What Speed Does to Creatives: A Play-by-Play Commentary of this Tortoise vs. Hare Race


So, last month we took a look at gleaning inspiration from the offline world (“A Little Less Oedipus And A Little More Caligula — a.k.a. let’s stop being incestuous, let’s pillage offline for some inspiration”). In a somewhat similar vein, this month’s article from yours truly asks the question: Is creativity suffering for the benefit of speed?

As you might be able to tell, despite working with some of the most forward-thinking companies in the world when it comes to online marketing and advertising, I have a bit of old-soul in me. I don’t own a Blackberry. Had a Treo when they first came out, but gave it up. Fight like the devil to resist learning the Internet-functionality of my Motorola Razr. Granted, I’m worlds away from most of my relatives at the Thanksgiving dinner table, but to some of my colleagues I seem downright fossil in my thinking.

This leads to many interesting conversations with these colleagues. Particularly lately, spurred by the ongoing back-and-forth of whether or not the Blackberry service will face a court-ordered shut down due to patent violations. Usually, the conversations starts with a gasp. Some are gasps of joy (“I might get my life back!”) while others are gasps of horror (“My fingers are now permanently locked in that position, what will I do without it?”).

I kept asking one question to different colleagues in different parts of the country: If the Blackberry service is shut down, could that actually be a good thing for the agency community by giving clients a rationale for why timelines must be extended?

After all, agencies always complain they don’t have enough time to complete projects to the level expected of themselves. The prevalence of Blackberry, Treo and other constant-connectivity devices has only sped up the already speedy trend of putting more emphasis on short timelines and less emphasis on A-level creative. But, a question always jump to the forefront: What are Agencies doing to stop it if it is such a problem?

Martin Lauber, CEO and Creative Director of San Francisco agency Swirl, believes many of the answers come down to how you define “creative.” In his mind, much of the problem comes from agencies defining creativity as purely the end product: ad units, copy, television spots, etc. When, in fact, we should be placing more emphasis on the creativity that happens at the beginning of a project — also known as “strategy.”

“What’s interesting now is that clever passes for creative,” Lauber said to me recently over coffee. “What I tell clients all the time is: ‘Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.'”

He believes this is especially important when you consider how easy it is to outsource production work. When an agency stops showing its worth from a creative strategy and direction standpoint, then the only real differentiator quickly becomes speed and price. After all, he believes, if you’ve spent the proper time on strategy, then it really should not take all that long to put together comps and mock-ups.

To that end, you can’t blame constant connectivity, Lauber said, because clients should expect quick turn-arounds on visual creative. If the proper timeline expectations have been put on the beginning part of the process, then the actual production time should be quite quick, he said.

This makes a lot of sense to me. In fact, I have worked with some agencies that had a policy of delivering only one comp. The thinking being, you only need to deliver more than one comp when you don’t have a good idea up front on the client’s needs. Multiple comps only allow you more opportunity to “hit” the client’s expectations through different approaches.

When it comes down to it then, maybe as agencies we aren’t suffering due to constant connectivity. Instead, it all comes down to setting expectations. I take my cell phone and computer with me almost everywhere. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t get to take time off ever. It simply means my clients and colleagues know I am accessible when needed in an emergency over the weekend and during dinner with my wife.

We don’t need to be anarchists here. It doesn’t take destroying certain technologies to bring them under control. Blackberries aren’t the real evil. Often it is our own fault for being too scared to lose a client by pushing back on getting our up-front time for strategy.

To that end, I reached out to Bo Burlingham, author of one of the hottest business books on the market right now: Small Giants, Companies That Choose To Be Great Instead Of Big. To Burlingham I posed the question: Why do you believe so many companies are afraid to break from the status quo when striving to achieve greatness when it is shown again and again that to achieve true success really takes anything BUT the status quo?

“It’s hard work to build a company, and it can also be scary,” Burlingham began. “There are constant demands on your time and attention, and constant threats to your survival.

“It’s easy to get sucked into the day-to-day routine and lose sight of — or never think about — where you really want to go. If you’ don’t know where you’re going, that’s where you’ll wind up,” he continued. “You’ll do what everyone else has done because you haven’t thought about the alternatives, and maybe because you don’t realize you have a choice.”


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