Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Why Agencies Must Fight For The Right To Be Creative

Ten years ago, I made the decision to open a new business after watching three bad (TV) ads in a row and having a EUREKA moment:
I needed to rid the world of bad advertising.
But how?

I thought of the great campaigns I'd been involved with in my 20 years experience ("great" meaning very creative and astonishingly successful for the brand and business) and tried to isolate what made them possible.

Brave work? Tick
Brave client? Tick
Strong Relationship? Tick

Okay, good.

But what MADE those things possible?

Brave work needs to be sold. Brave work can only be sold by a team that has taken into account the possible risks the brand and business faces, and has mitigated those risks based on the strong possibility of success. This takes skill and wisdom and strategic ability. Equally, a brave marketer needs to have astute evaluation and feedback skills and the ability to hear their instinct over their fear. A strong relationship is based on trust, based on a true belief that the other person knows what they are doing. Look up the word "trust" and you get words like:
  • to rely on
  • to depend on
  • to believe
  • to expect confidently
  • to rely on the integrity, strength, ability of...
This trust goes both ways. The agency has to trust the marketer as much as the other way round. You trust each other.

It's not a blind, stupid, trust. It's a trust based on cumulative experience and knowledge and track records and understanding business.

So the concept of Adtherapy was born: to help marketers and agencies work better together to get the best possible work, because it works better.

I'm not going to rehash the argument of why this is so, (if you want more, you can read my previous post here.)

Just quickly, here's a repeat of some of the cogent points:

The Case for Creativity reported on a research study commissioned by the IPA (Institute of Practitioners of Advertising) and Thinkbox in the UK and conducted by acclaimed researcher Peter Field in 2010, entitled "The Link Between Creativity and Effectiveness". Some key findings were:
  • Only about 0,001% of advertising wins a creative award, yet among highly effective campaigns (in this case winners of an IPA Effectiveness award), 18% are awarded. This means that there's on "over-index of 128,500" of how likely creative campaigns are to be effective.
  • In an analysis of "Excess Share of Voice" (ESOV, which correlates a brand's share of advertising with its share of market, Field found that the "Return On Investment (ROI) for a highly creative campaign is on average 11 times higher". ie... "you need to spend 11 times more on media for an uncreative production" to achieve the same result.
  • And, here's the kicker: Creatively awarded campaigns are more certain to achieve a higher rate of effectiveness by a "degree of confidence of 99.9%" as opposed to to non-awarded campaigns'  degree of confidence of 87%.
"What this implies is that less creative campaigns are not only less efficient, but also less predictable than creatively-awarded ones - something of a departure from the perceived notion that a more creative approach is a less certain one"
James Hurman, Author of the Case for Creativity

In short, creative advertising is much less risky than boring advertising.

But "things have changed in the last decade".

Digital is all pervasive. The word Advertising is a no-no. Content is King. No, Distribution is King. No, CONTEXT is King. There is constant debate about what is King, or Queen or the most important thing in communication today. They're all interesting points and all add to the ongoing evolution in this industry. But to me there is a simple point that's missing.

Luckily, today, two articles addressed this point, albeit in different ways.

Creative is King.

"COO Sheryl Sandberg and her team have been relentlessly experimenting with how to make ads more compelling despite the limitations of small screens. "Creativity’s never been so important," Sandberg says. "When TV ads [first appeared], people thought the creative was important. Then when you moved into online, what really mattered was the targeting. What we’re [now] seeing on the Facebook platform is that it’s both."

Or this one:
"Why have modern marketers shunned what will make them stand apart and define the new century by becoming cold, calculated, and analytical to the point where creativity has been ostracized? 
In this creative age (in which) we are crossing the chasm and entering, creativity is the main differentiator."

In the article quoted above, by Geoffrey Colon, he imagines the characteristics of people he would hire for his own agency, that would define the "new century marketer". They will probably not surprise you. They are:
  1. Intellectually curious
  2. Always listening
  3. Empathetic, inclusive and ethical
  4. Learns, unlearns, relearns
And these wonderful attributes will help solve the problem he raises of marketers becoming more analytical but less interesting. As he says, "machines can do analytics better than any of us will be able to do. But empathy? That’s more difficult for machine learning to mimic."

But wait. 

Agencies HAVE these types of people don't they?

