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Managing Marketing: Creativity in a digital age

Creativity bin the digital age
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Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Nick Law is the President of Publicis Communications and Chief Creative Officer of Publicis Groupe. He talks with Darren on the role of creativity and the approach to building brands in the digital age and why advertisers and agencies need to transform to maximise the opportunities technology provides.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing and today I’m sitting with Nick Law who is the President of Publicis’ Comms and also Chief Creative Officer of Publicis Groupe. Welcome home, I guess.

Nick:

Thank you. Yes, I’m still getting over the jetlag and enjoying being here.

Darren:

Sydney was where you grew up but you’ve lived in Brooklyn or New York for how long now?

Nick:

I’ve lived in the States since 1994 so 24 or 25 years.

Darren:

Wow, that’s half a lifetime.

Nick:

I think I’ve spent more time in America than any other country now. I still feel like this is home though.

Darren:

Well that’s good to hear. When you grow up in Sydney it’s very hard to remove that part of your DNA isn’t it?

Nick:

That’s true; there’s no city like it, especially if the Rabbitohs are winning.

Darren:

Was it Randwick TAFE?

Nick:

Randwick TAFE—that’s right, between the Royal Randwick Racecourse, the Centennial Gardens and the big drug prevention centre of New South Wales University. It’s in this lovely walkable distance to all those things.

Darren:

Especially the racecourse. The reason I bring that up is there’s a lot of talk about the importance of education; training people to be job-ready and things like that. But it’d be quite difficult in this day and age to make people job-ready wouldn’t it?

Nick:

Absolutely. The way to get people job-ready is to give them a job. I say this and obviously I have a bit of confirmation bias but our industry is an applied art and I just don’t think it’s academic.

And in my case I was so poor academically in High School that I didn’t have the choice of getting a degree but Randwick Tech had the best graphic design course in NSW at the time. It was a two-year certificate and you basically learnt how to use a T-square. It was a drafting table; it was all practical. It was all learning to use a toolset and mastery of your tools.

Now, I’m not one of those who say it was really good that I learned how to sketch typefaces because I much prefer technologies that get the idea out of my head and onto paper quicker. I just think it’s better. I will say that learning by doing is the absolute best way to do it.

Darren:

I think there’s a role in teaching the basic principles. Teaching the basic rules of design for instance or font or communication—just teaching the basics is really important.

Nick:

I agree with that but I also think our industry is guilty of confusing principles with practice. So, for example in the more traditional advertising world they have this idea that a big idea is somehow primal. And I would argue that the way they express their ideas is almost always through a narrative medium. So, it looks like a tagline or a short script or an anthem that is going to encapsulate a big idea.

And that’s a complete bias towards a medium that has been the main medium for the last 15 years, which is television. And I actually find it’s an impediment now because rather than starting with a big idea, (which I don’t think is a principle; it’s a practice) I think they should be starting with a behaviour.

Darren:

Like an insight?

Nick:

Even there I spend a lot of time with more classic planners and their insights tend to be tightly coiled around the brand.

Darren:

As opposed to coiled around a human being.

Nick:

Exactly and like the two biggest advertising concerns in the world, Facebook and Google, they track behaviours and they scale because of that. There are times when I think they extrapolate from those behaviours but I don’t think they look at the world through this magical insight lens that classic comms planning is.

And sometimes I feel that comms planning is like air guitar. It’s like how do they feel in their water. They reach for this zeitgeist and they justify it with some random tweets in a slide. I just feel that there is a better bottom way of looking at our industry because we’re getting the right signals.

Our insights should be jumping off behaviour as opposed to jumping off some sort of psychological profile.

Darren:

I’d agree and in fact, behavioural economics and behavioural psychology says that is absolutely the focus. If you want to understand human beings then you need to watch what they do not what they say.

Nick:

Not ask them in a focus group.

Darren:

Going right back to Henry Ford—he said that if I ask people what they want they would have said faster horses. And then you go forward and the other classic is Steve Jobs. He looked at what people were doing and then envisaged a future that they couldn’t even envisage.

