Another start-up ad agency announced. Fortnight Collective. I give a big high five to anyone trying to go it alone these days, but the premise of this one irks me: give us two weeks and we’ll produce “world class thinking.” While I’m not currently on the agency side of the business, I spent the better part of my career there. And on the marketing side, one of my primary responsibilities is partnering with agencies. Two weeks for world class thinking as your agency promise? Good luck.
I get it: the typical advertising process is far too long. I’ve worked on businesses where we’re developing creative a year and a half out from launch, knowing that whatever we create risks total irrelevance when it sees the light of day. And I’ve seen death by a thousand cuts over and over again, where the work that eventually launches is a shell of its original self. Some blame can be put on the agency, some on the client, most is a combo. So I can appreciate the sentiment behind two weeks: partner as one to cut through all the BS that typically gets in the way. But how do you solve for these five core issues?
1. The best creatives demand great briefs. A tight objective. A colorful target audience. A descriptive tone that truly guides work. The right proof point(s) on which to focus. These things take more than a couple of days to nail, and without them, the work that results might make for a super presentation after two weeks, but it ultimately won’t meet expectations at some point down the line. (Same reason why pitch work is rarely ever made.)
2. Creatives are human beings, and human beings can’t be programmed. No matter how long you lock someone in a room, great ideas just may not come. Sometimes we get lucky and they come quickly, but often the best ones rely on significant alone time to spawn: morning jogs, the shower, mowing a really big lawn, sleep. You better hope for luck in this model.
3. Great ideas start from kernels. Lots of great kernels can be thrown out in a couple of weeks, for sure. That’s the easy stuff: open, pie-in-the-sky thinking. The hard part is the craft: interrogating it, seeing if it has legs, determining realities, artfully smoothing out the details that don’t initially make sense. It’s true that some ideas get over-thought and over-questioned, but just as dangerous is an idea that’s not well thought through.
4. What about the art of presentation? I’ve seen so many great ideas die in a meeting simply because they weren’t presented well. And there aren’t too many clients experienced or trained well enough to be able to see phenomenal potential in a poorly-presented, poorly-positioned idea. Developing a well-articulated presentation takes time, and practice.
5. The two-week promise is designed to recreate the fever, speed, dedication, excitement and belief in potential of a pitch on an ongoing basis. Got it. But a. putting employees in eternal pitch mode is bad for their health, and sleep- and personal life-deprived employees won’t deliver the goods after a while; b. taking on more than one simultaneous assignment will be incredibly difficult to manage without relying on many beyond the core (strongest) team… or perhaps the two weeks start when the client can be slotted into the schedule, which makes it more than two weeks…; and c. what happens when the client loves the work and wants to hire the pitch team to continue the partnership? Too many of those and now they’re just one of a thousand ad agencies… perhaps that’s the intent and this is just a foot in the door idea?
I’ll give them this: I’m writing about them. It’s a memorable approach, in name alone. From a purely financial standpoint, it’s brilliant: they’re being paid to pitch, unfortunately a novel idea in the industry. And given how many clients out there are feeling stuck for one reason or another, they’ll no doubt attract business. But per the above points, I question the long-term viability of their model: “two weeks” is at risk of compromise by too many factors.
The reason this irks me so, and why I felt compelled to write about it is that there is too much polygamy in this business already; Fortnight Collective is just stoking that fire. Respect for the long-term partnership is deteriorating and it’s hurting everyone. So for any client whose interest is piqued by this approach, I have an idea for you: give the money you’d pay these guys to your own agency and tell them they have two weeks. Ask them to take the gloves off. Ask for a fresh team who’s never worked on your business before if you feel you must. And then wash your mind of all pre-conceptions and give them the floor. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.