Great Ideas Don't Take As Much Time As Many Ad Agencies Claim

The Myth of Time and the Creative Process

By Published on .

CMOs? Ad managers? Perhaps you've suspected this. I can confirm it: Making ideas really doesn't take as long as you're told it does.

There. I said it.

It's like I'm burning my Advertising Creative Union card by saying this, right? I mean, creative actually does take time -- and smarts, risk, effort, sleep deprivation, and extended bouts of weeping -- just not as long as some agencies make it take.

A few months ago I listened in on a conference call with one of our newly minted account managers as she negotiated campaign timing with a new client. Actually she wasn't really newly-minted. She'd worked for a few years at a creatively decent, but now deceased, agency. And every word she used, every number she referenced, each timeline, was designed to secure more time for campaign delivery.

So, I popped down afterwards to undo several years of very good, traditional account training.

Agencies (like her old one) have built up elaborate time, tracking and billing structures that David Ogilvy would still recognize -- structures designed before Internet speed, and turned into tradition with layers of process that . . . Slow. Things. Way. Down.

At the same time, creative people, even admirably busy ones, almost always put most of their actual work-work nearer to Deadline Eve than to project initiation. I do it. Think. Get coffee. Think. Get panicky. Freak. Execute. That, too, is tradition.

So, if we all just agree that , today, technology lets us collaborate, create and execute far faster than those 80s-era agency structures can -- the ones where 90% of the creative portion of the effort happens in the last 72, 48, 12 or 4 hours anyway -- well, let's just go ahead and move that hunk of time closer to project's initiation.

Like, all the way closer.

Here in flyover land -- essentially advertising's nowhere -- speed is a requirement. We have to be faster to compete with bigger agencies. But it turns out the positive effects of this reality have piled up for us. So we've made it the rule. Or rather, the basis of our guiding principles, which we use to go about undoing all that excellent account training I mentioned.

Principle 1: The less time it's in our shop, the more profitable the effort. Seems strange to say in an industry with billable hours as a standard. But we've had projects that have celebrated birthdays. Not one of them has been profitable. Bill to a quote, deliver value, execute, delight your client. Repeat.

Principle 2: Speed reduces mootness. If we develop concepts before market conditions render the brief moot, it decreases the chances that the effort will die of irrelevance in six months because a client's competitor moved faster. Yet, some agencies act like clients' competitors never change. They do.

Principle 3: Speed helps your client-side partner be indispensable to her organization. Speed tends to delight her project team; executional alacrity helps that lead person keep (and excel in) her job, be assigned more things to execute, and (hell yes), make more work for us. Yet, culturally, agencies are full of creatives who think the client is the enemy. They're not.

Principle 4: Speed lets you avoid second-guessing a thing to oblivion. Almost all our most interesting projects could have been easily killed by a lot of debate. Creative inventions are always fragile, and proper scrutiny should kill the weakest -- absolutely. But you can always construct an argument that can kill even the most awesome ideas. Speed just reduces that opportunity. And yet, some agency creatives talk about working for months on things that are never produced. Somebody pays for that wasted effort.

Principle 5: Executing the fresh beats the hell out of executing the stale. I personally have the attention span of an Irish Setter. I'm easily bored, and always ready for the next thing -- a lot of creative people are. Execute before our minds wander. Executing ideas in the energy-glow of spontaneity, newness, and invention is , frankly, more fun. You can usually see it in the results. What was I saying? Oh…

Principle 6: Speed lets you collaborate with your client earlier. Speed makes you be decisive. Speed lets you be well on your way before another agency can get the job opened.

This may seem anti-creative to some. But I can report that nearly every really unusual, innovative or award-winning idea we've created over the last few years has coalesced within hours of setting our minds to it. The speed can be breathtaking, but the results can be, too.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Montgomery is the executive creative director and partner of Bradley and Montgomery (BaM), where projects and campaigns for brands like JPMorgan Chase and Microsoft are done in weeks, days and sometimes even hours – not months or quarters.