To me that’s an insight. An insight is about a human insight: what is something that someone would absolutely love before they even know it’s possible to make it?

Nick:

These are the limits of being slavish about data that you need to at some point take a leap intuitively. I think the Netflix model is intriguing because they have a lot of insight where they can see where the whitespace is as opposed to where they can see a formula.

I think that of all of the Unicomms, Netflix straddles this world of data and art the best because their art is true art; it’s not some sort of mechanical reflection of the data. The data feeds some real insight about an area that might be worth exploring. But then ultimately art needs to be made and that’s still magical.

Darren:

There was a time when Hollywood was accused of falling slavishly to only data because they would only approve movies that had already proven the concept at box office.

Nick:

They’d do focus groups and stuff.

Darren:

We had that era of Beverly Hills Cops 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and Rocky 1, 2, 3, 4 because that was the only thing that was proven. And yet, as we know in hindsight, if you’re not innovative and innovating to things that people want or are engaged with then eventually you just get this long tail of destruction.

Nick:

There are some parallels you can draw with the safety and the laziness of that Hollywood model and the traditional advertising model because what happens when you go down that path is you lose the ability to develop the grammar of the art.

So, while Hollywood was doing that and calcifying around these tropes you had TV becoming the best platform for storytelling. If you look at storytelling on TV from 20 years ago and you look at storytelling now it’s completely different.

And actually, if you took the audience from 20 years ago and put it in front of these amazing HPO, Netflix and Amazon shows they’d be very confused because of the density of information, the plot lines, the cul de sacs.

Darren:

The complexities.

Nick:

There’s a very different grammar that’s developed and there’s this interesting interplay between the literacy of the audience being dragged along by the exploration of the grammar. And TV has become the best storytelling medium and movies have become more formulaic. And I look at advertising and feel the same thing.

If you look at an excellent ad from 20 years ago you could still run it now. Now whether anyone would watch it or not goes back to our media habits have changed drastically. But I think the narrative side of advertising has been stuck.

For example, now we have the ability to slice up content, reassemble it and send it to people one on one. We have this one on one ability and whenever I see examples of that in my feed it feels like an ad that’s been cut up and reassembled.

Instead, if I’m a new creative I should be looking at a new grammar, like what are the possibilities, based on modular content, as an artist not as a marketer. Like what happens with the hinges between these modules? How do you reassemble them?

You have to think about narrative, not just as a series of revealed moments but as a bunch of pathways. And you should be different creatively. I think the advertising industry has been guilty of (creatively) not exploring the grammar of the media we have.

It’s like early TV looked like radio being filmed and I feel like we are still churning in the late 50’s creative revolution, which was still slavish to the Birnbach team (which was the last time that the creative team was innovative).

The last time a creative lead was creative enough to innovate the structure of his team was in the late 50’s, early 60’s. That’s crazy. And I go round to traditional agencies and it’s still the atomic team. They’ve arranged around that atomic team some exotic new talents but the atomic team is the one who’s curating and they’re not qualified to do that.

They have a very specific craft. They have mastered the technology of television. They’re still creative technologists. They still use technology; we all do. But you can’t be creative without a medium and the medium is technology. And yet, they’re the ones making the decision about when to bring in the social strategy or the data scientists? It’s crazy. Anyway, you’ve got me on a rant.

Darren:

It’s great. And it’s important for an industry that is so reliant on creativity to generate the new. One of the things about human beings is that we’re attracted to the new. It’s the thing that excites our brains.

Nick:

Enough of the new and enough references so that we’re anchored—it’s a fine balance.

Darren:

The other thing that’s the sort of paradox is that we hate or resist change. We resist change but we love new. So that’s why new has to build on something. When someone makes a quantum leap.

Nick:

No one understands it. It’d be like if you took someone from the 1850’s and put them in front of a movie now they wouldn’t understand it.

Darren:

Or hand them a mobile phone.

