Making The Arrangements

When you’re in our line of work – project managers, you know, the basic Process People – nothing rings truer than a quote from Bob Hoffman, AKA Adcontrarian:

“Creative people make the ads. Everyone else makes the arrangements.”

For those of us who make the arrangements, I see our job as a facilitator, keeper of civility, manager of profitability, efficiency expert, therapist, and seer of All Things That Can Go Wrong. (You’d be amazed at the things I can foresee.)

We shouldn’t be a speed-bump, barrier, wall or unmovable object when it comes to getting great creative done.

However, I do believe everyone should get along and do their part so that everything in an agency can get done. On time. I'm not talking a kumbaya moment here. Just plain old cooperation.

Yes, I understand that everyone’s awe-inspiring creative is the most important thing in the agency. Ever. But I also understand that everyone else’s awe-inspiring creative is just as important.

That’s why people like us – the PMs, traffic, those who keep the work moving along – are important and shouldn't be eyed with contempt when they walk into a room.

We make sure everyone has what they need, projects are kept within budgetary boundaries (we always find a way), and move other work around while bargaining our last favor to squeeze extra help for your project. We’ve also been known to get food and drink to the creative masses as they work through the night to meet a deadline.

We’re also the ones at the end of the line, who make the arrangements (and often pick up and deliver) to get the decks ready for your 10am meeting.

So while the Creative People make the ads, the arrangements must be made by someone – and that someone is most often us – the PMs. The Process People.

Yes, we have our systems, and those seemingly tedious systems do make creatives crazy, but those very systems are the ones that give us everything we need to make sure your stunning project gets done. And everyone else’s projects get done too.

So please, don’t complain the next time we ask you to mark your task complete, or do your timesheet. All that stuff makes it easier for us to help you.

We make the arrangements.

Open Space And My Quest To Buy A Book From Barnes & Noble

Click on the image to go to BuzzFeed and read  24 Reasons Your Open-Plan Office Sucks.

Click on the image to go to BuzzFeed and read 24 Reasons Your Open-Plan Office Sucks.

Yesterday I wrote a [meandering] post about moving people around in an agency in the effort to encourage collaboration with folks you probably see every day, but you usually don’t talk to.

The logic is that more collaboration and creativity will spark if you engage in spontaneous conversation with someone you’ve seen around the place, but just don’t chat with regularly.

Then, in the midst of searching for just the right photo for my post, I got caught up in another topic that gripes me and it is the concept of Open Space – via a lovely piece in the National Post about a book called Cubed and how the lame concept of no walls fails to make anyone more collaborative.

Sorry for the tossed salad of topics yesterday. So to clarify: 1.) moving people around is dumb and a waste of time; and 2.) open space is worse.

So today is about Open Space – and a couple other things.

There’s nothing like reading something that validates one’s opinion (based on having actually experienced it, mind you) in a respected journalistic setting. And Canadian to boot.

As I said yesterday, yes I actually had to listen to a coordinator explain Fireball shots to her mom over the phone. I had work to get done. I only wish I could have been in on the call because this woman just wasn’t gettin’ the whole gist of Fireball shots.

I wanted to crawl through that iPhone and say, “Fireball is cinnamon-flavored whisky – that’s a form of alcohol, honey, you drink it in one gulp – and by the way, you’re making me crazy. Understand fast because this call is OVER.”

But I didn’t. I did what every other person in any Open Space Agency does. Put on headphones, logged into Pandora and listened to Tom Petty.

By the way, Fireball is Canadian too.

Barnes & Noble Tangent

So, I read the article, I went online and ordered the book to pick up at my local Barnes & Noble. I planned to read as much as possible last night and wow you with enhanced knowledge, but alas, my $17.38 purchase came through, confirmed via text, that the price in store is actually $26.95.

Oh, mon dieu. I went to B&N, asked for my book at the counter and said, “I have a question.” The clerk responded immediately with, “We charge the full price, not online price” . . . as she put the book back on the shelf. They have my name, email address and phone number. Good Job. I retraced my online steps, and sure enough, missed it. The real price was there in the final step. I was just so thrilled to validate everything I know about Open Space I was blinded.

