The Agile Agency. An ad agency’s culture hack

Some 2-3 years ago we decided at Duval Guillaume that we had to re-invent ourselves, that we had to take a more fundamental step in the way we organized ourselves and of course in how we thought about digital as a key element in the communication or advertising that we make. A lot has happened since then but if the 25 Cannes Lions or the Agency of the Year wins of the last 2 years mean anything then it’s probably that we’re doing something right.

The decisions that were taken seemed like the right thing to do but weren’t always that obvious. We decided to get rid of all internal developer resources so we could focus more on our core strenghts – strategy & creativity. At the same time we stopped using online account managers to support the ‘regular’ account managers and we’d stop working with project managers. Instead we organized tech/dev resources to support the creative teams in their creative process and we hired digital producers to play the crucial role between our own teams and the 3rd party developer’s team. All of this in a way that would allow us to keep finetuning & tweaking the idea even while in development to maximize the outcome.

AgileBoard

We were always sure this was the right way to go and we understood the core philosophy behind agile thinking that supported the idea that what we were aiming for wasn’t that crazy. Just like with every good idea though there’s a difference between the idea and the execution and it was/is with guys like Bart, our head of digital production, that we managed to implement agile in the agency. And this in such a way that it’s constantly evolving and that we keep adapting, the essence of agile. And now Bart has written a book about what agile means in an agency environment, most likely the first book on the topic of agile in advertising agencies since he only found books on agile in software/web development when researching the topic.

To stay true to the topic the book was written in an agile way. Of course :-) A must read when you’re in advertising, download the book right here: The Agile Agency, how lean and agile will transform your advertising agency. Another key element in agile thinking that I learned from Bart is that you benefit more when you’re transparant about your own progress, so read the book and add your thoughts.

Agency of the year. And what a year it was!

What a week. What a month. What a year. Exactly one year ago we announced that Duval Guillaume would merge it’s Brussels and Antwerp offices into one called Duval Guillaume Modem (in Antwerp). When I look back at the interview both our Executive Creative Directors did with ‘De Morgen’ then I read:

“It’s time for the next step: to be the first Belgian agency to play a real part internationally and again write advertising history.”

We’re not there yet, but we certainly made a good step in the right direction. Last week at the Cannes Lions our agency won 8 Gold Lions, 4 Silver, 2 Bronze and the Media Agency of the Year award. A new Belgian record that placed the agency at the 6th place worldwide in the final agency ranking at the festival.

All of that only 2 weeks after we already won the Belgian Creative Agency of the Year award at the 2012 CCB Awards. And 7 months after winning the Digital Agency of the Year award for the second year in a row. Proud. Very much so.

Gala CCB

Yes it’s been a lot of hard work for everyone at the agency. But what a reward. Being celebrated by the industry both locally and internationally for the work is just friggin’ awesome! What a good way to celebrate my 3 year anniversary at the agency :-)

Create value & value creative

When Lee Clow speaks, you listen. The man renown for his work on Apple and Absolut at TBWA/Chiat/Day talked about his thoughts on agency compensation a few weeks ago in a video for an event organized by the 4A’s.

In the video he talks about how good creative ideas can be very valuable brand assets and that other than in most creative industries (media, artists, …) you don’t get paid for the value of what you create:

“Unfortunately, in our business, we get paid like we’re doing our clients’ laundry. We haven’t figured out that the ideas that we create can become a very powerful asset to the brands we work for. Many of the ideas — whether they be slogans or advertising forms and styles or a voice that we create for brands — could be listed on the balance sheet of our clients as an asset with millions and millions of dollars in value.”

I think he’s right to the point that the power of good creativity gets undervalued. Good creative and good results go hand in hand and therefore it’s important for businesses to realize that it’s not something you can commoditize, like Mr. Clow mentions in the video. We should – together with our clients – work out different ways of valuing ideas though:

“We’re supposed to be a creative business, but I think we have been probably the least creative industry in the history of the world in terms of figuring out how to get paid.”

With businesses under pressure due to the ongoing crisis there seems to be an always bigger focus on the end (marketing) product – what you see is what you get. The time or talent needed to make the best creative possible are often ‘invisible’ to clients which results in what Mr. Clow talks about in his video.

This also puts pressure on the client –  agency relationship, something which doesn’t lead to the best results either as shown by Frank Shuring at the ‘My message in your brain’ conference (NL). His neuroscience research showed that better client – agency relationships directly lead to much better results. Surprised? Not really. Sounds obvious, so now let’s make it happen. And let’s discuss what it is that both sides value most, so we can get out of this crisis together.

What a ride!

