‘Focus on your business’: 5 new years resolutions from agency creative leaders

We’re deep into January. Have you abandoned your New Year’s resolution yet? We start off the year by making promises to ourselves about how we’re going to get better, eat more kale, take more steps, lose those Christmas pounds. Agency creative leaders are no different. Just like the rest of us, they like to kick off with a few resolutions to improve performance or widen focus. However, just like the rest of us, these resolutions don’t always live up to their lofty ambitions.

I spoke to a group of creative leaders about their big resolutions for 2017, they were all bold, ambitious, and smart. But let’s get down to brass tacks and figure out how many of their goals for 2017 are actionable, practical, and business smart.

James Wood, ECD, MRY

“Our resolution for 2017 is to help more clients understand that consumers have never given so few fucks about their brand and if they want work that makes a difference in their business, they have to stop asking what they stand for and start asking what they are capable of.”

The idea behind this resolution is great–helping your clients and partners to be less brand-centric and more people focused– it’s an admirable goal. Part of the challenge here is that this resolution is about telling people that they should think like agency professionals and not like people or brands. I would think about adding a more actionable component that doesn’t depend on convincing everyone to think the way we do. Keep the focus on improving your business rather than changing the client’s mind.

Duan Evans IECD, AKQA

“Our priorities never shift. We always have and always will obsess over work that excites and connects our clients and their consumers. Our creative teams across the network look at the entire brand experience to create breakthrough ideas that resonate, have a purpose, and create successful futures for the brands that we partner with.”

I like the certainty here as well as the commitment to a core set of values, but I’m not sure this is the most useful resolution for internal use. It’s resolute and decisive, but it’s also not the kind of resolution you can really act on. If your creative team’s core mission is to create work that moves people, then they should find a way to advance that goal in a tangible way. A resolution should be about change, be it change in you or change in your culture and approach.

Cathal Berragan ECD SocialChain

“As creative leaders, we need to be more meticulous in identifying whether new technology is actually bringing value to campaigns in 2017. We’re currently in a period of constant innovation, and once new tech is introduced, there’s a gold rush for agencies to be the first adopters. It’s important to be patient and consider whether adopting new technologies will bring either short or long term value to clients.”

The instinct is right here, but I’d like to see a little more self-examination.Instead of steering clear of the technology gold rush maybe we should investigate why it happens. Why are we, as creative professionals, so eager to rush toward a shiny object rather than sticking with the things we know can help us to create value? Think about what we’re trying to achieve and the holes we’re hoping to fill with new toys.

Gannon Mooney, ECD, Essence

“Thinking back on a successful 2016, I can’t help but gravitate toward some points of improvement for 2017.  Two areas immediately come to mind: new ideation techniques and utilization.  The exploration of new ideation techniques is of significance as I need to break my teams out of their comfort zones and push for fresher solutions. It’s understood that volatility will always be the nature of agency life, but I’m interested in looking for new ways to minimize the radical swings from week to week.”

It sounds like there are two messages here. One is a commitment to making work that’s more innovative and original. This is a great skill to master and I’d encourage agency leaders to master it for themselves rather than for a client. Our work ultimately serves clients interests, but we ourselves must be innovators first.

The second point speaks to the volatility of agency life, something we’re all familiar with, and the desire to create a work environment that feels stable. We work in a crazy, emotional business and the key to reining in the inevitable volatility is to identify the things that are within your control. For a creative leader that’s going to be things like the team you hire and the clients you take on. There are always going to be factors that create chaos–rapid business changes, trickle down market forces–but having the basic foundations of our business under our control can help us to weather those unavoidable storms.

Adam Lau, group creative director, The Barbarian Group

“Be Ruthless. As agency people, we get reminded early and often to be team players. But I want people on my team to start being ruthless about getting want they want out of their jobs and careers. I want people to fight for the script they want to produce, the new medium they want to explore, or that brand that they’ve always wanted to work on.”

Explore the other 16%. At a recent conference, I heard that 84% of our time online is spent using 5 apps. It’s easy to look at all the faded promise of the internet and conclude that we lost. The marketing and comms industry will, after all, always be striving for best practices and standards to create scale and reach mass audiences. But there are always new territories created by emerging tech (AR, VR, devices) or digital behavior (mobile workforce, multi-screen) that get brands noticed outside of the mainstream.

Present one thing nobody asked for. If you were lucky enough to get an actual brief, congratulations. Now show your client or partner something that’s completely unexpected. This will get you recognition as somebody who can think both creatively and strategically. Plus, you might produce something that’s truly original.”

Adam presented his resolution in three parts, so I’m going to critique it the same way. I like his first point about ruthlessness. We’re in a competitive and emotion driven business. Encouraging your team to fight hard for the work they want to do guarantees that they’re giving you all they’ve got. It’s concise, easy to put into practice, and a good thought to start the year with.

His second point is getting at something important, the need for our industry to always be looking foward, but it doesn’t have any real tangible impact on business goals. It’s a mindset but not a concrete resolution tied to performance. Save this one for the shareholders memo or a trade magazine profile.

His third point is right in spirit. I love the idea that creatives should be encouraged to present the unexpected. I’m less clear on what actionable steps you can take to make sure it happens. Laying out those actions would be a powerful resolution for 2017.

Find your true north

Creatives all suffer from one similar problem. They’re animated by emotion and vision. That’s what lets them create work that connects with people. It’s also what leads them to mistake feelings for concrete, tangible business plans. When it comes to resolutions, New Year’s or otherwise, we need a northstar to look to to ensure that we’re not just making a visionary statement, but an actionable plan for how to achieve it. All of these creatives have the foundation for a successful 2017 as long as lay out the steps to make it happen.


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