So I came home and ordered Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace from Amazon, free shipping and it was even cheaper than B&N - $17.04. Ha!

Back to Open Space The Saga

Since I didn’t read-up on everything I know to be evil and true about Open Space, I’ll share some of the highlights of the article.

About cubes

“The irony of the cubicle is that it was designed to save workers from the kind of chaos of what was essentially an open-plan setup,” Mr. Saval said in an interview . . .

About the return of Open Space

“The first time it’s tragedy, the second time it’s farce,” [Saval] said of this concept, which was prone to complaints about noise and distraction. “They’re repeating the same mistakes they made in the 1950s when the Germans introduced the more open flexible landscape. It’s sort of silly that that’s happening… there’s some dishonesty and bad faith in it. It’s obviously cheaper to cram more people into less space.”

The problem with Open Space is that everything is a distraction. Collaboration happens either in meeting rooms or collaboration spaces – which are usually booked – or off-site at Coffee Bean (okay, Starbucks too).

So why build all those meeting areas and collaboration spaces when you can just create real office space so people can get work done? As my experience in an old-fashioned agency back in the ‘90s clearly demonstrated – everyone had an office. With a door. And there was constant collaboration going on within those offices. Just because an individual has an office doesn’t mean he or she is going to sit in there and work alone. It’s just not the nature of the agency business. We collaborate and then we get some alone time.

We need that time alone. Great creative ideas do emerge when we can just sit and ponder on the problem. Awesome solutions don’t happen when you’re distracted by your desk-mate getting their voicemail on the speaker phone. As noted in the heavily commented piece in the New York Times, “Headphones are the new wall.”

There is one thing worse than Open Space. That’s hotelling. I’ve done that too. Bad idea devised by cheap bastards.

Bottom line, it’s either management’s brilliant idea to create serendipity, or an effort to cut the cost of overhead. Perhaps it’s one in disguise of the other. Creepy.

But you know, we still get the work done anyway.

Hooray for you guys! Now let’s shove-off with some Tom Petty – who isn’t Canadian.

Working Miracles In Agencies

It’s time to call in Anne Sullivan. You must sit at the table and mind your manners.

After the scene below is one of my favorite movie lines. It’s from The Miracle Worker, Anne Sullivan (Anne Bancroft) just finished breakfast with Helen Keller (Patty Duke). By the way both won an Oscar® for their awesome performances.

“She ate from her own plate. She ate with a spoon. Herself. And she folded her napkin.”

I used to think it was just an anomaly attributed to ad agencies – creatives and account – arguing, fighting, avoiding, circumventing the system. Unfortunately, this can, and does, happen anywhere – even in your local holistic peace-loving organic market. Or bank.

But this is about advertising, marketing, interactive, branding agencies. Where creative and the business of creative intersect. Or clash.

What are they doing? Basically making everything much harder than it should be.

Why? Because everyone has a valid point of their own. The rules don’t apply . . . to them. They don’t “have time”. It isn't their job. And they don't care. Or they know better.

We’ve all heard it over and over.

I have worked with a lot of agencies that call in a peacekeeper. A peacekeeper in the form of a Process, or Tools such as software (oh, yes, it’s technology now), to better track what’s going on – and each other. Sadly, often used as punitive measure just to prove one’s point.

Having worked in and with many agencies, I’ve witnessed it.

First, software doesn’t fix lousy attitudes. It provides structure. You need structure in your rainbow-hued creative world.

Process is discussed ad nauseam – and is never really clear, much less followed – and is always the object thrown in the road like a tack strip to catch a felon.

You didn’t follow process.

So sophisticated ad folks resort to what they know best. They fight. Like kids.

Sometimes, fixing an agency isn’t changing your clients, submitting your magnificent creative to Cannes, or adding to your stable of most sought-after ad men (or women).

Sometimes it’s just looking at how people [don’t] work together.

It should never be that hard to do a day’s work.

Sometimes it takes a little tough love. Everyone needs to know their place, work together (it is, after all a collaboration), and have just a little empathy.

When everyone is at each-other’s throats; at Coffee Bean complaining; working from home (way too much); getting into your stuff and messing with it – it’s time to take a step back and look at what’s really going on.

