A few years ago, I was struck by a moment of complete, utter professional embarrassment. We had finally gained alignment on a new global campaign for a launch product. It was a painful experience, filled with strategic twists, rounds of creative, costly do-overs, and frustrated team members. This broken process cost a million dollars! Granted, it was a complicated client situation: a collaboration between two successful healthcare companies with U.S. and global regions with distinct marketing challenges. All of this complexity pointed to significant challenges, especially related to creative alignment.
Agency executives often lament: “We could do great work if only the client would just (fill in the blank).” After reviewing countless campaign development job files, I realized we were at least 50% to blame for the process madness.
Only when we admitted our bad agency habits and discovered solutions could we ask our clients to consider a different way of working.
Bad habit #1: Focus…what focus? Creating a new campaign is important work, especially a launch for a life-changing healthcare brand. Clients envision agency creative teams slaving day and night. Truth be told, most days are filled with meetings and big thinking is relegated to splinters of time. A better idea is to take creative ideation offsite. We dedicate one full week to a new campaign. So much can be accomplished in a week when we are immersed and focused.
Bad habit #2: Recycling talent. Fresh ideas come from fresh perspectives. Yet we tend to rely on the same people for creative ideation – the “home run” teams. We often don’t think outside the box when it comes to talent selection, which can lead to less-than-stellar results. We committed to work differently, sourcing talent from other teams, geographies, and even other agencies from within our network. It’s only a week.
Bad habit #3: Beautifying ideas to death. Agencies spend more time beautifying “ad like objects” than ideating. Beautified work attracts executional client feedback from clients, and even physicians and patients once the ideas make it to research. Focusing on execution too early results in rounds of revisions, wasted time and marketing dollars. Now, we convince clients to review ideas in sketch form. They appreciate seeing ideas earlier in development and feel they are part of the process.
When we acknowledge our bad habits as an agency and our commitment to avoid them, clients are more apt to acknowledge their own involvement in the madness.
Bad habit #1: The final “D” belongs to _____? Most healthcare companies are complicated matrix organizations with multiple decision makers. Our day-to-day client always believes they are the decision maker only to be proven wrong, often too late. A surprise veto vote can come from the VP of marketing after research, a chirping regional marketer, or even a member of the LMR (legal, medical and regulatory) team. It’s best to identify all key decision makers from the start.
Bad habit #2: Brief? What brief? No marketer would dispute the importance of this single guiding strategic document. Much time and energy goes into the creation of a strategically strong and inspiring creative brief. Yet it is often not seen or signed off on by the right clients. Every key decision maker should see and sign off on the brief, even if it’s 25 people. The brief stage is the best time to debate the strategic premise before the creative work begins.
Bad habit #3: No time to meet. Most strong client cultures encourage joint decision-making and shared accountability, yet finding time together to make an important decision is next to impossible. Clients say they will see the ideas first and then add others in, which leads to multiple revisions. The best approach is one that includes all key decision makers at once. We design these alignment meetings as a workshop. The important thing is for everyone to meet at once, debate, discuss, and importantly leave in a single file line, with a decision that sticks.
Relatively small bad habits and decisions from the agency and client over time create a cyclone of marketing waste – wasted time, energy, and marketing dollars. A solution can only be found when both sides commit to change their ways.
The author is a member of the Health Effie Awards Advisory Committee.