26th October 10
Author: Erin Riley, Brand and Communications Director, ZAG NY
BBH Labs has become a watering hole for inquisitive, enterprising, and forward thinking minds. Thus, it is a fitting place for ZAG NY to make its first open call for ideas.
ZAG, a wholly owned subsidiary of BBH, is focused on brand invention. We invent brands by exploiting brand lags – where consumer activity outpaces brand activity. The trick of course is not only scouring technology, media, breaking trends, and cultural & consumer insights for what consumers want and need, but then uniquely satisfying those needs in a delightful and profitable way.
ZAG is fortunate because via BBH we have a unique network of collaborators who provide expertise in areas fertile for brand invention. Now, ZAG NY is looking to extend that network beyond the BBH walls and tap an even larger bevy of creators, innovators, entrepreneurs, and anyone else with a brilliant idea.
This slideshare serves as an official call for ideas which will be formally evaluated this November to feed the 2011 pipeline. While we’ll entertain ideas throughout the year, this marks one of three annual formal reviews that will garner the most focused attention from the ZAG team. Pitches will be heard live or by phone/skype/virtual meeting starting week of November 8th.
To stay up to date on ZAG news and thought starters follow our Blog.
(Presentation is best viewed by clicking MENU and FULL SCREEN)
20th October 10
We’ve discussed “wind tunnel marketing” quite a bit recently. As a result, we’ve been thinking more and more about one particular facet of the issue: the misuse of metrics and data. Few industries more regularly confuse their objectives and metrics than marketing. I’m referring to when marketers take digital proxy indicators of progress, and make them the destination, even when they’re multiple degrees removed from the objective. This is distinct from our use of data to adapt our efforts. Maybe it’s karma for collectively turning to display advertising in the late 90’s to save our business, unknowingly opening the Pandora’s box of click-thru-rates that’s held us back for over a decade since.
We reject the notion that is due to some psychological need for validation. If it’s about validation, there can only be an empty feeling elicited from the knowledge that the metric isn’t the objective. Thus began our Inception-esque voyage into the psyche of marketers.
Operating under the assumption we’re rational at some level, it was easy to see the correlation between this seemingly irrational behavior and a code of conduct prevalent throughout our industry: self-preservation. Maybe most professions exhibit this behavior to some degree, but the level of self-preservation in marketing is extreme. Scientifically speaking, Cover Your Ass Syndrome is an epidemic amongst us. It couldn’t simply be that opportunistic, self-preservation obsessed humans just naturally tend to find their way to marketing, right? We couldn’t possibly be like baby geese following the first thing that moves, in our case another human that shows as much self-centered focus as ourselves— suddenly and inexplicably asking “what do you do for a living and how can I start?”
Perhaps we’re victims (wait, is that the self-preservation talking? We’re in too deep to tell). Maybe this misuse of metrics isn’t, in fact, innate survival behavior to ensure we’re not left holding the bag when things go wrong. Perhaps this is a learned behavior we’ve created as a result of our environment. Our environmental analysis turned up three factors that seem to be directly responsible for our rampant metrics abuse. The first is the obvious reality of impatience, prevalent throughout shareholder demands and modern human nature. Let’s put that one aside as it’s been discussed ad naseum via analysis of CMO tenures and the fault of modern capitalist markets. It’s the next two factors that are more interesting- and more productive- to analyze. At the surface, they don’t appear linked to our misuse of metrics, but in fact they are due to their impact on behavior and culture within marketing organizations, from clients to agencies. Both are addressable, but would require an organization’s senior leadership to operate in very non-standard ways.
1. Pre-defined Bonuses
When companies define bonuses of marketing executives based on specific metrics like site visits or total audience engagement or- gasp- product sales, it’s human nature to pursue that bonus at any cost. In fact, the existence of black and white bonuses regularly takes a metric for success and makes it someone’s personal objective. What’s best for the company, calculated risk taking and long-term innovation planning go out the window when considered against school tuitions or new drapes.