It’s time for management to put on their big boy Fire Hose Work Pants™ and bring everyone back to Earth. 

Yes, you need a clearly defined process - documented. And yes, you HAVE to have a good, comprehensive (and user-friendly) agency management tool to track work. But not dealing with the people factor will kill every great attempt at implementing process and software.

And sometimes, you just have to be an adult and fold your napkin.

I leave you with this. And yes, you do look like that.

Office Noise, Or Jammin' To The Beat

when I use headphones.jpg

I have a beef with the idea of “open space”.

More collaborative is what the creative geniuses say.

But can anyone tell me why everyone who is trying to get something done is wearing headphones?

So much for collaboration . . .

And can you tell me why my colleagues thinks it’s okay to take ALL OF THEIR PHONECALLS ON SPEAKER?

Even voicemail.

Then there’s the guy, and I love him to death, who’s jammin’ to the beat, all the while his chair is squeaking . . . to the beat. And he doesn’t know it because, yes, he’s wearing headphones so he can concentrate.

So now we’re all in our own little worlds wearing headphones.

And don’t get me started on the temperature. Why all the blankets?

Now, let me find an available conference room . . .

One Word - Gamification

I’m so behind the times. I was reading Laurie Ruettimann’s blog Cynical Girl the other day and one of the commenters stated that her company was implementing gamification to induce employees to work better.

“My companies marketing department has now decided to embrace something called "gamification". It seems to have something to do with awarding employees "points" for desirable behavior or something equally as banal and mind numbingly infantile. Shoot me now.”


Because I too thought it was a totally stupid idea, I did some reading.

It seems that gamification is a way to engage Millennials in the workplace. Since they grew up using computers – and computer games – they are wired to look for the wins, badges, levels, recognition, so they will do their work.

And I say, B.S. And why are Millennials inducing companies into certain workplace methodologies so that we keep them engaged? Weren’t they hired to do a job?

As I am a regular reader of Cynical Girl, I found this post – that says it the way only Laurie can.

But, I’ve been reading further. And since I’m in the business of helping agencies and marketing departments implement software – to manage the day-to-day work – I’m wondering how much gamification will engage staff and actually get them to pay attention to what they have to do; how well they do it; and get them to pay attention to the work itself.

I don’t know much about gamification.

So, I’ve been wondering how adding this extra layer of mayo to the work-day sammich will truly ‘engage’ the Millennials, and why / if it ‘turns-off’ the rest of us.

I come from the generation of expectations and meeting them. Not earning badges because I did what I was supposed to do.

But…in light of something I have read about gamification, I’m doing further ‘research’.

Why would I ever research something I think is stupid? Well, it is hard enough to get everyone in an agency to use the tools we need to use every day in order to manage work efficiently. I wonder how well gamification apps engage, keep engaged, and truly provide relevant data to determine what’s gettin’ done.

What do you think? Is your agency, marketing department, company implementing gamification? If so, what flavor are you using? How is it going? What does your staff think?

I’m going to give the guys at Bunchball a call.

Include Your Team When Evaluating Agency Software

This Forbes article by Avi Dan relates to building a great creative team. But this isn’t just for doing creative – it’s really for solving any puzzle or problem.

When I implement an agency management software solution, I invite people from all areas of an agency – to review, question, and provide the ‘what ifs’. If you want people to use something, give them a voice. And listen. Inclusion and careful consideration of their feedback will go a long way. They won’t feel victimized by some decision that accounting or the partners made for the hope of better performance and reporting.

There is no reason for victims.

Boring things like process and procedure do have real a purpose in any organization and should induce a positive outcome. They provide the framework so the daily hum of an agency has a level of predictability and is logical to everyone.

Why are we doing this?

Introducing agency management tools, along with a ‘new’ process – without input – is usually a disaster.

Putting time and money into tools and process without engaging your agency staff is a waste. And if you’ve done it unsuccessfully once, I can guarantee they will be even less inclined to participate should you look for yet ‘another solution’.

In the article, points number four and five are important:

4. Get naïve feedback. “Beginner’s luck” can facilitate creativity – with a twist. A lot of brilliant ideas don’t start this way, but become so when remarked on by a novice or an outsider. Experts sometimes tend to think in lockstep, and denigrate ideas not their own. Reach out for naïve advice beyond the usual suspects and liberate your creativity.

