Luring Out the Green Monkey
The Green Monkey is a 16 million dollar racehorse. Otherwise known to be highly sought over and majestic as hell. This is how I personify what a dope solution or innovative idea is in the industry we work in. We want to try to navigate the conversation with our clients in a way that can lure out the best possible work, something that goes beyond their expectations, and even goes beyond ours.
Jeff, senior creative director at Weber Shandwick, responded to this with: “I think we do that by having a collective understanding of what great work is. We can all have a vision of what we think great work is and that’s going to be hard, because then we aren’t luring out the same thing. We’re trying to define that a little bit better. Let’s talk about great work. Let’s be inspired by more of it. Let’s see what other people are doing. Before we lure it out, we need to have a better, more agreed upon idea of what the Green Monkey is.”
Damn, I love metaphors.
Nicky: Feedback. Feedback in general. And the idea of wanting to challenge the expectations of a client, rather than just doing as we’re told and why we feel like this is such a struggle to make happen. To make it flow and come to the solution together, rather than dwindling down to a ‘do this, do that’ sort of thing.
Jeff: So much of what we forget about in this industry, more so these days than I think it used to be, is that we’re not in the business of designing or writing or marketing. That’s not what we do. We are in the business of selling stuff. You want an output. You want somebody to literally buy that idea and put money behind it. Part of the struggle is that we don’t sell in what’s possible, we default to what was asked for. Especially in this environment, often times from our perspective, the people that we are dealing with — from clients or an account perspective — don’t have the same appreciation for the power of great design or of creative ideas. That’s because sometimes their emphasis is just more on the result. ‘Did I sell it in? Was the client happy?’ And I think our focus so much of the time is on, ‘Why, yes, I want to sell that thing, but what did I sell?’ That’s a sort of different emphasis, and I think that’s part of the disconnect. We have to come together on that.
N: Right. The relationship needs to be more like a partnership between the client and us. Sometimes it seems like it trails off to us seeing them as an authority figure. Looking to them like they are the ones to tell us what to do and expect us to deliver the goods. But I feel like we collectively need to have a different outlook on that relationship between agency and client.
J: I agree 100%. Your point is very correct. To speak to this place specifically, it goes back to a culture of, as I define it, as sort of ‘what’s our currency?’ Right? How do we sell our services to clients, what’s the thing that, above everything else, is most important that we create, that we do, that we make, that we are about? I will always approach it from the perspective that the work, at the end of the day, should be our currency. It is the thing that we can put forward to prospective clients and show what we can do. It’s the thing that’s tangible, that no matter who the client is or if that client leaves, or if a five-year relationship ends, we still have the work that we did. It’s a shift from what the currency was. Success looked differently here because what we were doing, the kinds of work that we were doing was different. A happy client in a long-term relationship and us delivering on goals they had outlined for us was success. And it made sense. So much of what we did from a more traditional PR perspective wasn’t a direct output that looked like work in the way that we think about it now. And again, that’s changed. I think we’re still in the midst of that evolution, even internally, to educate people on how to look at that shift differently. I still think that above everything else the work is the most important thing. But, it’s going to take us a little bit of time to make sure everyone is thinking about it the same way.
N: Yeah! It’s hard to think about how the work needs to, or should go beyond ourselves and the client and should contribute to a greater audience or the way it touches the world. And that’s something that I feel like is so easy for us to forget.
J: Yeah, I agree. It’s the realities of our business why that happens I think. We’re all guilty of that. Often times we default to what’s the easiest path. Because, ‘I have another fire to go put out’ or ‘I’ve talked to this client 12 times already today and I don’t feel like going back to them.’ And so it makes sense. We have to acknowledge the fact that until we understand those issues we wont be able to solve for it well. Going back to the notion of how do we sell the work, and how do we set up ourselves for success so that we don’t fall into those traps. We all have too much on our plates. And too many battles and things we need to go do. I think that that’s a big part of why that happens.
N: Thomas J. Watson once said, “Good Design is good business.” What do you think of that?
J: Well, I have a perspective on it. There’s actually a quote that my dad used to always say to me. “Advertising is art with a job to do.” It’s such a simple way to think about what we do. Brands and clients and companies, which are businesses, aren’t paying us to create art. Right? They’re paying us to create a piece of communication. That’s art that has to do a job.
