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November 13, 2013
Is 'Great Creativity' Your Agency Position?
It better not be. Because it’s a failed position and it won’t win new business.
Great “creativity” and great “creative” have become confused, cultish advertising descriptors that were only meant to suggest a means to an end, a step on the way to a conclusion. Instead, the words have become over-hyped signifiers and poor identifiers in a world impatient for punch lines. And results.
The thing is, clients don’t buy “creativity” or “creative process” and they never did. They don’t care how agencies “do what they do.” Clients buy results. They buy expertise and they buy sound arguments to achieve those results.
As a result, today more than ever, achieving upticks in brand sales and outcomes requires more agency professionals who can connect, first and foremost, to clients, and to client customers. But also who can connect dots to reach conclusive and specific ends.
Advertising is, always has been, and always will be 15% idea and 85% execution.
Of course, you can’t execute without process. The trouble in most large and medium-sized agencies, though, is that process has taken over as people struggle to make the machine work. The many disparate (and often competing) silos of SEO, broadcast, analytics, research, media, technology strategy, art, and production quickly become deep tunnels of myopia, each fighting for their seat at the table of influence. It’s time for more people to focus on the point.
What’s the point? You and your agency have one priority: to help your clients grow their business. Period. To do that, you have to first clarify and agree with said client on what the commercial (and communications) objectives are. And second, determine how those objectives might best be accomplished applying the expertise of the agency. Is it conventional advertising and sales promotion? Online branded video content that supplements a new in-store experience? Gamification? PR-supported sampling in new markets? Grassroots music events in multiple cities? All the above or other combinations? Clients don’t need “creativity,” they need results that please customers and shareholders alike.
Keeping client objectives in focus requires understanding, knowing, describing, and measuring what success looks like to the client. Such a dashboard can include an uptick in “brand awareness,” more web hits every month, a higher price paid or supported, or improved sales in six of the top ten markets. But the needle always and regularly has to move to the “more” side. Generic talk about “creativity” is cheap, no matter what they pay your Executive CD.
I’ve always loved the quote, “We’re all creative.” Because it’s untrue. Just because everybody can do something isn’t to say they should or that they do it well. Everyone can speak, dance, sing, play tennis, and kick a football. Are they experts, can they get consistently great results? Only dedicated professionals can.
As technology has democratized resourcefulness, successful advertising professionals are those who understand the critical link between ideas and execution, and make technology conform to those ideas. Ironically, the people who make the biggest leaps forward are those who at first minimize the technology. They approach client problems by first saying: “I don’t care yet about the technology; I want our client’s customers to be able to feel, think, know, and do this...”
If you really want to create a revolution, evolutionize the thinking at your agency. Challenge and discard dead-weight traditions, and create a freer, more fluid environment, one that embraces expertise and understanding, and focuses on what can be more than what was.
If advertising is to advance brand goals in a challenging business environment, its professionals must ask better questions and continually think about client outcomes. Therefore better business questions and more integrated systems thinking are desperately needed.
Big “creative” ideas and small results don’t get it. If you want to win more business, focus on effects. Measurably prove that you can lead clients to better results. Demand that your group wins by better thinking, better expertise, better communications, better integration, and better execution.
That’s what winning agencies do. The ability to effectively do and communicate that, consistently, as culture and technology and audience needs change, is what’s actually “creative” about advertising.

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Paul van Winkle is an Atlanta-based strategic consultant with expertise developing new business and producing multi-platform communications for integrated agency groups. He helps organizations frame new strategies and language with new media and technologies to connect with new customers. His group FUNCTION also delivers media, entertainment, clean-tech, eco-tech, and wellness/healthcare sector expertise.   
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