Nick:

I’m going back to the grammar of creativity—they wouldn’t understand what editing was or how an image could completely disappear and something else could appear. These flashcards, they wouldn’t know how to process it. So, you’re absolutely right; change is incremental and novelty is just enough that it titillates you and not enough that it confuses you.

I gave this presentation a few days ago; that the product people in our industry are creatives and yet, somehow in the last 20 years creative leadership has dwindled and our industry has been taken over by people who aren’t product people. It’s been taken over by financial and operational people and I think that’s one of the reasons for this paucity of vision in the product which is creative is holding us back.

I really think that and this is one of the reasons I took the job because whether or not it’s going to be a fun and creative job it’s certainly going to be a job where I have influence and can help create a vision for a large public company that is in our industry.

This is important and I’ve noticed this reticence for the creatives to be involved in the business side because they’ve been so infantilised by the Edwardian industrial complex and so convinced of their own artisanal value. And I just think it’s bullshit because that wasn’t what Bernbach thought. It’s not what drove things. There are great creative leaders who are applying…

Darren:

The skill, the discipline of creativity to solve a problem rather than just creating a piece of entertainment or a piece of communication.

Nick:

Also, to solve an organisation, so going back to Bernbach. He brought these slack-jawed art directors from downstairs who, up until then, had been colouring in the real creatives’ work, which is a copywriter—pulled them upstairs and paired them with the copywriter. And don’t tell me that that wasn’t a cultural difficulty.

People complain now that traditional people don’t know how to work with “digital”. But I’m sure it was the same; that the first art director who came upstairs was looked at by the copywriter with disdain—‘what the fuck are you doing here? You’re not the creative person’. There was probably some teething; you’ll always go through this stuff.

But my point was that was a creative way of looking at the structure of the business and we’ve lost that. We’ve lost the ability to design our own companies.

Darren:

Well, they’ve been locked into a framework that is driven by a financial need.

Nick:

I saw this really interesting video from early Steve Jobs and he was talking about the demise of Xerox and he was saying that what happened was (and this was true of a few of the big tech companies at the time) that they had monopolies.

And when you have monopolies there’s not a lot of gain. They’re going to have market share anyway; they’re not competing. So, in instances like that the product people become less important and the people who take over as operational (or in that case it could be marketing)—someone who’s not core, and then the sensibility for the product starts to get leached out of the company.

I think what happened in advertising was before the internet, the media environment, the templates were so stable and most of the clients, their companies weren’t being disrupted like they are now and so the value that you could bring as an agency was telling a story about the thing they’re already doing because structurally things weren’t going to change.

You couldn’t invent media because media was stable and you couldn’t go deep into the structure of the companies because that’s not where you were adding value. So, we created this culture of narrative out of the belief that if you told the right story then you could grow your business. This is now the thing hamstringing the industry because change is a design problem; it’s not a story problem.

You can’t change a company with a new tagline or a new story. You have this situation now where the big packaged goods companies, which have always been the biggest marketers because they sell commodities so marketing becomes very important.

They’re in this death spiral with traditional agencies because there problem, which is what are we going to do with Amazon? Are we going to work with them, how are we going to work around them, how are we going to get the data from our consumers so that we know what to make and how to sell it? That is not something that can be solved with a campaign.

Now, you still need to advertise because they are still commodities but there’s a deeper issue there and the death spiral is not going to change it unless they have deeper structural change. So, our clients need structural change and then we look at ourselves as an industry and we need to redesign our structures. We need to get in deep and re-think the teams but because we’re a narrative culture we don’t know how to do it.

Darren:

What I’m hearing is that we’ve almost created this symbiotic relationship in the environment where it was incredibly stable. Major advertisers and agencies ended up so aligned to each other in delivering that and as the environment then started to change they didn’t know how to evolve anymore because they were so linked together.

Nick:

But also, you have a culture of storytelling.

Darren:

That was, in that static environment, the way of operating. That was the successful way to market, to tell your story and even the media model was to tell the same thing over and over again because we had the thing about reach and frequency. If I didn’t have 65% reach and 3 times frequency it wasn’t going to work.

Nick:

That’s right, there was a formula.

