Archive for the ‘Advertising’ Category

Inside the Gated Community of Creative (Part I)

March 11, 2011
Michael Gough and George Clooney

Michael Gough and George Clooney (courtesy Yahoo)

Lately I’ve been working with a creative director whose background is predominantly “traditional” or “offline” (means: TV/Print/Radio/Out-of-Home and not digital).  It is through him that I found myself suddenly inside the gated community of offline creative and, turning back, found maybe there was no gate after all.  As Nedup would say, “Mind Bugs,” referencing a paranoia I once went through about bedbugs (we didn’t have any, thank goodness).

This creative director’s view is the will to collaborate must be present for gates not to exist.  In his case, he has that will and gamely went along with my rolling out an Agile-esque framework at least on the production of a campaign that had video, print, and digital executions (I was not involved in the ideation stage).

Although we didn’t use burn-down charts and velocity, we didn’t explicitly name a Product Owner, and otherwise did all sorts of horrific “Scrumbut” things, we all felt what we did was very successful.  When I say “we all” what I mean is “the team” because this was precisely the result of using Agile.  We all felt like a team and had that closeness.

Where this creative director and I have both been trying to sort is at the point in which we’re coming up with ideas – or a Big Idea – for a campaign.  On another client, we’d thought to see if we could use our new framework, but in traditional it is customary for the creative director to lead the troops and he instinctively went to that process, habituated to it and likely feeling comfortable and safe with it.

Then, I’m not sure at such a nascent stage of a campaign about the point at which Agile can really help and where it just breaks flow. I think of an example Dr. Jeff Sutherland used in a class of his that I took in which he talked about team issues – and one of those being the classical coder who does not want to attend scrum but just go off into his cube and get into flow “and just code.”

Lt. Gen. Russel Honore (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

Lt. Gen. Russel Honore (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

Then could it be that “flow” can lead to “distraction” and we really need a general?  I think of Hurricane Katrina and Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré.  In this situation, it seemed we did indeed need a general.  This is possibly an example of a really huge team in “spin-and-flounder” mode.  From Wikipedia:

In one widely played clip, Honore was seen on the streets of the city, barking orders to subordinates and, in one case, berating a soldier who displayed a weapon, telling him “We’re on a rescue mission damn it!” New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was quoted on a radio interview September 1, 2005, saying: “Now, I will tell you this — and I give the president some credit on this — he sent one John Wayne dude down here that can get some stuff done, and his name is Gen. Honoré. And he came off the doggone chopper, and he started cussing and people started moving. And he’s getting some stuff done.”

I’ve seen Chief Creative Officers and CEOs behave like this with teams, coming off the chopper, starting to “cuss,” and getting people moving. Breaking through team inertia.  I myself have been expected to do this, and even had a CEO at a previous company say to me “You need to yell at people more, Mary.”

On the other hand, maybe these generals need a butler.  So back to breaking out of feudalism, at what point does that coder need someone to keep track of where the socks are?  Someone to wash them and put them away so he can focus on the task at hand?  Does the coder have to wash his own socks?

The creative director, during an ideation stage that he ended up leading, originally asked me to “keep things moving” for a weekend of crunched creativity. I declined because it felt to me artificial, as if I’d be inserting myself into a process that maybe does not require (?) what could be horse beating.  Getting off the chopper and cussing and getting people moving.  Or could it have turned into facilitation?  Not sure.

I bring this up because there was someone, a digital executive creative director, who said to me once that he viewed Project Managers as very good butlers.  He clarified that he meant this in the way that Alfred is a great butler to Batman/Bruce Wayne, enabling the superhero to go out and fight crime because he doesn’t have to worry about where the socks are.  This person is much more towards hopping off the doggone chopper cussing, but his style is less cuss, more inspire.  He hops off the doggone chopper and the creatives want to follow him into battle because he makes it seem as if where we’re going is incredibly interesting.

Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day

Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day

But he feels he needs a butler. I know from visiting countries that still have the feudal habit of one human being serving another that it can be all too easy to fall into liking that service and of beginning to feel that oneself is somehow deserving of such service.  In the situation I was also tempted to think I was generating employment by letting people have the opportunity to serve me.  Very easy to enter into all sorts of rationalizations, when in fact could it not be that we are only steps away from enslavement of another person to serve our own great ego?  Or, as a master, do we deserve that? Does it help for us to demand that?

The question, then, finally threads it way back to Mastery.  Should one “serve the master” if one is not training to become a master?  Is there any case in which a butler is okay to have because it leaves one free to enter into flow and create?

I think of a company like Big Spaceship, that proclaims they have done away with the title “Creative” and question how they get stuff done.  Don’t they need someone to wash the socks?  And don’t they need a general to jump off the doggone chopper and start cussing so people move?

From reading Dr. Alistair Cockburn’s book, Agile Software Development: the Cooperative Game, more and more I conclude we really need a framework to analyze the situation on a case-by-case basis.  He talks about projects needing analysis to determine how heavy or light a process can work given the circumstances. To extend the thinking to this case, it may be that in some cases you need a general, in others plenty of butlers, and yet others, the team can take over.

Where we may be very evolutionary is if we can thread our way down the fractal to spot in which we actually do not need generals or butlers because the team just works that well together and just works that well with other teams.  My question remains, though.  Where’s the socks?

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Important Agency Evolution Decks to Read

February 25, 2011

Before I leave for the winds of the weekend (literally!), I wanted to post these decks as foundation for thinking about evolving the agency.

First up, in this deck, Matt Howell, the President of Modernista! and Board Member/ Boulder Digital Works, talks about the “T” shaped team, with knowledge across disciplines and core expertise. He also talks about using collaborative models to work that look pretty Agile to me.

