Watching Madmen’s Don Draper pitch his slide projector idea to Kodak: the way he tells his story, articulates his insight into the audience, understands the emotions involved and takes the client into an entirely new space got me thinking about the style and way of client engagement most agencies have adopted today. And I think it leaves a lot to wish for.
The key to effective commercial creativity – original ideas that drive business growth – is to understand people in a profound way. Not just what people do, but why they do it. Trend reports, for example, are basically pointless if they only explain what’s happening with a gimmicky catchphrase (an observation) without giving you an idea of the underlying human motivation.
While there are some agencies that truly understand what their role is…motivating human behaviour through perception, many are drifting dangerously close to the land of management consultants. This is a world in which you can put a number on everything, a world in which everything is linear and sequential and a world in which everything is scientifically predictable.
Not only is this making agencies lose sight of human emotions, which is affecting their ability to connect with people through their work, it’s also influencing the way the entire industry is pitching its services to brands. And for the most part, this is process-centered and not particularly creative, human or interesting.
Agencies are also becoming too similar to the clients they serve. They’re emulating them rather than maintaining their point of difference (if there was one to begin with). By doing so, they’re effectively sending the signal: “We’re not really that different from you”, which means that clients don’t perceive the value of the agency and start wondering why they’re paying them.
Of course we need structure, process, methodologies and ability to demonstrate that we understand our clients’ businesses. I’m not suggesting otherwise, as long as it doesn’t happen at the expense of our ability to emotionally connect both with our clients and their audiences. I think Draper manages both.