Well, it’s been an exciting and busy summer. I’m talking to lots of agencies lately who are hearing the phones starting to ring again–which is good news for everybody. That’s partly why it’s been nearly a month since a new Ad Industry Innovators series, everybody’s busy, including me. I’m a little over two weeks from finishing up the first Hitch search–with a few other interesting potentials on the horizon so stay tuned for exciting news!
Today’s Ad Industry Innovator is a shout out to the Emerald City with a Seattle agency called Creature. New Business Director, Barton Bodell described Creature as their clients’ wild card agency. The folks clients go to when they don’t want same old same old. I thought that was a great description, so I’m going with it.
I interviewed Robson Grieve, who is Creature’s Managing Director. He came to the agency after being a Creature client con Corbis. ( 5 pts for reading that correctly out loud.)
1. What was the aha moment when you realized “our company needs to be doing things differently than we have been”?
The big “aha” moment for Creature happened back in Amsterdam, when Matt and Jim (co-creative directors) were talking about starting an agency. After working in a couple of the biggest and best agencies in the US (Wieden & Kennedy and Goodby Silverstein), they went to Europe and saw a different way of doing things. This old world+new world experience led the guys to the simple philosophy that “the best media space you can buy is in someone’s mind.” That idea really defines how we look at the changing relationship between consumers and brands, and it has shaped how we do our work on a day-to-day basis. The evolution from a “broadcast” model where advertisers were telling people what to think, to more of a cooperative model where we are starting a conversation with people and incorporating them in to the brand development process.
The truth is, however, that we are having “aha” moments all the time and we look at our model as a work in progress. We are constantly studying our capabilities and looking for ways to make Creature more relevant to current and future clients. Every year we seem to undertake one or two big changes, and we are constantly challenging the status quo and updating our business model. Essentially, we look at the search for “aha” moments as an every day part of the job.
2. What books are on your nightstand or great blogs on your Google reader?
I almost never read about advertising or business, because I find most business popular books to be a little too orderly in their analysis. There are a few notable exceptions, of course, but in general I try to find interesting/thought provoking books rather than books about business. I’m working on a pretty scary book right now – it’s called “Global Catastrophes and Trends.” It is a comprehensive look at the risks we face in the next 50 years by a university professor named Vaclav Smil. Smil has written a lot about energy and the environment, and has a very data driven perspective on projecting the future of the world. Before that, I read “The Black Swan: The impact of the Highly Improbable,” which was a really inspiring book that basically reinforced my belief that it is more important to be open to new things than it is to be expert at pattern recognition.
In terms of blogs, I read Mark Cuban’s blogmaverick.com a lot because he is such a firebrand, and has the ability to separate the hype from reality in new media. For social media stuff I read Logic+Emotion. He has a nice theory-based approach to explaining social structures online. I am also a bit of an economic news junky, and my jumping off point there is a blog called “calculated risk” which has some interesting articles, and a wealth of links to top econ authors.
3. Give me an example of marketing you think is brilliant and why.
Michael Jackson. Look at how popular he is all of a sudden. Tough way to do it, but you have to give the guy credit for his commitment to the brand.
Seriously, this is a really difficult question to answer because some of the most examples that people use as great “marketing companies” aren’t marketing companies at all – they just make great products that people love. I would say that I have been pretty impressed with Fed Ex and how they have incorporated golf in to their brand. They created a great event with the PGA (The Fed Ex Cup), and they have succeeded in making the connection between golf and fed ex very natural through their advertising.
4. We’ve all read that the pitch / RFP process is broken. Many agencies aren’t even interested in competing in pitches. Do you see an alternative to this process?
I think it is convenient to complain about the RFP process. Is it fun to put a bunch of resources in to a high risk endeavor, with disappointment the most statistically likely outcome? Of course not, but I don’t see how the industry could come together and invent a method for pitching could be set up that would solve all the problems. Competitive bidding is a part of almost every industry’s procurement process, so agencies aren’t alone in being disappointed because they didn’t get a piece of business. Watch “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Life isn’t fair.
The thing agencies need to decide is how much they are willing to give in this process. This is an individual and situational decision. For example, at one extreme, some clients are demanding ownership of all ideas created for the pitch, and agencies just need to decide if they are willing to go that far. In some cases, the answer will be yes, in some cases it will be no.
There have been some crazy pitches the last few months (the famous “twitterfp” and Zappos are on people’s minds) that have people buzzing, and I would say that if they agencies don’t like the process, they should sit out. Or better yet, if agencies don’t like the process they should work with the client to shape the right process.
5. What does the agency of the future look like?
It is interesting to try to predict what the agency of the future looks like, because we are likely to be mostly wrong no matter what we predict. I think it is safe to say that it is likely we will be more similar to strategy consultants like Bain or McKinsey than we will be to old-line Madison Avenue agencies. I also think it is safe to say that we are going to need to be “cross trained” at every level, because the world isn’t going to be neatly organized by media like it has been in the past.
I do think that a lot of the speculation around ownership of ideas that has gone on is a little misleading. Big brands don’t need to share risk with agencies, so the expectation that they share rewards in a significant way is probably unfounded. Pay-for-performance is coming in some way, but I think it is going to end up being more of a cost cutting measure by corporations than it will be a chance for agencies to grow their piece of the pie.
6. What do marketers need that agencies are not giving them?
Marketers need agencies to solve problems – not just make ads. Too often agencies decide to make ads, even when they know that won’t solve the underlying problem. Our clients need us to be ready and willing to look at each engagement as a chance to solve an important problem – sometimes that will be through ads, sometimes it will be through something entirely unexpected.
7. Who do you admire and why?
I would say that I admire my business partners, Matt and Jim. They have had a lot of fortitude and foresight as entrepreneurs, and I am fortunate to get to work with them on a day-to-day basis.
In the agency business, I admire the guys at Goodby Silverstien. They have managed to reinvent themselves over and over, and that is no small feat in any industry.
I look at Tiger Woods as a role model from a competitive perspective. He has such great focus, and usually finds a way to be win even when he isn’t at his best.