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.

 

 

 

Be careful what you wish for

You remember those first couple of years when Health and Wellness and Pharma were finally at Cannes?

Anyone who was anyone flew in and there was an air of optimism for the future.

And yet, how some of us lamented the fact that we seemed divorced from the main show, how we felt like second class citizens. Why were we on the preceding weekend and not part of the main week?

‘We want to be part of the main week’ they said.

Not me. I liked it that way.

(Not least because you could get a hotel room near Le Croisette and one that wasn’t something out of a tired nineteen seventies polyester nightmare.)

However, that first year I remember a lot of the talks were in the main Lumiere theatre, it really felt like this was pharma’s time.

The next year we were shunted round the back. What? not in the main theatre? oh right, round the back you say?

But that was okay, we got our own slightly ssmaller space, somewhere to see innovations and specific talks all in one arena.

In fact this was better in some ways, round the back, out of the way.

We even still got our own gala ball on the roof top. Yay!

But still, here we are on the weekend and we don’t feel like part of the adland gang, we moaned.

Last year we got included in the main week, no healthcare gala ball, but we go to go to the opening night party with everyone else.

Cool!

And we still had our own awards night! A lot of the work was celebrated and silver winners took to the stage to get their moment in the limelight they deserved.

The winning work was from healthcare agencies and actual pharma clients.

This year, we’re still round the back, no healthcare gala ball and the awards night consisted of our categories being squeezed in with a couple of other categories nobody gets excited about any more.

Like ‘print’.

No silver winners on stage and the whole thing, two whole categories mind you, is over in 30 mins.

Won a silver? well done, give yourself a round of applause.

Next category please.

Congratulations everyone, we’re part of the main show! We’ve arrived!

 

 

 

 

The LIA awards get Healthy.

Back in May I received one of those emails you cannot ignore. “Dear Olly, we would like you to be a judge in the inaugural Health and Wellness category at the LIA (London International) awards in Las Vegas in October.”

Hotels and flights paid for.

Hmm, let me think for a moment.

To be honest, the LIA awards could have been judging the Lactose-free Inkjet Awards or the Lazy Imbecile Awards and I would still have signed up.

Leaving aside, for the moment, why an awards show that has resided in the middle of a Nevada desert for the last ten years is called the London International Awards, it did seem like an opportunity too good to miss.

Pharma and Health and Wellness continues to come of age, thanks in no small part to the likes of our Jury President – Jeremy Perrott, Global Chief Creative Officer at McCann Health, pushing our often reluctant industry in to the limelight where it belongs. The LIA awards are another step to being part of the genuine adland gang.

Indeed Healthcare is where the action is these days.

The glee of this invitation lasted right up until this week when the tragic shooting took place and turned the town known for its partying and freedom of spirit in to a bloodbath.

I cannot write about the relatively frivolous activity of judging creative work without mentioning it, because as these events often do, it puts everything momentarily in to perspective.

Anyway, let’s hope America gets a short break before the next NRA funded terror attack happens.

And so it is I found myself last Wednesday in a cab driving past the shimmering Mandalay Bay hotel travelling through a town with 30 degree heat, to sit in a darkened room for three days looking at some of the best work in health and wellness over the last 18 months.

So why do we need another awards show?

Well, what the LIAs isn’t about is huge cabannas on the beach with tech company logos dominating the skyline. It’s not a trade show, indeed it’s not even an awards show in the traditional sense.

The LIAs is palpably about creative awards, celebrating ideas and new innovative thinking ( they dropped the ‘advertising’ from the awards title in 2004 to recognise how the business had changed).  Set up by the founder of the Clios, Barbara Levy, the money from your entries goes in to funding young creatives and account people to come to Las Vegas and learn from the big names across the industry. It’s putting something back, which has to be admired.

Isn’t that better than an international show where no international people show up to collect their award and everyone just gets wasted?

Ok don’t answer that.

It’s aim is to be a genuine rival to Cannes (in terms of kudos at least) and if the level of judging is anything to go by, it already is.

Our first day was pretty brutal. I’ll take you through the deal.

