Navigating the new creative world

In-house leaders and marketers face a bewildering choice of potential creative and production partners: Dave West has some advice on making the right choices


While there has been much discussion (and hand wringing) within the advertising industry about the seismic changes happening around us all and how this affects agencies, there is less consideration of how it affects those who have to navigate this new reality in order to make work for their brands: marketers and in-house agency heads.

It really wasn’t that long ago that we had a neatly defined group of media channels providing opportunities to communicate with customers: TV, Press, Radio, Cinema, and then of course Direct Mail, and retail, POS and so on. Brands used agencies to make content that appeared in those channels. It was usually quite expensive and time-consuming to produce, but you didn’t have to do it that often and campaigns could run for a while. You might well elect to have more than one agency, throw a couple of specialist ones in there, perhaps for the DM? These agencies would handle all the production and liaise with whatever specialist companies were required in order to bring to life the creative end-product.

You might also choose to de-couple some of the bulk production, what would be considered the ‘commoditised’ stuff – the adaptation, print management, ‘transcreation’ even, and use some asset management to do your best to re-purpose some assets.

Fairly simple: Not so simple anymore!

The landscape now is profoundly different. The digital revolution and its effect on customers, and the way they consume marketing messages, has unleashed a world of complexity.

Brands have thousands of routes available to them to get the work they need, and the wider business and C-suite are demanding they make the right and most cost-effective choices.

How do brands navigate through this new world?
Gone are the days when the content-creating advertising agency was the exclusive provider of such services.

Today, media agencies will almost certainly have creatives, planners and content creation teams able to get you and your work on the telly or whatever channel you – or, they! – desire. Production and Post-Production companies likewise will have creatives. As they cannot rely on agencies for their work as they once could, they are going direct to clients.

And what about those production and implementation companies?  While once they were content to adapt and globally manage work with only the lightest touch of creative, they too have, out of necessity, moved up the food chain, and to some extent at least lay claim to being ‘creative agencies’.

Additionally, while other industry players are encroaching into the creative agency space, creatives themselves are offering new services. Think of The Liberty Guild or Neil A Dawson and Company. These platforms and collectives can offer strategic support, brief-writing support, and production support, should any client need more than purely creative. And, of course, they can equally dovetail into a client’s existing agency or production company relationship for execution and implementation.

So there is a much wider field of ‘creative agency’ than there ever has been. A host of viable options are available to brands which could deliver great work, great savings, and more agility.

For a CMO or IHA leader presented with piecing together an effective and coherent plan for delivering a brand’s marketing needs, it’s a bewildering array. Faced with such confusion, the safest bet may seem either to do everything in-house or engage an on-site provider to handle everything for you. But it doesn’t have to be either or. Every brand is different: if you can’t find the right fit off the shelf, a custom-build could be the way to go.

For those who are trying to piece together a jigsaw of different providers for their brand, here are some steps that may help you make the right choices and manage things going forward:

  • First, make sure you have strong creative services people in leadership roles. These are the people who can really make complexity work and ensure that the whole thing stays on track.
  • Be clear about your IHA’s remit – what does it NOT want to do, what should be outsourced and why? Communicate that effectively, both to colleagues in the wider business and your own teams. For example, LEGO’s agency decided to outsource much of its commodified work in order to concentrate on strategic, conceptual projects, whereas, Lloyd’s Banking Group’s Beehive, as its head Tim Male told us in June, has a clear and limited remit. It is responsible for creating and producing three parts of the LBG communications mix – mandatory and regulatory comms, retail comms and conversion or performance marketing. It sits alongside and complements LBG’s existing roster of strategic agencies rather than competing with them.
  • If you are going to build functions in-house, be careful not to build functions you cant sustain. Better to build a relationship with a partner and purchase some things as and when you need them. This way, you can collaborate with specialist producers who are experts in their field without the need to invest in expensive technology and people.
    Embrace the diversity of potential partners – as we have pointed out, they have made their peace with going direct to brands, they are getting better at working directly with brands and clients. They can support you and don’t need the multiple layers an agency might have, so you get direct contact with the talent you need.
  • Specialist providers are also used to project work, so they can react accordingly without the expectation of retainers etc. They are happy in their space and proud of their expertise. They can happily collaborate with others and concentrate on what they do best with no need to cross-sell, up-sell and so on.
  • Consider your marketing and production tech. Production partners will be keen for you to utilise their technology, be it DAM, workflow etc. (and ideally charge you for it). This makes you ‘sticky’ as a client. But if you manage your own system, you can open it to other people and providers (with controlled access), have it sit within your workflow, and share and re-purpose assets. There are excellent providers out there who are working more and more directly with brands.

Keep these things in mind, and you can make the chaos of creative disruption work to your advantage.

After a career leading creative operations and production at major brands and agencies, Dave West is now a Senior Associate at WDC, the consultancy which co-founded IHALC and helps marketers, in-house agencies and their external agency partners work better together

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