Does a Small Agency Need a Creative Director With a Super Bowl Mentality?

Why We Invest in Talent That Can Execute in any Platform

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Marc Brownstein
Marc Brownstein
As I watched the (sometimes hysterical, sometimes embarrassingly awful) Super Bowl commercials, flashes of my days as a copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather came into my head. Back then, the competition to create -- and have the client approve -- your 30-second commercial that would run on the Super Bowl was fierce, and considered the pinnacle achievement. And I'll admit, it was so much fun.

But now that I own my own shop, in a different era, I watched last night's Super Bowl spots and thought, "What kind of creative talent does a small agency need in 2010?" Does a shop like Brownstein Group need the same kind of creative leadership as a shop like Ogilvy? The short answer is yes. But the reality may be quite different.

I still have a lot of friends in the global shops and the plum assignments remain the TV commercials. Man, that hasn't changed in two decades! And yet, in shops like ours, coveted assignments are ideas that innovate and go across multiple platforms. Often starting with a campaign website, and then relying on other tactics to drive visits. Those "other" tactics are often TV, radio, PR, social media promotions, online ads, print and outdoor.

The difference is that large shops (not all, but most) start with TV to drive success. And smaller shops often start in the reverse order. This is driven mostly by mentality -- the more nimble agencies know that the key to success in a campaign today is to come up with a big idea that can live anywhere and start online, with smart air cover via public relations. Sure, the global shops have global clients that have big TV budgets, so there is a natural inclination to go there. But I believe that inclination can lead a brand astray.

That's why it was refreshing to see Pepsi, a perennial advertiser on the Super Bowl, pull out of the Super Bowl parade of ads and put its resources online, into a cause-marketing site. It's too soon to know how that strategy will play out in terms of soda sold, but it was a bold move, and one that's certainly relevant to a younger audience (which is Pepsi's target). For what it's worth, I've already been to that site twice in the last week, driven there by friends who asked me to vote for a cause that they believed in, so that Pepsi would fund it. How cool is that? Think of the time I spent engaged with the Pepsi brand, versus the 30 seconds of ad time that came and went.

My creative director came to me a few years ago and said that we must invest in upgrading our high-definition video suite of equipment, arguing that demand for video on websites will outpace demand for TV commercials. We invested. And it was the right move. Then we continued to invest in creative talent who understand how to execute on any platform. Our senior creative leaders know that ideas often need to start in a non-traditional manner. They get it. Which is why today's creative leaders in smaller agencies need to have a different mindset. If they were raised in a time when traditional advertising dominated the scope of an agency's workload, then they need to evolve. And gain significant experience in non-traditional mediums, so that they become experts in it, not just familiar.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book "The Outliers" "expertise" is defined as having 10,000 hours of experience in a skill set. How many of today's senior-level creatives have that level of nontraditional expertise?

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