Adland’s surrendered agenda

The objective of this industry, once clearly stated as the creation of value through the building of brands through the power of ideas, has been reset. We are now, apparently, in the business of adjusting to and coping with the change that we are facing. It is a heroic agenda but, ultimately, parochial and low value. Our achievements are now measured against a yardstick of change management, whereas we used to be hailed as a cultural force – one that created the change that others would manage.”

Source: Giles Hedger, ‘The fallacy of our time‘, Campaign, 23 April 2015

On the necessity of briefs, client briefs, and creative briefs

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“Every order which can be misunderstood will be misunderstood”

Jacob Meckel, 1877

Briefing is difficult to do well and has a major impact, for it essentially determines how people are going to spend their time and what outcomes they are going to try and achieve. Few things could be more important for any business. In view of its importance and difficulty, it is remarkable that it is little taught.”

Lesson: Demand great client briefs.

Briefing is radical in the way in which it unifies effort. The effort is directed towards a desired outcome – everybody has an ultimate goal which is defined in terms of the state of affairs to be attained in the world.”

Lesson: Great client briefs define outcomes, not means.

In the backbrief three things happen. The first obvious thing is that the unit being briefed checks its understanding of the direction it has received or worked out. Secondly, and less obviously, the superior gains clarity for the first time about what the implications of their own actions actually are, and may revise them as a result. Thirdly, it provides an opportunity to ensure alignment across the organisation as well as up and down it.”

Lesson: Creative briefs should move the thinking on, not merely replicate the client brief in more cogent or interesting language.

***

Source

The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions and Results by the military historian and management consultant Stephen Bungay. It looks at how the organisational model developed by the Prussian Army in the nineteen century holds lessons for how today’s organisations and companies can more effectively execute strategy. When a former high-ranking officer in the British Armed Forces recommends you it read, you know it’s worth a read.

A new year, an old resolution: Saying no to crap

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(It’s a new year. A good enough reason as any to revisit and recommit to an old resolution).

Look past all the rhetoric, the confident future gazing, the self-congratulation, the slick case studies, the awards, the campaigns du jour, the smartass blogs, the authoritative keynote speeches… and it’s plain that the vast majority of what we produce as an industry isn’t brilliant or even good.

Most of what our industry puts out into the world is banal, and unremarkable. Or worse, patronizing, derivative, lazy, insulting, hectoring, clumsy, polluting, stupid, repetitive, intrusive, toxic. Or just plain irrelevant.

Perhaps this is not surprising at all. Perhaps advertising simply conforms to what the American science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon termed ‘Sturgeons Revelation’ (or Sturgeon’s Law as it is often referred to). As he put it in in the March 1958 issue of Venture magazine:

I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.”

And yet.

All that effort, all that ingenuity, all that inspiration, all those years perfecting one’s craft, all those long hours, all that Powerpoint, all those brilliant rationales… all those missed school plays and cancelled dates, all those postponed vacations, all those lovers never loved, all those bedtime stories never told, all those plans postponed, all those promises broken, all those passions never pursued… To produce crap?

I confess I know from years of firsthand experience that producing crap takes almost as much time and effort as producing stuff that’s good or better. So it strikes me that we have a choice. We can choose to make those sacrifices in the name of producing crap, or in the name of producing something good.

As a new year begins, as we switch the laptops back on, as we resume the rhythms of the working week, picking up unfinished tasks and starting fresh ones… as clients, as creatives, as account people, as planners, let’s say No to crap.

Crap conversations. Crap teamwork. Crap ambitions. Crap expectations. Crap objectives. Crap briefs. Crap advice…

Because if we aren’t going to reclaim more of our lives, then at the very least we should maintain (or reclaim) our standards.

***

 

 

End of year wisdom

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Campaign recently published The A-list, its annual “Who’s who in advertising, media and creative.”

Amidst all the quips from adland’s VIPs, I did find two gems, both from former bosses of mine.

To Lawrence Green: What will be the biggest change in adland in five years?

I am betting on a return to upstream, idea-led and fairly remunerated agency engagement. Is that too much to ask?”

To Giles Hedger: Learnt anything new lately?

I have learnt that nobody really has the answers to any of the plaguing questions. It helps, but only in that slightly disappointing way, like when you’re playing Mornington Crescent and you finally cotton on to the vacuity of parlour games.”

They’ve got a point.