When your concept is taken Hostage

So you have a great idea and you’re all excited to present it, this could be the big one! The meeting goes well enough, they like it, you high five anyone who’s passing the meeting room.

A couple days pass and then come the list of amends.

They’ve shown some key stakeholders, they’ve shown their team, the guy in the canteen and a passing doctor and a medic. And they want to see some changes and they want them done now!

It’s like someone’s taken your idea hostage.

The client is hold up inside the bank and they want a helicopter now or the idea gets it.

Now comes the drawn out negotiations and just hoping your idea survives and no one gets hurt.

The one time chief hostage negotiator for the FBI, Chris Voss, writes in his book ‘Never split the difference’ about some of the methods he uses to get the outcome he wants without compromise.

He calls it Tactical Empathy.

This intrigued me, he makes it clear a lot of the skills are transferable to business, but advertising and creativity?

Well, why not.

Like all human interaction his premise is based on empathy, not sympathy or agreeing, but listening more than talking and making the hostage taker feel like they are in charge and making all the decisions.

Sound familiar?

I recently had an experience where I could have done with Chris when dealing with what I can, with absolute certainty, call my worst client experience ever.

I couldn’t see the other side of the story as it seemed just pure lunacy, but with hindsight I wish I had.

To cut a long story short, we’d pitched and won with a particular idea that all the stakeholders liked.

Bingo, an idea straight from pitch to production. Never happens. We’ll get right on it.

Then the main client climbed aboard our concept and took the whole process hostage. He wanted his photographer and his CGI guy to do it all and he assured us he knew what he was doing.

His guys were cheaper and good enough.

This was one of the situations that Chris Voss calls a ‘Black Swan’. Most hostage negotiations follow a similar pattern, but occasionally you get someone who wants to ‘die by cop’ and doesn’t follow any normal pattern.

We were suddenly camped outside the bank with a loudhailer and a sweaty Al Pacino threatening to kill everyone. (Extra points if you get the film reference)

We said we’d consider these guys for sure, we’re all about collaboration, so we’d talk to them.

When we called we discovered he’d already briefed them anyway.

One hostage down.

I usually pride myself on being able to talk a client round to my way of thinking a lot of the time, but on the day of the big ‘powwow’ when we were politely putting our case for using an agency for what they’re good at, I could have done with a little more of Chris Voss’s technique and less of my performance as a scandalised prima donna.

I have a lot of patience and it takes a lot to anger me, but wilful disrespect of our creative skills and process will kinda push my buttons, I must say.

But there must have been a way round it, I just couldn’t see it.

Could a hostage negotiator have faired better?

So here are some of his techniques, in a very brief and inadequate list which I’ve tried to translate in to a pharmaland scenario.

  1. Deference, don’t make it all about you. let the client feel they are the expert and play down your own expertise. People love to talk and they will give you nuggets of information that you may not know about but could help your negotiation. This will give you leverage.
  2. Establish rapport by mirroring what they say, not their physical actions. “I want you to make the data bigger”…”the data bigger?” This can be surprisingly effective at just making people feel you are on their side and understand their issues.
  3. Re-burden the client with their own problem. So if they ask that you do an impossible change, ask ‘how am I supposed to do that?’ Or if it’s an impossible deadline request, “how can we do that?” This keeps them feeling they are in charge but with only the illusion of control.
  4. Instead of saying a flat NO to a request, illicit a more positive response by labelling the problem.”it sounds like you don’t like this idea.” People are inclined to answer with a “no, no…I do like it” rather than outright trashing it. Or “it seems like you want this idea to be all about the data” “No, that’s not it” This style of question has the benefit of leaving you and your personal feelings out of it, it’s not about you, because ‘me and you’ can make it quite combative and we’re not looking for combat.
  5. Don’t go for a YES. Sales people and sales books often are about getting to yes but people often say yes to things without meaning yes (think of how you might get a salesman off the doorstep by saying yes, then cancelling right after) get them to say NO. “It seems like somethings holding you back.” “No, not all” People often will let their guard down if they feel understood.
  6. Get emotional permission to allow them to buy. What you don’t want to hear from your client is ‘you’re right’. Think about it, when you tell someone they’re right it’s usually because you want them to shut up or go away. Real buy-in comes from ‘that’s right’. Think of when you hear a politician you agree with, you point at the TV and say ‘that’s right’.
  7. People are wired to be loss averse, so losing is a safer bet than winning. $5 gained is meh. $5 loss is terrible. Think what the client stands to lose by not buying your idea or your services.

There’s a ton more stuff in his book, which even if you have a passing interest in psychology you should read. Maybe you can find ways of applying it to your creative meetings and get that idea past all the hurdles.

The hardest part of what we do is getting our work from concept to the finish line in recognisable form, with the idea intact, so if we can empathise more with our clients, not necessarily agreeing with them, together we can turn a hostage situation in to a peaceful exchange.