Seven judges from around the world, including Japan, Sydney, Sau Paulo and Toronto with around 240 Health and Wellness entries to separate, the first task was to sort the wheat from the chaff. A large screen displays the entries and we are furnished with a small ipod with an in, out or abstain choice for each hopeful. First day is no talking, just watching.

After ten hours of tinkling piano and ernest voice overs you emerge in to the desert twilight suffering from compassion fatigue. What might have seemed an appropriate peice of music for a heart wrenching story when you were editing your case film a few weeks ago now seemlessly joins up with the next case film and the next heart wrenching story producing an end result that is like watching a sort of eight hour long, disjointed Swedish Independent film.

Day two comes and some discussion creeps in. The ipods now have a numbered scoring system which you mark from 1 to 10 depending on your affection for the concept.

The cut off point is arbitrary to an extent but we began by looking at everything that got above 60% with the ability to ‘rescue’ any forgotten or overlooked soldiers.

It then becomes clear who has a passion for what. I’d say generally most people agree on the big stuff, the zingers. It gets harder to agree when the work is just really good. Is that animation good but the idea a bit unoriginal? Does that campaign belong in the same gang as the others in its category? Does that endline let it down? Is this just a cool looking film but with a flimsy idea at its heart?

At some award shows you are desperately looking for something half decent to award, here – as in Cannes, the half decent doesnt get a look in.

By the end of day two we managed to get a good shortlist narrowed down. Then the next task was to choose what would medal and what wouldn’t.

It’s amazing how long this stuff takes. Personally, when I judge I want to be my own devils advocate and ask the questions that might expose a leak where other campaigns are watertight.

These tiny flaws are what make the difference between Gold Silver or Bronze. Sometimes it might be whether the intent of a great film is actually met. For instance it might be a stunning commercial but does it work as a fund raising machine as intended? It might be an incredible peice of innovation but does it have a legitimate role. Conversely, does it matter if the idea is hard to detect but the work moves me anyway?

Day three was a totally new experience.

The organisers wanted the aforementioned junior creatives and account handlers ( aged between 21 and 30) to sit in on the session when we chose the medal winners.

So about 30 fresh faced young’uns shuffled in and sat quietly (almost) for the whole day as we debated and voted.

I’ll admit that this was a bit weird for probably all of us. But after a while it became a bit like a viewing gallery in a surgical theatre, you just got on with the work and the debating.

It’s also fair to say that at first these whippersnappers also were not that keen on observing a health and wellness jury. I mean, who on earth wants to join a healthcare agency right?

Who wants healthcare briefs when they could be selling sugar to children?

Well, if nothing else I can honestly say that the work selected as winners in our category proved to be as stunning and inspiring as any consumer category at any show anywhere in the world.

One kiddiwink even admitted at the end of the question and answer section that she felt so impressed at the kind of work that’s possible that she had to apologise to us for her initial, albeit silent, prejudice.

But then that’s how we all feel isn’t it?

From the outside our business just looks like a bunch of press ads with headlines about tolerability and efficacy doesn’t it?

Ok, don’t answer that.

But from the inside the jury room at the LIAs, Health is looking more and more like the most exciting gig in town.

Check out the winners in November and the shortlist published here, and start thinking about getting involved for next year.

Because the LIAs have arrived and for the first time, what happens in Vegas, isn’t staying there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Releasing the Lions.

So the week is over, and Lions Health is a distant Rose-tinted memory.

It’s been a weird period with the new CEO of Publicis, Arthur Sadoun, risking pissing off his entire creative workforce by pulling out from entering Cannes 2018 or indeed any awards, in order to spend money on an internal collaboration tool called ‘Marcel’.

The nations headhunters just got a whole new bunch of candidates.

To me it just shows a fundamental misunderstanding of creatives, and the point of awards in general, let alone Cannes.

But let’s not forget there was a whole heap of griping from the world’s Healthcare agencies about how the whole Lions Health event is unrepresentative of what we do and therefore why should we bother?

So let’s explore that.

I’ve given myself a little time for the whole thing to sink in before immediately rushing out a strongly worded blog, because, having slept on it, it’s not as easy as just saying that the awards are irrelevant to what we do every day. It’s my belief that they serve a higher purpose than just representing the best of our day to day briefs. They do inspire and the high bar is there for a reason.

