Creative Mojo Schmojo

Our Renegade Writer Runner-Up Erin Wallis, writes about the inherent creativity in solving media briefs, and why that is not always recognised in ‘big idea’ focused awards.

As a strategist in a media agency, my motivation for responding to the question “are media agencies losing their creative mojo?” was first and foremost to defend my very role! A big part of why I was hired, and my day-to-day role, is creativity – to inspire it, to be inspired by it, to nurture it, and of course to use it.  The thought of me not having much of a creative mojo crumbled my ego like telling a hipster that he was actually just a conformist!

So what do I think creativity in a media agency looks like?  The way that I see creativity used at OMD is amazingly varied:

  • Pulling insights from data – from our clients, from SEO, from consumer behaviour tracking through our campaigns.
  • Results – understanding the metrics that best represent success for our client, tracking them and identifying the best response according to the results.
  • Forecasting – there is a great deal of creativity in understanding the implications of forthcoming industry and broader trends, how they affect our clients and developing proactive solutions.
  • Problem-solving – the planners and traders in our office use creativity to solve media inventory or sponsorship or budget allocation problems every single day.
  • Workshop design – being able to identify the best stimulus, activities, and people to have in a brainstorm and ideation, that will ultimately generate smart solutions, strategic ideas – and lots of them!
  • The sell – why are you always so exhausted after the pitching process? Because so much creativity goes into finding a unique response to run with that differs from all the other potential competitor responses you’ve also thought of, developing the pitch theatre, forming and telling a concise but engaging story, finding the right alignment between you and the client… (And this extends to responding to client briefs as well).

This got me thinking about where the dissonance is?  Why doesn’t my understanding of creativity translate to a broader recognition across the industry?  This month’s Renegade question was framed with reference to industry awards.  So if they define and measure creativity – what is their criteria?

In writing MFA entries last week, all of them had to be formed within the realms of a consumer-facing campaign, which does feel instinctive, but not reflective of where I see creativity used most in media.   Considering creativity within the realms of a consumer-facing campaign still relies heavily on the creative idea as the vehicle.   Probably because it’s easier to express how an idea is good using the creative idea to explain.

Put it this way: you can win a media award with a good creative idea and a decent media plan, but it would be hard to win with a clever media plan that uses crappy creative.

When our strategy team was considering what to enter into the MFAs, there was plenty of smart creative work that sprang to mind, but it wasn’t necessarily consumer-facing.  It was really great client-facing work. 

This is where the dissonance became clear to me.  All the great creative work that I see daily at OMD is client-facing, while what we standardise and measure ourselves against, is consumer-facing work.

When you think about it, it makes sense that our best creative work is client-facing, because that’s what we’re here to do: provide high-standard service to our clients using industry expertise.  And it’s fair to say that more and more we find our work overlapping with business strategy/consultancy.

This begs the question: how can our industry awards better reflect the best creative work we do? We need to see more awards like Best Audience Insight or something in the realms of Strategic Foresight, or even simply Smartest Business Solution for a Client.

I think award categories like the MFA’s Best Use of Data and Best Demonstration of Results are a step in the right direction, but we need to challenge ourselves to frame them in line with how they deliver for our clients.  For example:

Last year, we undertook a piece of work for 7-Eleven to better target potential franchisees.  Our approach challenged the typical response to franchisee recruitment brief.  We took a dive into 7-Eleven’s data to first understand what made the perfect franchisee and overlaid Hitwise, Google and Roy Morgan Helix Personas to develop profiles for them. Now ultimately this was to help inform our messaging and better plan and buy media, yes.  But it required creative thinking upfront, and understanding and interpretation of multiple data points. Furthermore, there were bigger implications for the business beyond consumer-facing comms.  7-Eleven Field Managers now use our profiles at the first point of contact with a potential franchisee to identify which profile the applicant might fit into and adapt their interview accordingly.

It’s smart, creative and inspiring work, but doesn’t naturally fit to the conventions of a consumer-facing campaign!

So to all those media whizs out there who are having a bad day or feeling disheartened: consider a time when your client has wanted to target a particular audience, or use a particular channel and you were able to redirect them on a more fruitful path.   Or some clever shuffling of budget or inventory that led a quick solve or a big saving for your client.  Or some industry foresight that led to an innovative and proactive media solution.  Think of these moments and remember that you haven’t lost your creative mojo, it just lacks industry acknowledgement.

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