Of course, occasionally we may need to deliver a holdall full of cash to a secret location and a helicopter to Cuba, but hey, that’s advertising.

 

 

 

The Artificially Intelligent guide to the new Agency model.

Over the last few months we’ve heard a lot of exciting news about agencies and clients reinventing the ‘advertising agency model’.

Not the whole agency, obviously, just the interesting part with all the tattooed beardy men and purple haired women.

Because you see, Creative departments simply weren’t working before.

What? you hadn’t noticed?

That’s why you’re not making the big bucks, buddy.

However, fortunately for us, some of those clever people who are earning the bigly-bucks with bells on – have been thinking about this long and hard and have come up with some cunning new ways to reinvent the whole thing.

There are three main ways this creative reinvention is manifesting itself.

The first is ‘Down with awards, long live Process!’.

The second is the ‘My Ball, My rules’ method.

The third is ‘Committees are the way forward’.

Leading from the front was the much publicised boycott of awards by the Publicis group. “No awards entries for a year, let’s spend it on AI process software!” they declared.

Of course they never reckoned on Creative people’s ability to think creatively. We needn’t have worried, last count Publicis had 398 entries at Cannes and won Gold in Pharma and came third in Healthcare Agency of the year via Langland.

Not bad for a group on a Cannes boycott. Maybe we should all try it.

Plus Publicis saved quite a few bob on air fair. They admit they had 15 people going under their own steam, 12 employees in the young Lions competitions and 12 leaders who were there for jury duty, paid for by Cannes.

Oh but wait, they did pay for the account leaders who needed to attend all the important meetings and the you know, all the important stuff.

Apart from the cost of junior creatives sandwich allowances, they saved themselves a shit ton of cash because all their suppliers or clients had to pay for the entries themselves and even their employees who actually picked up the awards had to pay their own way.

I mean it’s almost as if creative people’s careers depend on awards or something the way they managed to get stuff entered. Who knew?

Second, in the ‘My ball, My rules’ camp is P&G.

Recently they announced that they are forming a new agency called ‘People First’ which plans to cherry pick the best talent from the major networks and corral these lucky souls under one roof to service their North American fabric brands.

Naturally, when one of the world’s most powerful clients has a bright idea, agencies will nod, applaud obsequiously and agree through gritted teeth what a fab idea it is, or miss out on their slice of the world’s biggest pie.

But, you ask, is this just P&G setting up an in-house agency without all the bother of trying to find their own creatives or Creative Director?

Not a bit of it, this is completely different.

You have to concede it’s pretty damn bloody clever to not call it an in-house agency as the minute anyone does, I fear all the top talent at the top agencies might have an identity crisis that somehow they’ve crossed over to the dark side.

Thing is, an ad career can sink or swim on the recognition you get for your work. And by association your agency benefits from the afterglow of your genius, making it easier to hire talent and attract other business. That’s kinda the point.

Are the agencies to just forego this?

Well, luckily we don’t have to wonder. This years ‘It’s a tide ad’ campaign that swept the superbowl and won multiple golds at Cannes was won by the amazing agency Procter & Gamble Cincinatti.

Everyone credited appeared to work for Saatchi and Saatchi NY but you know, who cares if the cash is right.

The third act of reinvention is what Campaign described as the dawn of a new age of Creative power at JWT.

Finally!

It’s what we creatives, who’ve been round the block, recognize as the old ‘we don’t need creatives or Creative Directors because everyone’s a creative’ routine.

Or the ‘WDNCOCDBEAC’ routine for short.

Yes, JWT have decided they don’t need a global CCO.

‘Bloody over paid primadonnas’, someone probably said at some point, my hidden sources can confirm.

Tamara Ingram, the CEO, and her chums have realised that what they need is a group of engineers, architects and musicians from the Latin American agencies – an ‘incubation program’ named JumpStart instead of a global CCO.

They’re going to call it the ‘Inspiration Council’.

The only problem, as I see it, with taking engineers, architects and musicians and asking them to tackle creative problems for brands is that pretty soon – if they’re any good – Gosh, darn and damn it if they don’t go ahead and become creatives. This means then you have to fire them all and get some more engineers, architects and musicians to replace them.

Tamara explains:

“They’ll combine this with a ‘Futures Council’. The mix of talent — from data science and creative technology, to strategy and user experience — will work with universities and technology firms to feed the Inspiration Council with knowledge to find the right solutions to solving clients’ business problems.”

See? easy!

Personally I think committees, sorry –  ‘future councils‘ – are always the best way to provide a strong creative voice. Just think of all the great creative ideas or inventions that have come from committees, oops…sorry, Inspiration programmes that you can think of.

I mean there must be literally dozens.

It’s an exciting time to be a creative in a creative department, no more boring architecture or silly music to worry about for a start. So much change, so much reinvention by the people who know best.