Although controversial in many business cultures, why not solve this environmental issue by creating subjective bonuses– ones where employees are judged on rational, subjective contribution to the company? Did the risks they take make sense? Did their approach add some broader value? If the objective is what’s best for your initiative, rather than a metric that is only one of many proxies for that success, shouldn’t a bonus be tied to that?
Compensation subjectivity makes people uncomfortable, but with good leadership in place at a company, it’s likely a more intelligent option. Those that truly want what’s best for the organization will trust their leaders.
2. Crediting Systems
In today’s marketing landscape, the way ideas manifest is complicated. All the various executions of an idea involve more moving pieces, multiple partners and blurrier lines between disciplines. Yet, somehow we employ the same crediting system- from awards to inter-company recognition- as we did 30 years ago.
Our credit list may be extensive, but it’s still partitioned by execution: creative, strategy, production, media (assuming media people even get credit). This is true external to the organization (award shows, press releases), but also true internally at most organizations (departments, recognition).
Why? If lines are blurry, why must we categorize contribution? If this sounds ridiculous, please interview young talent in our industry. They have a tough time defining their role by agency verticals and almost always pride themselves on their organic contributions to an agency output. We love that, and in fact look for T-shaped individuals when hiring.
It’s when marketers credit by specific discipline that metrics become disproportionately emphasized. We may call it a team effort, but we take a Hollywood approach to “team,” defining it as a collection of individuals. So, digital-era metrics like sharability, clicks and participation must be measured because they reflect individual contribution (“my part of the project”). As a result, we make decisions that emphasize metrics instead of simply contributing to the broader objective. Credit is needed for survival in this marketing habitat. As a result, metrics are exaggerated and the overall objective goes by the wayside, the remaining vestige of community achievement in a market that deals in only individual currency.
At the end of this pseudo-scientific examination, it’s clear the environment is polluted. The result is a cyclical reality that few companies and brands transcend; even fewer do so consistently. The environment impacts the inhabitants and the resulting means of survival requires substituting metrics for objectives. That said, we remain optimistic that in the near future, leadership of marketing organizations will nurture a culture that shifts our archaic approach to incentives and crediting. This will cleanse the environment itself, breaking the cycle of rational argument for or against the use and application of metrics. The work will no doubt benefit as a result. Ironically, the beneficial impact of the change toward correcting our use of metrics may at first go unnoticed.
Hey, maybe we should put a measurement in place for it….
15th October 10
Earlier this week @saneel and I were at Power to the Pixel’s Cross-Media Forum, contributing as part of a jury looking at 9 different projects competing for an ARTE Pixel Pitch Award (see who took part here). Whilst the talent and ideas were impressive, this post is to share something the founder of Arts Alliance, Thomas Hoegh, showed at the very start of the day. Thomas had just one slide, but it was killer. So simple and useful, we photographed it (badly) and then re-drew it for posterity:
We like the way it breaks down Jacob Nielsen’s 1:9:90 rule of participation inequality into something a little more chewy. The best bit about it? According to Thomas, this slide is 15 years old.
14th October 10
Author: Steven Peck, Creative, BBH New York (@stevenpeck)
When I began design school at the age of eighteen, it was the first time I was ever exposed to a large group of people whose individual skillsets, interests and backgrounds varied so differently from my own. I was thrust into a new intellectual and creative environment that was completely foreign. Little did I know then how much value that experience actually created. Over the course of five years, I built great friendships with people in a variety of creative disciplines – from automotive design to interactive design to fashion design to architecture and urban planning. Many of my closest friends in design school were in programs outside my own discipline and as a result, I did a lot of my graphic design work in the car design studio. Simply working in the same studio with people who were creating completely different kinds of projects had an immense effect upon my approach and process, and the feedback from respected people outside my own creative discipline was, in many ways, more valuable than the people within it.
