The Work Can't Be Amazing If It Isn't Hard to Pull Off

Sometimes Ideas That Are Easy to Sell Wind Up Struggling to Stand Out

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We've always thought of the most ambitious ideas in our business as "big," but a better description of the work we most aspire to make today might be "hard." These days an idea that isn't hard -- hard for us to sell to a client, hard to make and hard to implement in the real, messy world -- probably isn't that big at all.

This thought really came into focus for me when I read this tweet from Kalle Hellzen, the chief digital officer at Goodby.

Think about how easy it is to sell a certain kind of digital idea. If the concept adheres to what's become accepted dogma about campaign integration and social-ness, it will get heads nodding in a pitch, and is likely to make it through the approval process with an existing client.

For example: Just take any TV idea, add a question-based hashtag meant to spark conversation and, voila, there's the start of your digital. This approach checks the boxes for being integrated and social, but makes sense only when you assume that people want to spend their time doing our marketing work for us. Which they don't necessarily, of course. This is work that's easy to sell, but not amazing. Digital is thematically integrated, but not transformative to the business.

Amazing ideas are harder to sell because they require significant work by agency and client. This means connection and collaboration between parts of client organizations that haven't historically worked together, sharing resources, data and commitment. Hard ideas are as much about culture change as they are about the newness of the ideas themselves.

Think about iBeacon -- Apple's location technology -- as one for instance. A ton of interesting possibilities emerges, for almost any kind of client. But the ideas are systemic, and so by definition, they're hard. An iBeacon idea may well impact a physical product, or at a minimum, the packaging of the product. It will change the interaction people have in the store environment, which could mean new installations or signage, and new training requirements for staff. It will call for integration into an existing mobile app, or the development of a new stand-alone app. It probably ought to work with the point-of-sale system, and customer-loyalty program.

One great idea about how use iBeacons could require buy-in from several different client power structures. Not impossible … just hard.

Agencies have been criticized for slowness in adapting to a digitally-centric world, and probably fairly so. But, equally important, many clients aren't ready to accept and implement hard ideas. It's amazing how many big pitches are still framed almost exclusively as broadcast assignments.

My point is not to criticize clients, but to figure out how we can get better at selling the great ideas our agencies can generate. I'm taking inspiration from service/experience design. That field has learned that unless disparate pieces of an organization come together and are fully bought in, it's not possible to deliver a great experience.

That's a much different approach than we often take at agencies, where we can spend a lot of time trying to figure out who is "the" decision-maker. Hard ideas don't have one decision maker. And that's really the hard part, isn't it? But to Kalle's point, without hard, there's no amazing.

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