Wednesday, January 14, 2015

never tell anyone outside the agency what you're thinking

At the beginning of 'The Godfather', just before the scene of Don Vito Corleone's daughter Connie's wedding, Santino 'Sonny' Corleone is in a clandestine meeting with Virgil 'The Turk' Sollozzo in which they discuss a potential opportunity for the Corleone's in Sollozzo's nascent heroin business, which he plans to bring to New York.

(This discussion is happening without Don Vito Corleone's prior knowledge and ultimately leads to the attempt on the Don's life later on.)

Sonny is already receptive to the heroin idea, narcotics looks likely to be a lucrative business in the near future and worth getting in early on, and proceeds to sets up a meeting with Sollozzo, Tom Hagen - the Corleones' consigliere (who is similarly enthusiastic), and the Don.

Sollozzo arrives in New York and has already 'secretly' allied with the rival Tattaglia family, however still has ideas on bringing in the Corleone family for further financial backing and to ensure heat protection from the police and justice departments in the city, whom the Corleone's have in their pocket.

Vito Corleone - who, unbeknown to Sollozzo - is already wise to the Tattaglia involvement, decides to decline the offer on the basis that heroin is generally a bad business and - in any case - would put a strain his political connections, which he viewed as strategically more valuable in the long game.

During Vito's polite refusal of Sollozzo's offer, Sonny - understandably inscensed by Sollozzo's faintly ridiculous suggestion that the Tattaglia's would guarantee the Corleone's investment - breaks ranks and interrupts his father with an display of temper directed at Sollozzo.

Vito calmly puts Sonny back in his box, and once their guests have departed expresses his disappointment with Sonny's indiscretion.

'Never tell anyone outside the family what you're thinking again'.

The damage has been done, unfortunately.

Sollozzo, realising that Sonny (Vito's eldest son, family underboss and therefore next in line to the throne) is:

a) more receptive to the heroin idea
b) prepared to speak over the top of Vito and
c) unable to keep his cool in a business situation.

The Turk now starts to think that a good strategy would be to take out Vito.

Sonny's outburst not only undermined the Don but sowed the seeds for and undermining of the credibility of the entire Corleone family/organisation.

As it transpires this will now lead to all kinds of trouble for the family - including the death of Sonny - and Vito's capitulation into the heroin business, a compromise in order to prevent an all-out war among the crime families.

Many years ago I was a designer in a small but emerging agency.

The founders had a lot to say for themselves, a definite point of view on the world and it was an exciting - if sometimes seat-of-the-pants - time.

One Friday afternoon a not very senior client called up and asked the account person if we could make a small change to some element of an ad.

This was right at the last minute before the thing was due out of the door.

Both the Creative Director and the Planning Director were out so the account person agreed, instructed me to make the change, the ad went off and that was that.

Later that evening I got a message from the Planning Director indicating we would be having a chat on the Monday morning.

By 'chat' it became clear that he meant getting the metaphorical shit kicked out of me by him and the CD.

By making a - what seemed to me to be minor - change to the ad on the request of a junior client, without consulting the CD I had undermined the credibility of the entire agency.

I had made us look like we didn't know what we were doing.

I learned something that day.

Several years and several agencies later I sat in presentation to a brand new client at an agency I had just joined. The ECD was presenting a camapign to this new client.

At the end of the show the client started making comments on the work and suggesting small changes to copy, edits and suchlike.

The ECD sat stony faced while receiving the feedback and then removed the work from the table explaining that if the client didn't like the idea then we would take it away and come back with something else.

The client wouldn't be put off, insisting that just a few of his changes and the work would be fine.

To which the ECD responded, 'Thank you Mr [name], but we'll come back with another idea. I don't tell you how to make [product X] so please don't tell me how to make advertising'.

That might look like arrogance to some, to me this was necessary.

The creative credibility of the agency must be preserved, almost at all costs.

This is not about stroking creative egos. I have had many a stand-up fight with CDs over the years. It's the planner's job to make sure the advertising is 'right'.

For one's own credibility that means being prepared to scrap.

However, those things happen behind closed doors. It doesn't matter how much I disagree with a Creative Director I would never voice that in a client situation or any other situation where their status could be undermined.

Bob Hoffman says that 'everyone else in an agency are organisers, and the creatives make the ads'.

This is right to a certain extent, but most certainly should be the impression given to people from outside.

Agencies are judged by their creative output.

While we all know that a huge amount of work goes into making the advertising 'right' but when non-creatives undermine the creative product - by unquestioningly agreeing to client whims or making their own suggestions in the presence of anyone outside of the agency - it undermines the entire agency.

The popular notion of 'ideas can come from anywhere' is in part to blame for these incidents.

Of course ideas can come from anywhere, however that does not make them good ideas.

Good commercial creative ideas tend to come from people who's job it is to have them.

When you devalue ideas, you capitulate.

When you devalue ideas, you undermine the whole agency.

Before you know it you become a chop shop and it's a long long way back.

Never tell anyone outside the agency what you're thinking, again.