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Creative Agency Selection in 2009: Distinguishing the Indistinguishable

Whether you’re a client in advertising, broadcast, or commercial production, 2009 brings a brand new set of rules for how we search and select new creative agencies for rostering. With tense market conditions, budgets have grown increasingly conservative. Shorter production schedules and higher expectations to deliver on brand promise have made the choice in a new creative partner more critical than ever.

However, the evolution of the market and the scramble for survival amongst design firms has resulted in a convergence of near indistinguishable and homogeneous sales propositions, pitches, and service offerings. So how is it possible to distinguish the indistinguishable?

Branding touches so many parts of a client’s daily activities that it has become a full-time job simply ensuring synergy between the business units of any media organization, not to mention new creative properties being created on an organic, near constant basis.

And unlike designers and creative directors, clients don’t have the luxury of spending the majority of the day thinking about design. It is just one of the many critical business areas that are demanding their attention at any one time.

A client’s most valued and dwindling natural resource is time. Shortened deadlines and reductions of in-house resources means clients will often select a creative agency with whom they, or others in their company, have worked with before. Unfortunately, it is often easier to award an assignment to a rostered “average” consultancy than to spend time reviewing and researching a new one. Why spend countless hours briefing brand history and strategy, risking poor creative results and/or lack of return on marketing dollars?

To add complication, 2009 has brought a frenzy of design companies competing for creative assignments at any given time. Has your phone been ringing off the hook, dozens of messages from reps asking for work? You’re not alone.

Unfortunately, many design firms have failed in offering true value differentiation within their sales propositions. Their marketing materials and websites have an annoying habit of looking and sounding near identical. Too much time is spent updating and glossifying reels. An obsession with visual articulation and not enough spent communicating their true agency defining characteristics. It’s the magic that’s hard to articulate in copy, but easy to spot after just a few short meetings. And when it’s all said and done, most judge the experience by a simple question: Do I trust them with brand guardianship?

And so then how does one decide on a new creative partner? Most source candidates through a mixture of traditional strategies. Quite often, we ask our colleagues for recommendations. Some use independent specialist consultants (like myself) who actively advise on the pitch and selection process. In other circumstances, category leadership and reputation help guide the decision making process.

I had lunch with a few longtime clients of mine and asked them to share some of their thoughts on decision-influencing criteria when appointing a new consultancy. Although the answers varied based on project type and scale, almost all criteria shared similar DNA:

1 Value for Money
2 Quality of Creative
3 Level of Service
4 Category Reputation
5 Expertise in Specific Discipline
6 Location / Geographic Availability
7 Client Perception
8 Chemistry

That’s right- chemistry. The most undervalued selling point of all decision-influencing criteria. It’s the little things, as it always seems to be. Does the agency spend more time listening or talking? Do they provide considerable access to key creative talent or to some seemingly unknowledgeable rep? Are they working for your business, or on their business? And at the end of another long, exhausting day, just ask yourself: Would you say yes to a few drinks with your new creative team? If so, it could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Love to hear your thoughts, email me at denny@dennytu.com



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Winning (and retaining) clients in 2009

The sky is falling. Well you’d certainly believe it if you’re reading any sort of news media these days. It seems just a few short years ago that broadcast design was all the buzz. Advancements in desktop technology saw in a wave of prosperity, both in the size of our budgets and scope of our creative. Broadcast design boutiques flourished and the marcomm eco-system remained in a happy, natural balance. We were flush with business, sitting in the soft, cozy nook between global advertising agencies and VFX/production companies.  Life was good.

A few years, a few wrinkles, and an unfriendly credit crunch later, we sit in a brand new world. But has anything fundamentally changed for our industry?

Fewer are the days of expected paid pitches and credential awarding. That 21-way unpaid RTE pitch (CNN 2003 anyone?) doesn’t seem that long ago.  Some, at the time, had even suggested that free pitches were the design industry’s raison d’etre. Was it a sign of things to come, or just another symptom of a problem quietly lying in wait?

Pitches are an expected (and in some cases, required) part of our business. They enable the buyers of brand goods to sample a bounty of flavors, each artisan hoping to win over that elusive customer after each delicious bite. If you’ve been to Costco, you’ve seen how this can turn out to be a good (or really bad) thing. Take too many samples, and you’ll feel ill to the stomach. Not to mention not being welcomed back for seconds.  Conversely, find the right flavor, and you’ll be singing your morsels gospels.

Winning business hasn’t changed much. In fact, over the last few years- creative agencies have seen a rush of challenging, profitable assignments. We now win business in new marketing categories, taking over brand stewardship roles from larger traditional agencies, suggesting that a direct-to-client model is not only viable, but preferable.

So why then are owners/CEOs of broadcast design shops showing concern about the stability of incoming work. The production pipeline is full for the next 60, but what about after?

That’s where the cracks for some creative agencies begin to show.

And so the phonebanks of 2009 have sprung anew. Design reps across the country have been feverishly “checking-in” with clients. I’ve spoken to no less than a dozen clients in the past week who say their VMs are up to 20+ messages a day with messages like

“Please let me know if there’s any projects you can send our way”.

Tomorrow, the message is similar, but no less empty

“I wanted to call and check-in and make sure you have everything you need”.

Has any rep ever had a client reply

“Thanks for calling, I was sitting around waiting for you to call because I have an approved budget on my desk and wanted to award it to you without review and discussion”

Didn’t think so.

