Advice for Shops: Stop, Collaborate, Listen

Where Working Relationships in This Industry Should Be, but More Often Than Not, Aren't

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Conor Brady
Conor Brady
After reading a recent review of the U by Kotex campaign I had two feelings. The first is one of great pride in work that was delivered out of an incredibly collaborative relationship between Kotex, Organic and the partner agencies. The second is one of great disappointment and concern that this work will be perceived as just another TV-driven campaign, with digital tagged on the end. The reality is that this perception couldn't be further from the truth.

I don't want to turn this into another hard-done-by digital-agency rant. So if it comes across like that, apologies in advance. For this launch, relationships between the client and agencies have and continue to be incredibly open and trusting, driven mostly by a client that practices the concept that the "best idea wins." In the case of the U by Kotex work, there has been a natural volley of ideas between us, which in the end has helped turn good work into great work (based on the feedback we are getting). In fact, as a collective, we managed to "Break the Cycle" not just with the work that was delivered, but also with how the agency model worked.

We are constantly asked by industry press about who is going to win the race to the "big idea," "traditional vs. digital," "how do you guys all work together?" Yet when the perfect opportunity to tell that story emerges, it is potentially lost in another TV spot review story. Now I know the story's angle focused on how the TV work highlights the ludicrous ways in which tampons and pads have been marketed in the past. And that is indeed one of the core elements of the campaign. But this truth is that it has much more to offer than what can be communicated in 30 seconds. As a team we all realized that very early on in our conversations.

The "Break the Cycle" ecosystem does include TV, print and online ads, but it also features an actively managed community, cause-based challenges, cheeky polls, DIY spoofs, candid how-to videos, and a straight-talk Q&A. How these ideas came to be is fundamental to understanding why this campaign is the success that it is. It illustrates a very healthy working relationship between agencies and client, the kind of relationship we don't see often enough, and one that we believe represents the model for future successes.

For example, "Social Experiments," including "Bike," which leads the article's critique, was conceived to be digital in nature. We at Organic saw these as quick-to-produce slices of reality that would be passed along through social media channels, sparking discussion and drawing customers to the brand site. There are four scenarios in total -- each with their own insights and surprises (they are, after all, experiments). Above all, the idea of capturing pedestrians' reactions when asked to buy some tampons resonated with the core insights of the campaign. Our clients and partner agencies gravitated to it. So much so that JWT approached us to shoot "Bike" jointly for TV and web use.

Looking back now, the flow of ideas went in the complete opposite direction of how we would normally have been told to work. There was no top-down direction, but a set of shared insights and goals fostered by a client with vision. It was great to see an agency of the caliber of JWT take what was essentially a social/digital idea and craft it into a great TV spot.

Similarly, we were inspired from the get-go by the tone and spirit of "Apology," JWT's lead-off spot which also acted as a sort of video brief for the partner agencies. We also have enjoyed partnering with Marina Maher, the PR agency. Their relationships and insights were invaluable in staging and its social-media appendages as a hub for cause and community activation. Each agency brought thinking to the table that improved the work being done in each other's respective domains. This was a very refreshing way of operating and reflects where working relationships in this industry should be, but more often than not, aren't.

So why put all of this out there? I think in the constant debate that goes on around lead agency models, idea ownership, and process, some agencies are just getting on with it and figuring out how to do good work. In this one instance, the one thing we all learned is, you have to check your industry assumptions at the door. Do that and you may find that it can actually be an enjoyable experience.

Conor Brady is chief creative officer at Organic, an Omnicom agency.
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