Collaboration Increasingly Crucial to Way We Do Business

Like It Or Not, the Way We Work Has Changed

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Bart Cleveland
Bart Cleveland
I'm soon traveling to speak to the student body at VCU Brandcenter. This is always a very exciting event for me, so I was delighted when Rick Boyko invited me to come and share industry insights from the small-agency perspective. My topic is collaboration and I believe it is the most important subject someone coming into our industry should understand and embrace. The reason is simple: Our industry no longer does advertising. It must communicate for brands on an intimate level to be effective. Advertising as it once was is a shrinking element in solving this assignment. I'm stating the obvious, but my point is that what many coming out of school understand, we in the industry are not embracing, or should I say, have not been able to wrestle to the ground.

We face a broadening delta of communication channels that must be used to effectively communicate with consumers. That doesn't preclude needing innovative ideas to engage them. The old adage that being a jack-of-all-trades makes you a master of none is applicable here. Our collective team has burgeoned to an extent that creating work the way we did just a few years ago is no longer possible. Understanding and effectively working in a larger group with diversified expertise is something we must embrace if we are to survive the evolution our industry is undergoing.

Being a part of a large creative team makes a person who grew up in this industry when I did cringe. David Ogilvy was quoted as saying, "Look in all the parks in all the cities and you'll never find a statue to a committee." Truer words were never spoken. Ideas can't be "committeed" into greatness. That said, some of our industry's greatest work over the last decade required a huge group of people to accomplish. The Burger King video-game promotion that won a Titanium Lion at Cannes a couple of years ago is a perfect example.

So, is Ogilvy's observation no longer valid? What he says is still true, because these two events, committee and collaboration, are only similar in that they are each made up of multiple people. The difference is that collaboration is used to accomplish a task and a committee is a representative body. Committees don't help to achieve greatness because representation is not creation. Unfortunately, even collaborative bodies become committees when the individuals that make them up stop creating together and start protecting their position. It boils down to this: Can you as an individual collaborate about what is best for the work and not what is the best for you or your expertise?

The secret to true and effective collaboration is to have allegiance to the common purpose of great ideas being brought to fruition. If your agency's goal is to do great work then every member of the collaboration team must support that purpose. This begins at the top of the agency leadership. If it's not there, it cannot exist. So, it's easier said than done. The larger proportion of work our industry produces is functional. That's for toilet paper not marketing. Our work must be spectacular because it involves the human psyche. Apple inventing the iPhone is the epitome of this way of thinking.

Functional may work for the client, but does it work as hard as it should? Is the client really getting what they pay you to do if you just deliver functional thinking? Functional thinking is a leisurely jog when what it should be is an explosive sprint. Granted, the least resistant path is sometimes the only one offered. But I suggest we be willing to jump over the barriers to those paths less trodden and give our clients what they truly need.

Today that need is met through collaboration. It is more difficult and complex than anything we have faced, yet it is ripe with more potential than we've ever had before. I believe that those who embrace the collaborative necessity of creating in this new world without losing a grip on their commitment to quality thinking, will find a great deal of gratification and success in an industry that has seen many run away to do other things.

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