May 20, 2019

Creativity is Not Dead, But It Is Changing

Written By: Angie Pascale

As technology becomes more and more ingrained in our industry and society, some fear that the role creativity in advertising is fading. Our independent agencies around the world know, however, that creativity and storytelling is not dead. In fact, it’s more important than ever in our global culture of ubiquitous distractions and shorter attention spans.

Last month, our agency partners gathered for a Global Summit in Silicon Beach, Los Angeles, CA to discuss how creativity is evolving our world and creating a Currency of Ideas. Throughout the three day event, attendees and speakers touched on everything from new processes of ideation, how to draw out creative ideas and what’s at stake for brands and agencies if they’re unable to embrace this new culture. Several key themes arose during the conference. 

Embrace the Cult of Creativity

Today, brands are looking for “whole braining thinking with right brain activation” according to Worldwide Partners CEO John Harris. Yet, PJ Yesawich, VP of Creative and Strategy at Deloitte Digital shared a hard truth: “Clients want stuff faster and cheaper, and there’s no way around it.” 

To be able to provide all of these things--comprehensive ideas, creative messaging, efficiency and affordability--agencies can’t simply offer creativity as a service, it needs to be a culture. This advice came from Jess Clifton, Edelman’s US Head of Digital, during a panel of industry leaders discussing ways to empower creativity within the agency. 

Nancy Hill, Media Sherpas, leading a panel on how to empower creativity within an organization. Panelists include: Jean Batthany, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, Laura Correnti, Giant Spoon, Jean Freeman, Zambezi, and Ann-Louise Rosen, Advance.

To encourage this Cult of Creativity, Jean Freeman, Principal & CEO of Zambezi, looks for talent with diverse experiences outside of marketing. At Zambezi, she’s hired people that are also stand-up comedians, mechanics, and those with political experience to bring in fresh perspective and inspiration. 

Once you have this diverse talent, you must align their passions with their skillset as Laura Correnti does at indie agency Giant Spoon. And then train your eye on the long-term objective to avoid creative fatigue, sage advice from Kieran Hannon, Chief Marketing Officer with Belkin International.

Convention Crushes Creativity

We all know the (potentially erroneous but still powerful) quote by Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” 

We have loads of research and data to tell us what works and what doesn’t, but if we only rely on tradition to guide us, we’ll never come up with something new and better. Brian Solis, Principal Analyst with Altimeter Group urged attendees to challenge convention. “Why accept traditional constructs that aren’t efficient, useful or enjoyable?” he posited. 

Brian Solis, Altimeter Group, discussing disruptive technology and its impact on business and society.

Rick Robinson, Managing Partner and CSO of Billups, one of the sponsors for the event, shared how they’re bucking tradition with OOH. Often thought of as static billboards on dusty highways, Rick shared several examples of how OOH has actually become the voice of a city through interactive digital content, hyper-local targeting and mobile integration. Due to OOH’s unique ability to reach entire communities with localized messaging, it’s on track to double its share by 2025.

Rick Robinson, Billups, highlighting how OOH and DOOH are the new canvas for creativity.

Blair Enns of Win Without Pitching explained the importance of breaking tradition when it comes to pricing creativity. The customary way to price is either based on inputs (i.e., the time and material required for a project) or outputs (i.e., the creative being developed or executed). Blair recommends pricing creativity based on value or the results you expect to deliver instead. By pricing in this way, you “create an organization intently focused on the client and the creation of value for them.”  

Blair Enns, Win Without Pitching, sharing tips for how to price creativity in an ideas economy.

The Story Arc Has Changed

One custom that has changed, thanks to new devices and shortened attention spans, is the story arc. Traditionally the story starts slow, moving through increasingly intense crises that culminate in a climax, then wrapping clean with a denouement. The story arc of marketing is the exact opposite, according to Brian Solis, with all the time, energy and excitement starting at the beginning. 

Source: Brian Solis, Branding and Experience in an Era of Digital Distraction.

