Discoveries are often made by multiple people, but we tend to only celebrate one of those folks.
This is just as true for the theory of evolution (Wallace, but also Darwin), as it is for lightning rods (Diviš, but also Franklin), as it is for the electrical telegraph — invented by Wheatstone but also Morse, whose first message is a favorite of trivianauts and bibliophiles alike (“what hath god wrought”, Numbers 23:23).
The concept of multiple discovery also happens to apply to a favorite hobbyhorse of mine, the Pythagorean Theorem — i.e., that natty formula that allows you to deduce…
“…the science of association is the mother science; the progress of all the others depends on the progress of that one.”
—Alexis de Tocqueville
We have to start somewhere so let’s start with where we are, you and I, reading these words on a screen, staring into our orisons of light.
This moment is “now”.
All you do, every day, is make decisions.
At work, you might decide to spend time on problem A instead of problem B. You might decide to use this product strategy over that product strategy. You might decide to place pixels here, not there.
But how do you make those decisions? Yes, you use intuition. Yes, you use experience. But you can never be 100% certain of the outcome. The only thing you can be certain of is the quality of the process you use to make your decisions.
And that is exactly what frameworks are for.
A framework is…
I’ve worked for some of the largest publishers.
I’ve labored for some of the most successful brands.
I’ve done my share of work for creative agencies.
And after all this time, I’ve realized there’s one thing all of them have in common: hoo boy, none of them can finish a project on time.
It’s not that the people I worked with weren’t smart (they’re wizards). It’s not that I’m not diligent (tho I do like naps). It’s not that the projects were bad ideas (some were!), or that the project manager didn’t know a Gantt Chart from a gardenia.
The only way to get attention is to tell stories.
And while there are many different ways to express a story, there are only two business cases: Public Relations and Business Development.
PR is things you do to get noticed.
BD is things you do to get business.
Most observers would suggest that agencies are rewarded for winning awards for their creativity.
An agency is a business, a business requires revenue, and awards bring clients—which provide revenue.
But agencies aren’t rewarded for winning awards for their creativity. Agencies are rewarded for making the best decisions about being creative.
If that process of making the best decisions about being creative leads to awards? Great.
But awards aren’t the point.
The point is the way an agency organizes itself to reliably and consistently produce great creative.
The same goes for big client wins.
The same goes for headline-generating hires.
It’s not the best of times.
It’s not the worst of times.
But it’s definitely the changiest of times.
Everywhere you look, there’s disruption. Tumult. Eye-widening new shit:
A riotous kudzu of sponcon.
That’s all new.
Then also: marketing automation, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, attribution modeling.
Brands have been told to give TLC to PPC.
They’ve been told to get ROI with SEO.
To GFY with APIs.
Not to mention: to heed the relentless call to migrate to all of their work to a billowy concept called the cloud, a description formerly reserved for things like…
This client had a beautiful web site. That beautiful web site had been designed by a renowned design agency. And on that beautiful web site the client published articles that were well-reported and infographics that were quite attractive.
From the outside, everything looked professional. Healthy. Successful.
But the client had a problem. Traffic wasn’t growing.
What can we do to improve, they asked.
I asked about the amount of content.
No, they said, we can’t change that. Our budget is maxed out.
I asked about the quality of the content.
No they said, we can’t change that. …
Whenever we’re searching for a creative answer to a business problem, we begin with a simple rubric:
Right Ideas > Good Ideas
This is straightforward enough.
Everybody likes good ideas.
Everybody has good ideas.
Everybody (usually) recognizes good ideas.
But the definition of “good” is a bit wishy-washy. A bit ephemeral. A bit hand-wavy, like those air dancers that promote used car lots.
It’s just not a settled issue who, exactly, is the patient.
Agencies think the brand is the patient. The brand has a problem. The brand doesn’t know what to think. The brand needs advice. The brand, the creatives think, is on the couch.
But of course, creatives need brands, too.
It’s the creatives who need the safe space of an engagement to express themselves.
It’s the creatives who need somebody else’s problem to solve.
It’s the creatives who sit down in the client’s office as if to say please sir, please madam: let me sublimate my repressed feelings through the…