Darren:

Everything became formulaic. Even briefing was we need the TV ad, and the four support channels.

Nick:

I still see this and going back to our little rant about comms planning and the membrane-thin process is that I don’t need to have another conversation with the client about their brand that goes on and on. We have these strategic conversations about brand which is like some psychotic person in a pub rehearsing their pickup line and then by the time the person walks in and sits next to him he’s so convinced by what he’s going to say about himself that he knows nothing about the person he’s speaking to.

This is where we are right now. And again, going back to why Facebook and Google are eating our lunch because they don’t give a fuck about that. They’re picking up signals about what people are actually doing. They don’t need to ask the question about what the psychographic of this person is because they’re getting the signals that are giving them much more concrete.

Darren:

But the other thing they’re doing is they’re also constantly innovating, testing and learning. So, they’re seeing there is a trend in behaviour, a technology opportunity, which they quickly test and learn to see if that gets any traction. That’s the difference isn’t it?

Any organism to be able to survive in st the environment needs to be able to adapt. One, they’ve got scale to be able to adapt, which is important but also they have a mindset of adapting.

Nick:

They also network effectively. If you look at the hockey stick curve of change, which has been happening in every industry, it’s been unleashed by these connective interfaces called the internet. And they promote this thing called network effects. And network effects are the most powerful growth machine and they’ve built on that.

And compare that to the old media model—there’s no network effects when you push something out in a broadcast environment because I can’t do anything with it—there’s no interface in front of it.

And the other thing which people know but don’t talk about is the reason that advertising is so important to Facebook and Google is because it lowers the point of entry for usage. The reason we get these amazing services like search and connect with our friends all around the world and it’s for free. So, what we get from the advertisers on those platforms is a free service.

What I get from an ad that interrupts me when I watch the Rabbitohs play is nothing; I get aggravation. All of the financial gain goes back to the media companies and the brand, right? Even though we’re pissed off at these platforms for all sorts of reasons we’re still getting some of the gain of the advertising, which is the user experience, which is slightly degraded but we still have it for free.

But the rich irony of all of this, just as I said is that the more traditional advertising agencies might be poorly matched with the packaged goods companies (like a digital transformation company would be a better match). Like in the group I’m at now CPM would be a better match at least to begin with and then you advertise on top of that.

I also think that the new economy, Airbnb’s and the Facebooks, what they need right now is not business transformation; they need marketing.

Darren:

You don’t just mean marcomms but marketing.

Nick:

What they need is a brand. They’re scaled through these network effects but they’re also sales companies; they don’t have cultures of marketing. So, this is where you find a difficult dance now between the regulators, a souring public and these companies. And they’re not sophisticated about their own brands.

Who’s good at that? We’ve been good at that for a long time. This is a big opportunity for the more traditional advertising agency. They should make sure they’re sophisticated enough to have intelligent conversations within the economy so they understand how these companies are structured.

I lived in this world of early digital agencies and they were really unsophisticated when it came to brand despite the legacy model of traditional agencies they still didn’t understand brands. If they can become modern versions of themselves they have a lot to give to this new economy.

Darren:

I just want to pull you up there because from my perspective a lot of agencies still think about brand and brand comms as narrative.

Nick:

That’s right.

Darren:

And yet, increasingly, people create and understand a branding positioning in their mind about an organisation as much though experience as they do through the narrative that’s being pushed out. They’re getting it from the experience of the brand, the experience that’s told to them by their friends and on social media. But brand management is no longer about comms and narrative, which is where agencies have traditionally played. Agencies get the strategy behind it but their execution is almost like traditional comms.

Nick:

Sometimes they don’t even get the strategy but my point there is in my last job I developed a branding practice where we used to say the branding is in the interface. It doesn’t matter how many great identities and stationery sets or business park signs you design if people’s experience of your brand through an interface, which is mostly how we interact with companies nowadays, is degraded.

A bank could do awesome anthemic ads on television and then you go on the app and you can’t do a transfer. That’s a problem. But my point here is in my last company we would be engaged by clients to do that. In Publicis there would be someone like Sapient or Digitas, they’d be able to do that.

