Creative Corner: Technology Is Great
... until it eliminates the human factor.
This past year, Mason & Geller relocated to Florida. Why’d we come? Well, we have clients down here, and I’m closer to my 93-year-old mom. We also cut our office overhead by about 70 percent. Then there’s the weather, the beaches and the laid-back lifestyle. Except for hurricanes, it’s been great. We all miss New York, but we’d be crazy to go back.
Why didn’t we make this move years ago? Simple. We didn’t have the low-cost technology—or the low-cost air travel—that lets us work in an out-of-the-way marina in Hollywood, Fla.
Now, with clients all over the country, we can easily reach out to them via the phone or e-mail for practically no cost at all. And we can fly to meetings for a few hundred dollars. It’s great.
Except for one thing (and it’s got to be driving creative people crazy).
Just five years ago we saw our clients at least once a week, sometimes every day. We’d talk about ideas in abstract and even develop campaigns on restaurant napkins. Now we have one client we’ve never actually met at all, and we see others once a month on average. If we lose the personal, face-to-face presentation and discussion of creative, we might lose something valuable. Here’s a true example.
Our creative director, Mike McCormick, once developed a great direct mail package he knew the client would never approve. So he brought tissues of about 20 rough layouts to a meeting. As he stood to present, he looked at the top tissue, shook his head sadly, crumpled it and tossed it into a wastepaper basket. He then spoke glowingly of the other 19 ideas while the client was riveted to the wastepaper basket. After the presentation, she asked why she couldn’t see the crumpled up idea. You can imagine what happened next. Mike dug it out, smoothed the tissue paper and … the client loved the idea. You can’t present an idea like that when you e-mail a pdf. It’ll get killed.
A Hurdle for New Creative
Technology helps creative folks get everyday work done, but it can be a barricade when they present new creative ideas. In a quick and informal survey, I learned many agency people started noticing this barricade a few years back, and it seems to be getting worse.
Here’s what seems to happen. (Remember, this is only about new creative ideas.) A client sends a brief to an agency, and both parties talk about it over the phone, sometimes in person, more often just e-mailing back and forth. The creative folks have their own internal meetings and come up with a dozen or more ideas. In most places, they winnow them down to three, then they write the copy and comp the layouts. An account person e-mails PDFs of the comps to the client.
In 1998, agency folks made folding comps and brought them to a meeting. Often, they had already held several working meetings before anyone put pencil to paper. At the presentation, the agency people would “sell” each approach before showing it. They’d review the brief, remind all of the target audience description, go over the research, present their rationales, and actually show how the piece worked physically.
They’d see their clients’ reactions. They’d hear the different initial reactions in the clients’ own voices and they’d be part of the clients’ group dynamics as they reacted.
Bottom line? The agency controlled the situation right up to the presentation of the actual work and was there to answer questions, deal with even the tiniest pushback, and work with the client to make even a great piece better.
Now, though the account person sends a cover e-mail letter with the attached PDF, most clients just click right through to the work. Some print it out (usually in black and white, untrimmed, unfolded and often the wrong size.) Others see it only on screen. Most will review a PDF in isolation, react according to their own personal preferences, and forget that they’re probably not in the target audience.
I shudder to think how many great ideas get lost and for no good reason. Whether you’re an agency person or a client, you’ll find face-to-face meetings invariably work best. I’m sure you’ve experienced the electricity that crackles in a room when an agency and a client click on the perfect approach. That excitement is hard to generate on the phone or in an e-mail.
Put the Zing Back in New Creative Presentations
Here are a few thoughts that might help you work better with a long-distance client (or, alternately, how to get the best creative out of your long-distance agency):
1. Arrange things so new creative gets presented, in person, to the right people. The best place is the agency office, because the agency can set the scene and make sure there are no distractions. Often, though, key client people can’t take the time to travel, so the agency has to make the trip.
2. If you must present long distance, send the creative as folded comps for delivery early the next business day. The day before, send an e-mail outlining your presentation without a PDF attachment. Follow up with phone calls the evening before and the morning of a presentation. Ask the client to arrange a meeting with all key people present, and ask that the creative remain sealed until the meeting starts. Ask if you can be on the phone for the whole meeting. If you send more than one comp, put them in separate sealed envelopes, and ask the clients to review them one at a time.
3. Write your concept(s) out—describing rather than showing the layouts—and ask for input before the design starts. This can help a good deal when you do send the comps.
Lois Geller is president of Mason & Geller, a full-service direct marketing agency in Hollywood, Fla. She is the author of “RESPONSE! The Complete Guide to Profitable Direct Marketing” and “Customers for Keeps,” and she can be reached at (646) 723-3230 or firstname.lastname@example.org.