There are a few things I miss about being in an agency, but mostly I miss the idea thing.
Whatever they may say on their websites, all agencies are in the imagination business, and by that, I mean agencies have to put themselves in the situation of stakeholders and customers and imagine what they would think and feel and do if the client did ‘this’ or said ‘that’. Everything else is execution, or ‘craft’ if you want to be high minded about it. Important, but downstream.
The moment an idea is put to a client is when, to me, all the accompanying noise and bustle of agency life pauses.
Agencies try to make this moment as reductive as possible by showing the client data and context and precedent, to ‘prove’ that recommendations will have the desired response; to try and imply that there is no imaginative leap, just cause and effect.
But much as these ‘proofs’ can close that gap, there is always a gap and the bridge is always imagination. The moment the idea is put to the client was always to me the most dramatic.
Because then the client has to imagine and make a leap too. The burden of the idea has been passed across the table. And in a pitch or a meeting, everyone knows when that moment is and the focus changes and the eyes turn from the pitcher to the pitched.
We are almost at that stage with our new business venture.
On Monday, we unveil the details of Stickybeak to a little crowd of potential clients. It’s a bit different in that no one of them will decide our fate, but as a group, if they shuffle and look away (come on, you all know how that feels) then we will have a problem.
Because unlike a new campaign or strategy, this has been an 18-month odyssey from conception to prototype to this full public beta and so we don’t have back-up creative if you all hate it. It’s taken money and sweat and commitment, but most of all imagination, because like all good ideas, nothing quite like it exists. We don’t really know what you, the commissioning agency, communication and marketing community will make of it and, at scale, we don’t really know how the public will react to it.
Sure, we’ve been running surveys in a host of markets for a few months with some generous agency and client friends, but we’ve always been on hand to smooth over the bumps and, by virtue of knowing everyone personally, it’s all been very polite and supportive and so it’s really only been a rehearsal (god I hated pitch rehearsals).
Whilst some of my co-founders have launched a new business before I have not, but on the eve of the ‘pitch’ it feels oddly familiar. Wish us luck!