Look, most agencies aren’t slow by choice.
In fact, internal politics or scheduling challenges on the client side are often the greatest hindrance to a speedy process.
But the creative development phase can slow to a crawl for many other reasons. If you are facing agency speed issues, here are five things you can do to put more oomph back into your creative relationship.
- Streamline the briefing process. You can spend months gathering the right data, researching the issue with customers and prospects, discussing possibilities with team members and influencers, and running briefing documents up and down the chain. Or you can accelerate the process by getting the key players, which includes the agency’s creative team, into a room and white boarding the problem, as well as potential solutions, on day one. Brainstorming on opening day will focus the team on solving the problem—and can turbo charge creative development as long as the principals are open to entertaining new ideas early in the process (fair warning, not every agency or client team can handle sudden changes in creative velocity).
- Focus on what makes you different. The most important part of any marketing success is deciding on how you will be different. Providing a litany of your products features and benefits is not being different. Adopting a tactic that a rival has used is a fail. Difference is born of study, discussion and an in-depth understanding of customer need. If it’s not different, don’t do it. If a rival zigs, you should zag (not zig harder). Difference is the force multiplier that will get you a meeting when others are frozen out. Difference sets proposals apart, gets Sales excited, fuels referral and drives premium prices. Difference is often hard to define, but difference can’t be skipped or faked. Agency briefings can be radically shortened by focusing everyone on this one, key area. Try it: ask your team to define how you are different—and see if the answer is crisp, actionable or a mumbled incoherency.
- Look at ideas early and often. Approval cycles eat up huge amounts of time, energy and, handled poorly, threaten to weaken strong ideas. A lengthy round of approvals inevitably leads to revisions, and successive rounds of revision can weaken concepts and undermine confidence in the process. Approvals are both a necessity and a road block. So short-circuit the process by asking to see ideas early and often. Most good ideas can be effectively assessed in a draft stage. And putting those new ideas in front of decision makers early-on can provide valuable clues about the shape of the final idea. Don’t wait for the idea to be perfect before seeking buy-in and approval.
- Keep the same team. Introduce new players to creative development mid-process at your own peril. New players often reset the clock. There is something about marketing that encourages individual interpretation and endless rounds of comment and change. Good ideas do not change well. The best way to avoid the pitfalls of endless approvals is to identify the core team and have them present from the first briefing. And then insist they stick with you through the process. And, if you can, insulate yourself against feedback at the beginning of the process by getting alignment on team members, your power to secure approval, and the importance of streamlining approvals.
- Avoid the Big Reveal (aka Think Small). Agencies love the Big Reveal: the moment when, after weeks of deliberation and frenzied activity, the agency makes its BIG PITCH. We call it the Big Reveal, and honest agency folk admit that it fails more than twice as often as it succeeds. Not landing a big idea presentation eats up time. And money. And worse, because expectations have run up in anticipation of the grand solution, a Big Reveal fail also saps confidence in the agency and the Marketing team. But thankfully, the digital age allows us to think differently. We’ve always been able to generate multiple ideas from the same creative brief. And now those same “small ideas” can be quickly executed and tested online. Which means decisions can be based on immediate feedback from our target audience. Smaller ideas are easier to conceive, easier to sell, easier to execute and test, and yes, much much easier to flight. Approving a series of small ideas is a quick way to identify the right idea, and a wonderfully streamlined way to get to market.
Of course your problem may be you are working with the wrong type of agency. In which case might we whole-heartedly recommend these guys?