In the old days, corporations knew where to go for new marketing ideas. They would pick up the phone and order a new meme from the ad agency.
In due course, this was delivered by groovy people dressed in Manhattan mufti, so marked by their beauty, stylishness and a security badge that there was no danger that they would wander the halls and wreck havoc. Once the meme was delivered, the agency people would be sent away, and everyone would sigh with relief. “Thank God, I honestly thought theyd never leave.
The advertising agency served as a kind of virus containment laboratory. It was a place where new ideas were allowed to bloom. But it was also nicely sealed away from the corporation. In this way, the corporation could have its cake and eat it too: there was creativity on tap, but no danger that this creativity would infect the proceedings or prowl the hallways.
Creativity in the corporation has always been a kind of necessary evil. Necessary because is often the source of competitive advantage, category leadership, brand profile, growth, profit and share price. Evil because its just so hard to manage.
Corporations thrive on system, process, top-down control, stasis and discipline. Creativity prefers fresh thinking, rule breaking and getting outside the box of conventional practice. On balance, it seems better just to keep creativity “over there at the advertising agency.
These days are over. Now that new ideas are the very fount of value, the corporation tis getting serious about its own idea creation. And there are lots of things going on: skunk works, off site brainstorming sessions, hiring more mavericks, loosening the place up a little, and creating corporations that act more like “complex adaptive systems. In sum, system is looking for ways to let creativity in.
But what if we had the right idea in the first place? It may just be that a rapprochement of corporation and creativity is never going to work very well.
First, there is the problem of system. Management is about command and control, how generously we seek to re-imagine it. To this extent, the corporation may well remain a place that is essentially inimical to creativity.
Second, there is the problem of office politics. Every corporation is filled with people who compete for budgets, for CEO attention, for pride of place, and most of all for advancement. This means the corporation systematically creates people who will interfere with the realization of other peoples ideas, however good these ideas are.
Third, a lot of corporations make people miserable. The sheer press of business, the multiplicity of projects, the conflicting agenda and objectives, the grinding need to “make ones numbers every quarter, all these conspire to make life overwhelming, exhausting and grim. One effect: talented people turn into nay sayers. The corporation has found another way to staff itself with people who block innovation.
So what are the alternatives? How about a “Hollywood model? Most of the marketing functions of the corporation would be stripped out of the corporation. Idea innovation (especially new products, brands, positioning, and campaigns) would be handed to outside partners.
We dont want to return to the advertising agency approach. Not now that Hollywood has gone it one better. In the Hollywood case, each project demands a new talent team, purpose build and evanescent. It draws together the best people from a pool of good people, and it lasts only as long as the project. This supplies a more perfect fit of people to people and people to project.
I can hear the objections. First, what about all the things the corporation has learned about its products and brands? We dont want to give this to strangers. And we cant expect strangers to pick up our deep stocks on knowledge on the fly.
Nonsense. In fact, very little about what we know about our markets is proprietary. Second, the corporation is porous. Consultants see to that. More important, consultants demonstrate that people can pick things up on the fly.
Second, what about continuity? Who will help preserve the long term strategies of the corporation and its brands? The fact of the matter is that we are no longer a continuity culture. Every “brand team is a rotating door of personnel. If the corporation really cares about continuity, why does it endure this? But more to the point, brands are themselves whirl-winds of discontinuity. They are constantly being redesigned. So too are the consumers for whom they are intended. The nut here: when continuity management gets in the way of dynamism management, it is costing us more value than it is creating.
Hollywood long ago learned now various and changeable the world has become. There was no point in making the next picture just like the old one. Consumer taste and preference changed so fast, it might sense to treat the new product as a new project. (The sequel franchise is the exception that proves the rule. The use of genres is another matter. Lets talk.)
In the words of Bob Wright, GEs entertainment boss, and CEO of NBC Universal Inc.:
One big difference in television or movies is that every project is very different. Its a very project-oriented kind of work. So its hard to get repetitive process. Its also hard to streamline production of a show, because by the time you get everything running just how you like, the show is over. You dont get savings with volume.
Now that all consumer taste and preference acts a lot like fan taste and preference, perhaps its time for marketers to steal a page from the Hollywood handbook.
In a culture of discontinuity, all innovation is start-again innovation. Perhaps all marketing teams should start again as well.
Barnes, Brooks. 2004. Wrights Hollywood Script. Wall Street Journal. December 23, 2004, p. B1.
McCracken, Grant. 2004. On naysayers in the corporation here.
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