What does agility look like? FCB Chicago recently launched a new campaign
for a major brand that beat all previous performance benchmarks and that, from client briefing to final edit, took all of 14 days to produce.
Agility like that doesn’t just happen by chance. It’s driven by two changes: how we think about and develop marketing strategy and the increasing investment of agencies in high-quality, end-to-end in-house video production.
But first, some details. It’s 8:30am Friday morning and we get a last-minute call into a meeting that’s every agency’s dream. A big brand needs breakthrough work and has reached out to us to see if we can help. But this long-term, 360 campaign needs to be on-air and online fast. There’s not even time for an in-person meeting – we’re meeting them for the first time on a video conference.
Who’s in the room at our end? This matters a lot when you need to move fast. One planner, two senior creatives and two account people. All of us have experience with the brand’s category and we all have a point of view on how Millennials are changing what this category needs to deliver. No one from the client team has said a word yet, but there are at least two or three briefs’ worth of thoughts and experiences ready to go.
Why Does It Matter Who’s in the Room?
This comes back to how we think about and develop advertising strategy. Increasingly, we understand that most advertising is consumed by viewers who are, at best, absent-mindedly engaged; and the advertising that is most effective and most credible is the advertising that is most breakthrough and memorable. ‘Breakthrough’ and ‘memorable’ is most likely to come from emotional advertising versus rational advertising, and the type of advertising that is most ‘emotional’ is the type of advertising that delivers great storytelling – stories that make us laugh, gasp or give us goose bumps.
What this means is that the science of advertising, the science of persuasion, is finally catching up with what storytellers, artists and musicians have known for centuries: there is nothing more powerful in changing people’s behaviour than a simple story, beautifully told. The creatives were right all along.
The power of advertising lies in the power of creativity, and that is the strategic strength we bring to our clients’ business.
These insights are changing how strategy is developed and, literally, who needs to be in the room being briefed. Instead of creatives being a message-delivery function that gets handed a strategic brief, they need to be seen as a strategic function, co-creating the brief with planners, exploring the creative possibilities in an assignment with clients and agency partners. They’ve solved problems like this before, so those experiences are invaluable, and getting them into the room means we’ll get to a strategy that can be creative quicker.
It’s 9:15am, end of call. The assignment is clear; they’ve given us some juicy insights, but there’s still a way to go from an assignment to the creative solution. While the clients know their consumer, their needs and the issues facing the brand, the people at our end feel like the brand needs to reclaim category ownership again and remind people why they chose this brand for this category. By 10:00pm, we’re laying out some parameters for how the tone of the marketing needs to change, but we need some specifics. One element in the client brief strikes us as rich in possibility and we need to explore it.
Ten years ago, at this point in the story we’d have been forced to pour molasses over the entire process while we did research into those ‘specifics’, forcing creative teams to twiddle their thumbs while waiting for a revelation from the survey, focus group or ethnographic deep dive (that, let’s face it, only occasionally arrived). Agility requires agencies to develop strategic tools that enable real-time collaboration between planners and creatives, and that means tools that enable sharing multiple perspectives on a problem to see where the potential creative heat and strategic possibilities lie. These are our ‘36-hour tools’ – low-cost, fast, analytical and behavioural tools that enable planners and analysts to share multiple perspectives with their creative partners in real time.
So by 10:15 am, we’re dispersing, our creatives musing on how this brand can reclaim leadership in what drives consumer behaviour in this category, and our planners promising to return with some different perspectives on how we can do this in a fresh and interesting way that’s true to the brand. Over the weekend, two approaches start to bear fruit. The first comes from work we’ve been doing over the past five years, really digging into the behavioural economics of what drives consumers’ behaviour, what types of messages get attention, are remembered, persuasive and, ultimately, habit-forming, and building a network of relationships with academics in the field where a quick phone call can get us access to the latest thinking and research into consumer behaviour. One psychologist in particular has written a number of papers that radically reframe a key concept in our client’s brief. It’s giving us the building blocks for how messaging needs to be reframed to be effective.
Simultaneously, our analytical group has run an analysis of the online social behaviour of 10 million of the target consumers and has hit gold. It helps that the planner and analyst sit at the same table in open space, where collaboration is as simple as sharing a printout of the top 100 pieces of content with which our target engages. One of these pieces of content has one million hits and it captures the moment our client wants to reclaim, but in a surprising way, that is really rich creatively and emotionally.
