Commentary

Different Channels Demand Different Creative Skill Sets

  • by April 30, 2007
The velocity at which new media channels are appearing of late is almost dizzying, as creative agencies try to contemplate the best way to execute against each one. Some are putting serious thought into how to reengineer their creative departments to handle both offline and online work - and lose the wall between the two. But others are still taking a more casual approach and leaving all things digital to the "interactive guys" to do. After all, they have more important "big-brand ideas" to ponder.

If you're a marketer considering which of your creative partners is best to develop compelling branded experiences for these fast-appearing new channels -- be it for branded widgets or "World of Warcraft" -- here are some things to consider.

Begin by taking a step back and looking at each potential creative partner through the lens of "interaction," not just "interactive." What's the difference?

"Interaction" means having a perspective that places the consumer as "continuous active participant" at the center of any experience you lend your brand name to. The challenge for more traditional creative agencies in grasping this is that they aren't digital natives, but digital immigrants. One-way narrative messages that get a laugh are their real forte -- along with other brand-building skills. But adding new skill sets, like interaction technology and design, to their creative teams represents a radical shift in their model.

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Let's consider some of your other options:

Creative Agency "A" is a traditional shop known as an award-winning creative agency -- noted more for its traditional work than anything "interactive." Having successfully launched campaigns that unify both television and online components under one single idea, the agency's main players will raise their hands to execute anything you need, from broadband video to virtual worlds. But dig a little deeper and you'll find that, in reality, the agency is simply outsourcing the work to a best-in-class digital studio with a funky name no marketer has ever heard of, marking it up, and then entering it in the Cannes Cyber Lions under its own name. Digital? Yeah... they can do that!

Creative Agency "B" is a "leading edge digital agency" that earned its creative reputation by building really cool Web sites. It wins lots of awards for its Web sites, but its core DNA is in creating Web destinations -- not interactive advertising. Sure, it will do the requisite banners and landing pages -- the agency even has technology people heavily involved on creative teams. But dig a little deeper, and you'll discover that linear narrative storytelling isn't really its forte... so for platforms like gaming or broadband video, it's not your best bet. But, hey, if they can build engaging Web sites, how hard can the new stuff be? So whatever the channel, their answer is bound to be "Sure, we can do that."

Creative Agency "C" is a "specialist" creative agency whose focus is doing two or three things really well -- could be direct response, advergaming, user-generated content, wireless, interface design, or broadband video. These kinds of agencies are usually smaller and more nimble, eager to take on the most innovative and creative projects, but aren't staffed to handle everything from search and site development to all things video and display advertising as well. Dig a little deeper and you're likely to find that they're best in class at their focus, but probably not right for every new channel. And if they're smart, they're willing to tell you they're not best for something just because it's new or digital.

And who is? The answer is, no one.

The sheer velocity of change that all creative agencies are dealing with as new channels and opportunities appear, including the consumer as channel, requires that we reengineer and supplement our creative departments carefully. And we must encourage the marketers we serve to step back and have their brand management organizations do the same.

The results will lead to more thoughtful activation and interaction-based experiences -- rather than reactive deployments to the latest sticky technology that appears in the business press. As creative stewards, if we are continually seduced by opportunities on that basis alone, we leave both ourselves and the marketers we serve looking like we're not capable of separating the real trends... from the really trendy.

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