Being beautiful isn’t enough in our industry. It certainly can help things, if it’s a part of something greater. If they have an idea to support that beauty. We have to always keep in mind that fact. A different job is to make things look beautiful — that’s a fine artist. That artist doesn’t have a job to do beside create beautiful things. And people want to pay that person to create beautiful things. Our clients are paying us to say something very specifically. In words or in visuals. But doing that in a really beautiful way. In a clever way. In a creative way. And so I think there is a balance of those two things. I think there has to be in our industry. It still goes back to us understanding the audience that we’re selling to. It’s up to us to raise the level of what gets bought and produced. We can’t rely on what they know or what they think they know.
We have to show them what’s possible. That’s going to be the only way we can continue to elevate things. To keep showing what is possible and getting there together. It’s not an easy thing to do. In reality it’s much harder, but we have to be committed to it.
N: How do you guide and navigate the conversation in daily tasks, the small mundane things we do.
J: I always think about — Are we looking at the larger picture? Are we sharing that with the people that need to see that. If we understand where we’re going, you’re going to have a much better appreciation for that first brick that I put down on the path there. If I don’t tell you where we’re going, and I put a brick in front of you, it doesn’t seem that important. But if I really have a sort of longer term vision of “here’s why we want to start pushing the work a little differently or looking at these approaches differently” it gives everybody the kind of context to understand and appreciate all those individual steps along the way. We often times assume that people know what we’re thinking. The more we can sell in and bring them in on the longer vision and steps we see of getting there, they begin to understand and so the appetite grows for more of that. They start to appreciate where else we could go. That’s what we should be doing more of across the board. I think that what I see a lot of times what you call the mundane smaller pieces, those are the most powerful tools that we have to get them to think collectively bigger. If you can do that on the small and mundane — well shit! — let’s think of a bigger program or product launch or something that has more opportunity — where can you guys take that?
N: Going to more for the structure of actually giving feedback, you mentioned that it’s best to start with the good, so you don’t lose what everyone loved in the first place. This is what gets lost. In rounds of feedback, especially, we start changing things and start losing the things that were great in the very beginning.
J: Yeah, you’re 100% right. It’s the easiest thing to forget about. I don’t intend it to be used as a nicety, the point is not to start with something positive so we all feel good about each other. It’s to start with the positive so that we don’t impact them in a negative way as we continue on. And I think that it’s a simple thought, but one that we all need to do a better job of, myself included. We want to make it better, and our job is to improve it. The easiest way to point that out, as human beings, is to tell you what is wrong with it. It’s something I need to do a better job of, and to remind everyone else of that same thing. There’s something really important about that.
Can I ask you a question?
J: So, you get feedback all the time. Coming from different people and places. Some of which is from creative directors, part of your team, some from account people — what is the biggest frustration from your perspective the way that feedback is? Presented or delivered.
N: Probably the most frustrating part would be receiving an email with a bulleted list of things I need to change and the lack of reasoning or context. Getting a bullet point that says change this photo to so-and-so. But why — why aren’t you feeling this photo, when I feel like it works great when thinking of the whole publication? I try do be better at navigating that conversation on my end, by either making a quick call to chat through why this photo didn’t work or e-mailing back a few questions I had on the feedback.
J: And has that been helpful for you?
N: Oh! Very helpful!
J: That’s good. So in our chats about feedback, has it gotten any better?
N: Oh yeah, having that presentation on feedback was so beneficial because they will tap into what you said and guide the conversation in that way. And it’s really exciting to see how much cool stuff we were able to create together through that.
J: And what you mentioned is right. The more we can ask those questions and go back to the ‘Why.’ I think it’s the only way to do what you are talented at doing, is to understand the context of the problem, or the context of the opportunity. Without that, when there are blinders on, and it’s just ‘change this for this’ I don’t think you’re able to make the other decisions that might be required from a visual perspective. Because you don’t know why you made that first change to begin with. So then you’re guessing. That’s a terrible place to be as a creative, as a designer. Your work is going to be in a much better place, instead of trying to guess what the other person meant. The context to me is not just sort of critical, it’s only fair. Somebody’s asking you to interpret an entire piece of work, yet they’re really not giving you the context on how to look at that holistically. That’s tough, sort of death to a creative.