Editor's Letter, February 2009

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The agency producers who attend our annual roundtable are, pound for pound, perhaps the most enlightening bunch of industry people to listen to when it comes to understanding the cold reality of brand creativity. This group, which includes agency heads of production and senior producers from all manner of full service and digital agencies, is charged with bringing an almost infinite range of ideas to life, and with putting the structures and technology and people in place to ensure that the work is done well and the agency is prepared for what's coming. They know how the sausage gets made and, at our roundtables, they tell, whether you want to hear it or not.

It's always interesting to hear from these experts about where the machinery of ad production perhaps hasn't caught up with the high ambitions of creatives and clients, and the lofty talk of the industry. Among the prominent topics of discussion—the limitations of the soft science of metrics, rights issues, the budget/time crunch and talent. The challenges of training were top of mind for our sample group, as was the myth and reality of the integrated producer. As The Barbarian Group's Rick Webb noted, "It's already hard enough to find somebody that can produce a software platform versus a banner versus long form content. The problem is really staffing—people out there that can do all of those things and broadcast? There are 12 of them. You can't scale up a department on a model where everybody can do everything."

It's especially affecting to hear from producers about the tension between the pressure to do amazing work and the fact of being nickel and dimed by client cost consultants, a group which now includes a new breed of digital cost controllers who are more versed in corporate IT than the subtleties of brand content creation. So it's a good sign for the industry, then, that these people, these producers who face the gritty realism of getting creative stuff out the door every day, are excited. They're enthusiastic about the work that's being done out there and, notwithstanding the tough times, they're optimistic on the state of the industry. As Webb once again summed up with style, last year, "Everyone was going in all different directions and it was cool."

On the flipside, literally but not figuratively, is the Creativity 50, our annual assembly of the most inspiring and innovative people from across creative and business disciplines. As always, we include people who, in name, don't have anything to do with the brand creativity world, but in spirit, do. As he did at our IDEA Conference, Chef Grant Achatz in particular provided some precious drops of creative distillate that can be applied to any job, in any sector. In the report he says, "Yes, we concentrate on food, but we also hyper-analyze human interaction, emotion and all the variables that come into the dining experience. As I look to the spring menu, I'm going to focus this year not on the food, but the service." He goes on to challenge the standard protocol of putting dishes in front of diners, using the example of something on his menu called raspberry transparency. The whole thing makes you want to run screaming to make a reservation at Alinea, yes, but it also makes you think about taking apart the essentials of what you do. In the metaphorical sense, your food may be pretty good, but how's your service?
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