Managing with an Open Mind, Balance & Humility

If you work in advertising, you know the work can be stressful, filled with last minute changes, long hours and strong egos. There are risks in managing creative projects that are unique to this business. Having spent my formative years in production, the pressure always seemed amplified. If you throw in a hierarchy of creative approvals that extends up the chain at both the agency and the client, managing outside production and ever changing technology needs, you find yourself constantly facing and managing the unknown. 

I think keeping an open mind has helped me to not only to manage the unknown and become a better leader, but also aids tremendously when things go wrong...

Shape Organizational Change Through Cultural Development

Big changes in an organization start by identifying the core values that make up your company's culture and which new values you want to incorporate. This set of values acts as the foundation that your company will use to identify and map out the key beliefs that you want everyone in the organization to embody. These core values are the underpinnings of decision making, as a group they let people know the right and wrong ways to behave in the organization. They identify not only what it means to be successful as an individual in the company, but will guide the organization as it maps out a way in which the entire organization will run and face change...


Over the past year, I've worked and visited with some amazing agencies and individuals. While the conversations often lean towards discussions on storytelling, the importance of strategy, and creating content that sticks, one of the more important threads throughout the dialogues have been the urge for craft.

As someone who has always been an advocate of the creative process, this underlying need resonates. Within the chaos in which ideas are born, is the acknowledgement that as much as we are original creative thinkers, we are the craftsmen of ideas. As makers for hire, we take on the responsibility of building something that is worthy of being talking about and shared.

While craftsmanship doesn't replace authenticity, it certainly support it. When we put our all into a project, we put our heart into making something, the originality and emotion shows. Our goal in today's world is to make stuff that our audience wants, wants to share and will find interesting months from now.

We are past the days where awareness is the single end goal. We want our work (and our client's products and services) to be the favored choice. Consumers are pretty savvy. With every dollar hard earned, they analyze every purchase and truly take into account how passionate they are about a specific item before they make a purchase.

As consumers ourselves, we are equally as passionate about our choices. Look at the environments we choose to work in and how as creatives we work. It comes as no surprise that the places I visited had elements that showed craftsmanship in the work and the workplace. Be it the design of the office, a physical workshop, handmade furniture, a painted mural, or hung and worn hand-silkscreened t-shirts and accoutrements – all of these agencies had an affinity for crafting that bled from ideation into something physical as well.

In a creative shop, crafting is part of who we are and is one way of refining our chaos. Crafting shows in both small and large ways. So remember, it's important to allow crafting a chance to happen for it evolves the work, refines our targeting, and will tell a better story that people will want to share.

Project Managers and Producers in today's Ad Agency

Project Managers and Producers in today's Ad Agency

On this site we try and identify the key steps in process and workflow in a typical agency. However, agencies are anything but typical. Part of what makes an agency special (besides the characters that work there) is the agency's approach to how they create work.

We use to identify agencies by either being account or creative driven. Now we identify agencies in dozens of different ways including creative, account, digital, data-driven, interactive with varying 360° experience or general agencies with varying degrees of interactive experience, to name just a few. This fragmentation has lead to a greater variety in workflow paths among agencies.

As experienced managers we know the dangers and pitfalls of having a workflow process that leans toward one of these extremes. It's no wonder that many agencies are re-examining project management and redefining traditional roles within the agency. In the quest to better manage our agencies, we are tearing down traditional silos to create cross-functional teams, on the opposite end we are also creating new digital silos with technical teams that seem to have a narrower creative function.

Crafting a Creative Agency Environment

While advertising is a business, it is still in the business of creativity. 

Your account team, your creative department, producers and project managers all need to have a sense of what that statement means. A by the book, strictly business-oriented account or project management centric agency might very well be productive, but the end product may never win awards. Mediocrity doesn't get you to the next level, mediocrity doesn't attract creative talent -- great work created in a great environment does.

Great ideas are crafted. 
Building a flexible workflow system in your ad agency is key to building a framework where great ideas can grow and develop. The workflow in your agency shouldn't be overly complex, but it shouldn't be a free-for-all either. Great projects happen when you can build on the basics.

Don't Dread the Monday Status Meeting

I know what you're thinking.

Its Monday, 9 a.m. and the whole team is gathering in the conference room. People are talking about what they did that weekend, but the looks are restless. Trains are running late and everyone is waiting for the creative director or head of account services to arrive. Status reports are still printing and people are looking at their watches. The warning signs that this may be a long meeting are already there.

Do you start? Do you wait? Do you dread this is going to be another wasted morning?

Time is Essential in Fostering Creativity

If you want ideas to evolve, you can't rush creativity. As a project or creative manager we need to be creative in how we manage the creative portion of the process.

