See What You Think of This One
It’s nearly impossible to talk about agency/client relationships without coming across the classic story of then-Avis CEO Robert Townsend’s “Advertising Philosophy,” in which he codifies the working relationship between his company and their newly hired creative agency, DDB. It’s a simple document with six declarations. Without rehashing the whole story, which can be read many places, I want to point to list item #4, which, in addition to being my favorite, is the directive that seems most difficult and perhaps even out of step with current trends.
#4 reads: “To this end, DDB will only submit for approval those ads which they as an agency recommend. They will not ‘see what Avis thinks of that one.’” [View larger image.]
It’s simple and powerful. And it’s the only honest way to win the client’s full confidence—in their arrangement, Avis can never suggest whimsical edits or nitpick over details. But in an age of 37signals, Google, Agile development, and iterative development cycles, the logic seems outmoded.
In their second book, Getting Real, 37signals presents a chapter titled “Race to Running Software,” which is a series of essays on iterative development and getting something in front of users. The second essay in this section begins with the sentence: “Don’t expect to get it right the first time.” This philosophy is diametrically opposed to the one espoused by Townsend and DDB, right? The idea that we should get something into the world, let users (readers, clients) interact with it, respond to it, break it, and help us grow toward an improved product?
This is a big, hairy problem that I won’t try to solve for myself (much less anyone else) within this single post, but as something I deal with on a daily basis I can at least distill my thoughts into a few groups as I move forward.
First, unlike in the 1960s, we now have access to an unbelievable amount of feedback in the form of analytics, video, heat maps, and so on. We can get more out of “What do you think of this one?” than we could 50 years ago.
Second, we are expected to turn things around more quickly. Designers and web developers I talk to, especially those who have been working for over a decade, talk about their shrinking turn-around times. There’s less space in the day for deep creative thinking, all of the process that could help internalize the testing or incubation period. How can I be expected to come up with that ad or that creative or that workflow that I can mark with my theoretical “approval” stamp if I only have part of an afternoon to work on it? Indeed, the number of people I talk to who feel they have sufficient stretches of time to be creative is very small.
What do you think? Am I comparing apples and oranges? Have times indeed changed? Am I missing the point? I’m curious to hear how other people deal with the confluence of creative work (I only want to produce that work I’m most proud of) and iterative, fast timelines.