My point with the new economy is they’ve already designed friction-less amazing experiences. Google had a brand before it did any advertising because of the amazing experience. This is where it’s actually appropriate that you have a more sophisticated narrative around the brand.

Darren:

The brand exists because people experience it so they have a perception of it.

Nick:

There is no agency that’s going to come in and fix Airbnb’s experience because they’ve done it really well.

Darren:

You mentioned structure before and one of the problems that we see constantly and a lot of the work that we’re doing is that we see marketing being reduced to marketing comms within organisations. And yet all of the other Ps of traditional marketing like product, placement, and pricing are happening elsewhere in the organisation.

And it’s almost like a lot of these organisations facing disruption are saying well marketing comms, why aren’t you fixing this through narrative when in actual fact narrative is like sitting on a one-legged stool.

Nick:

That’s right. The way I talk about it is it’s a spoke. And unfortunately for a lot of big traditional agencies is that they own the relationship with the client based on the brand narrative and now they’ve become narrative boutiques because the hub of the client brand has become more of a matrix.

Darren:

In some ways relying on narrative alone to position an organisation is like a one-legged stool.

Nick:

I think the answer to a lot of these things is really obvious. What the internet did was to connect everything and as soon as you connect everything there is a relationship between everything. So, the model for agencies right now is to build out horizontally.

So rather than going down deeply vertical as a sort of narrative market, they need to start connecting things because that’s what’s happening in the world and in our client’s businesses. It’s why you can’t think about narrative marketing without understanding ecommerce. All of these things have concertinaed, or collapsed into an interface.

I came within one swipe, click or gesture, from looking at product to buying it. So, this idea of funnel has gone, it’s collapsed. The idea of there being any logical order to how you might go through that funnel and so if you think about that it’s all because everything is so connected. We can make instant choices based on infinite information.

Darren:

But we’re also getting infinite inputs that we’re filtering or connecting. It’s interesting what you said about the funnel collapsing because I still see so many brands and agencies talking about the customer journey and it’s linear.

But I think customer journeys are a bit like the electron. It flies around the universe and then suddenly appears. And along that journey it’s picking up information and making decisions, eliminating options and that could be in milliseconds or it could be weeks.

So, this idea of being able to map a person’s decision–making process–it’s trying to make sense of the complex.

Nick:

One of the reasons the consultancies are so appealing to clients is because they sell process. And they sell process generally to a lot of people in the same vertical industry because they’ve proven it here and there is no conflict and so they’ll productise that process and sell.

But the problem with that is there really isn’t any process. There might be some frameworks within which this chaos exists but I think there is something very appealing about the funnel to a client because it has this veneer of control or being able to track something. You’re absolutely right, even how we work.

My favourite story about how random or asymmetrical the creative process is, is the Love has No Labels film that we did for the Ad Council that got 200 million views and was hugely successful and was the beginning of this platform that just keeps going. It stated with not a strategy; it started with an execution from an internal creative at Coke.

Wendy Clark who was the CMO at the time came to the Ad Council with this piece of creative which was done by one of her team, which was a silhouette of a coke bottle with the hashtag love has no labels because there was no label on the coke bottle.

Now the Ad Council, because of its stand on donated media that they can’t show brands took this idea (which was an execution for social) and took it apart and rebuilt it as these dancing skeletons. Now that is not a process. There was no big strategic insight.

Darren:

Where was the research?

Nick:

That’s not to say that we didn’t then fold in stuff as we went. The point is it wasn’t a logical, methodical march from insight to idea to execution. It was actually this strange thing where we started with execution, we backed up into strategy and we went around in circles. And this is how these things work.

Darren:

A bit like a Quentin Tarantino narrative—start in the middle go back to the beginning and then drop to the end.

Nick:

Now there are frameworks within which we check ourselves while we’re doing that but there isn’t this perfect linear process. In fact, I would argue that if you become slave to a process it’s the weakness of the consultancy model, for creativity, that it stops you from thinking.

