A Bad Idea Can Come From Anywhere

How Do You Guard Against Well-Meaning but Misguided Suggestions?

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Andy   Gould
Andy Gould
All of us in this business are working more collaboratively than ever. Our creative teams have gotten larger. More people are involved in the production of our ideas. To execute a single, large-scale campaign, we often work with five -- or even 10 -- other agencies. Even on the client side, rare is the situation where one or two people are approving our work; client teams have also gotten larger, with specialists in areas like technology, research, shopper marketing and social media helping influence many decisions.

As this transformation has taken place, perhaps you've heard the phrase "A good idea can come from anywhere." And that's certainly true. Your PR agency might contribute some great thoughts for a TV-driven campaign. An event-marketing agency might come up with a killer digital idea. If we're all open-minded, we open ourselves up to the possibility of helping execute a great idea, even if it wasn't our own.

But a bad idea can also come from anywhere.

And today, the interconnected nature of our work means that even one small bad decision made in isolation can snowball into something more dangerous.

Consider the following scenarios. Any of them sound familiar? (These all come from a digital agency's perspective, but change a few words and I'll bet they could apply to your agency too.)

  • An event-marketing agency presents a digitally-based promotion idea that, while very cool, can't be executed for the budget -- or is simply off strategy.
  • A media agency creates a plan that delivers on impressions and reaches goals, but doesn't buy units with enough file size to deliver on the campaign idea.
  • A client excited about the prospects for social media recommends that online banners drive to Facebook, when the key metric is visits to the dot-com.
  • A brand agency creates design guidelines based on a print campaign that, while beautiful, undermine the usability of a website.
  • A strategist recommends an enterprise-level design change to a company's CIO that will affect several brand websites without first bouncing it off any of the brand managers.
  • A client requests a headline change without considering that it may have a serious detrimental effect on organic search performance.
All of these are well-intentioned, yet ultimately bad, ideas. So who steps up to stop these scenarios before they hinder what might otherwise be an effective website or campaign? When efforts become fragmented, who ensures the bigger-picture dots stay connected?

In our agency, it falls on the creative, account and strategy leads to touch base early and often, and to be on the same page in terms of what we're trying to accomplish with a particular piece of work. They are expected to share new information quickly and to speak up when they hear something that might seem like a good idea on the surface but has the potential to take the campaign off-course.

Not that other people don't (or can't) intervene in such matters. (At our agency, our solutions architects are great at calling timeouts on concepts that have some, ahem, "reality issues.") But more generally, it's the previous three roles that are closest to the business objectives, the brand, and the broader campaign idea. And, again, generally speaking, these three people can speak with some authority as to why the negative consequences outweigh any short-term gains that may come from moving forward with one of these "bad ideas."

Essentially, I think we're seeing this dynamic more often because there are simply more of us working on ever-smaller pieces of a campaign. None of this is meant as judgment against a more collaborative way of working. Just a reminder that we all need to stay vigilant to make sure people -- even within our own agencies -- who may not understand the full picture don't accidentally undermine the project with a seemingly small decision.

Andy Gould is senior VP-executive creative director of Biggs Gilmore, Kalamazoo, Mich., which was named 2010 Ad Age Small Agency of the Year (76-150 employees). Follow Andy on Twitter: @AndyGould. Andy also contributes to Biggs Gilmore's blog, SlackerCEO.
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