As Tamara Ingram so eloquently put it, using simple plain English to make her point:

“This council is about unleashing the imaginations of these thinkers into our creative world,” she told Campaign US. “It is about encouraging a collision of ideas and inspiring the whole agency. It is about recency, relevancy and driving culture. It is about the application of the triangulation of humanity, creativity and technology that generates stand-out work and experiences.”

I couldn’t have triangulated that better myself.

So, it’s clear folks. The future Advertising agency model is an in-house creative department, run by a committee of engineers and musicians with a focus on AI software process systems.

Who wouldn’t want to work there?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You take the high-brow I’ll take the low.

Before Easter I took a trip to the US and Canada to visit our agencies in my new capacity as Le Grand Fromage Creative de la CDM.

My ‘talk to the troops’, or as our CEO Kyle Barich described it, my ‘Stump’ speech was a way of introducing myself to those who had no idea who I was or how I got the job or what the job was. It was also a chance to share some of my thinking about creativity and pharma and whatnot.

I hadn’t reckoned on the North American weather though and so the trip was somewhat compromised by a shit ton of snow which decided to disrupt a promising spring in New York, so sadly I never made it to Montreal. It was like the scene in Home Alone when the mum tries to get back to save Kevin and due to no flights has to share a bus with a Polka band, lead by John Candy.

Well, there was no touring Polka band but the frustration was similar.

I managed a quick visit to our Princeton agency but these were guys who’ve become extreme weather experts and weren’t dumb enough to attempt to make it in to the agency with two feet of snow forecast, so a small band of hardened professionals were left holding the fort, while the others worked remotely.

Nevertheless as a small part of my ‘stump speech’ I started to grow more fond of this notion of where ideas come from and how it needn’t be the high brow visits to art galleries and French independent films that supply all the ideas to steal, I mean..ahem..be inspired by.

As you know, if you are looking for inspiration, by the time you come to sit down with a pencil and paper and try and think of something it’s already too late if there’s nothing in the idea bank. You need to be making deposits all the time.

For a creative you never know when the visual or intellectual stimuli will resurface. Even a night in the Hyatt in a business park in New Jersey can provide fodder at some point.

(Right now I can’t think what, but the 1970’s decor and cold scrambled egg was a delight and may pay dividends some day!)

But I digress.

This idea for a flexible fabric Bandaid would only have come from someone who’d skipped the Rauschenburg retrospective at the Tate Modern and gone to watch a Marvel movie instead. I love this idea, yes I know it’s just a print ad, but the thinking is so pure no copy, beyond what the product does, is necessary.

Similarly this idea for Wonderbra swimwear has a delightful simplicity that can only have come from a few viewings of Finding Nemo.

But it’s also not about just watching films, arty or otherwise. (although I highly recommend it)

I was reminded of this when I read about how Dan Weiden (founder of Weiden and Kennedy) who among other things wrote the famous Nike line ‘Just do it’.

Who would have though that his inspiration would have come from the last words of the famous American killer Gary Gilmore.

As the firing squad lined up and he was strapped in to his chair he just said ‘Let’s do it’.

Dan wanted something that would inspire professionals and amateurs alike, an attitude he could apply to the brand and this somehow popped in to his head.

He didn’t like ‘let’s’ in copy, so he changed it to ‘Just’.

And the rest is adland history.

We can get so tied up in our heads that we disregard the everyday creativity and attitudes that surround us. The conversations on the bus, the random acts of graffiti wit on walls. If we want to relate to people on a people basis the more ways we can find to repackage the familiar in unfamiliar ways the easier our job will be.

And so little of it comes from staring at our phones while life goes on around us.

Our clients and customers aren’t art critics or film buffs. They like populist work, they like pop tunes and they like best selling novels about crime and love (okay and maybe science).

So by all means check out the Turner prize winners, go to the opera but also next Sunday when you’re lazily skimming through Netflix in a fug of hangover, take a look at that Pixar movie and well …

… Just do it.

 

Christmas comes to Pharmaland.

Think about it. They call it the greatest story ever told.

Actually it’s the greatest healthcare ad campaign that ever ran. It’s text book marketing.

Firstly, you have a blockbuster product that can solve all ills.

Then you have 12 KOLs ready to advocate.

You have a wonderfully written idetail, (previously in hard back.)

You have patient stories inside that make the whole thing come alive.

You have ten important guidelines for prescribing.

You have conference centres designed entirely for the symposiums dedicated to your product, all over the world. (Every Sunday)

You even have jingles that everyone knows.

You have salesmen (and now women) who go in to the community and spread the word.

And you have the promise of ever-lasting life.

And no medics to say you can’t say that.

And it’s available everywhere.

All you need is three wise men and some cattle.

Now that’s a case history.

Merry Christmas one and all.