A Bigger Idea

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The reaction I got from last month's Ad Age interview on HBO 'Voyeur' [ed. note: in which Lebowitz criticized BBDO and the awards process for failure to give full credit to Spaceship's work] was passionate and profound. It set off opinions from all sides that were, in aggregate, the beginnings of an important dialogue about the changing nature of creativity and collaboration in communications. BBDO came up with a great idea for a film, no question. And we transformed that into its digital manifestation—arguably the centerpiece of the campaign. I don't want to take away from what the agency did or from the project itself. This issue is about much more than filling up trophy shelves. The fervent response to my statements is proof that we are at a turning point. How interactive fits into the larger communications landscape is something people clearly need to talk about.

It's not about traditional versus digital agencies, or agencies versus production studios, or David and Goliath. It's about change, broad change that is radically altering the advertising, marketing and media industries. The emphasis on digital has skyrocketed. We can't shove our heads in the sand in hopes that TV will once again become the sun around which all else orbits. We have to embrace the fragmentation and furious tempo by collaborating to engage consumers.

Most agencies aren't set up to deliver digital experiences nor, in many cases, do they grasp their essential value. Digital production shops are consistently brought into projects too late. Digital agencies are pushing for (and, in my opinion deserve) greater ownership of the overall consumer experience. All because the amount of thought and insight that goes into creating it remains sorely undervalued and misunderstood.

There was a time when the "big idea" was all that mattered. You didn't need to know how it was produced because the medium was always predictable and the line between idea and execution was distinct. Ideas will always be central to great work. But we can no longer separate them from the platforms and channels they play out in. In our world, you can't plan digital communications insightfully, or execute effectively, without understanding how to build it.

Consider the emerging model we're crafting. Digital communication is dynamic. It starts a conversation, one that is multifaceted and adaptable. The platform of delivery can change, grow or respond every time you engage. And the platform and the message are deeply interrelated. The division is disappearing, because what the idea "says" is no longer enough; what it is and what it does are intrinsically linked. Static, one-way messaging is antiquated.

Clients are clamoring over emerging opportunities and asking for more digital. First off, let's pause and think about how revolutionary this is. Change is the constant, and technologies will continue evolving. Creating an ecosystem of ideas that can live and grow within these various platforms requires cooperation. In this brave new world, collaboration isn't "nice to have," it's a prerequisite.

The big agencies are full of smart, talented thinkers. Some of them are getting all of this. Some are not. And the pressure is on. To quote Jay Wolff [president] at Odopod, "Brands are increasingly looking to conceive their online strategy first, then following that with plans for TV and print."

I don't think there's such a thing as a full-service agency. The degree of specialty required to deliver digital media is beyond the comprehension of most traditional agencies. Relying on digital shops to produce ideas without allowing for their unique expertise to shape the project is bad for our clients. Production companies increasingly bring added value to the table by expanding ideas that were designed for static media. They will help shape the transformation already underway.

Big Spaceship is a digital creative agency. We don't define our projects in terms of strategy versus production. We come to the table as partners, and there's strategy and insight behind everything we do. But our core philosophy is rooted in respect and collaboration. Because without those tenets, there's little chance of achieving excellence.

We're at the very beginning of this. If you aren't interested in discussing it, optimizing it, improving it, and reconsidering the way you run your business, you'll inevitably fade into the background. But this can go incredibly well for all of us who start talking...and listening.

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