The rise of social media and digital apps has sparked a fundamental change in the way many creative agencies operate – from the kind of work they produce to the talent they are looking to hire and the ways in which they work. But how should brands and creative teams be responding to this changing industry?
Speaking to Facebook Creative Shop EMEA director Rob Newlan at AdWeek Europe in London last week, R/GA Associate Creative Director Rebecca Rumble, Tribal WW London ECD Victoria Buchanan and ShareStyle CMO Jo Lavender shared their thoughts on adapting a more iterative way of working, leaving egos behind and putting more trust in young talent.
A more fluid way of working
Rumble and Buchanan agreed that agencies today must adopt a more fluid way of working and structuring teams.
Buchanan – who has worked on digital projects for Volkswagen and Guinness and is also an ambassador for Creative Equals – said that Tribal has shifted towards a mobile-first approach, creating content with mobile in mind.
This has presented many new challenges. Content now has to be shot in multiple formats for different social media platforms while smaller screen sizes and varying download speeds place more restrictions on creative ideas. User experience is integral to the success of mobile campaigns – the journey through an app or Canvas experience now a part of “the brand story” – and brands who fail to acknowledge this are missing an opportunity, she said.
As a result, creative teams at Tribal now work more closely with UX designers, coders and data teams throughout the creative process. Coders, designers and developers will be briefed together and sit alongside each other for the duration of a project.
Both Rumble and Buchanan said the lines between motion designers, editors and UX designers were becoming increasingly blurred and staff are expected to have increasingly diverse skill sets.
… and a more iterative one
When working on shoots for social campaigns and ephemeral content like Instagram Stories, Rumble – who was lead motion designer at Vice before joining R/GA, and has worked on digital projects for Google and Beats at the agency – said that teams will often review footage with clients on set to speed up the production process.
“[We’re] getting them to sign up for clips as we go,” she said. “We’re filming it side by side by side with the Alexa [camera] but we can see the sequencing and how it’s going to look on a phone – you can see the story coming together,” she explained. Teams are able to put content together in just three or four days and clients have instant access to measurable data on the success of that content, creating a more dynamic way of working.
At Tribal, Buchanan says teams have been sent on basic editing courses to ensure that everyone is able to edit content on a phone or laptop as ideas are being developed. “We’re going off and doing stuff and hacking things together live … and the more skills people have, the more everyone can join in [with that process],” she said.
Tribal often uses live testing and will tweak campaigns after trying out content on a small number of social media users. “We learn so much from that. We’re learning live and changing live and we tweak all of our work in a live environment and then the fear of making a big mistake is taken away. It’s a much softer fall,” she said.
A reactive approach
Lavender noted a shift towards a more reactive way of working among in-house marketing teams over the past few years. She was senior global brand manager at Lynx (now Axe) when Wieden and Kennedy launched its brilliant interactive campaign for Old Spice, delivering personalised videos in response to comments on Twitter and Facebook. The campaign was a phenomenal success and received around 65 million views – and the success took Lynx by surprise, she said.
“I was in the middle of a 12-month creative process making a huge film for Lynx … and every night, they were making 20 more films and they were live when I got to work the next day. I had never seen anything like it,” she said. “The response was huge and that was a real turning point for them and for me.… From then, I’ve tried to look at work in a different way and campaign planning in a different way,” she said.
At Pinterest, Lavender – who has also worked at Diageo, Tommy’s and Bacardi – worked with Stinkdigital (now Stink Studios) to create the brand’s first UK campaign, producing multiple ads and a year’s worth of social content for the same budget that she might have spent previously on a single film. The content changed over the course of the year in response to audience feedback and was refined on a weekly basis. “It got better and better as we learned what was working,” she said.
A changing dynamic
Both Rumble and Buchanan noticed a changing dynamic in agencies. Buchanan said that young Instagrammers and content creators have had a “massive influence” at Tribal, “feeding the agency” with great ideas for engaging content. As most of these creatives have their own side projects, Buchanan said she has had to become a more flexible employer, allowing staff to work four days a week or take time off to focus on their own apps, blogs or charities – but in return, the agency benefits from their deep understanding of different platforms and access to a vast network of followers.
Rumble said there was sometimes a tension between older and younger creatives – particularly between those who considered social media as an “add on”. With Instagram Stories, for example, she said older members of the team are often more concerned with high production values and creating a “well-crafted” experience while younger creatives want to make work that is more in keeping with the visual language of a particular medium.
“It’s interesting in that regard, because the young are teaching the old but at the same time, the old need to teach the young about what makes a great creative concept,” she said. Much of Vice’s success has been down to creating content that feels authentic rather than polished, she said, adding: “I think Vice was the first to catch on to that … and it sort of caught everyone off guard.”
A changing relationship between client and agency
Asked how the role of the creative director is changing – and how creative agencies can cope with being more prolific – Buchanan said it was time to leave egos behind in favour of a more open way of working. “I make everyone put their work up on the wall. We share work early on and everyone contributes to each other’s work,” she said.
She said Tribal has also started bringing in clients to work with creative teams for one or two days a week as campaigns progress. “They spend time in our office – sometimes I make them sit next to the tech team and go, ‘look, just moving that picture left a bit is actually really hard’ … or ‘making that change and connecting to that data is going to take us a month'”. Buchanan described this as a “healthy shift” and one that has helped Tribal establish a more collaborative relationship with clients – “the client becomes part of the team, it’s not like we’re servicing them anymore,” she said. She also said it has enabled the agency to discuss potential problems and pitfalls with clients, showing them where they might need to spend more money or invest in more assets as a project develops.
Asked whether we still need agencies anymore or whether brands should build up own creative teams instead, Lavender said it would be “remiss” of clients not to establish some design and production skills in-house, allowing them to be more reactive – but that the best work is often a result of a close partnership with an agency who can offer an external perspective while working closely with internal teams.
“Where I’ve seen really great work is when it’s a combination of external creatives and internal execution – being able to pick up those ideas and move them between both parties.”
The panel also discussed diversity – Buchanan said that more needed to be done to teach children about creative careers from an early age. She suggested this could be done by breaking down a complex industry into core functions such as storytelling and design. She also said there was a need to challenge perceptions among girls that subjects such as maths and coding are for boys. “We’ve got to show them the exciting world they can step into with those skills,” she added.
Rumble spoke about R/GA’s Woman Up initiative – a series of talks, workshops and mentoring schemes aimed at celebrating female talent – and said this programme has now been expanded to include events open to the whole agency. Woman Up recently held a talk on men and mental health and puts on breakfast talks once a month to get teams talking about issues they might be facing. “We’re bringing people together through these talks and people are really opening up,” she said.
You can watch the discussion in full here.