In this site, you will find many tools and articles on how an ad agency needs to and how it does track time. Time is such an important part of the business. We charge for our time, we have limited time and we track time. In the agency world it seems we are all a little too time obsessed. However, unlike our nice and neat SOWs and time estimates, the time it takes for a creative idea to happen doesn't work in neat 4 or 8 hour blocks of time. 

Managing the Drop Dead Date

The Drop Dead Date. 

In this day and age, the gravity of the phrase, "drop dead date," is lost in translation. Just what does this phrase mean? As any salt-worthy project manager and producer knows, it can mean just about anything. 

However be savvy when examining deadlines. Just because someone give you a rush date, you need to do a background check to ensure this is the real due date. Its up to you as a project manager to find out if the date is fixed, flexible, past-due or just plain made up. In some cases, there may be other due dates prior to the final deadline that are even more important. For example, quick deadlines can mean very short client approval times. Your client may have very restrictive approval dates and times. It's essential for you to find out up front.

What's in your Creative Brief?

One of the most neglected steps in agency process is the creation of a solid starting brief. The brief should be more than just the basics of a general background document. A well-prepared brief is one that not only has input from the client, but includes a well rounded set of input from many internal partners, including account management, strategic planning, media planning and your creative department.

(Stop, hold on a sec. before we go any further, I need to interject - there is no one size fits all brief. It should be smartly written and cover the basics. It doesn't need months of development or thirty re-writes. Want the short cut? Cool, here are the basics... answer these questions; What's the goal? What's preventing you from getting there? Who do you need to talk to, to change the conversation? Why would they care? How are we going to get there? And what's our point of view? Ok, there's the short version, you now have the option to stop reading.)

Your strategic department plays a huge role in how this document is put together. Effective advertising and successful projects can trace a lot of their success from a great starting point. That starting point is a creative brief with sound strategies, presented during a productive kick-off meeting.

The brief is the document that outlines the projects framework, which includes the projects background, its objectives and strategic goals, relevant research and competitive environment information and current consumer information to the old fashion proposition and positioning statement, budget overviews, mandatories and basic timeline.

That sounds like a lot of information to cover, but in the end the document should be relevant, timely and fully cover the basics. It should also inspire the entire team so that they have the information they need to channel their creative efforts to produce solutions that not only serve the best interests of the client, but produces great work.

Most importantly, the creative brief should be a balanced document that is going to be helpful to the overall creative process. If there is too little information on the brief, stop the kick-off meeting. The same should go for having too much information on the document. The brief is not meant to be a doctoral thesis, if your agency is spending too much time creating the document, while it whittles away precious project time, you may need to take a step back and make adjustments.

Questions to answer on the brief may include;

Project Background
What's the background to this job? 
What's the client asking the agency to do?
What's the competitive environment? 
Who are the consumers?

Strategic Viewpoints
What's this specific project’s strategy?
How does this fit in to the overall strategy (for the client or brand)?
What's the relevant research?
How does the agency perceive the product/brand? 

Positioning / Position Statement
What's the agency being tasked to do on this job?
What's this brand’s positioning? 
How does this fit in with the overall corporate positioning?

The Task
What are the client’s objectives for this project?
What are they expecting to accomplish?
What are the basics we need to communicate? What are the mandatories? 

The Audience
Who are we talking to?
What do the consumers feel about the category, the brand, the product, the company and the competition?
What do we want the consumers to feel or perceive at the end of the project?
What do we want the consumers to do?
Where are we driving the consumers?
Why should the audience care about the positioning?
How should we communicate with the consumer? Tone, voice.

The Basics
What's the scope of the media?
What's the budget?
What's the timing?
Who's on the team?

And lastly, we should ask ourselves, does this brief make sense? Is this the right project we should be doing for this client at this time?

Alternate Agency Examples
(Condensing to get to the core)

BBH's foundation questions:

WHAT key business challenge does the brand face?

WHO are we trying to engage and what competes for their attention? 

WHERE and WHEN will communication have most power? 

HOW does the category engage creatively and how could we challenge this?

Practical considerations. 


Crispin's foundation questions:

At a Glance
What is the most relevant and differentiating idea that will surprise consumers or challenge their current thinking of the brand?

What is the psychological, social or cultural tension associated with this idea? What makes our target tense about the idea?

What is the question we need to answer to complete this assignment?

Talk Value
What about the brand could help us start a dialogue between the consumers, around our target and/or within pop culture?


The Interactive Brief 

How are consumers currently interacting with your brand?  

What social objects will meet our interactive goal? 

What impact or role do we want consumers to have in messaging, or content? 

What kind of social currency does our target have? (To what extent do the target consumers share a brand experience as part of their everyday lives? )

Any recent metrics that could guide us, or that we should ignore? 

What are the technology challenges we need to meet, challenge or innovate?

What role does content and storytelling play in this experience?