By Monday morning, we are sharing our initial findings. We’re still a little way from a brief, but when you’re working fast, you need to share early and often. The best test of an insight is if it starts getting others excited too. What also helps when you’re moving fast is how you share. No PowerPoint. Conversations, not presentations, are the fastest way to see if an insight has potential. Forty-five minutes later, everyone’s feeling really good. This is still going be a tough assignment to execute, but everyone’s excited about what insights we’ve found. During the conversation, one of the creatives comes up with a great way the brand can play a key role that’s rooted in the product attributes. We’re leaving the room, not with a pixel-perfect strategic deck, but with the outline of a minimally viable brief, one we know the creatives are excited by and are already spinning ideas about.
By day four, while we’re finalising our strategic story, we’re also seeing a key creative idea emerge, one that ultimately will drive the entire 360 campaign. Three days to a minimally viable brief and four days to a creative idea isn’t about working faster. It starts with how you understand why advertising works – that it’s not just a science, it’s an art and science. And our science is about understanding how art can transform businesses, which means partnering with creatives throughout the creative process.
You then need tools that enable real-time collaboration, rather than requiring lengthy research timelines. And finally, you need more fluid, less formal ways of working, so people can share quickly and see where the creative opportunity is richest. Because the strategy is evolving, the main creative idea is being formed in an interactive process that requires real-time collaboration.
By end of day Tuesday, we’re ready to brief a broader team. When I say broader, it’s really broad: designers for a new brand look and feel; video, digital and retail creative; and a director and producer. And for this project, where online and broadcast video are key deliverables, this is where the other key driver of agency agility comes in – the increasing presence in agencies of high-quality, in-house video directors and producers. With the collapsing costs of video production technology and the democratisation of video production skills, agencies are increasingly able to bring video production in-house, at a standard previously outsourced for, enabling them to produce more of their work themselves.
It’s no hyperbole to say that having full in-house video production changes everything.
The efficiency of having a director present in the first creative review on Thursday meant that our teams working on the video were getting immediate feedback on what was possible, while the director could start thinking about the details of the shoot, in terms of location, talent and equipment.
By Friday morning, as video ideas are still being formed, there is enough clarity on the key creative direction for the video, so that by Friday afternoon our director and his production team were given the go-ahead to start the shoot, flying out to the location Saturday morning and working through Sunday and Monday to finalise locations, wardrobe and talent. On Tuesday, the scripts were finalised and ready to be shot, but there was still opportunity for improvisation on the set. By end of day Tuesday, the video footage was being sent back to our offices in Chicago for editing, again with producers, directors and editors working down the hall from each other, allowing revisions to be shared effortlessly, with final edits completed Wednesday and final mix completed Thursday.
On Friday at 1pm, barely two weeks after initial briefing, we were sharing a 360 creative idea, with a new design and brand look, digital, experiential and social extensions, and the finished video spots with our clients. Included in the presentation was our strategic rationale, based on 10 million of their consumers’ online behaviour and deep psychological insights into why people act this way.
Our clients, having never met us in person before and never worked with us before, can’t believe what’s been done in such a short period of time. And to be honest, we were a bit surprised ourselves. By end of day Friday, we’re toasting to a new client and work that’s been enthusiastically embraced, that has already broken previous performance metrics for the brand.
Working on a project like this is as professionally exhilarating as you can get. But to work this way consistently, agencies need to reconfigure how they think about what they do, how they are structured and how they operate. Only if we see our primary product as a creative solution to business problems can we meaningfully bring in creatives as strategic partners. Only if we have the research tools that allow for fast insights, can we collaborate in real time. And only if we have high-quality directors and producers in-house can agencies produce at the speed our clients need.
What’s interesting is how these changes start to completely transform how an agency operates. You hire and promote people less on what they think and more on how they think, able to be eclectic collaborators who can make lots of interesting guesses from multiple perspectives but can update their beliefs in real time.
You bring more and more capabilities in-house, in part to enhance speed, but also in large part to minimise the exposure of third parties when moving so quickly. You work, not in private offices, but open spaces that allow for easy collaboration and fortuitous interactions.
Even how you meet starts to change: more standing, less sitting, and an almost inverse relationship between the importance of the decision being made and the usefulness of PowerPoint slides in informing that decision.
But by bringing creatives into strategic development and bringing real-time research tools into that collaboration, briefing multidisciplinary teams together and making video producers part of the agency process, we don’t just benefit by faster timelines and reduced costs. Faster, more costcompetitive content development means faster deployment into the real world, and faster, more robust, real-world results. The faster we learn, the better we get, and as the costs of failure collapse, creative risktaking is encouraged more and more. ‘Fast, cheap, or good – pick two’ is no longer a valid maxim. Increasingly, an agency’s ability to produce ‘good’ work will be driven by its ability to be fast and cost-competitive in getting new ideas into the real world. Agile marketing shouldn’t just been seen as a necessity given ever-tighter timelines, but a way of working that empowers agencies and their clients to get to greater work.
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