It’s been at least nine months since we announced we would live without the storied Big Reveal (BR)—the final, much anticipated unveiling of a creative solution after weeks of frenzied (and secret) hibernation. A presentation that is supposed to leave clients in awe and the agency bursting with pride.
The Big Reveal is the essential Mad Man moment. And it has been a staple of agency presentations for as long as there have been agencies. And, I suspect (well, actually, I know from experience) it is no more effective now than it was then.
So yes, that’s the process we stood up last summer—choosing instead to forgo a little magic for some back-to-basics communication and partnering. So what happened? Without further ado, here’s what you need to know about life after the Big Reveal:
- You can significantly accelerate creative development, but it hurts. Greater velocity can be achieved if you have the right team, are willing to say yes at the worst possible times, and are comfortable being the agency clients turn to when no one else will touch the job because they’re not ready, willing or able to move at that kind of speed. Mind you these types of jobs have a lot of attractive qualities: they are almost always high priority, interesting and can be wonderfully challenging.
- You need willing clients if you intend to scale at speed: no surprise there. Service businesses like ours rely on vague notions of process and the ability to provide concrete assurances that the solution will be in your inbox tomorrow—even though we know full well that the idea might be hard to come by and we could still be playing peek-a-boo well beyond the delivery deadline. Still, scaling the process so it works across multiple jobs and teams at the same time is undeniably tough. At speed,uncertainty multiplies, pressure builds much more quickly, and the danger of a miss pops-up overnight. On the brighter side, failure after a few days of work is rarely fatal. And clients are much more open to rolling up their sleeves and mucking-in when they feel the agency is as committed as they are to finding a solution quickly.
- It’s a rare client who does not like to look at ideas early and often. But they do exist. And those who prefer the Big Reveal won’t give you their business because life without the Big Reveal is scary. Unpredictable. And unproven. Plus considering ideas “early and often” can sound like hard work. Not every marketing leader is comfortable judging creative or throwing their own ideas into the mix. Seriously, a big prospect recently told me that he didn’t “care for the Mortar process” because it did not resemble the way he had learned to develop and judge marketing. But that’s his prerogative. Mortar-ready clients leap at the chance to review ideas in a rough form, to dig into it with us, put on their creative hats and embrace the chance to fully participate in the riffing of new possibiltles.
- If creative development speeds up, everything else has to too. I never quite appreciated the breather that the Big Reveal gives the entire agency value chain: account, strategy, media, partner and client are much more comfortable delivering quality work over time. BR work can be resourced and scheduled. Changes are easy to accommodate. Projects can move forward in sequence. Life is more predictable. Kick the legs out from under the Big Reveal and everyone has to pick up the pace. Early ideas flare and die quickly. And a positive response is followed by a demand for more details: how will this work? What is your POV on media? How about activation ideas? What are the implications for brand and measurement and the longer term? Just because you have trashed the Big Reveal doesn’t mean you can get away with not knowing. And let’s not forget that saying “yes, we’ll have that for you tomorrow” will often be followed by another, similar fresh request that very same day. Speed can be very addictive, especially when combined with quality. But it can contribute to burn-out.
- Meeting clients’ need for speedy solutions builds confidence quickly and leads to a lot more work. Our clients are at war with one another. A few days saved here quickly translates into competitive advantage there. Good solutions delivered fast are often executed just as promptly. Many of us wish it was otherwise—but it isn’t. The future belongs to the swift. And the swift are onto the next thing by the time the Big Reveal rolls around.
- Expect to change everything else too. Nine months in and we whiteboard more than we ever have. We have developed so many different flavors of brainstorm that we now non-ironically regularly refer to “MortarStorming.” We have ditched the pursuit of a single Big Idea in favor of a combination of identifying a “Strategic Decision” and one, compelling, “A-Ha Moment” (more on those two soon I promise). Oh and we have built a team of fierce collaborators with thick skins and a growing disdain for big agency thinking and process.
So, after all this time, would we go back and snuggle up with the Big Reveal? Not a chance. Won’t you join us?