The Department: Can Faster Be Better?
As if it's not enough that media people today work amid unprecedented change in the media and marketing worlds, we're also asked to deal with it - to cut paths through uncharted territory - at warp speed. What used to take weeks now gets allocated days, even hours. Honestly, can you believe we ever thought we were busy before?
What I've come to learn after a few years of this steeply accelerating work pace is that it's possible, with smart decisions, for today's speed to lead to dramatically better work - and even a more enjoyable work experience.
Think of a project with a seriously ratcheted-up timetable (say, a media plan that had been due in a month was suddenly needed in two days). Whether you were conscious of it at the time, you made decisions about how to handle the crisis. Among your options:
>Dumb it down. Don't think too hard or challenge plan assumptions. Just accept the direction as given and move quickly through all the rote planning steps.
>Pull out last year's plan. Repeat. (Oh, admit it!)
>Take shortcuts. For instance, decide that 100 percent TV isn't so old-fashioned after all. (Who has time to do a monstrous media-mix evaluation now?)
>Decide what matters most, strip away everything else, and focus all your energy on that.
It's that last option that I have found leads to better - sometimes much better - work, and more fun for the people who do it. A breakneck pace can force a reexamination of processes and protocols, resulting in a strategy that prioritizes developing a smart, effective idea over, say, filling out forms or running countless reach/frequencies.
This first occurred to me about five years ago, when Fallon took on media responsibilities for the mammoth Citibank account. After about a month of trying to handle Citi the way we did other accounts, it became obvious that things were going to have to be done much faster.
The client sat us down and made three things clear. First, Citi didn't want, need, or value long PowerPoint presentations. The client wanted smart, strategic thinking, and creative, well-documented plans, but these didn't need to be beautifully packaged. Second, the client would take on the primary responsibility of selling our thinking within Citi so we could concentrate on media planning rather than making presentations. Third, we'd win by investing time in a smart business-building media strategy against a smart media target. Once we had buy-in on that, we would sell individual media plans with much less resistance.
In hindsight, all of these seem like obvious decisions, but at the time they were downright eye-opening. ("You mean I shouldn't labor extensively over the precisely right, terribly clever headline for a PowerPoint slide? Really?")
We quickly adapted, stunning ourselves by how much more efficiently we worked. Not coincidentally, team members felt incredibly motivated and energized. Why? Because they were spending time on stuff that mattered, stuff they cared about most.
We recently received further schooling in speed from our NBC Universal Television account. With so many networks, so many media plans, and so, so many media options, we again had to take stock and make process changes early on.
In this case, we identified what really matters, asking ourselves why Fallon was hired. We came up with this list: 1) single-minded media strategies based on genuine consumer insights; 2) original, creative ideas that drive audiences; and 3) flawless execution of those ideas.
For this campaign, we have done away with long decks and presentations. Most of our "meetings" occur by phone. We don't sweat having every detail nailed down before selling our thinking to the clients. We work iteratively, first pitching strategies conceptually and getting feedback before investing time on tactics.
When it comes time for tactical ideas, we conjure what we call "the swarm." We put lots of people - the right people, the brilliant, creative, and opinionated - in a room to duke it out. It is astonishing what a collection of the right minds can come up with in an hour, with thoughtful preparation and talented moderators. Not to mention how fun it is. With this technique, we've literally generated plans in a day that used to take weeks.
In today's marketplace, success doesn't depend on spreadsheets or reach/frequency runs. More and more, it depends on ideas. Focus on that and you'll be amazed by how fast and fun media work can be.
Lisa Seward is the media director at Fallon, Minneapolis. (firstname.lastname@example.org)