Blood was boiling at BWM Dentsu’s offices on Wednesday after MediaCom’s new CEO had some choice words for those working on creative industries. Seamer remarked creative agencies don’t have scale, a strategy or any discernible data. Breaking his usual stance of keeping quiet, BWM Dentsu CEO Paul Williams calls out Seamer and says this is THE time to be in a creative agency.
It’s often said it’s smarter to listen and observe, rather than speak.
But reading Sean Seamer’s empathetic concerns for the plight of the creative agency, led me to break this quiet rule for once.
Yeah yeah, I know it’s the new guy saying something provocative to get the headline, but it’s important that those building a career in our industry actually know their value and purpose in today’s commercial landscape. There are too many trying to demean it for personal interest.
And as the CEO of a creative business invested in by Dentsu Aegis, one of the world’s largest media led networks, I have insight into the more holistic or global views of the comms industry.
Quite simply, I believe it is the most exciting period in the history of the industry for creativity.
More than in any period in our evolution we live in an age of creativity; a period characterised by constant innovation.
It’s a hugely exhilarating time, and surely one that carries added pressure for agencies, who are challenged by the speed of technical innovation to generate effective new ideas again and again.
However despite these rapid changes some things remain fundamentally and consistently true.
Firstly, Brands transform businesses.
I heard a marketing manager speaking at Cannes last year saying, “I don’t want the big idea…I want lots of little ideas”.
It’s something you hear every now and again. In the contemporary digital smorgasbord, mid-level management often feel obliged to gorge themselves on micro channel experimentation, and then call this marketing.
But any CEO knows that what drives a business, what galvanises a team, is a simple, sharply focussed, motivating purpose. An organising brand idea centralises this leadership purpose, and provides meaning for all facets of the organisation, be it product, HR, change management, service, or marketing.
As such it’s a commercial life force and it forges order from chaos. Of course it needs to be agile within all digital moving parts…but the brand idea is long-term, a relationship between consumer, brands, and the people that work in the company, and that propelling force remains consistent over time.
This purpose-driven ‘Organising Idea’ remains as critical now as it was decades ago…from Avis’s ‘We try Harder’ in the 60’s, to Dove’s ‘natural beauty for women’ today.
Brand purpose unites all. Creativity breathes life into a brand’s purpose.
In that context, a client and agency worth its salt knows that this is the really hard work that needs to be done, before the luxury of micro experimentation begins. And leaders should be focussing more on the few high order things that should be done, rather than the plethora of those that could be done.
Secondly, creativity is the modern form of patent.
Business systems come and go.
Technical competitive edge holds short term advantage…until it is ever more quickly matched by the market.
But creativity is today’s form of commercial patent. Inspiration and originality are both truly hard to copy.
Sean’s premise is clearly that in an emerging age of data-driven programmatic that the role of brand and creativity is suppressed by the god of ROI-driven distribution.
Being at the table at Dentsu Aegis’s strategic management discussions reveals to me the (understandable) obsession with developing programmatic automation, and data driven placement. And yes, it will play a fast increasing role in marketing.
But it’s only a part. It is a means to a bigger end.
People do not consume TARPs (target audience rating points). They do not relate to optimised frequency curves. They sure as hell don’t like their life being invaded in as many ways that the ROI planners can force. In fact it’s often offensive!
The data driven programmatic solution to ROI is to constantly think how we can interrupt consumers more, how we can ram a message in their face that they don’t want to see. The conversation is what can we do with “this data” on “that platform”.
But the truth is, consumers want inspiration. They want entrancement. They desire understanding. They need information. They want to be entertained.
As [adman John] Hegarty once said “give them something they want to watch and respond to…the only space I want to occupy, the only space that’s interesting to me, is the one between people’s ears.”
All of this requires a skill set that few media agencies have understood. They espouse knowledge and data drives everything.
But creative business thrives on the unknown or the undiscovered. It has always been driven by intuition.
And that’s what make our business special, and in demand. Contrary to the concept of automation, the brilliance of creativity is the opposite of known – it is unpredictability. And it is that unpredictability that enables it to move people, to wow them, to emote with them.
And never more in this “attention economy” has creative skill been more important.
As DIY creators access new technology to deliver creative output, creative mediocrity abounds. Distinctiveness, originality, innovation become ever more critical and ever more scarce.
Thirdly, creative agencies will inject their creativity into emerging tools of the trade.
Most agency groups don’t actually believe that creative engines are dead. Why would they still be buying creative shops all over the world?
Sure like all businesses, these businesses have to evolve to find new ways to build revenue streams and adding value to clients. But who doesn’t?
Dentsu Aegis Network believes the future lies at the point where creativity, technology, and data intersect. While Dentsu Aegis Network owns massive global media assets, creativity comes first.
Of course, technology and creativity must be fused in new ways.
The old-world skill combinations need re-shaping. And creativity must be applied to many new facets of consumer experience.
But in a world transformed by digital, today’s marketing needs a cohesive partnership between creatively brilliant people and contemporary media platforms. One pilots the business engine, the other enables a brand to thrive, and extend its purpose in the full range of online/3D experience.
Now there are always plenty of nay sayers in the industry looking for angles to drive their own agenda.
But as someone who has seen the power of brands driven by creativity, I think our industry leaders should celebrate and be proud of the influence, importance, and crucial commercial value of creative thinking today.