He said, He said

In this new Strategy Direct+Interactive eight-part series, Vickers & Benson Direct & Interactive's Bryan Tenenhouse and Steve Murray chew the fat on issues surrounding direct and interactive marketing - everything from 'How to give constructive feedback so you're getting what you...

In this new Strategy Direct+Interactive eight-part series, Vickers & Benson Direct & Interactive’s Bryan Tenenhouse and Steve Murray chew the fat on issues surrounding direct and interactive marketing – everything from ‘How to give constructive feedback so you’re getting what you want from your agency’ to ‘Creative department employee retention: Nightmare on Elm Street.’ This month, the duo discusses some of the things they’ve learned the hard way, throughout their careers.

Steve: So, this would be the first in a series of eight articles we’re going to write. Right?

Bryan: Yup. This one is kind of a reflection on some of the things we’ve learned over the years. I mean, between us, we have more than 30 years experience in direct marketing.

Steve: We cut our teeth in direct, and have never looked back. To me, direct represents the quintessential creative challenge: the opportunity to generate ideas that can motivate an action or a behavior immediately – to actually know, through results, that you intrigued someone enough, you involved them dynamically in your creative enough to get them to respond.

Bryan: You’re right. I think that’s why direct attracts a different kind of creative person. Which is a great lead-in to our first piece of learning.

To get great creative, you want an agency that has creative people who are passionate about the discipline and science of direct response – motivating that immediate action you talked about earlier. They need to think of themselves as practitioners of the discipline in order to generate the kind of creative that has ‘the big idea,’ is involving and makes the phones ring. All at the same time.

Steve: For example, the way a salesperson on the street gets results is very different from the way a marketing person back at head office does. The same applies to the differences between a general guy and a direct creative guy. To get results-oriented creative, direct creative people need to think of themselves as a kind of sales specialist. When you don’t recognize the inherent differences between brand and direct creative, you end up with a brand ad folded up into an envelope. While you need to respect and support the brand, this is generally not effective from a results perspective.

Bryan: I think one of the hardest things for creative people to learn is that they shouldn’t take feedback personally. If the feedback is subjective, go back to the brief and use it as support for why you don’t think the change should be made. Taking feedback well is a learned behavior. Since we are human beings who invest so much of ourselves in our work, taking it personally comes naturally. But if you don’t learn to overcome the feeling that it’s all about you (rather than all about the work), you’ll never be happy in an agency environment.

Steve: Besides, feedback, whether it’s from a creative director, a suit or a client, is extremely important to the process. The chosen creative should be bulletproof from criticism. Stand back and try to pick it apart. Find the holes yourself. As with any scientific theory, if you can’t PROVE it wrong, then it must be right.

As a creative person, you can get too close to the creative. If the subjective comments continue, you should weigh the importance of the change to the integrity of the creative and its ability to get results.

Next: Some learning about the brief. If it ain’t in the brief, it ain’t gonna be in the creative.

Bryan: Just like creative, the brief can be interpreted in different ways. Agencies do a great job of presenting creative, but sometimes give the briefing document short shrift. The brief is actually one of the most important things an agency does for a client. That’s where we can really add value.

Steve: Account people who look at the brief template as an opportunity to express their own creativity and insight are the best kind of partner for a creative team and for their client.

Bryan: So don’t email your brief and expect your client to really internalize it and agree to it without going through it in detail with them. Make sure you’re on the same page from the briefing stage on. Have a face-to-face meeting or talk through it together on the phone.

Steve: You want to present creative that matches client expectations based on the brief they read.

Bryan: That’s also why account people should not just pick up a ‘client brief’ verbatim. A good account person will always develop an ‘agency creative brief’ to ensure the agency understands the client brief the way the client does. Finally, to ensure you’re writing a brief that’s inspirational to a creative person, you might want to get input from key creative folks when you’re developing the brief.

Steve: Hey, let’s talk about awards for a minute. Fun, but not important right? Wrong!! We’ve learned that they’re important for a number of reasons. First, they’re a morale thing. Recognition for the people that actually do the work. This is a fast-paced industry that has a high burnout rate. Awards recharge the batteries and inspire more great work.

Bryan: Not to mention the fact that direct awards reflect the importance of results. They’re about clients and agencies celebrating their successes and the results they’ve achieved. So, awards are about morale for agencies, but also for their clients.

Steve: Back to results. Good point. The only award shows that should matter in direct are those that recognize both creative AND results, like the RSVPs or ECHOs. Other award shows that don’t measure results are playing more to creative egos. Direct awards recognize both creative ingenuity and effectiveness. They also acknowledge account management and production, and their importance to the process.

Bryan: Last piece of learning for now. We’ve learned that clients get better work out of the agency when account people, creative people and production people communicate. Sounds obvious, but the fact is there are natural pressure points within the process that can create tension between the three departments. This can lead to breakdown in communication. And that’s when the process can go off the rails.

Steve: Remember, those pressure points are at completely different times for each department. So, understanding where each department’s pressure points are within the process will result in better collaboration. Create a culture that respects individuals. Recognize each job function for its unique contribution. If you do, you’ll be rewarded with a better product, happier staff and ultimately a more satisfied client.

Bryan: Agency culture is critical to retaining staff and serving your clients well. We actually had a ‘Walk in Each Other’s Shoes’ day to ensure that we continue to be a well-oiled machine for our clients, and a great place to be for our staff. We learned a lot that day.

Steve: Geez, we could go on forever. I guess if we had to sum it up, the biggest learning of all is that, for both of us, no matter how long we’ve been in this business, you never stop learning.

Bryan Tenenhouse is SVP, creative director at VBDI. Collaborator Steve Murray is also SVP, creative director at VBDI. They can be reached at (416) 487-6446 or on the Web at www.vbdi.com.