Ben Cunnington
Nov 1, 2016

Bad habits we're teaching tomorrow’s media talent

Ben Cunnington judged the Spikes Young Media competition, and saw some worrying signs.

Ben Cunnington
Ben Cunnington

Recently I sat on a judging panel for the Spikes: Young Media Competition. The brief was to drive donations to a non-governmental organization, Conservation International, using a very small budget. As we were presented with the solutions from 10 different teams, I noticed repeated bad habits, common to all teams. Given the young age of the teams, I fear they are picking these habits up from those of us who should know better and do better.

Here, in my opinion, are the four bad habits that we may be unwittingly teaching our young talents:

If the creative wheel ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it

Conservation International has had proven success (noted in the brief) from its new creative proposition, Nature is Speaking. In other words, it’s working really well for them. Yet only one of the 10 teams took that platform and amplified it. They did so by drawing a strong and successful parallel between their innovative use of media via a proposed user-friendly mobile technology, and the Nature is Speaking proposition. The other teams ignored the existing creative proposition, reinventing the wheel and creating their own theme or proposition.

I fear young media agency talent, taught to show that they are ‘upstream’, are misinterpreting this as an order to re-create something rather than work innovatively to amplify an existing great creative idea.

Putting the technology cart before the creative horse

A majority of the teams proposed the use of a variety of technology to build their media solution. However, it felt very much as though the technology led the idea. This perhaps, could be a result of being pushed to use ‘technology in an innovative way’. But it results in the bad habit of using technology as a gimmick to wow and bamboozle. Instead we should be building a solid foundation from a great idea and then using appropriate technology to amplify and bring the idea to life. I believe going back to basics and using new media and technology to our advantage is the ultimate recipe for long-term success. 

Trying to be everything to everyone

Except for one, it was clear that the teams felt that their approach needed to cover all bases. Despite a tiny budget, the groups insisted on covering many channels and tactics to show active presence everywhere. This is, yet again, another learnt habit of viewing the media landscape as more complex than it really is. As a result, young talent mistakenly scramble to demonstrate their grasp of the entire paid, owned and earned landscape by being active in them all. The question, however, is whether this leads to a less effective and diluted approach. I feel it does. 

Sometimes a square peg does fit in a round hole

All teams recapped the brief word for word, ran through exactly the same ‘formula’ in terms of their process or used exactly the 10 pages, as specified by the brief, for their presentation. There’s a time and a place to go on and off brief. So even though I was critical of teams for diverting from the brief in my first point above, when all the presentations are delivered in an eerily similar way, it hardly grabs the attention of the judging panel (or clients). A few teams experimented with different techniques, but they all still stuck to the same Powerpoint-style presentation. Creative energy and effort calls for us to be brave in a smart way, and this also applies to the way in which we present ideas. Same-old-same-old is getting really, really old. 

Don't get me wrong

Despite the above criticisms, the situation is far from doom and gloom. The energy, the diversity of insights, the ideas and the overall desire to do great work I saw were refreshing, and I believe our industry has some very bright talent we can foster. I believe that this talent can be nurtured to deliver truly great results. 

It is our responsibility as senior industry members to show our confidence in the young talent’s capacity for creative brilliance—and not to pass on a legacy of bad habits and ho-hum Powerpoint templates. 

Ben Cunnington is regional strategic director with Vizeum

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