So why are they not allowed to do what they're good at; creating empathetic work that differentiates the brand and connects to consumers' deepest motivations?

That's sadly an easy one to answer. Marketers often under perform in this critical area, that of unlocking the creativity of their agency partners for their own business success. Why?

  • They are disconnected from their consumers.
  • They lack insight.
  • They are prescriptive.
  • They issue terrible briefs due to all of the above.
  • They are not brave. In fact, they are terrified by the stresses of shareholder delivery, Quarter-itis, and internal politics.
  • They lack of evaluation and feedback skills.
  • And so they lack confidence.

The effect of all this on agencies?

Complete demoralisation. Many of the best people I know in the industry feel bowed down, crushed, by their lack of "professional freedom". By which I mean, crushed by clients forcing them to do work they don't believe in, based on their considerable skills, experience and expertise.

The upshot? Good talent will leave the industry. And the industry, and its clients, will be the poorer for it. Or the good agencies will end those oppressive client relationships. Those marketers will get the advertising they deserve. And the true giants, true leaders, will continue to nurture creativity, to innovate and break barriers. And soar.

That's why agencies need to fight for the right to be creative. And when I say fight, I don't actually mean fight! I mean persuade, convince, inspire. Great agencies have to produce great creativity to keep their souls from self destructing. It's their lifeblood. But it's a win-win because it turns out that great creativity is also a key driver of brand success. 

Of course, they shouldn't have to fight. But the fight is real and fight they must.


Adtherapy works with Marketers and Agencies to help them work better together so that they create better work. Contact Gillian Rightford on, +(27)(0)832659099 or visit our website if you want to know more.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Better Client-Agency relationships lead to better Commercial Creativity. And that's a good thing.

Some time back I wrote a blog based on a report called "A is for Alliances", published by the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising), in the UK. (Images below are from the report. Download it here)

In it, they provide real justification for the age old saying that Clients get the agencies they deserve.

Aprais, a renowned Business Relationship Management Consultancy, reckons that there is as much as a 37% differential in the quality of creative output between poor and good client-agency relationships.

Unless you've been under a rock you know already that better creative is a better business building tool - more effective, more efficient, better ROI. (If you're still unconvinced, please read The Case for Creativity. Again, if need be).

So adding the Apprais research and The Case for Creativity findings together, we get a simple equation:

Good relationship = good work = better results.

Scientifically proven, even!

My mantra when I started Adtherapy ten years ago was similar:

Better skills = better relationships = better results.

How I got to this piece of intuitive brilliance? By working back from the great campaigns I'd been involved with, and realising there was always a strong client-agency partnership behind them. And when I unpacked what was at the root of those partnerships, it was obvious. Skills. Other things too - chemistry, culture compatibility, bravery, fun. But skills meant that each party respected each other and had confidence in each other. That  'trust' thing.

One of my clients told me that she would jump off a mountain, that our Executive Creative Director was like her parachute; that was the extent to which she trusted him (and us). The work we did for her got her death threats and nearly got her fired, but catapulted their business into the stratosphere, so she knew what 'brave' meant.

What drives successful Client-Agency partnerships?

The IPA has come up with 4 basic drivers of good partnerships. They are:
  1. Transparent and effective approval processes
  2. Mutually agreed and maintained timing plans
  3. Honest and open briefings with clear business objectives, budget, timing and brand guidelines
  4. Respectful and collaborative behaviours built on shared goals and rewards.

So simple. And yet, and yet, and yet...

  • Many briefs are terrible. Lacking in information, too long, no clear thinking, prescriptive, pedantic, clumsy, no insight.
  • Many times the business objectives and the brand objectives are muddled and are not clear.
  • Consumer understanding is limited and basic or super surface-level.
  • These horrible briefs are often emailed; not even presented in person.
  • Agency sometimes questions the briefs, but this creates a disharmony - "why are they being so argumentative"?
  • Deadlines bear no resemblance to reality - they are imposed from the outside in, because of an internal deadline.
  • Then the work that comes back is used as a guide to what the client team doesn't want, doesn't like.
  • There are few evaluation skills, few skills that help in giving constructive feedback. B.t.w. - "it makes me want to vomit" is not a good one.
  • Approvals become about second guessing the bigger boss, and then the next bigger boss, because many of the corporate marketing teams operate in a culture of fear and 'what would s/he like'?
  • And would you believe it, because of all of this to-ing and fro-ing, deadlines are missed.
  • And the agency is "useless".