5. Fail quickly, cheap – and often. Creative organizations understand that success and failure go hand in hand, and therefore they are not intimidated by the prospect of failing. The willingness to absorb failure is liberating and encourages creativity. Simply manage the economics of failure to make it acceptable.

Get feedback – even though you know your business well, when’s the last time you sat in a production artist or coordinator’s seat? They’re the ones doing the work, using the tools and are really important sources of information (why did X happen?). Ensuring tools and processes work for them is essential. They know things you can’t even imagine…

Fail quickly – there’s always a transition to be factored in when introducing new tools or process. Didn’t think of transition? Step back and determine if it is transition – letting go of old, ‘trusted’ systems and using new ones – or if there are situations that you didn’t consider. Review those situations immediately. If the tools or process aren’t working as they were designed / trained /deployed, pull your team together and determine if you need to re-boot.

It’s far better to re-boot, or put off a plan that wasn’t thoroughly vetted than to launch half-cocked – which is usually due to a self-imposed deadline.

This is for the long-haul. No one wants to do this more than once.

I believe in a completely integrated solution to manage agency work, to track projects, to document what’s going on, to assign tasks – everything in one place. Multiple and/or redundant systems don’t provide the level of transparency everyone needs to assure everything is running smoothly.

I also believe that everyone is a stakeholder. Everyone is responsible. That means every individual is accountable for clearly defined instructions, content, budgets, schedules – and doing their part updating / making notes / passing along information – in a shared, structured environment.

That is where transparency in process resides.

You get that transparency through compliance. You get compliance with a system that everyone can use, knows how to use it, and who were given a voice in the evaluation and decision-making process.

They become owners of the process and systems your agency has paid for.


Bridging That Pesky Digital Gap

         I saw the future...and it was totally cool. It still is.

         I saw the future...and it was totally cool. It still is.

I finally found an article that’s worth reading about agencies coming to terms with digital. Allison Kent-Smith wrote a nice piece in FastCompany called Reinventing Your Creative Talent.

It’s time to educate your staff – all of them. Bring them into the technology fold and quit with the silos already! 

There always seem to be silos, but here, the writer says – we all need to learn about technology. How to get it done. We’re better for it.

As the article states: We’re all technologists. We can’t be observers, and then hand stuff off to others to execute.

So, ongoing training is needed. The writer is calling this agency reinvention. We must be relevant – all of us. Or else.

Well, hallelujah!

Part of retaining awesome talent is keeping them up to date on technology. How it applies to our clients’ needs. There are six steps outlined in the piece - that make sense.

Now I'm gonna preach: It’s my belief that not every solution should be online or mobile, or TV, or direct mail (what’s that?!). But we all need to know when to use it, and the requirements – technology, timelines, cost. It is the same for any and all medium.

I have worked in siloed agencies, and for some reason the digital folks truly felt that the rest of us were completely incapable of understanding their magic. The voodoo they do so well.

Well, as an observer, trying to get a seat at their table was tough. Rarely invited, I invited myself. Then came the jargon. Spit out at rapid fire just to prove how uninformed – and stupid – I was.

So, do yourself a favor, learn this stuff. And if they don’t want to share, then take it as the big red flag that they are trying to not let you in on the fact that they might not be all that smart. Then plant yourself at their desk, couch, beanbag - and demand a few minutes of their precious time. It will translate into real dollars (aka create value).

Well, we are smart. After all, we all learned to use computers, cell phones and how to play pong.

By the way – this was overlooked in the article but very important – It’s not only the creatives who need to be technology savvy. Everyone should learn, and understand technology. From Account, through to your billers. If they don’t know what it’s about, they will sell something that can’t be done in within that window of time/budget (Account) – or just plain wrong; all the way to the end – billing incorrectly for services can kill profits.

If your digital team wants to hoard information – because it’s too technical for our little heads – remind them that they too had to learn it. They surely weren’t born with all that knowledge. And surely, they can learn a thing or two from you.

Like how to blend everything – online to offline – into one cohesive campaign.

Now go forth and learn.