Google Firestarters 16 - The Magnificent Seven


For our next London Google Firestarters event we have an absolutely stellar line up. We are bringing together seven of the smartest brains in strategy and planning to answer a simple but compelling question: What is the most useful thing that you have learned to date in your career? That’s it. No gimmicks, no long drawn out speeches, just short, punchy talks full of brilliant insight and inspiration from some of the wisest minds in media and advertising. We are going to hear from:

  • Richard Huntington – Group Chief Strategy Officer, Saatchi & Saatchi
  • Amelia Torode – Chief Strategy Officer, TBWA London
  • Phil Adams – Planning Director, Blonde Digital
  • Leo Rayman – Chief Strategy Officer, Grey London
  • Sue Unerman - Chief Strategy Officer, Mediacom 
  • Candace Kuss - Director of Planning, Social and Innovation at Hill and Knowlton
  • Andy Nairn – Founding Partner, Lucky Generals

We were going to call it ‘The Famous Five’ but happily we had another couple of people I really wanted to hear from confirm and so now we have ‘The Magnificent Seven’ which is even better. The event will be held at Google HQ in London at 6pm on 10th June. As always I have some guest passes to give away to readers of this blog so if you’d like one do contact me direct or leave a comment below. Can’t wait for this one - it’s going to be excellent.

Creativity in Business

This, from The Book of Life:

" creativity is a little different from artistic creativity. A company is a group of individuals gathered together to solve a problem for other people. This helps to define what the true focus of business creativity should be: intense and lateral thinking about what could be missing from the lives of customers. Business creativity means skill at identifying and profitably meeting the needs (many of them unspoken and vague) of customers. Everything else – the factories, the technology, the logistics, the spreadsheets – is in a sense secondary to this aim; whatever efforts are subsequently lavished on execution, a business cannot succeed if it hasn’t zeroed in on a real, that is, sufficiently urgent, human requirement."

On Agencies Going Upstream

Future-of-agenciesSimon Veksner makes a good point in this post written in response to this Ad Week piece that suggests that the future of agency value lies upstream of the communications brief, and in agencies getting more intricately involved in the 'depths' of a client business, becoming 'true general contractors'. Presumably, says Simon, this means going into areas beyond marketing and are we really suggesting that agencies should be getting involved with finance, HR, manufacturing and distribution?:

'We just don't have the skills...Are we really proposing to send a Comms Planner to a finance meeting, to sit alongside the Client's Finance Director, and a couple of guys from Goldman Sachs? Are we really proposing to send a Copywriter to a meeting about building a new factory, alongside the Client's Head of Manufacturing, and a couple of guys from Balfour Beatty?'

His point is that this depreciates what agencies actually can do, and that in an age of commoditisation, the value that marketing and Marcomms can bring is more important than ever.

I agree. When I conducted the research into the Progression of Agency Value a few years ago, I developed a model for agency maturity across four key areas (data, technology, skills and culture) and a framework (above) that referenced the progression of economic value model derived from Gilmore and Pine's The Experience Economy. Applying this model in the context of agency progression over time expressed the shift from delivering services towards staging experiences with or on behalf of the client organisation. And by that I mean the experiences that the client company crafts for its customers.

In the context of what agencies do this increasingly means greater involvement with owned and earned media assets (not just paid), growth in functions and expertise that work at the interface and interaction between the client and their customers (UX, content, experience design, analytics, data). This creates greater value for the client and differentiation for agencies whether it be based around a creative agency originating a great unifying creative idea, or a media agency constructing a media-driven solution that creates a compelling customer experience, or a technology/CRM focused agency that works to create a more joined-up experience for the customer of that client. 

This inevitably means that the lines between traditional territories, functions and disciplines blur, which leads to challenges for agencies to define exactly where they should play, where they should partner, and where they should leave alone. But where there is challenge there is also opportunity for agencies in developing a broader offering or new skills (most media agency revenues streams, for example, have increased considerably in number). We're already seeing this with examples of media agencies becoming more adept at content, and looking at how they can drive broader change within companies. 

The final stage in our model is where agencies are enabling real change, and guiding transformations for clients. This is arguably where even greater value lies, yet it may be that not every agency ends up here, some perhaps existing very comfortably by focusing on the previous stage. But the kind of thing we're talking about is transformation through creativity (a unifying creative idea that transforms a brand and a business), transformation through product (product and service design), transformation through performance (systems that enable customer needs to shape the business in more agile ways) and so on. The value is inevitably nuanced by sector, the progression nuanced by agency focus. 

We undoubtedly have some way to go before we see large numbers and a broad scope of agencies at this stage (many agencies are still getting their heads around what it means for their business to be more involved in the subtleties and complexities of creating exceptional customer experiences for their clients), but I think we're already starting to see examples of where agencies are adding deeper value to clients in this way - for example in the way that performance marketing is (in a few sectors) driving real change through a more focused profit-driven marketing approach.

Yes this does mean a broader footprint within clients, but one that recognises that the progression of agency value can only happen alongside the increasing significance of marketing to the whole organisation. Yes, marketing is undervalued in many organisations, and Simon is right - we should be making it our mission to give the function its rightful place at the top of client companies as a key driver of organisational value.

On Worrying


As I said here, I don't necessarily think that I worry more than most (but then who knows, and this is the second time I've written about worrying in two years) but I do dislike how self-sabotaging and unproductive it can be. Which is one of the reasons that I loved this commencement address by poet and author Mary Karr which contains lots of quotable nuggets like this:

'The real purpose of poetry, W.H. Auden said, is disenchantment. Not to throw fairy dust in somebody's eyes, it's stripping away what's false so you can see what's true underneath. I like to say poetry has to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.'

...and pieces of wisdom like this:

'That's how fear works though, isn't it? Getting what you want can often scare you more than not getting it.'

...that makes a powerful point about how to deal with negative feelings:

'almost every time I was super afraid it was of the wrong thing. And stuff that first looked like the worst, most humiliating thing that could ever happen almost always led me to something extraordinary and very fine.'

And then co-incidentally (as is so often the way) on the same day I happened across one of Eric Barker's typically succint but comprehensive takes on how to stop worrying which, even if you don't think you worry too much, is full of good, insightful advice.