Many of these marketers and agencies willingly submit to relationship audits, every month, twice a year, whatever, to 'measure the relationship'. Issues are raised, concerns are flagged. Until the next audit, when the same issues are raised and concerns are flagged.

What to do? *wrings her hands*

Back to Adtherapy maths formula.

Better skills = better relationships = better results.

What to do? Put the skills in place to make it work. Then, get some Partnership Principles in place. And move forward happily - or don't. You may both be wrong for each other. Acknowledge it and move on instead of perpetuating an unsuccessful relationship.

What are Partnership Principles?

The work done in the IPA exercise highlighted the concept of a Relationship Contract. Agencies and clients have lengthy legal contracts (which are often not signed because they spend so much time bouncing between lawyers) and detailed fee agreements but no real contract on how to work together. An example from Avis and DDB from the 1960's shows us how it's done.

From A is For Alliances, IPA

To get you started, you could consider the advice given by Gotz Ulmer, Executive Creative Director at Germany's best agency, Jung von Matt. He said they have three simple rules for working with clients. They ask:

1. Are we making money?
2. Are we doing great work?
3. Are we having fun?

If they can't answer 'Yes' to at least 2, then it's not the right agency-client partnership for them. 

Then make sure you ad your client have the right skills.

What are these magical skills, I hear you cry? Interestingly, I believe the same set of skills is required by both parties at the coalface - namely the agency account manager/strategist team, and the brand/marketing manager. They are the fulcrum of the relationship and need to manage up, manage resources, manage conflict and manage the risk.

Some of the skills are 'hard', some are 'soft'. This is not a complete list, but here are some:

  • Hard: Brand strategy, positioning, segmentation, consumer behaviour, real insights, writing exceptional briefs, evaluating creative, integrated media options (including digital), budget management.
  • Soft: Giving constructive feedback, being inspiring, managing conflict in a positive way, selling up the organisation, effective communication, body language, building teams, presenting well.

Honestly, if you are managing clients , or are managing an agency relationship without being super skilled in these areas, you are wasting other people's time and money. 

The whole point of having an agency is that they are able to bring to the business a degree of commercial creativity that will drive your business forward. A little like the man with the ladder in this picture:

Work together well, and both your businesses will thrive. Work together badly, and both your businesses will suffer. Or at least not do as well as they could. And you will get the advertising, and the agency, you deserve.

Adtherapy is premised on helping agencies and marketers work better together to develop better quality creative output, because it is better for business. We have numerous training options from Creative Fitness for marketers to Account Leadership for agencies, to a fully fledged suite of modules for up-skilling marketing teams in our new Business Marketing Academy. And we consult too!  
Browse our offerings on or email me on or talk to me on Twitter, LinkedInFacebook. Or just stop me in the street.

(Ladder man image courtesy of by JessaPhorn)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Would your brief for a SuperBowl ad be different from how you usually brief?

Every year I adapt a post I've written over the years asking what makes a brief for a Super Bowl ad different from the briefs we usually write, everyday briefs?

Here are my thoughts in a 2017 world.

If writing creative briefs is hard then writing great creative briefs is extremely difficult.

The main problems are a lack of clarity of thought and an inspiring proposition. These arise because sometimes the brief-writer isn't clear why they're really asking for this piece of communication, or what they really want to say, or who they really want to say it to. But, most of all they don't know why anyone should believe them.

So they write briefs that offer their creative teams, and their consumers', too many choices. Then they use the creative offering to whittle down to what they think they should say.

"Actually, that wasn't really what I had in mind... What I think we really should be saying, maybe, is ....."

Of course it's not always that bad. Some creative briefs are perfect.

But every year, the Super Bowl ad-fest inspires me to ask this question:

How does a Super Bowl Ad Brief differ from the Common Client Ad Brief?

And, with so many eyes on these ads, why is that some just don't hit the mark, some are bad, and some are amazing?

