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Process or product?

By February 16, 2018 No Comments

I’m the queen of process. I’ve been doing it all my professional life (and at home – how else could I manage my boat/socialising/house/shoes/cars/partner without it all turning into a swirling vortex of designer labels, disgruntlement and damage limitation?)

But even the queen has to face a hard truth now and again.

Clients don’t appoint agencies for their magnificent processes, but for their brilliant ideas.

I hope so, anyway, because most agency processes are nightmares. Which is why I get called in to fix them.

As agencies grow, they invent a new process for every new client they win. Then suddenly they have ten or fifteen different ways of doing things, all designed on the hoof.

What then? The agency becomes tangled up in its processes, and obsessed with them. It becomes a matter of faith rather than reason, with dense theological arguments in favour of rival ways of doing things.

There’s a simple reason why many of these competing processes fail.

Do you remember the difference between a series circuit and a parallel circuit? In a series circuit, all the components – light bulbs, for instance – are lined up, one after the other. In a parallel circuit, each bulb is on its own wire.

In a series circuit, if a bulb blows, they all go out. You have to find out which one blew before you can restore light. Also, as the current goes along the wire, it gets used up by each successive bulb, and there may not be enough to get them all to glow (this is possibly not the most scientific way to put it, but it’s true).

In a parallel circuit, each bulb is on its own loop of wire. If one blows, the others stay lit. You can easily see which one failed. Plus the voltage drop across each bulb is the same, and they all glow.

Agency processes are often in series, because they were literally made up as the agency went along. Therefore if one part goes wrong, the whole thing’s compromised. And time and energy are expended at each stage, so by the time the the creative bulbs are reached, there’s not much of either left. Is it any wonder they don’t glow?

To make things worse, every time one person hands on the task to the next, the person receiving it takes a look and decides it’s wrong and needs redoing. The last bulb was red! We need it to be yellow! The next one’s looking green, and that’s not right either. Did the client want blue? Well, they’re out of their minds. It’s more like purple now.

In a series, when the client has a problem, they write a brief; the agency takes it and rewrites it; it passes from one set of hands to another, being debated and redone all the way; finally the creatives get it and of course they don’t like it; and so on, and on.

In parallel, the day the client realizes they have a problem to solve, they call in the agency. Not just a suit, but a strategist and a creative director show up and immediately start to think about the task. They’re working together, in parallel, each glowing gently.

The whole project can be completed in half the time, and with much better ideas, as the agency has been working with the client from day one.

Of course, if you’re selling time, this is a problem. But that’s something else we need to fix. When agencies charge for the time they spend, they’re actually asking the client to pay for process, not product.

What we should be paid for is a superior product.

Ideas, not hours. And the only way to get there, and stop thinking about process, is to fix it, once and for all.

Easy, eh? Now I just need to figure out how to reconcile my partner to the shoe situation without him turning into a black hole.

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