What Ever Happened to Two Guys in a Room?

Let Go of Your Ego; It Now Takes a Village to Raise a Campaign

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Andy Gould Andy Gould
Ah, the "good old days" of traditional advertising. As a copywriter, I used to love the challenge of a new campaign brief or a new-business pitch. After the input meeting, it was just an art director and me for days -- sometimes weeks -- bouncing ideas off one another, trying to come up with an awesome campaign. It was a lot of responsibility for two knuckleheads (as most writers and art directors are).

More often than not, we'd come up with those big ideas at the last possible minute -- sometimes the evening before the big presentation. That worked out pretty well, and as far as I know, nobody got hurt. Once we had an idea to rally around, all we had to do was bang out a couple of scripts, find some key visuals and we were good to go.

Well, for my agency, those days are clearly over. Maybe it's because we're now a digital shop. Maybe it's because much of our work is for brands that use another agency for advertising. Or maybe we just got smarter. But we've come to expect -- and now we fully embrace -- the idea that it sometimes takes a village to raise a campaign. I was shocked when a client of mine recently disclosed that he regularly works with nine different agency partners on a single brand -- advertising, PR, digital, strategic planning, packaging, media, events, promotions and relationship marketing. Wow.

One of the ramifications of working on a brand with multiple agency partners is that we're no longer able to spend all our time thinking and then save the day with a big idea at the 11th hour. While the idea is still in its "gestation" period, partners need to be brought in earlier -- make that a lot earlier -- than many of us are used to.

At our agency, we used to do two internal reviews: one with the creative director, and another with account service. Picture adding the following "steps" to the process:

  • Strategic reviews (Are we on strategy?)
  • Development reviews (Is it possible to develop?)
  • Media agency reviews (Is ad inventory available for this idea? Are there other placements to consider?)
  • Brand agency review (Is the work consistent with the current brand advertising?)
  • Third-party technology provider reviews (Are there potential integration issues?)
And this is all before a single thing is presented to the client.

This is the reality of what is required to pull off an integrated idea today. The number of hands that touch each project as it moves through our agency is incredible. Experts come and go as needed, providing counsel at critical junctures. And in this new equation, the work really is only as good as the weakest link.

My point is that seeking out and working with people who really know their stuff actually makes the work better. If it's going to make me smarter about the possibilities for a campaign, I'm more than happy to spend a couple hours with a technology expert, with a media planner, or with someone from our own agency's development group. When questions come up, you find the right specialists to answer them. Working this way -- more like open-source software development teams -- means there is less reliance on one or two creative superstars to solve every problem.

That can be the hardest concept to let go of, but it's also been the biggest liberator of creativity for our agency. Yes, creative is still responsible for delivering the proverbial big idea, but we've opened up the circle of who is contributing to that idea way beyond two guys in a room.

So how do you adapt to this new way of working? Unfortunately, there's no magic formula or process. The business is getting more complex, not less. And the sooner you can get comfortable with that, the better off you -- and your work -- will be.

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Andy Gould is senior VP-executive creative director of Biggs/Gilmore, Kalamazoo, Mich.
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