Hold that thought! Tools for retaining creative knowledge in an advertising agency

The following is an article appearing in the next issue of CampaignBrief under “Future Watch”:
This is an honest plea for more permanent creative knowledge within an agency. This might not like a sexy thing to work on, after all, a messy creative haircut goes well with a messy creative process, right? But tell me if any of the following emails sound like they were plucked from your own email inbox. If so, your agency might want to change the way it creates and learns in order to retain (or even export) more of their intellectual property. This is not about adding more processes but giving Creatives more headspace for their thinking. After all, advertising isn’t getting any easier.

Feel like sending another redundant email?

From: Art Director
To: Studio
Subject: new hero shot for in-flight magazine?
“Guys, just got royally whacked by the CD for using outdated imagery, who knows where the new stuff is on the server? Who worked on it last and is that person still with us? C’mon help me out here…don’t want to look like a dud again.”

Here Mr. Royally-Whacked dreads poking around on the server. His email reflects the first escape route: ask a colleague. So maybe the file will turn up on the server, because it simply got misplaced in an obscure folder structure. But what if it rests on the hard drive or as an attachment in the inbox of a long-departed co-worker? Quite likely, this Art Director will transfer the problem to an account person and waste their time finding the resource.
Research shows that staff source between 50%-75% of information relevant to their work from other people. It also shows that more than 80% of an organisation’s digitised information resides on individual hard drives and inside personal files. This means that individuals – rather than the organisation – control the bulk of essential knowledge within an agency.

From: Creative Director
To: Traffic Manager
Subject: utter waste of time!!!
“Look, next time you dial me into all those reviews, make sure that “Director” and those “Creatives” over in Adelaide are up to speed with all the script changes we put in during our off-site. And what happened to those brilliant ideas for different online edits that I tossed at them last time?”

Our CD produces (naturally!) brilliant ideas in a break out session, on the go or during a telephone call. His creative team unfortunately fails to catch the spark due to their geo-spatial separation. Additionally, nobody bothers to gather all those scribbles and assemble the various threads and ideas in one common place. The pitch work that started so ambitiously scrambles to the finish line with creative directions that only narrowly answer the strategic goals set in the beginning.

From: MD
To: Digital Planner
Subject: facebook app?
“am @ Group Summit, got hit w/ requests for “social networking apps”. You got some numbers, haven’t you? Remember some links you sent around ages ago. need to follow up quickly. Pls add more hot trendy stuff and stick into a PPT, get CD in on some high-level creative if possible. Thx!”

Although this subject has been simmering for quite some time, knowledge about it hasn’t grown beyond the individual specialist. Links to benchmark campaigns or valuable data sources are spread widely across individual PCs or lost in those long streams of emails. When our digital planner gets poached by the next hot shop, our agency will be back at square one. Solution: hire the next digital gun for more money and hope he stays a bit longer.

Look at your inbox and feel interrupted already

These examples show how email is an unsuitable tool for gathering and retaining ideas and know-how. Emails are interruptive, difficult to keep in context and the older an email gets, the less valuable it becomes. Messages that scroll out of our preview window might as well not be there. Email doesn’t work well in distributed offices nor is it able to integrate outside parties in the collaboration – unless you call sending attachments back and forth an inspiring collaboration.

Email is failing us as a tool for gathering and retainign creative knowledge

Imagine cracking a brief with a team in two offices and several outside parties and freelancers, all information and assets are available to all parties, and comments and thoughts stay in context and accumulate continuously. Imagine searching across all projects based on over arching topics such as an industry or a channel and actually finding it quickly.
Digital support tools for this are already available, for example Delicious or Google Notebooks (collecting and commenting bookmarks), ConceptShare and Slideshare (annotating and discussing scribbles and presentations) and Socialtext or OpenTeams (collaboration). All of these tools allow adding meta data (descriptions), linking and attributing different access rights.
Most importantly though, this is a cultural change for how creatives work and has to be adopted and brought to life by the creative leadership first.

Tools for creative collaboration

The need for better knowledge management in creative processes is evident. Campaigns are becoming more and more sophisticated to succeed in a fragmented media environment. If agencies don’t learn from mistakes and successes, they can never be better than their current workforce allows them to be. And since any key person leaves an organization at some point, they take with them a wide spectrum of extremely valuable knowledge, including industry and target group insights, confidential data and relationships. If the agency’s creative knowledge then only consists of static files on servers, a bunch of emails and the rented brains of the current employees, it isn’t much more than a name with a reputation, a building and a fancy coffee machine.

Fancy a new coffee machine?
picture under CC by blmurch (photostream)

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2 responses to “Hold that thought! Tools for retaining creative knowledge in an advertising agency

  1. Tim – can you find me that info on seeding virals – only kidding. Good piece, couldn’t agree more. Shaun

  2. Pingback: What about IP? Remuneration for creative in social networks « Between 0 and 1

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