In this deck, Made By Many proposes a Lean approach to product development:

Here, Made By Many’s William Owens takes on Peter Merholz’s blog post The Pernicious Effects of Advertising and Marketing Agencies Trying To Deliver User Experience Design for a speech given for the APA.  On his blog, Owens calls the deck “The Future of Advertising Isn’t Advertising:”

Next, Fast Company’s article on Hyper Island, in which Danielle Sacks takes a Master Class.

Reading a lot of this work is what started me thinking about how to integrate Agile methods into what and how we do.  The work still doesn’t solve the questions of the Big Idea, stories and leadership, but starts to provide rough sketch marks from which the drawing can evolve.

Inspiration vs Laziness

February 22, 2011
Prayer Flags - Wind Horse

Lung-ta - Wind Horse - Prayer Flags

“Inspiration” for ancient people meant being filled with the breath of the divine, animated, full of life. The etymology traces back to the Ancient Greeks and has the connotation of the Sybil of Delphi, who forecast the future once Apollo had breathed the divine within her. Similarly Himalayan Buddhists talk about “rLung” which loosely means “wind” except in this case Mind rides the Wind (the Breath) like a rider and horse.  This is not in the sense of ordinary air that fills our lungs, but a sort of energy keeping us healthy and alive.

Lately I’ve not felt that inspired and could almost say I had a moment of boredom teetering on discouragement with the puzzles I’ve been trying to unravel. Such moods might be attributable to laziness, possibly resulting from when you actually get to a place where you have to thoroughly sift through lots of details.

Fortunately @saritabhatt introduced me to some interesting work that sparked mind to think again. Inspired. Although still probably not the details we need to get to.  For now here are two decks.

The first is from Goodby Silverstein (an ad agency in San Francisco) and really digs out the issues agencies are facing. One thing they take for granted in the deck, though, seems still to be the “Big Idea” (which by the way, was partially at the root of the laziness I went through for the past days – but more about that later).

View this document on Scribd

This next deck, by Facegroup, a London-based planning agency, talks about “agile branding.”  These guys take on the “Big Idea” and talk about Crowd Sourcing, suggesting a hybrid of “Big Idea” and “user-centered design” (an insufficient shortcut of what they’re saying; check out the deck). Whereas GSP assumes the “Big Idea” at core, not even up for debate.  They say in the deck (above) “People engage with ideas, not channels.”  Meanwhile, the deck below  says “Social is *not* a channel” (slide 54).

All of this reading is in the wake of last week’s continuation of the discussion about the role of “Big Idea” in communications between consumers and brands.  Fast Company seems to side with the “Big Idea” with this article. (Great reaction to this here by Open Source, by the way). All coincidentally coming to mind when I’d just had a weekend of trying to figure out when to become involved in the “Creative Process” and when to let the “Creatives” do their thing, “create their magic.”

But is it this “magic,” this breath of the Gods, that will inspire me and others?  Is it the “Big Idea” that will help create conditions where we can inspire ourselves to want to do something?  Push us to want to live in a particular way? Open a path to something better – something greater? Is it the temporary entertainment of a Super Bowl commercial that features a short Darth Vader?  Or is it a crowded square somewhere in Egypt and knowing that Google (SayNow) enabled Twitter by Voice so that people could continue to link to each other? With people at Google evidently using their own free time to make this possible – was that a “Big Idea?” **

Not really a fair comparison.  And plenty of writers have discussed whether or not Facebook [edit 2/23: or a Google executive] is at the root of Egypt or not, or was it a PDF on “how to peacefully overthrow a dictator” that has been circulating, etc.  But it doesn’t matter. All the cause and conditions, whatever they were, arose to inspire people to do something. It doesn’t seem like there was one great leader doing the inspiring.  It seems like the one great leader, President Hosni Mubarek, was actually doing the not inspiring.

So perhaps when inspiration meets the obstacle of what could be the dictatorship of the “creatives,” with the legacy Mad Men hierarchies and stagnancy, that the breath can get knocked out and laziness can set in.  At least, this is how I currently feel about “Big Idea” culture. Open to revision as more information appears before this mind. For now there are moments it can feel like a gated community and might as well not even bother trying to talk to the people inside.  Feels like these folks don’t even speak the same language. And that’s the laziness.

But then, I don’t speak Egyptian.  I do have a former colleague, a usability analyst (user-centered design), who is Egyptian and somehow made us all feel connected back to Cairo, just with simple posts about her family, exchanges with friends on Facebook. So perhaps through links to links to links there’s some hope after all.

The “How Dare You” Factor

February 3, 2011

I just saw some feedback to ad creative in an email from an Account Executive (a mid-level Account person) and it reminded me of my current “how dare you” binge. This all stems out of having the sense that the guys who created Scrubbing Bubbles wouldn’t be so interested in my ideas on Advertising and the Big Idea. What do I know about Advertising, really – what have I *done.*

The idea of having *done* something, accomplished something, is important. It’s a level of mastery. I think this may be the key to understanding the conversation about Steve Jobs. There are those people who are Masters, and who actually yes do deserve our respect. Maybe not awe and veneration, but at least respect of the fact that they have done something.

I’m still thinking about it though and there’s more to, um, flush out in this thought path.

So is it possible to have a Big Spaceship world with no creatives? Or do we start to create by committee? Is it okay for an AE to suddenly have their input weigh the same as an Art Director who has been awarded and celebrated? Or is there a way to balance that? Can we become too communal, too equal?

I should probably name my Posterous blog “rabbit hole” although it seems I can’t get away from some sort of mildly inappropriate-sounding metaphors. [Note – was thinking to move to Posterous before I settled on WordPress.]