It is ironic that for a people-business, many people in our industry are disconnected within their organisations. Technology creates the illusion that we are still very much connected, but my challenge to all big agency heads is: How many of your staff do you know by name? When you address an agency conference, with 1,500 people attending, how many faces do you remember? How many experiences have you shared with them?
This isn’t the fault of a bad memory. Dunbar’s number suggests that human beings have enough mental space to keep track of only 150 meaningful relationships, whatever Facebook or LinkedIn suggest.
Much of the traditional, large agency staff today is in areas of administration, production, traffic, studio and increasingly, writing code. And most of us have opportunities to interact with perhaps only a dozen people in a typical week.
Why should we care if people are disconnected?
Because in today’s fast-moving marketing landscape, agency heads have no choice but to be more hands-on and be one of the contributors, not an internal judge. The visionaries in the firm must interact frequently with the employees—that’s the only way that the vision can be owned by each and every person and be more than a mantra on the screensaver.
Lean and flexible
We need to be able to quickly assemble the best teams that have the knowledge, drive and creativity to solve the client’s problems. Sometimes this just means cutting through the layers of process, theory and red tape through departments and divisions to assemble teams within our organization. As clients’ own marketing functions rapidly break down into different silos—trade, ecommerce, social media, media buying, distribution, content—we need to build structures that are flexible enough to infiltrate our client’s organizations and partner their team in an engaging, energetic and productive way. Our ability to integrate is critical.
If we are in the ideas business—and I believe firmly that we still are—and where the skills needed for client projects have not been signed up to the agency, we have to be nimble enough to assemble teams outside our agency that quickly and effectively respond to clients’ challenges. And believe me, no single agency has every possible skill under one roof.
Collaboration is the new imperative
Steve Jobs famously said that creativity is just connecting things. I would say that in advertising today, our job is connecting creative people.
How do we effectively put our weight behind the brands we work for when everyone is looking for ‘something different, something innovative’? That actually simply means ideating, then partnering with different creative talents, and rethinking who counts as a ‘valuable’ partner.
Firms are looking for companies or individuals from different industries. When people of varied skills collaborate, they spark innovation. Take for instance Young & Laramore, an independent agency, which forged a relationship with Taiwan-born fashion designer Jason Wu and its client, home design brand Brizo. Wu’s powder-room accessories, from US$15 doorknobs to US$800 faucets, stood out in hardware stores and quickly became conversation pieces for consumers. And the dollar quickly followed.
Or Lavazza, whice created an espresso machine to be housed inside a Fiat 500L. The machine replaces the need for the driver and passengers to take along a thermos, or stop to buy coffee. To prevent any dangerous distractions, the machine only works when the car is stopped.
In Spain, luggage brand Miquel Rius collaborated with Hospital Sant Joan de Déu to create a school backpack that reduces the load on children’s spines when they carry heavy school books.
Apart from the inevitable reward of human interaction, what makes these partnerships exciting is how all these brands tapped into a widely dispersed but connected world for new ideas and products.
What is your collaborative idea that you could bring to the client’s table? Or will you pull up the drawbridge and perish?
David Mayo is CEO of Bates CHI & Partners