As soon as you productise a process and you rely less on the genius of the people and more on the system then you’re going to get this bloodless execution.

Darren:

You’ve heard of complexity theory and chaos theory? Because chaos theory is a domain where human beings can’t really operate because if it’s chaotic there is absolutely no way of being able to relate to it. But the beauty of complexity theory is that as it moves towards chaos, in the same way that entropy or disorder in the universe is moving from order to disorder, you move closer to creativity.

Creativity exists in its purest form at that boundary between complexity and chaos from a human perspective. Human beings have the ability to create, especially in a world where there is no predictability but still the ability to influence the world around them.

And I really like that from a scientific as well as a human and business point of view. One of the great things about advertising agencies is that they can create an environment for creativity to exist. You can put frameworks around either site like production and inputs but the actual creative moment is not a process.

Nick:

But you also have to broaden your definition of creativity.

Darren:

I’m talking about in its purest form.

Nick:

In my previous life I created an organising principle which was an evolution of the Birnbach atomic team, which was stories and systems. The important thing about understanding how stories and systems work as two hemispheres of a creative brain is that it’s systematic thinking.

Design thinking is creative. And so, it overcomes the bias of the traditional advertising industry which sees narrative as the only version of creativity—everything else is executional. Once you get that balance you get stories and systems working together then you have the ability of taking that complexity and what systematic thinkers are really good at is picking up on patterns and synthesising.

So, they synthesise a lot and then out of all of that they see patterns.

Darren:

And new patterns they’ve not seen before.

Nick:

And sometimes the patterns are things they’ve created themselves. And this is going back all the way to where we started which is how do you redesign a business. That’s how you redesign a business. So, it’s a systematic design task. So, if we’re going to apply creativity to our own industry then we need that sort of thinking.

I’m not saying that storytelling isn’t really important because in my experience working with these two sorts of creative brains if you don’t have the simplifying influence of the storytelling then those patterns and the shape of their complexity can never get distilled and communicated and that’s a really important thing to do.

And that’s why this combination of the systematic, taking all of the craziness and then the communicating of all of that is so important.

Darren:

But storytelling exists for human beings, outside of advertising. Storytelling has always existed for human beings as a sense-making exercise.

Nick:

Of course.

Darren:

Whether it’s the Bible or whatever, every culture has used stories to make sense of the world around them ad that’s why they’re so powerful.

Nick:

We live temporal lives and this is why language is by definition a story because it’s not everything at once; it’s one thing at a time. We live temporal lives but we also live in space. And even the ability to tell a story is based on a system: the alphabet system. No one person designed the alphabet; it was created over time.

It’s a magnificent system that lives in space. The 26 characters exist that we rearrange, reassemble to create this narrative. The system itself is a magnificent act of creativity but it’s invisible to us because we have ingested it and now just use it.

But that relationship is important; the story and the system, the time and space, you can’t take them apart. They’re always linked and this is why in a sense what art and copy represented in the early days of advertising was the ability to tell a story with a magnificent interplay between image and word, like those early VW ads.

I would argue that stories and systems are even more profound to a symbiotic relationship because it’s bigger than just communication. It’s how we look at the world. We can’t help but exist in time and space. And as creative people you’re either very good at processing your creativity temporally or spatially.

Put them together and you’ve got two hemispheres of a creative brain that is broader and more capable of creating the teams you need underneath, which again is an impediment of the old model, this reliance on the atomic team of art and copy.

Creative team should be designed for the problem at hand and the people who curate that team should have broadly literate cross-roads and systems not just literate across a keyhole of art and copy.

Darren:

You mentioned before about agencies needing to broaden. Have you read the book, Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal? I highly recommend it to you. He was the guy who ran the task force in Afghanistan and Iraq back in the early 2000s.

He realised that the military machine was structured exactly the way businesses are (in silos) and the trouble with that is it’s slow, not adaptable. It relies on efficiency but not adaptability. So, he completely demolished that structure and created autonomous teams who all shared knowledge, information and were aligned to the purpose of their mission and they would form and reform and reconfigure.

