Monday, April 21, 2008

Agencies Need to Sell Ideas. Just Ask Jay.

The landscape is changing so rapidly in the ad biz. From the growth of new media to the predicted (it'll never happen) death of traditional media, entire ad agencies are now involved in the creation of ideas. It's no longer just the crazies in the creative departments who get to play with the big ideas. Today, ideas come from such formerly staid departments as media and brand strategy, for Google's sake!

Agencies have even renamed some of the jobs within their halls. For instance, the account people who previously were considered the nemesis of the creatives have been relabeled content managers, project managers, engagement managers—anything but boring account guys and gals, the suits. Because big ideas come from them, now, too.

And of course, agencies today are trying to figure out how to make money in this brave new world.

In the '80s, agencies started getting bigger, buying up the promotional agencies to keep on top of the trends and look competitive to their clients. Today, it's digital that's driving the conglomerates to purchase hot interactive shops to add to their menu of client services. But bottom line, agencies have to figure out how they're going to get paid for this new media and the expensive new players they've added to create it.

Which brings us to selling ideas instead of hours. Why do that? Well, Staples' "Easy" button campaign was created by their agency McCann. A very big idea. A successful media campaign. Staples' sales continue to soar. The campaign has legs. Staples is now manufacturing and selling Easy buttons instore—an additional profit item and awareness generator. And what did McCann get? A creative award or two. Some billable hours. Less than 15% media commissions, I'm sure. And the right to say, "That was easy." At least until Staples hires a new agency.

Always the innovator, Jay Chiat of Chiat/Day pioneered the selling of ideas instead of hours back in the '70s. Jay believed in taking on a new brand like the strange little Japanese Honda being introduced to America and writing his contract so that his agency received a percentage of Honda's success. Jay counted on extending a brand's reach through ideas so creative that everybody made a lot of money. And great brands were built. So at least when the client fired him—and they always did, eventually—at least he had a sizeable chunk of their success.

Maybe today's agencies aren't that sure of their work. Or maybe they think they must devise a different model since it's "different times." But it's not really all that different. Great work is great work that builds great brands across all media—traditional, new, soft, experiential, digital, you name it as it comes along. So why reinvent the wheel?
You want to make money, just channel Jay.