How can media agencies foster creativity?


Steve BlakemanSteve Blakeman is approaching his third year as Asia Pacific CEO of OMD, which was recently named the world’s most awarded media agency by the Gunn Report. So how does a numbers-driven environment like a media agency foster creativity? What role does data play in creativity? And are media agencies becoming as obsessed with awards as their creativity agency cousins?

How do you foster creativity in a numbers-driven environment like a media agency?

It comes down to culture. You need a culture that supports the ideas of individuals. We supply a framework, but creativity is not a linear process; nothing should be prescriptive. You can’t say, ‘You do this and then that, and you will get to solution’. The framework needs an ability to fail built into it, the ability to learn from mistakes.

Can a media agency afford to allow its people to fail? Wouldn’t clients be uncomfortable with this?

How on earth can you afford not to do it? We live in time of accelerated change, and you need an approach that adapts to changing times. You don’t top the Gunn Report for almost a decade by doing the same things year in, year out. You only win awards through creativity and thinking differently. And clients come to us for that sort of thing. It’s a virtuous circle.

So how do you build a creative culture?

Our Australia office is a poster child for the region in that sense, possibly the globe. OMD Sydney featured in the top 50 companies to work for by Business Review Weekly last year, and that doesn’t happen by accident. One of the things Peter Horgan and Leigh Terry (OMD and OMG Australia’s bosses, respectively) do is senior management speeding dating, where everyone in the team sits down with the management for a chit-chat. They’ve built an eco-system where people love to work there, and they can attract better people as a result. But you can’t just give culture a name and expect it to follow. You have to do something about it.

What role can data play in creativity?

It’s in vogue. Everyone wants to talk about data. But the reality is that if you’re not looking at the right thing, data is of little use. What we should be worried about is where we put all this data and how we segment it. We need to be finding insights within the data, and that will never come from computers. You need smart people to find the diamonds in the dirt.

Media owners often grumble that they’re not given enough credit for creative media ideas, particularly at awards shows. Do you think they have a point?

Well, they do from us. We often taken media owners into presentations with us, and have been making our relationships with media owners very public, such as our tie-up with Instagram (In March, Omnicom signed a deal with the photo- and video-sharing site with $100 million in spend). We can’t be introspective. We need to look at how to leverage our partnerships and explore ways for our brands to be used. For instance, we’re now working with Spotify on creating the world’s biggest hackathon. We’re determined to get into the Guinness book of records. ‘Media firsts’ and breaking records seem pretty important to media agencies.

How important is being first for you?

Increasing important. We’re all trying to stand out in a sea of mediocrity. You have to mark yourself out as different, and want to be seen as smart creative communications agency. A lot of our competitors would say same thing, but you have to prove it through the work. The onus of proof is on us, and awards help in that regard. We won 144 last year, our biggest ever haul. You don’t win just because you enter, you have to have great work too.

How do you think OMD will do at the Cannes Lions this year?

It is impossible to say, and depends on the theme for the year. One year the theme was media stunts, another was small budgets made big. Last year was cause-related work. There is always a theme that sets the tone, and it comes down to the judges. There is no absolute predictor of the work that’ll win. Work that we think is great might not win on the night. One piece of work we entered everywhere last year won agency of the year in some awards and nothing in others.

What do you make of the changes to the rules at the Cannes Lions this year (creative agencies can no longer win media agency of the year)?

I think they’re fair. We’ll see more changes next year no doubt. Media agencies tend to bicker more about Cannes, maybe because we’re relatively new to the game. What do you think about creative agencies still winning plenty of awards at media awards? I have no issues with it, as long as media agencies are allowed to enter creative awards shows. Media agencies create content, so I don’t see any reason why we should be excluded from creative shows.

This article was published in Mumbrella Asia.

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