It’s been awhile since I was in design school. But looking at the world today, the need for a destination to house conversations that spawn new ideas, insights, and creativity is more pertinent than ever. Acquiring perspectives from smart, talented people with a different frame of reference, and the constant ability to see and experience creative work in the periphery of your own has a real, tangible, and positive effect. The reality is fast becoming that collaboration is not just a new way of doing things – it’s becoming necessary to survive and be competitive in business. Technology is enabling creative people to work in more ways than ever before and bring great ideas to life. It’s certainly an exciting time to be making things.
These beliefs led to my 20% project. The Knot Collective attempts to bridge the gap between these disciplines that are so often siloed to help share knowledge and cultivate thought leadership for creative businesses. We believe that cross-disciplinary collaboration is the future of innovation and design. We hope the site can serve as a valuable resource and build a thriving community that fosters critical thinking and lively discussion.
My longtime friend and product/transportation designer Marc Reisen and I have been discussing and developing the foundation of The Knot Collective for over two years. After thinking about it, building it, rethinking it, and rebuilding it, we’re extremely happy to have launched the project last month. It’s been a long road, but a considered one, and a labor of love nonetheless.
You can check it out here: www.theknotcollective.com (or @theknotcollectv)
We hope you find the mix of disciplines as valuable as we do. We’d love to have you join the conversation.
7th October 10
I know that I’m late to the game on this ‘five things I’m thinking about’ meme and very new to the game in this advertising business, so here’s hoping that the two things balance out here, in my first nervy post.
1) Where is knowledge stored?
OK – so just a week ago I was posting farewell on The Penguin Blog, trying to distill a few years of digital publishing thinking into a couple of hundred words and now I am in a new office with new people doing a completely different thing in a new industry. So my short term goal is to find the well(s) of knowledge and drink deeply.
In preparation for this transition I’ve read a couple of books and redirected my RSS and twitter streams adwards. But already in 4 days I’ve learned more from a few concentrated conversations than from hours of reading. So maybe I’ve been reading the wrong books and blogs, or reading them badly.
But perhaps it’s a very analogue notion that knowledge is stored on paper and a digital notion that knowledge is amalgamated in crowds. Everyone is an expert in something, everyone has a specialist subject or a unique take on an issue – the challenge is finding them and unlocking their knowledge. And face-to-face beats distance learning every time.
2) Is there still an edge?
The publication of any new William Gibson book is always a good opportunity to think about the edges of things and, of course, the places in between, which in our upside down topsy turvy existence must be edges of a sort. My favourite Gibson passage is from All Tomorrow’s Parties where the disappearance of bohemia is explained thus: “We started picking them before they could ripen. A certain crucial growing period was lost, as marketing evolved and the mechanisms of recommodification became quicker, more rapacious.”
Of course, as a new entrant to the world of advertising I need to start rapaciously appropriating the edge as swiftly as possible, which is why I should start finding out where it is.
(Actually, specifically, the sound of resin on concrete, or even more specifically the difficulty in finding good skateboard sound effects)
Don’t get me wrong I am not and have never been a skater but I have always loved skate videos and watching this yesterday (via Ruby Pseudo) it struck me that it is the sound that I love especially. I was born in a city and have lived most of my life in the same city and can’t really imagine not living in a city. Cities, as far as I’m concerned, are where stuff happens, and I am a huge fan of stuff happening. And, since skating demands ‘crete perhaps there is no soundtrack more urban than the sound of skating. If there are other, even more urban soundscapes I should be tuning into, let me know.
4) Flickr and careful curation
Every now and again it’s worth remembering what a lovely and valuable discovery engine flickr really is. Of course for simple image search it’s great but there is also the joy-inducing serendipity of discovering that there are others who share the same interests as you, whether these interests are craneporn, control panels or failure. A friend of mine describes internet pornography as having the same serendipitous effect – all of a sudden you discovers kinks that you didn’t know you had. But with flickr the quality of a group is in the care of the curation. A good group will have clearly communicated criteria for submissions and submissions that fall outside certain boundaries will be rejected, so preserving a curatorial, yet crowdsourced, integrity. It strikes me that there are all sorts of lessons to be learned from flickr and curation and community are good places to start.
