On very rare occasions, just three times in my career so far, I get to sit in a different chair and experience what it’s like to be an agency client.
Those few moments have had a big impact on how I understand advertising, and the respect I have for planners, whether from a media or creative background.
For those who don’t work in the industry, it’s sometimes easy to forget how mysterious the process of creating advertising is.
Until you go into a briefing, with a marketing problem, and absolutely no picture in your head on what the advertising solution is, you fail to realise that insights don’t come to everybody.
I mention this now, because the person who opened my eyes to the power of an insight nearly a decade ago, is today announced as one of the speakers at next year’s Circus, which is The Communications Council’s conference from March 27-29.
Eight years ago, I was the relatively newly appointed editor of Media Week, in the UK.
We were going through a major relaunch – everything was changing: the design, the size, the format, the content. We were even shifting the on-sale day from Thursday to Tuesday to get a jump on our competitors.
At the time, Kevin Brown owned a London agency called Soul, along with creative partner Bruce Crouch (father of British footballer Peter, funnily enough). The agency, as it happens, was later bought by Nitro and became the London office of what is now Sapient Nitro.
We had no budget and we went into the briefing with Kevin and Bruce in their office just off Regent Street with no idea.
(In a moment, when I tell you Kevin’s insight, it will seem mundanely obvious. So I challenge you to see if you can think of it now… tougher than you’d think, isn’t it?)
I talked for perhaps 10 or 15 minutes and probably showed them some early design ideas.
When I finished, the first words, the very first words that Brown said were, in a reflective tone, “The Media Week starts on Tuesday.”
I didn’t really know it, but he’d already cracked the insight. He later explained that actually having something new to promote is half the battle.
The campaign, it seemed at the time, created itself from there. We contra-ed posters on the Tube and near agency offices with “The Media Week Starts on Tuesday” message.
There was a DM component – to represent lazy Mondays, we delivered single golf clubs, with a note attached, to agency bosses, on a Monday of course.
There was a viral element (not that we knew it was called that then – this was a year before YouTube was invented). We licenced the track I Don’t Like Mondays by the Boomtown Rats, and Soul created a short video featuring big players within the media keeping themselves amused on a boring Monday. It was funnier than I’m making it sound.
And we bought a URL – idontlikemondays.co.uk – where we hosted the video.
To promote it, we distributed an entirely blank final edition of Media Week with its old masthead – except that every single page had the URL in the middle. (It was a trick I think I repeated a few years later with the B&T relaunch.)
But best of all, we punked our much bigger, competitor – Campaign magazine. Anonymously, we bought a full page ad on the first available right hand page with the URL, which we didn’t make live until after they’d gone to press.
It’s only when I look back now that I realise how good the campaign was, compared to the average B2B relaunch. It helped get us shortlisted for magazine of the year.
But it all came from that one insight delivered almost instantly.
In the scheme of things, it’s a tiny example, but when I write about the value of planners, this is the first hand example I often think of.
These days, Brown is global engagement planning director at BBH which is, as you probably know, one of the world’s great ad agencies. Along with colleague Nick Kendall, he’ll be giving a masterclass at Circus.
He’s also a dying breed. He grew up in a full service agency. And now he runs engagement planning from within an ad agency. Something that big agencies in Australia have shown ambition to do (I’m thinking of BMF) but not yet fully pulled off.
Personally, I’d stick the conference in your diary. It starts on a Tuesday.