Their response times and adaptability went right off the scale because it broke down the silos.

Nick:

And they needed to because their foe was organised like that.

Darren:

But the world is organised like that now. Back in the 19th century this whole idea of the industrial revolution and getting efficiency was the mode. In the 21st century we don’t work that way anymore. The world is changing and whether you call it click speed or whatever it changes that quickly.

Perhaps the reason that start-ups are so good is because, until they get those silos, they can form and reform. A lot of start-ups end up doing something that’s completely different to what they originally thought they’d be doing.

Nick:

Which is why the VC companies are more interested in the people than the idea.

Darren:

So how do we bring that type of thinking back into our client’s organisation but also into the agency organisation because they’ve built up that symbiotic relationship? Agencies end up mirroring their clients in structure and process. And yet, if clients are having to change to adapt to the modern world then agencies need to change as well.

Nick:

Agencies that became masters of the medium of the internet are a lot better at creating new capabilities because the internet moves so quickly that you had to. This is a strange thing I found in the last company I was at that we really didn’t have very good client-services people. We became more mature and got better at it.

We had very good producers and we understood when new technologies like flash came along you had to master them or when the web started to eat up storytelling we had to become good storytellers. We had to incubate and then bring into the centre of the company these capabilities very quickly.

And we were less influenced by how our clients were typecasting us and more influenced by the medium we were working in. In contrast the more traditional agencies because they were so client-services led conformed to what the clients needed from them and the clients typecast them.

And so now the noose of what these clients have asked from agencies is starting to tighten. So, they went deep on storytelling, especially TV and narrative storytelling at the expense of broadening their own capabilities because that’s what clients were asking from them. And now they’re fighting to get share of a shrinking pie.

So, this is a problem. We are in a service industry. We have to listen to our clients and we have to respond to them but we need to be responsible about our own business model and not let clients tighten the aperture around what we deliver.

Darren:

Or flip that over and start being the innovators that innovate in a way that clients are attracted to because Mark Pritchard, God bless him because he’s standing up and saying the things that need to be said but earlier this year Mark Pritchard from PNG said agencies need to have more creative people and fewer account management people.

And I wrote an opinion piece about that; that the reason these agencies have so many account management people is that they’re mirroring the owner organisation. So, if he’s willing to change then agencies will adapt to it. But rather than following there’s also a role for leading.

You mentioned before there is agency leadership out there. One of the things that differentiates them is they are willing to push beyond just being a services-driven company. What you said that resonated with me was that the previous company you were with wasn’t focused on just giving the client what they wanted you were focused on mastering the opportunities and then offering it up to the clients—is this something you’re interested in.

Nick:

And then it was this viscous cycle because then we got typecast as an innovation company.

Darren:

Wow, bad luck.

Nick:

My colleagues in Mortridge Lane complain that the clients went by this stuff. There are a few reasons for that. First of all the client doesn’t see them in that. When you create a new capability, the chances are you need to sell it in a new business situation and it’s only then when you’ve stood it up with the other clients that your existing clients say, ‘oh you can do it’.

It’s very difficult to go into an existing client and sell them on something that you haven’t been doing.

Darren:

You’ve either got to be positioned as that because you’ve built a record.

Nick:

You’ve been typecast. Working with Nike for example, in my previous job, that narrative work that we did couldn’t happen at Nike, they’d already typecast us.

Darren:

Well they had an agency for narrative; you were the technology innovator.

Nick:

It wasn’t until we did this narrative work for Beat who gave us the opportunity because they were a scrappy start-up, and we did some really awesome narrative work that we then did narrative work for Nike.

It’s very appealing to grow your business organically within clients but you’ve got to understand how they see you and sometimes you’ve just got to prove other capabilities with other clients before bringing it back. At least that’s been my experience.

Darren:

Nick, it’s been terrific catching up.

Nick:

Thanks very much.

Darren:

I’d say we should do it more often but it’s hard when we’re on opposite sides of the world. Hey, a question without notice; what do you see as the next big disruptor for the industry?

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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