5) The Idea Thing
A change in profession is a good opportunity for some good old fashioned introspection and navel gazing. So, is there a difference between what I did (getting things made and selling them) and what I now do (communicating ideas about things other people have made and want to sell)? Who is the customer for an idea, the client or the audience or both?
When ‘things’ encapsulate ‘ideas’ do they stop being purely things or purely ideas? I am less interested in *the social object* than I am in *the idea thing*, a digital or physical object that captures and communicates an idea about the world. Can idea things sell stuff, or are they the stuff that sells?
I guess I’m about to find out.
7th October 10
Author: Emma Cookson, Chairman BBH New York
This bunch of charts comes from a BBH session at a recent conference organized by The Bellwether Group in New York. The subject of the day was ‘Creativity and content creation in a digital age”. So something of a wide canvas….
My start point was the realization of how intimidated I felt speaking on the topic – and the further realization that this intimidation stemmed not just from personal neurosis or the breadth/complexity of the subject (although all that applied), but that I was also intimidated because there’s already so much great comment and advice in this area available. It’s one of the interesting by-products of an age of such extraordinary pace of change that we’re all frantically trying to keep learning, keep up to date, keep pace – and as a result there’s a whole slew of people working to satisfy that desire with tips and advice. Every day brings a deluge of advice and input on digital marketing/comms/business-building.
My observation is that although so much of this advice and comment is truly fantastic, the flip-side is that within all the rush and deluge we are sometimes accepting and sharing – at speed and at face-value – assertions that maybe should bear closer examination and qualification. Perhaps all these assertions we read in the latest expert tweet or in the headline of that skimmed article are all broadly right – but maybe not in all circumstances, not right for all brands, not right in every dimension. Perhaps there’s a slightly more precise story to tell (see our recent post on a similar theme examining participation).
So that’s where this presentation came from. And why it’s called ‘Yes. But…’ I note a number widely accepted truths about creative best practice in a digital age – and, without disagreeing with any of them, suggest that they might benefit from a little qualification. My contention is that – for example – escalating consumer control of brands is of course a real phenomenon, but it doesn’t absolve brand owners of deep responsibility for brand leadership and, yes, still a degree of brand control. Or that ’360 degree marketing’ is a good clarion call, until you start wondering if it really is right that the most powerful communication solutions really do always have to be deployable in every single channel, with every weapon available in our communication arsenal.
Any comment or argument is greatly appreciated.
6th October 10
Author: Charles Wigley, Chairman, BBH Asia Pacific
Following our series of Labs posts tackling the issue of “Wind Tunnel” marketing, the natural next step was to put the thinking out into the wild and see what we could learn… I recently ran a workshop at the SPIKES creative festival in Singapore, where solutions were brainstormed by the 100 + attendees.
I began with a run-through of the issue as we see it:
And the workshop attendees responded. Below are just some of the ideas that came out, we’d love to hear any you have to add.
Some of the most popular practical solutions to the key areas discussed (measured by that highly accurate methodology of level of cheers and clapping at the end of the session) were as follows :
The Overall Strategic Process
- Twin team it on major projects – one that the client sees that follows the set process, the other that just has a blank canvas and no set rules
- Follow your gut irrespective of set process – and get more skilled at post rationalisation
- Scrap it ! – well, it was a predominantly creative audience
- Aim off – always ensure you also talk to people intentionally outside of the core target that everyone else is talking to. There maybe unearthed gems there
- Ask ‘why’ more often than ‘what’ – reportage is useless, the reasons behind the actions are what people a looking for
- Creatives more involved in client management – clearly there’s a lot of folk who want to come out of the back room
- Stop hiring ourselves again and again – how can we build difference into our hiring policies?
- Forced job swaps – agency people should work as clients for a while and vice – versa
- Earlier and deeper – agencies arrive too late too often. What can they do to swim upstream in the client briefing process?
- Creative speed dating – too much time working opposite the same person. Time for some new inspiration from different people in the building. Quickly. And ones with different skill sets – eg tech.