Nevertheless, something is wrong when Healthcare agencies are squeezed out of their own award show.

In the Health and Wellness category, the consumer agencies marched in like Hells Angels at a teenage house party then they undid their flies and whopped a driving safety campaign out on the kitchen work top.

Put a more delicate way, it was like watching Torquay United play Real Madrid.  To quote my imaginary Torquay manager’s post match interview, “We could have had a chance if we could have just gotten the ball”.

(The analogies are pouring out of me today!)

In other words it’s hard to compete with the awesome effects of a milk advert and the impressive blend of science and art of ‘Graham’  if you don’t get those briefs.

If you think I’m being alarmist, out of the 80 pieces that won guess how many were specialists in Healthcare?

Two.

It was more of a warm up for them and easy points for their CEO dick measuring competitions, so the word around town was pretty much that that category was now lost to our big budget consumer brethren and you’d be mad to enter anything in it.

Which Lions Health should be concerned about, but Pharma agencies need to be canny with their precious entry budgets.

The H&W category had something like two and a half thousand entries and Pharma had around 600.

So could Pharma come to our rescue? show some much needed reflection of our day jobs?

Well, of course all the agencies that did win were from pockets of Pharmaland but there were only a handful of actual branded pharma clients. The Pro-Bono gang (another motorcycle gang but with smarter jeans and Japanese made bikes) had moved in and the more ethnic and third-world the plight that the idea was solving, the more brilliant the idea.

The most awarded campaign in the Pharma category was “The Immunity Charm” – created by McCann Health New Delhi for The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) in Afghanistan.

It was a simple creative solution that harnessed a long-standing cultural tradition of new born babies wearing lucky bracelets. The coloured beads on the bracelets were then used as a communication system between HCPs as to what inoculations the child had had and it provided mothers with a powerful new incentive to get their children vaccinated.

No one can deny that it was a worthy winner. Except it didn’t win the Grand Prix. Why? because it was a public health campaign and as such ineligible.

But why no branded work? A good friend of mine was on the jury and according to her the quality ‘just wasn’t there’.

It’s always going to be hard to compare simply improving sales of a drug to a device or programme that saves lives. (Check out Area 23’s Trafficking concept) but surely there is a possibility that we can do that kind of work?

So is it right that we all stand around at the gutter bar feeling disillusioned? Who can we blame? The clients? The regulations? The budgets? The PI? The HCPs themselves?

Well maybe, it’s all of these other factors. But Lions Health will always get my support.

I think of it this way: Bear with me.

I once tried for a job at Gold Greenless Trott, back in the 80’s. I’ve mentioned Dave Trott before and his influence over a generation of creatives. Read his blogs if you get a chance.

We took our book in to see a CD there, called Paul Grubb. He liked one thing in our book, so told us to go away and do another book in a week.

In a week? this book had taken us three months!

Anyway we worked morning noon and night and duly returned to see him the following week.

He liked two things. He told us to go away and do it again.

Again? Jesus. Well, we really wanted a job there so we knuckled down again.

We struggled but returned the following week and he looked at the work and said he liked a couple of things.

So what then?

Yup, a third week ensued.

But the fourth time we went there, he simply said ‘congratulations, you’ve now got a really good book and you should get a job somewhere soon.’ We felt duped but…

He was right, we had and pretty soon we did.

And that’s how we need to see Lions Health. It’s a different game at this level. Our ‘nice for pharma’ won’t cut it anymore.

If we have one eye on the standard that is required to win, before we submit that work to a client, it might just give you a different parameter to judge it by and thereby even improve the industry’s work as a whole, hang the awards…the clients will benefit won’t they?

We might have to work harder to get that client to buy it, and we might have to work harder to get the budget to make it. But that’s what it takes in any agency.

In the end what no one wants to consider is that we don’t have the chops to win in our own awards show.

So, what are going to do?

Withdraw or up our game?

 

 

 

 

(By the way, GGT did offer us a job about three years later, which we turned down because we couldn’t afford to start again from the bottom…one of the big regrets of my career)