Herein lies the unfortunate failure of some to remember that our creative offerings are not really so unique. There are no less than 20 shops capable of doing top-tier branding creative at any given time (not to mention increased competition and assignment attrition to international firms). We are in the strategic services business. Maybe there’s where part of the problem lies. And so, perhaps, the solution.

Creating value for our clients means understanding that the pitching landscape is the way it is because companies remain poorly communicated in their above the line service offerings. And so, some companies appear homogenous and undifferentiated, resulting in some impersonal multi-agency pitches.

Creativity and production quality are expected givens. And, although some clients do search reels for a particular design style or aesthetic, most routinely cite the experience working with the a particular team as a majority factor in repeat direct-award assignments. Other considerations cited include budget compatibility, category leadership, and name brand.

2009 hasn’t brought a drought of business for our industry. It offers a new opportunity for creative agencies to reconnect with clients, to not only deliver outstanding creative, but a renewed commitment to a few simple rules of good above the line service. It’s how you operate before, during, and most especially after, a production is actualized.

It’s listening instead of talking.

It’s not making promises that can’t be kept.

It’s dealing with complaints, not redirecting them.

It’s being fair and competitive with regards to budget.

It’s going above and beyond- even if there’s no immediate profit from it.

It’s training reps to speak about project strategy, production, and service differentiators, not just account names.

It’s recognizing that clients are more than projects.

It’s taking those extra steps to show you appreciate their business, regardless of size, scope, or budget.

Catalyze the experience by being mindful of these time tested business development rules. 2009 will be what you make of it.

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Denny Tu is an independent Executive Producer based in LA & London. His daily blog (https://dennytu.wordpress.com) examines the art and business of screen design & brand building. For a PDF of this article or to just say hello, drop a line at denny@dennytu.com

The he(art) and business of motion graphics


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Snapshot: One Second Discovery Channel ID

Creative agency Devilfish is behind these series of six spots for Discovery UK. All of the idents were filmed at speeds between 1000 and 2000 frames per second to capture and express the everyday in ways not seen before. The :30 spots end with the tagline ‘You’ve just watched one second of Discovery’. 

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R/GA Motion Graphics Historical Reel 1977-2008

Founded in 1977 by the brothers Richard and Robert Greenberg, R/GA, as the company is now known, seems like it’s been around for decades. And well, it has. Their first motion graphics efforts consisted largely of television commercials, but ultimately expanded to producing movie trailers and related promotional materials for such feature films as Superman (1978); All That Jazz (1979); and Altered States (1980); as well as the title sequences and visual bumpers for Xanadu (1980), and Flash Gordon (1980).

R/GA was one of the first companies to assemble, all under one roof, the disparate realms of print advertising, television commercials and motion picture trailers. Among the ground-breaking visual effects projects R/GA has created are sequences for such film as Alien (1979), Predator (1987), Seven (1995), The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) and Zelig (1981). In all, to date, R/GA has developed opticals and visual effects for over 500 feature films, and has produced over 6000 commercials. Now their new Historical Reel is available for showing.

Spanning 30 years, R/GA’s creative accomplishments tell the story of our evolution from a film production company to a holistic interactive agency built for a digital world. From our roots as a pioneer in computed-assisted filmmaking, to our creation of an integrated digital studio, the new agency model we are building today, we have always been steadfastly committed to innovation.

You can check out the R/GA Historical Reel 1977-2008, here.

The he(art) and business of motion graphics

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Snapshot: Channel 4 Ident: Bowling

A quick look back at MPC’s previous work with the iconic logo, which has been made up of, from amongst other things, storage containers, Tokyo street signs, and a music festival stage.

( If you’d like to experience the full high res 3D VR of the Channel 4 logo, you should definitely check this out: http://sphericalimages.com/channel4/ )

The idents show the channel 4 logo broken down into its nine blocks, subtly disguised as elements found in each environment shown. While the blocks are static in each of their surroundings, the first person perspective camera moves through the sequence to reveal the Channel 4 logo at the mid-point. The twelve different locations of these events dictated what the actual moving material was. Scenes included hay bales stacked on a stubbled field, looming pylons trailing from a nuclear power station, road work signs on the motorway and neon hoardings for an American diner. In this scenario, privet hedges glide through a bowling green.



In other related news, Ofcom’s PSB is published this Wednesday with Channel 4 and Five clashing over merger plan. Stay tuned.

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New idents hail new year for BBC ALBA

Galsgow-based agency Design is Central has produced a series of idents for new-ish Scottish Gaelic language channel BBC ALBA. The idents based on the North Star are supplemented by a set of menu boards. The menus are based on the concept of lines. Lines form in different locations including tents, swallows and buoys. These represent Gaelic as a line, a thread running through culture, history, place, language and media.

The new idents are a springboard off a Christmas Ident series, all of which were shot in Scotland. The focus of attention on the BBC ALBA idents resolves to the north star of the ALBA logo. There is a mysterious pull to the North in each one. They are always in the evening, the ‘first star awake’, and always with side lighting and an evening vibe.

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Channel 4: Liverpool Street Station

On January 15, 2009, at 11 AM, a flash mob broke out in Liverpool Station to the surprise of hundreds of railway commuters, courtesy of Saatchi & Saatchi.

Update 1/25/09: Here’s the MAKING Of Video

Here’s the exclusive replay on Channel 4 (for the high quality version, click through to YouTube):

YouTube, Digg, and Twitter are already buzzing. If you haven’t already seen it, enjoy this smile-inducing Tmobile advert.

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