- Stop looking at advertising – too much cannibalism. If our only influence is advertising…..then our output will be more…er…….advertising.
- Move the office to the beach – well, that’s the audience again for you (when they get there they’ll probably discover management has been there for a while).
Again, these are just a starter for ten. We’d love to know your thoughts.
Also check out Jim Carroll’s Manifesto here.
30th September 10
Posted in Uncategorized
THE START BIT
I stumbled through the door of BBH London on March 29 2005. I was terrified. Despite coming from arguably the best & most famous planning agency of all time (BMP in London), I was (as we say in the UK) ‘sh*tting my pants’. Everything that felt charming yet amateur about BMP had been brutally and suddenly replaced by a new world of complete professionalism, extraordinary process and unrelenting focus. It was, quite literally, Day 1 at the Big School. Even Lotus Notes felt awesome.
Three moments defined my first few months there. I thought I might share them, as I disappear, because I think they’re still relevant.
Like every new hire I had a brief meet & greet with Nigel Bogle in week one. Of course, he was scary and brilliant in equal measure, but what he said to me in our first meeting stayed with me. Perhaps, looking back now, it was the one moment that defined my time at BBH more than anything else. While welcoming me, he heavily stressed the importance of not fitting in, of not becoming a BBHer, of not doing things the ‘BBH way’, but instead, of being the disruptor, the challenger, the thorn. For better or for worse, I took him at his word; if nothing else, it’s true to say I’ve never really fitted in at BBH.
Anyway, in week one (literally Day 2, if I recall correctly) I found myself pitching for Google. An extraordinary experience, partly because of the ace people I was pitching with (Robson, Exon, Stainer) and partly because of the crazy clients. They had no idea what they wanted, but they didn’t want an ad agency. And so we didn’t give them one (the title slide of our pitch said simply ‘WE DON’T WANT TO BE YOUR AD AGENCY’). We gave them an ideas engine that was an extension of their own company, but which operated outside the (even back then) stifling constraints of their own insane business. We didn’t make much money for the agency but we made important contacts (our client back then is now the global CMO of Google) which we’ve nurtured over that five-year period, and we developed a way of approaching creativity that was quite different to anything any of us had experienced before. No hierarchy, no titles, no departments, no egos, virtually no rules. Fun, frantic, fruitful. Three things stuck: I knew that was the model for me going forward, that Google was the most extraordinary company I’d come near, and that the Internet was the most disruptive & magical thing ever.
Third, just weeks after BBH won the Google pitch, I was on the British Airways pitch. I had no idea at the time just how much baggage (no pun intended) this pitch would arrive with. Having been narrowly beaten to the business by M&C Saatchi ten years before, for Nigel & John in particular, but for BBH more widely, this was an opportunity to right the wrongs of a decade previously. In addition it was a huge and highly prestigious piece of global business. I worked with some phenomenal people – my future BBH Labs partner in crime, Mel Exon, Derek Robson (who also pitched Google with me), Guy Murphy, and I had my first taste of the overwhelming firepower of the fully operational battle station that is BBH at it’s best. We worked with Gwyn Jones & team in NYC, and with Ben Fennell & team in Singapore; pure BBH. Together, these people re-calibrated my benchmark for what an agency could do, and how it might do it. It was the best pitch experience I’ve ever had; it was also the hardest three months of my life. But I took away from it an utter conviction around two beliefs; that (a) literally nothing was impossible at BBH, and (b) there was probably no better agency on the planet at that time.
Anyway, all rather dull historical context. It’s five-and-a-half years later. Here I am about to leave. I’ve learned a ridiculous amount at BBH. Perhaps more than anything, if I learned how to not be an academic at my first agency (Duckworth Finn), and I learned how to be an ok account planner at BMP, at BBH I learned how to apply strategic thinking to a much broader canvas. I was liberated by BBH; the disciplinary shackles were removed. Much of this learning was beaten into me by truly world-class people, at all levels, not just the scary senior legends you might imagine. And a tiny proportion of it was the product of my own stumbling invention and experimentation (a fair chunk of that with Mel Exon, to whom I owe particular thanks).