The last 2 months have been kinda crazy. After my last day at  Microsoft, I started jobhunting right away, jobhunting new style that is – using my blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, … and every other network that could help me spread the word. Interestingly enough it all became a bit of an experiment along the way as well, like when I introduced the #hirefriday tag, but nevertheless still a rather unpleasant reality of being unemployed during a crisis. Lucky enough for me things paid off rather quickly and 5-6 weeks after my last day at Microsoft I started working again.

My new home is Duval Guillaume, an idea-centric communications agency with offices in Antwerp and Brussels. Since 3 weeks you can find me in the Brussels office (photo below) as the new head of strategy there. But more on what I’m doing there in future blogposts.

What the office looks like

A lot of people have been very helpful during all those weeks and I’m very thankful for that. I realize I have been pretty silent on this blog during most of that time but we’ll be going to a more regular rhythm again soon. First I need to change a few things here, for one I should really get that self hosting thing going (yeah I know it’s not the first time I talk about this).

Not making any money on this either

The great thing about analogies is that when you place a certain situation into another context or circomstances it often helps to make things understandable. This video is doing a great job at that, showing something that is very common between clients and agencies today into a fresh context… have fun ;)

Famous Jaffe

Last Friday I was invited by Famous to come to their annual BBQ at the Africa Museum in Brussels. They also had arranged for Joseph Jaffe to come and talk about The Conversation to the audience of marketers and advertisers. I had wanted to see Jaffe present again as last (and first) time I saw him was in November 2005 and it was good. Given the post about that presentation was only the second one I had ever written on a blog, it’s fair to say it was part of the reason that I got into blogging to begin with (just like reading “Naked Conversations” was another one). Another reason why I was interested to go was because it would be a good opportunity to finally meet face to face, after several conversations online.

And just like in 2005, Jaffe never seems to disappoint as a presenter. Reading his books always leave me somewhere in the middle, I like them because they’re well written but most of the content is not new to me so that makes them less interesting. But then again, I don’t belong to the core target audience for these books either. The marketers and advertisers invited by Famous do belong to that audience though and I really hope they will read the book. Since everyone received a free copy that shouldn’t be too much of a challenge :)

ConversationalMarketingConstruct

One of the slides that interested me most was the one above about “The Conversational Marketing Construct”. I thought it was an interesting exercise on defining the innovation process, and something we ought to use to check on our own progress with Bring The Love Back.

Overall, very good presentation and glad to finally meet Joseph in person. There were a lot of good statements being made during the presentation but since Clo captured most of them in her Twitter stream, I suggest you check that one out. My favorites:

… And this is my social security number and my bank account. Since you’re all marketing professionals I know you’ll be too lazy to use the data to get into contact with me anyway” (when showing his AMEX, bank account, etc details on his ‘who’s Jaffe’ slide)

Or this one…

It’s not enough to get your foot in the door. Consumers are now so powerful they would break it. They would have to ask you in.

Inspiration, Anyone?

When we launched ‘The Break-Up’ about a year ago we were impressed with the feedback we got on it. Yes we thought it was good, but still we never expected it to be as big as it became. And feedback was good, people like how we portrayed the changed relationship between consumers and advertisers. The second most common feedback was what we would do about it. We showed we understood the shifted relationship, what does Microsoft Advertising have to offer that work this changed situation?

In the second installment the advertiser is at his agency trying to figure out a way to solve his problem. This one is about inspiration… but just check it out for yourself.

Check getinspiredhere.net

Who comes up with this stuff?

Yesterday night at the movies, I saw a commercial from one of the Belgian health insurance funds, namely Het Neutraal Ziekenfonds. In Belgium the basic health insurance (which covers quite a lot) is free (as paid by the government) and offered by all funds. So you pretty much chose between the funds depending on all the other services they offer.

So last night I saw this new cinema commercial they made and it just made wonder what some people are doing in advertising. This is probably the silliest ad I’ve seen this year. I don’t regularly blog about bad advertising and rather focus on the good stuff, but this is just …

ziekenfonds

I have a link to the commercial a bit further but read through this first. Since the commercial is in Dutch, you might want some additional info. The slogan of Het Neutraal Ziekenfonds is ‘the essential, in all simplicity’ and that’s what this commercial is about, that’s what the voice-over is saying: losing ballast, going to the essential, …

Now go see the commercial for yourself and try to look at it with ‘essential’ in mind and like you have no idea what it’s about ;) Go to this page, ‘skip intro’ and click on the link in the down right corner called ‘de bioscoopspot’. That should do it.

Now I’m a happy client of them, but this ad is just ridiculous.