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My Brand New World

Posted on October 19, 2011 and read 4,324 times

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troy scarlott My Brand New WorldTroy Scarlott
Co-Creative Lead

As a Creative Director in the world of advertising, I’m obviously a fan of big ideas. They are the existential magic of our very careers. Ideas motivate us to go above and beyond. They taunt us through the rhythmic blinking of the cursor hovering on our blank MacBook screen. They are the focus of conversation shadowing late night pizza deliveries and they are the breakfast accompaniment of our double latte in the morning. Ideas blow away clients and win big pitches. They move consumers and compel them to laugh, share, engage, click and buy. And of course, big ideas make other ad creatives wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that idea… yesterday?!”

Now, I don’t have a go-to formula for developing big ideas. I don’t have an internal GPS to finding them. And to my knowledge, there still is no app for that.

If you want to create the big idea, then obviously, you need to be a better creative. And in order to do that, I have an idea for you.

Become a client. Yes, a client. I did it, and believe me, it has greatly influenced my career as a creative.

About four years ago, one of my best friends, Eric Barnes, and I were on a run in Orange County, CA. We were chatting about careers, life and families as we always do. Around mile 4, Eric exclaimed, ‘Hey, I have an idea!’ I chuckled and threw Eric a wry smile as I went by him to take over the pace. Eric is an entrepreneur in every sense of the word. Over the next 2 miles, Eric painted his vision for a new product that he wanted to create. From scratch. In between hill climbs and switchbacks, he passionately explained how it was actually more of a movement than a product. By the end of the run, I was sold. It was a great idea. It was smart. It was cool. It was forward-thinking. It could be game-changing.

As Eric and I grabbed a coffee, he literally sketched out his idea on a napkin. (Yes, it’s true…I am not making this up.) Our local Starbucks came alive with thought starters, “What if…just think…and imagine this.” I felt right at home. I’m a creative, an idea guy. I’ve been doing this for 18 years. This stuff is easy, it’s fun. It’s right in my wheelhouse. As we continued to toss ideas back and forth, I realized that Eric wasn’t looking for me to help do the creative part of advertising. He was looking for me to be the client part of advertising. He needed a brand manager, just like the clients I work with everyday. Except scarier, he needed a Brand Builder.

Oh, man.

Two years later we launched the the first personal hydration vessel from KOR Water, called the KOR One, which simply described, is a water bottle.  Our idea was to create a brand to celebrate and preserve water - our core message. Our goal was to redefine the entire water bottle category and what it stands for.

mybrand My Brand New World

KOR Product Line featuring KOR ONE, KOR DELTA, KOR AURA, and KOR VIDA

In the last four years, I have literally lived in a Brand New World. The entire experience has transformed my learning curve to a vertical line, pointing straight up. The main insight I have gleamed from this experience is that the role of a brand manager, our clients’ job, is not as easy as we may think. I have sat in my fair share of client meetings thinking, “You know, I’d love to be the client. Being a client is a piece of cake. Just walk into a meeting, watch some creative team tap dance through a presentation, make a few decisions, deliver feedback and then approve a campaign. Easy-peasy. Done. Let’s start picking directors.”

Well, be careful what you wish for. Over the past four years, I have learned that being a client is damn hard work. And expertly managing a brand in any competitive landscape is quite the challenge. Everyday your brand is sitting there waiting for you make a thousand decisions that will mold it, build it and grow it.

More importantly, after four years of being a Creative Director and a Client, I haven’t just learned a valuable lesson, I have lived my greatest lesson:

I became a client in order to be become a better creative.

#1 – Live in a Brand New World.

Flip off your flippity flops and pull on a nice, shiny pair of conservative wing tips or a classic pair of black pumps (I’ll let you choose). Take a walk around the block and break them in. Then request a meeting with your client. Buy them a cup of coffee and ask them a thousand good questions about their job as a client, as a Brand Manager. And I’m not talking high-level, big picture advertising questions. I’m talking day-to-day, in the trenches, how does the-Japanese-Tsunami-disaster affect-the-manufacturing-sector-and-product-availability-thus-impacting-your-entire-new product-launch-in-Brazil-kind of questions.

#2 – Listen between the lines.