Meggie Coates, Head of Unskippable Labs at Google, provided the data to back up this changing arc theory. Through numerous examples of YouTube ad testing, Meggie showed how the arc now has more of a heart-beat shape--starting high, small growth to some brand cues, dropping to an unexpected shift, growing again with several peaks of interest, then dropping again with more information for those that want to see it. 

Meggie Coates discussing creativity at Google and the changing story arc.

Brands can leverage this new arc to create action-driven creative, which hits viewers with important messaging or offers at the beginning and then tells the rest of the story to those that haven’t skipped. Knowing this new arc has more than doubled average view through rate on YouTube since 2010. 

Attention is Currency for Consumers

Ideas may be the currency of brands and agencies, but consumers pay with their attention, according to Brian Solis. But with distraction at an all-time high, we can’t just put a marketing message out there and assume consumers will pay up. We have to earn their attention. And we earn it through designing for experiences, not designing for the brand. 

Source: Brian Solis, Branding and Experience in an Era of Digital Distraction

Another way to earn that attention is by providing a unified and uniform experience across channels. Liz Miller, Senior Vice President of Marketing with CMO Council shared a sneak-peek of findings from our forthcoming research study, “Reshaping Global Engagement Operations,” which showed that 45% of customers are demanding this homogenous experience. And it makes sense why when we heard from Jean Batthany, VP of Global Creative we Walt Disney Parks and Resorts: “The consumer doesn’t see Disney’s park, films or products as different entities.” It’s all Disney to the customer so they must approach it as such in marketing.

How else can you earn attention? By creating marketing ideas that the press will write about. Mark Taylor, Chief Creative Officer with WPI Partner Agency MeringCarson explained that if your marketing is compelling enough to get the media talking, coverage increases without increasing costs. 

Doug Baxter, The Prosper Group, leads a panel discussing what forces that are changing the nature, role and leaders of creativity. Panelists include Jess Clifton, Edelman, PJ Yesawich, Deloitte Digital, Mark Taylor, MeringCarson and Jason Rapp, Whisper Advisors. 

Tech Is Replacing Tasks, Not Jobs

For those still not convinced that technology will take over all of our jobs, Google’s Head of Agencies Tim Reis offered some comfort. Citing hyperbolic headlines of job-stealing technology dating back to 1812, Tim explained the difference between tasks and jobs. A task is one single thing a person does that makes up their job, like the task of chopping vegetables as a chef. “If you gave Julia Child a Cuisinart it didn’t make her less of a chef, it made her a more efficient one.” Technology is making taskssimpler and more efficient, but it is not eliminating jobs. In the face of efficiency building technology, Tim urged us to accept and adapt. 

Tim Reis, Google, discusses the future of Search and what role the Internet of Things will have on consumers, agencies, and advertisers.

Automation is one of today’s most efficient ways to adapt. Shawn Riegsecker, Founder and CEO of sponsor Centro, shared some disturbing realities. In the last 20 years, complexity and fragmentation within marketing and advertising have tripled. That means the amount of work and number of platforms being used by agencies has exploded in the last two decades, yet advertisers want to spend less and get it faster. Comprehensive enterprise level automation is the answer, and Shawn urged everyone to focus on solving the automation issue, not focusing on the new and shiny features. 

Source: Shawn Reigsecker, Centro, The Future of Programmatic Media

Creativity Demands Collaboration

A key sentiment throughout every presentation and workshop was the importance of togetherness and collaboration. Brent Hodgins, Managing Director with Mirren Business Development warned that to truly see growth, you need to take the onus off any one individual person. Brent went on to explain how we’ve seen more change client-side over the past 18-24 months than in the past decade. Being proactive and innovative in the face of the rapid change takes a village.

Brent Hodgins, Mirren Business Development, leading an interactive workshop for WPI attendees.

This is crucial within the agency or team, because there’s a great deal of “tribal knowledge” according to Kathleen Jean-Pierre Coleman at Google. “If you don’t leverage that [tribal knowledge], you will end up trying to recreate something that’s already been done or didn’t work.” 

Meggie Coates and Kathleen Jean-Pierre Coleman of Google discuss cross-functional collaboration within the company.

