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Working to Win Awards is a Losing Strategy

Over the last few years I’ve noticed a steady increase in my industry friends talking about ‘award winning work’. Whether it’s an increased emphasis on winning awards, specialty projects contrived to catch the eye of judges or new management brought in specifically to boost creative output to award winning heights, the problems inherent to this kind of thinking are many and unnecessary.

When you work to win awards you do a disservice to your clients. The work starts to skew toward meeting the needs of the agency over the needs of your client partners. Budgets can quickly dry up, scopes can become unwieldy and client patience begins to wain.

It’s an unattainable yardstick. When “that isn’t an award winning idea” becomes the beginning and end of a critique you neuter your creatives. Creativity, and by extension creative work, is an abstract endeavor at best and that’s why we have creative briefs. Without the creative brief there isn’t a way for the un-indoctrinated to judge the validity of an idea. When a presentation misses the mark briefs provides a reference point to go back to. “It’s not award winning” doesn’t provide that.

It suggests there is only one way to judge the success or failure of a project. Just because a piece of work didn’t win an award doesn’t mean that it didn’t move the needle for the client, it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t good and it doesn’t mean (most importantly in my opinion) that the client didn’t love it.

For these reasons, at BIKLOPS we try not to focus on awards. Instead of using awards as your starting point, maybe try following these basic rules instead:

1. solve the problem
2. solve it beautifully
3. solve the problem of where to put all your awards

Seriously though, that’s really it. If you’re solving the problem and doing it in a way that you can be proud of, you’ve already won.

Burn the Mission Statement

“We must all efficiently
Operationalize our strategies
Invest in world-class technology
And leverage our core competencies
In order to holistically administrate
Exceptional synergy”—Weird Al Mission Statement

Remember your last job? I bet you do. Remember your coworkers? Your duties there? Do you remember what your ex-employer at large did or made? Yes? Well of course you do. Now, do you remember that company’s Mission Statement? I doubt it.

The reason is obvious—mission statements suck. They rarely say anything worth saying and almost never do what a mission should do: to give you a reason to show up in the morning.

Give them a Mission

Burn your mission statement; starting today you’re simply on a mission. You must feel compelled to complete your mission, not bored to death by the sound of it. You must feel like you and only you can make sure it happens—you must have a feeling of ownership. A great mission isn’t a string of buzzwords some higher-up vomited out one afternoon: it’s your company’s purpose. A mission gives an organization meaning. A bad mission statement on the other hand can make a company meaningless.

“Mission statements used to have a purpose. The purpose was to force management to make hard decisions about what the company stood for. A hard decision means giving up one thing to get another.”—Seth Godin

Mission Impossible

A good mission is aspirational, transformative. Frodo and Sam must carry the ring an impossible distance through impossible obstacles. It takes faith, and strength and determination to get there.

For Your Eyes Only

Most mission statements are so generic they could be easily swapped between companies and no one would even notice. Do you “provide exceptional customer service”? Well so does your competition. A good mission is not only aspirational but it’s singular. One of Nike’s axioms is ‘evolve immediately.’ It’s not just catchy—it defines Nike.

Wave A Banner

At BIKLOPS our mission is both simple and forever challenging: MAKE IT RAD.

Simple, not easy.

Bigger is Simply Bigger.

Why specialization and craftsmanship is the past and future of creative.

An inspiring blog article popped up in my feed yesterday from fellow Kansas City agency VI Marketing and Branding’s Tim Berney entitled “Why a Large Marketing Agency Is Your Most Cost Efficient Option.” It was a different kind of inspiring; —it inspired me to write this rebuttal. Sorry, Tim.

Tim opens with “In the early 1990s there was a national trend toward hiring boutique advertising agencies. It didn’t last too long because national brands soon found out that they couldn’t get by on the slim resources that these specialty shops provided.”

Sadly there’s no citation given to back this up. My guess is Tim forgot about internationally recognized small studios like Muhtayzik Hoffer whose clients include Netflix and HP or Heat who have the Madden NFL for EA Sports account or the thousands of other small creative studios with similarly impressive clients like Swift, Roundhouse, and perhaps the industry’s most notable envelope pushers, Sagmeister & Walsh.

In fact in 2011, (these numbers are hard to get at so forgive the 4-year-old stats) large corporations threw more than twice as many dollars at the boutiques than the big boys.

First things first: let’s talk money.

Small studios have minimal overhead. With that comes a slew of benefits. First and foremost it introduces a level of flexibility to pricing that the big boys have a hard time matching. BIKLOPS isn’t the cheapest studio around but we have the option to chase the smaller clients that inspire us and initiate passion projects to keep our talents sharp without fear of missing a mortgage payment on a giant brick and mortar headquarters.

With that out of the way let’s talk quality.

When big agencies cut a client a break price-wise it’s almost always accomplished by throwing the studio interns at the project. Less money=less talent. But small studios like ours don’t have the option of selling a project short. Every project is conceived and executed by the studio’s principals. They have to be. Which means every project tackled by a small studio has their best talent on the job.

We little guys are fast, flexible and leave room for inspiration.

Small teams are fast and agile. In a landscape where the big TV spot is increasingly a rarity, a small team that can react to engagement opportunities instantly is a huge asset. Trying to get a single tweet approved at my former big agency job would take days—at BIKLOPS a piece of compelling creative can be created and pushed onto the world stage in a single day, hell, a single hour.

Capabilities are over.

“We can do it all, but I don’t believe in this day and age you need it all. More is not always better,” says founder of boutique media agency R.Rock Enterprises, Roger Gastman.

If your studio can shoot video that’s great. If your studio can manage Facebook ads that’s great too. But the problem with capabilities is that they’re easily (and already) commodified. There are cheap apps to manage ads and cheap services that can create video content. Quite frankly for a few hundred bucks you can have a page-long list of supposed “capabilities” in the form of cheap subcontractors, analytics apps and social media monitoring software. A laundry list of services is no longer a differentiator.

There is, however, one thing we can offer clients that’s invaluable: insight. The ability to see a problem and solve that problem in a novel, memorable way is still a rare and beautiful thing. A unique perspective leads to a unique aesthetic, and a unique aesthetic leads to a long list of happy clientele. Small studios are perfectly equipped for this new, point-of-view-lead creative economy: with low overhead and smaller, less hierarchical teams, indie agencies such as ours can afford to stick to our guns. The end-result is a studio with real personality and brand insight to share, not a roster of cogs in a machine spitting out their tiny piece of a beige-colored puzzle.

The truth is if you’re choosing your creative partner based on anything other than the quality of their work you’re crazy.

Look at the studio’s work. Does it move you? Is it memorable? Does it rise above the white noise of same-same advertising and communications or does it stick out as something special? Choose your creative studio partner based on the one thing they should bring to the table every time: creativity.