THE MIDDLE BIT
In any case, here are a few of the things I’ve learned along the way, from BBH London days (Google & BA), through Head of Account Planning & ZAG leadership in NY, BBH Labs start-up and (once again) to Google days over here in NYC, & my most recent Innovation role. As ever, many people will disagree with some of them; some people will disagree with all of them. They’re in no way intended to be definitive. But they are what I think is the right approach.
Only people matter
They matter more than clients, more than teams, more than fancy buildings, smart suits or posh titles; they matter even more than the ideas. Great ideas are just what happen when the right people are put together and organized (or not) in the right way. The only role of agency management is to find, retain, organize and inspire others. If management is not doing this, they’re part of the problem.
None of us is as good as all of us
This is a classic Bogle-ism, one of his very best, and it’s never been more true than today. Avoid the Prima donna at all costs; as Calle Sjoenell (our ECD on Google at BBH) notes, ‘no egos, no drama’.
Ask forgiveness, not permission
The people that make a difference tend to be the ones that don’t seek approval first. They are often not the most popular. They’re rarely the most rewarded. But they’re the most valuable. If you can bring yourself to put up with them, they will be your secret weapon. And they’re way better on your team than on someone else’s.
Awesome is always scary
The vast chasm between really good and extraordinary is filled with fear. If you push yourself to the extent that you’re deeply uncomfortable, you’ll be fine; if you’re comfortable, you’re not pushing hard enough.
Give *everything* away
Be generous with ideas, with credit, with opportunities, and most important of all, with time. Although it’s not the real point, be reassured that this generosity *always* comes back.
Do less, but do it better
We try and do too much because we’re not honest with ourselves about what we’re best at and we’re not honest with our clients about what we’re really capable of. One of the unheralded roles of planning is to distill, simplify and encourage focus; to eliminate nonsense, or the chance that nonsense might occur. Strategy is, indeed, the art of sacrifice.
We can’t be friends *all* the time
If we’re not passionate about what we do, we should pack up and leave. If you’re not upsetting someone, somewhere, most of the time, you’ll end up with ‘average’. This includes clients, but perhaps more importantly applies internally.
Build & love your network
You don’t have to share an office with the best people around to work with them, or learn from them. If you’re lucky, you’ll share an office with some of them (I’ve been lucky many times over). When Mel & I launched Labs we had no idea we’d develop such a strong group of supporters and advisors. We still have no idea how we have. But they – not us – have built Labs.
PowerPoint is the enemy of awesome
There’s an inverse relationship between the quantity of PowerPoint produced by a team and both the quality of work produced by that team, and their level of happiness.
Make sure it’s fun
It’s all just a gigantic game.
So, summing up this already tediously over-long account, this is the deal:
THE END BIT
I was lucky enough to snowboard with John Winsor (@jtwinsor) this March, in Vail. As you might guess, he literally left me standing, and in some cases, climbing out. But we caught up on life on the ski lifts back to the top and talked about a lot of stuff. The next day he sent me this (below). It’s by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. It blew me away.
Only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will himself sound the depths of his own being. For if we imagine this being of the individual as a larger or smaller room, it is obvious that most people come to know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip on which they keep walking back and forth. In this way they have a certain security.
And yet how much more human is the dangerous insecurity that drives those prisoners in Poe’s stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their cells. We, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares have been set around us, and there is nothing that should frighten or upset us. We have been put into life as into the element we most accord with, and we have, moreover, through thousands of years of adaptation, come to resemble this life so greatly that when we hold still, through a fortunate mimicry we can hardly be differentiated from everything around us. We have no reason to harbor any mistrust against our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience.
How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence something helpless that needs our love.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke, 1904
Massive thanks to all the completely ace BBH-ers I’ve worked with since 2005. You will continue to make BBH a magic place to be & to learn.