations – who have notoriously short life spans, averaging approximately 18 months, have to balance the need to survive versus the desire to thrive in their role.

Why actively court controversy? To be effective in today’s media landscape, to effectively reach and connect with and ultimately activate target audiences, marketers need ideas that are new, fresh and produce results.

Here are five critical steps that can help ensure that when you’re agency is tasked to shake things up, they’ll get it right:

  1. Spend the time on the front end to get the brief right. The single proposition has to be strategically relevant but also inspire the kind of ideas that will break through. Many times the brief is rubber-stamped by the client only to come back and haunt them when the creative doesn’t deliver.
  2. Insist on transparency during the process. Have a tissue session (or two) before the final big reveal to encourage or change certain directions.
  3. Be clear on what is off-limits ahead of time. The onus is on the client to inform the agency of what’s not permissible.
  4. Evaluate and assess the ideas in context of company’s culture, category and competition. This will help other stake holders (and management) understand the value of separating from the pack and standing out.
  5. If you have to test, test messaging. Imagine the feedback on Apple’s 1984 ad or the current Kenny Powers campaign for K Swiss.  They probably would have never left the focus group facility.

Not all new ideas have to be controversial or paradigm shifting. But you should always expect your agencies (regardless of function – creative, media, search, etc.)  to continually explore uncharted territory to find the unexpected.

Don’t seek friction for friction’s sake. I’m submitting that unless your agency is making you feel uncomfortable on a pretty frequent basis – they’re not doing their job. So either tell them to start heating things up or start looking for a new match.

by Roland Deal
GM/Senior VP – gyro San Francisco

Cross posted at Ignite Something on the Forbes CMO Network