For an ad agency to be a successful business partner, it’s important that it truly act as a partner. And, as scary as it may seem, that means inviting clients to partner in the ideation stage of the creative process.
After all, no one is more entrenched in the individual nuances of a brand than the day-to-day business leads. They live and breathe the company, day in and day out.
At DDB, we call this philosophy co-creation, and it is always the way that I prefer to work. While not all clients are comfortable taking on this role, it is in fact the way that we work with the majority of our accounts in addition to working with new clients to become more comfortable with the ideation process.
The basic premise is that no one person has a monopoly on creative thinking. We are all creative individuals, clients included. Add to that the fact that our clients know the most about their business, and it clearly makes sense to share ideas openly and freely. What’s more, an idea will have so much more support if it has genuine ownership, not just by the ad agency, but by the client, too.
Co-creation is how we truly get to learn what is on our client’s mind. What are they thinking? How do they see the campaign coming to life and where? What kind of advertising do they like? It’s all about the journey, sometimes even getting things wrong. There is so much value in getting things wrong, first. Failure is a great teacher. Even just exploring genres of creative style in the development stage can be extremely helpful.
And it’s crucial to remember to ask: Does the client see it as a humorous campaign? Do they imagine an anthemic approach? It doesn’t mean everyone has to agree, but at least together you get to have relevant and meaningful conversations about the work. Failing up front—together—can be a great way to get to break out creative more quickly.
Not all clients are comfortable with this notion. But with co-creation, you share your failures together. I’ve always found that it helps our clients understand what they don’t want as much as what they do out of the campaign.
For example, Glidden recently launched the “Tame the Beast” campaign, and we went through this exact process. We came to the table very early on with rough directions—thought starters really. We explored tone and style, in particular. Then once we agreed on the specific direction, together with the client, we explored ways of bringing the idea to life. We co-created not only the idea, but also the orchestration of the campaign rollout. It helped us to develop work that we all felt a part of. The process, not just the campaign, has become a case study for an efficient and effective creative development process within the client’s organization.
The Old World creative model of the “black box”—where you just submit a brief to the box and then come back four weeks later to watch the creative idea emerge from the other side—is over and frankly detrimental to the client-agency relationship. The process of development is as important as the idea itself.
One of the best examples of the power of the co-creation philosophy is Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, perhaps one of the world’s first concept albums and among the greatest collaborations of all time. The Beatles worked extensively with their producer, George Martin, and a host of others, including Ken Townsend and Geoff Emerick (sound engineers), Indian musicians associated with sitar master Ravi Shankar and a full symphony orchestra. The result, released in 1967, was a transformative masterpiece far greater than the individuals could have created on their own.
As creative director, it is my role to also conduct a diverse group of creative people in order to make something beautiful and unique. The process usually involves agency, client, partner agencies, production companies, and other influencers and trusted friends.
And while it doesn’t always produce advertising’s version of Sgt. Pepper, the process of co-creation gets us closer to greatness more often than without it.
Matt Eastwood is the chief creative officer of DDB in New York.