In 2013, when I first wrote an article on this question, I picked up a quote from a Bloomberg's Business Week article entitled : "Game on: SuperBowl ads are already playing online". It was from David Lubars, chairman and chief creative officer of BBDO North America,  who "advises keeping an ad simple and honest. “It should also be an easy, reductionist message,” says Lubars. “You’re getting a canvas that 120 million people will see. You have to go where nobody has gone before. The ad has to be single-minded, relevant, funny, and emotional. If it’s done right, $4 million* (for a 30 - sec spot) is a bargain. I would say 90 percent of the people running ads are wasting their money.” (* now $5million)

So back to my question. Is the brief for BIG work different from your common and garden version?

Or is the work different because maybe  the agencies recognise that this is THE brief and assign their best teams to work on it? But even that doesn't always deliver great work. 

Even if the Super Bowl Ad brief is perceived by the agencies to be much cooler and high-stakes with more chance of creative risk-taking than the average Client Brief, then why do some of the Super Bowl ads come out boring, done-before, irrelevant and imminently forgettable?

It seems that the enormous viewership might have something to do with it. Possibly a bit of stage fright and a trying-too-hard aspect? Or a client wanting to cover all their bases to justify the enormous spend?

My two cents worth would be that there's too much playing to the masses and too much losing sight of the one person that actually counts - the person who may do something, buy something, think something, as a result of your ad. 

Is there a different approach to writing the brief for communication that will be watched, and analysed, and talked about, by millions?

The usual Client Ad Brief claims to want to be original, single minded, relevant and emotionally engaging, right? So what's the big difference? Truthfully, having never seen a Super Bowl brief, I have no idea.

Here are some ads that I thought were interesting.

A few ads I thought hit the mark are Budweiser Immigrant ad (totally coincidentally spot-on from a political consciousness point of view), the 84 Lumber ad (ditto, very topical and bound to polarize both ways, they also gained huge traction from being "censored"), the Kia ad with the inimitable tree-hugging Melissa McCarthy and the Hyundai live shoot ad living up to its promise of making things better, and showcasing tech in all its storytelling magic. I also loved It's a 10 Hair care, for being hilariously political while strongly selling their brand benefit.

All these are fresh, single-minded, and totally relevant. They all hit an emotional chord. One is funny, one is deeply chilling, one makes you want to cry and one makes you laugh. They speak to the truth of their brand message. And all of them address, in totally different ways, an interesting insight. The Kia ad for me tapped into an interesting insight: being an eco-warrior is hard, but you can still do your bit by driving a Kia Nitro: the target consumer cal still do her bit to save the planet without going full eco-warrior. 

These ads have managed to create an ongoing dialogue, online, offline, in people's hearts and minds, about what their message. 

And the interesting shift this year, coincidentally or not, is the political nature of the messages. There was an apparent rejection of the right wing shift in American values and the need for big brands to continue to honor diversity. 

This ad for Airbnb is case in point - based on a really strong insight and business challenge. I would have guessed that the message was aimed as much as consumers as Airbnb hosts.

Interesting side story: the ad space was bought on Thursday and shot on Thursday night (using Airbnb people as actors).  Reading this article though, the ad claims that Airbnb "was using the Super Bowl to highlight its commitment to provide short-term housing for 100,000 people in need over the next five years, including for refugees, victims of natural disasters and aid workers."  

I'm not sure it achieved that, although CEO Brian Chesky tweeted additional information.

There were many more, and many more opinions. Watch them all here

Whether the ads were a hit or a miss, here's what I like to imagine sets a Super Bowl brief apart form a common Creative Brief:

  1. The client (and agency) are aiming for GREAT. You have a much better chance of getting there if you aim for it, than if you don't.
  2. It's presumably agreed upfront that the ad has to be entertaining with exceptional production values (with budget allowed for) - great advice for the Common Brief to borrow from.
  3. The ad aims to be memorable, relevant and engaging. Tick, tick and tick.
  4. It simply has to be distinctive. And talk-able, and shareable. And that means some brave decisions need to be made in the approvals process.
  5. The message has to be totally singleminded.
  6. Time has been invested in mining a really strong insight about the consumers motivations or beliefs in the category. 
  7. The brand has a strong point of view, which may or may not please everybody.
  8. A powerful proposition and very clear brand positioning are the cornerstones.

Maybe we should treat each ad brief like a Super Bowl brief and see what happens to the work?