Collaboration with clients is also important. WPI Agency Partner Advance hosts interactive bootcamps with their clients to speed up the process and get clients more involved. “Collaboration is how you find speed and efficiency,” says Ann-Louise Rosen, Client Service Director & Partner with Advance. 

Ann-Louise Rosen, Advance and John Harris, Worldwide Partners with Advance’s Impact Award, an award given within the WPI network for creativity.

As a global network of independent agencies, we know that collaboration among partners is fundamental to driving global strategy with local activation. Several of our partners shared successful collaboration stories: 

R&R Partners in Las Vegas, USA worked with Ardmore in Northern Ireland for the launch of Blockchain, LLC, with Heart + Mind Strategies in Virginia, USA for LVCVA, and with Odysseus Arms in California, USA to pitch Toggle, beating more than a dozen agencies including multi-nationals.  

Godfrey in Pennsylvania, USA formed a global partnership with Moon in Germany for several clients, as well as a partnership with Activamente in Mexico. The Union in Scotland have also collaborated with Activamente.  

WE Marketing Group in China works with MeringCarson in California for marketing VisitCalifornia in China. 

Talent exchanges are also unique way that our partners collaborate, and provide an exclusive experience for staff. The Union recently participated in talent exchange with Butler Shine Stern & Partners in California, allowing one of their senior staff to work in BSSP’s office for a month. Godfrey and Moon have also done talent exchanges. “The younger people in the agency love the opportunity to go to a different agency, a different country, and see how things are working,” said Erin Michalak, SVP of Accounts and Strategy with Godfrey. 

The key to ensuring these global collaborations are truly coordinated and successful--trust. “Everybody trusted that everyone was doing what they said they would do,” says John Keane of Ardmore Advertising. Because we’re all a part of this curated network and want to be here, that trust is already there from day one. 

Indie Agencies are Better Suited for Changing Creativity

For all the ways that creativity has evolved, independent agencies are more capable of addressing and adapting to the changes. We’re not beholden to a publicly-traded holding company, so we can focus on the good of the brands and take risks. We’re smaller and more nimble, so we can act quickly and proactively. And we know our strengths, so we can hone in on these verticals and expertise. 

The health of our network proves this. WPI CEO John Harris shared key highlights of the Worldwide Partners network--this is our third consecutive year of positive growth; we’ve added 12 new agencies in the past 9 month and 22 in the past two years; and collaboration amongst partners is up 20% year over year. And the future is bright for WPI and our indie agencies. As the holding company model crumbles under the weight of their legacy responsibilities and traditions, we’re ready to provide brands with fresh and inventive ideas. “The only thing legacy about this organization is we’ve been around for 80 years. We’re innovating, we’re moving with agility and speed. There is tremendous opportunity for indie agencies that can move from reactive collaboration to proactive integration.” 

WPI CEO John Harris  discussing the state of our network and opportunities for continued growth.

Numerous proactive integrations occurred throughout the conference among the partners, speakers and guests. Brent Hodgins joined us again to lead an in-depth workshop among agency partners, this time focused on identifying new services and revenue streams. Brent helped attendees brainstorm ways to establish themselves as a long-term vendor, not a commodity or replaceable vendor, by positioning themselves as a source of business growth.  

And attendees came together during dinners, The Impact Awards and Perfect Partner Award ceremonies, and while exploring Google’s impressive new office space in the Spruce Goose Hangar

Attendees from numerous Worldwide Partners independent agencies at Google’s new Playa Vista office in the Spruce Goose Hangar.

While we aren’t immune to the changes and challenges impacting the advertising and marketing industry, we, as independent agencies, are able to handle these shifts with increased agility and alacrity. Some of our Partner Agencies chatted with Doug Zanger of Adweek about these challenges and opportunities facing us all, and why we’re better suited to handle the increased complexity and fragmentation that the next 20 years will bring. 

As we all navigate this rapidly changing world and seek to launch, grow and transform our clients’ and our own businesses, it’s essential that we embrace and leverage the power of creativity. Because, in our global economy, the currency of our ideas is stronger than ever. 

Worldwide Partners will be hosting their Fall Summit in Hong Kong, October 19-23, 2019. 

Written By: Angie Pascale