Agency process is a balancing act. Too little process, and an agency will eventually fail to deliver and will go broke in the process. Too much process and it kills the creativity of the organization.

Having recently been a fly on the wall during client-led agency reviews, it is easy to spot the winners and losers. The winning agencies tend to lightly dance with their process, intermingling it with their work as evidence that the outcomes were not pure luck.

The losers spend more than half their allotted time banging on about their process, segmenting it from the outcomes and boring the client team to no end.

Good clients expect and respect strong agency process. They are not hiring agencies for their process. But if you question a client about why they are considering switching agencies, 50% of the time they cite poor process as one of the primary reasons…and also the work did not live up to expectations.

Process will not win you the work, but it sure as hell will get you fired.

An agency that over-indexes on process in a client presentation is more than likely also over-indexing on it back at the shop. Nothing will destroy an agency creative culture faster than legions of people armed with process hovering over the creative work.

Process is important. Properly executed, agency process infuses the creativity of the organization with insight, curiosity and a general esprit de corps that has everyone working to produce the best work possible.

If done poorly, agency process become a dividing line between those doing the work and those who believe it is their job to demand the work.

The highest purpose of agency process is to liberate its creativity.

Brand marks and symbols are invested with symbolism; meaning derived from perceived value, ambition and aspiration too. On this 4th of July I thought it would be interesting to start with a consideration of Uncle Sam; a representation of the U.S. Government. The creation and evolution of Uncle Sam is an interesting story about which much has been written. It’s hard to separate fact from fiction but one thing is certain, the illustration created by artist Montgomery Flagg is a hit. This rendering was used to promote the idea of being ready and prepared for war. World War I was supposed to be the war to end all wars. Sadly, there is never really an end to war and persecution and the excuses used to justify it all. Right or wrong, the symbol of Uncle Sam became a call-to-arms which found its inspiration in the 1914 Alfred Leete illustration from England used in a WW I recruitment poster.

openness, compassion

Columbia, symbol of the people of the America

Uncle Sam’s better half, known as Columbia, famously depicted by Paul Stahr ca. 1917-18, named to honor the legacy of Columbus, went on to inspire the naming of countless organization, including Columbia University as well as Columbia pictures, which later took the lovely lady as a symbol of its own. You’ll notice a strong resemblance to Lady Liberty, the grand statue itself a gift to the people of the U.S. from the people of France. The Statue was designed by sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel and dedicated on October 28, 1886.

In the painting of Columbia, we are quite literally taken in by her open arms and compassionate and sincere expression. Columbia was said to represent the people of the Americas. The Statue of Liberty holds a tablet with the Roman inscription of July 4, 1776; testament to our declaration of independence. Broken chains lay at her feet, a beacon for all the world to see, a symbol of independence and freedom at the entrance to NY Harbor. Her torch held high, welcoming immigrants from all over the world. The statue was also inspired by the Roman Goddess, Libertas.

The fabric of America

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
— Emma Lazarus

It should not be surprising that women are used to represent openness, liberty and freedom while men are depicted as aggressive, directive and controlling. We are ourselves symbols. Of course, not all women and men possess these qualities as distinct characteristics. Check out the early illustration by Thomas Nast from Harpers Weekly of Uncle Sam having Thanksgiving dinner with immigrants from all over the world, this tells the story of America at its best. The world at its best.

At a time when the U.S. and perhaps much of the rest of the world seem on a path of isolationism, it would do us good to remember the power of symbols and icons as representations of our beliefs.

The U.S. welcomes immigrants from all over the world

Uncle Sam, having dinner with immigrants

America’s most important and invaluable export is our culture. For centuries, America and the promise of America has inspired countless millions to risk it all in pursuit of freedom, openness and inclusiveness. We seem to be forgetting, the meaning of America, of liberte’.

What will you export today? Perhaps you can start with a welcoming smile.

Start your day smiley

The originally smiley face, created by graphic artist Harvey Ball made legend by millions of buttons and now emoji too

The problem with no, the real problem, is that it’s not yes. Turning no into yes is often a cat and mouse game with the marketing team. You might have 10 clients on a single brand with a claim to input and by the time you’re done, your big idea might not be so big any longer and your enthusiasm may certainly have waned… but your idea finally gets moved upstairs with the warm endorsement of a semi-aligned brand team. Sound familiar?

If this is a regular routine and when you look yourself in the mirror and with absolutely no self-aggrandizing bullshit you can say, without equivocation, that this is your best work and that the big idea for the brand has been pillaged to death by no, you’ve enter the club of no authority.

The club of no authority, wields the only axe they are authorized to carry; no.

Have you noticed? The decision making around big ideas by marketing teams is sadly, often a chess match of realpolitik in the face of the true authority upstairs.

They cannot give you a yes, because yes is not in the room.

When the idea finally climbs the last flight of stairs and enters the corner office, it may not get that yes because it’s been watered down and the corner office thinks and behaves differently. The corner office is not worried about the corner office. The corner office wants the big idea to be truly big and liberating. The corner office wants your expertise above all else.

This is your moment.

Do everything in your power to be in that room and have your original iteration of the idea at hand. If the idea starts to take a dive offer the alternative solution, one of your originals.

If it achieves yes, immediately give credit to the marketing team for pushing you to no end.

If it all falls flat, accept responsibility and start asking a lot of questions, get the corner office in on the dialogue. Show your humility in the face of their expertise, work to an insight, listen intently, walk out armed, tell them you’ll be back in 48 hours, ready to deliver a yes.

All client companies have their rules of engagement and most of the time you will be bound by these rules and the culture that defines them. Work towards a presentation plan with your client team, they will appreciate this effort more than you realize. After all, yes benefits everyone.