Listen better, listen more intently and listen to everyone’s point of view. When you’re listening, put your iPhone away, unless of course your client is calling. Keep the MacBook in your backpack and log out of your iPad. Just sit there and listen. Take some notes the old fashioned way, using paper and a pen. Believe me, writing it all down helps you create connections and ideas from a wide variety of perspectives. It helps you write an article for

#3 – How to succeed in business, while trying.

If being a client has taught me anything, it’s business acumen. Just take some time out of each day and sit in on the entire strategic planning session with the clients and planners. Read the focus group verbatim, even the ones from Aunt Shirley in Kansas City. Spend quality time with a media manager and dive into the weeds of their media plan flowchart, and don’t comment on the art direction. Learn what CPM, CPC, LOE, and MSA stand for and forget about CYA. Open an excel spreadsheet and look for more than your TV production budget. Look around your agency and realize that advertising is a business. As you collaborate with everyone you work with, in every discipline, you will understand how this business comes together. It’ll not only make you a real business person, it’ll make you an even better creative. When you stop and think about it, the creative ideation process hasn’t really changed in the last 60 years. Yet the advertising business is changing everyday. Next time you have the opportunity to present the best campaign that you have ever developed, you will have the background you need to sell it. That’s more than just creative talent, that’s business.

#4 – Meet my friend, Ted, and his friend, Simon.

Start with Why. Find 18 uninterrupted minutes and watch my favorite Ted talk, Simon Sinek’s How Great Leaders Inspire Action, and figure out why your client’s brand exists. This powerful Ted talk and Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why have been instrumental in shaping my thinking on the brands I work on as regardless of the role I am in, Creative Director or Brand Manager. Remember that your client’s brand exists for a reason. When you figure it out, you’ll have the truth you need to develop great work. Who knows, you may even inspire yourself.

Credits: Simon Sinek, Start With Why; Simon Sinek, Ted Talk

#5 – Keep the safe ideas in a safe.

Don’t hang them on the war room wall or drop them in a slide to check the prerequisite ‘safe’ box for your next big presentation. Keep reminding your team and your clients to do the same. I know that this will sound very cliché. I’m going to say it anyway – take some risks.

#6 – Put down your weapon, Young Skywalker.

One of the best lessons I have learned is about picking your battles. Clients have a thousand decisions to make for their brand and most of them have nothing to with the advertising campaign you’re working on. So when you’re in creative development, which can take a very long time, I recommend that you accept that everything in the creative world is not a battle. In order to do this successfully, you have to know what’s important. So before you go forward in a presentation or a creative review, take some time and write down what is important and what isn’t. Is the size of the font really important? Does that CTA really kill the whole idea? So pick your battles wisely and when you do, stand up for it.

#7 – Go for a Run with a Friend

You never know what’ll happen.

  • Tim Geoghegan

    Great article. The best work is indeed done when you’ve developed a strong relationship with your client and can see where they’re coming from. Truly empathizing with their situation makes us better at what we do and it’s the only way to gain real trust. While our business is notorious for the smoke and mirrors ‘truuuuust me…’ operatives, some of the greatest work was produced when real, mature understanding between client and agency was there. In one word: Apple. In another word (thrown in for good measure): Nike.

    But I strongly disagree with the line ‘become the client’ only because it’s a such a strong line if taken out of context. If the reader’s not cognizant of the real message I see in the article – being paramount that we recognize a client’s business reality and deliver on their brief – then I think it be misinterpreted as ‘think like the client’ or we ‘make ads for the client.’ And that would be a gross misunderstanding.

    Our job as communicators is to be responsible to one party first and foremost – the audience. Not to the client.

    That’s why we should only make ads for ourselves. Because if you are a great strategist or creative, a big part of your job is about becoming a method actor. You need to actually become the consumer in your own mind and bones – to internalize the consumer’s wants, needs, anxieties, beliefs, misconceptions. When you do, you can create an ad that would compel yourself to take action or make yourself laugh in order to create a positive brand aura or make yourself consider new options.

    That’s what clients hire us to do. As you see with Al Pacino, Sean Penn or Jack Nicholson, the skill to be able to internalize all of this fluid information and convert it into an emotional, persuasive form of communication is rare. It is also incredibly valuable and needs to be recognized as perhaps the only real unique offering advertising agencies (or strategists/ creative directors) can still claim.

    Because it’s that rare talent and skill that can connect brands to their consumers. Otherwise, we’re talking to the desires of the client – and not to the desires of the person who matter most – the consumer. At that point, we may as well be talking to ourselves.

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