3:34PM April 4 2014
I’ve been in this business 20 years now, as a client, an account handler and a creative director and seen brilliant ideas come to life, evolve and grow. I’ve also seen great ideas turn to insipid, vanilla whispers of what they once were by the time they limp over the finish line.
In a way, coming up with the idea’s the easy bit. But executing it powerfully is a whole different skill set. And, just to be clear, this isn’t a creative whinge about how others wreck our perfect little ideas. Because creatives destroy ideas just as much as anyone else.
Getting an idea through the development phase takes talent, skill and will. There are real and imaginary dangers, stress points and moments where you’ll question the entire thing. A thousand little decisions that either sharpen or dull your idea.
So, here are eight things I’ve learned over the years, some of them the hard way:
1. Be clear about what you want to achieve from the outset.
This might seem blindingly obvious, but you’d be surprised. You may think you’re running a brand campaign, your sales director might think it’s about direct sales. Obviously you want both, but you have to pick a priority. So, be clear about what you want the activity to achieve and how you’ll know if it worked or not.
2. It’s always, always, always about the audience.
If it doesn’t make the campaign more powerful and easy for your audience, don’t do it. Doesn’t matter who’s asking or what their reasons for, your audience are the only people you should be thinking about.
3. Development doesn’t always mean adding to it.
Us creatives don’t know when to stop, especially if we love an idea. But, often the best thing you can do with an idea is take stuff away, reduce it to its essence. You’re doing your audience a favour with this, trust me.
4. Trust your instincts
We try to reduce risk, but you can’t eliminate it. We’re engaging with wonderfully, maddeningly, unpredictable people. And often it’s intuitive leaps that unlock standout campaigns. But there’s risk attached, and if we’re going to lead great campaigns that’s something we have to get comfortable with.
5. Know and respect who’s good at what
I’m good with words, but I can’t decipher the simplest piece of audience data. Nobody will know your business like you do. A planner’s your best mate in an agency because they represent your audience outside of your bubble. Point is, you’ll get a better result if you trust people with what they’re good at and trust yourself with what you’re good at.
6. If your audience is the destination, the brief is your North Star.
Whole campaigns have been developed without ever checking back with the brief. It’s madness. It’s the equivalent of trying to assemble a go-kart on Christmas Eve without looking at the instructions. Been there, done that. The wife had to take over while I huddled in a corner gently rocking. What are we trying to achieve? How are we measuring it? Who are we talking to? Make sure you haven’t gone off the reservation without realising it.
7. Fear is a prison
One of the main reasons that campaigns get watered down is fear. Not big, paralysing fear, but little niggly fear. Like the fear that maybe some people won’t get it, or they might be offended. Well, the fact is that some people don’t get stuff. There’s nothing you can do about that. But marketing to the lowest common denominator will just bore everyone else.
8. Aim for real partnership
Partnership is the most over-used and inaccurate word in our industry. By partnership, I don’t mean getting on really well or a great cultural fit or the agency going all out for you. That’s just being a good supplier, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But true partners share risk and share reward. If your agency believes in the idea so much, they should put the fee up for risk. If the campaign smashes all targets, they should be similarly rewarded. I know how difficult payment by results campaigns can be to set up; the negotiations over measurement can be tough. But I can’t help but think it’d help all stakeholders to be more honest with each other and ensure that each argument is based on rational debate rather than personal opinion.
So, there you have it. Eight simple lessons I’ve learned from putting through loads of campaigns. Shepherding great campaigns through to execution is a constant learning experience. It’s not like you learn these eight and you’ve cracked it. But hey, it’d be no fun if it was easy, right? Good luck!