Collaboration is a brilliant way to kill creativity

4752 3168 Never Quiet - Atomic London

The word ‘collaborative’ is now one of the most over-used words in the marketing landscape, alongside integration, digital and no doubt now, diversity.

According a survey recently published by the AAR, the one thing that frustrates clients more than anything else is the agency world’s inability to collaborate with each other on marketing briefs.

So what better way to fix that, than to use the word ‘collaborative’ on your agency website and say it in every presentation as often as you can.

“We’re a much more collaborative agency than xyz agency down the road don’t you know?” Simple fix, pitch won, crack on.


Not quite…

You see the problem with collaboration is not just that it’s an over-used word and therefore, part of standard agency rhetoric. The harsh reality is that creative agencies don’t really believe in it, they aren’t fundamentally built to do it, and even if they did, collaboration rarely helps them create better work for clients.

The word collaboration is actually a terrible descriptor for a joint agency working process that creates great answers to client briefs. Collaboration by definition means; two or more parties working together as one to achieve a goal or mission. Unfortunately, this suggested ‘harmonious working’ often leads to agencies watering down their thinking to find common ground, which is clearly not in the best interests of the brief or the client. Quite simply, collaboration is a brilliant way to kill creativity.

That’s not to say that joint agency working isn’t a critical part of how we need to solve complex marketing problems nowadays. Quite the opposite, I think it’s probably THE most important way in which clients can get great creative answers to their briefs that work in the real world. It’s just that collaboration isn’t the best way to describe it.

In fact, our experience shows us that the best thinking often comes from moments of disharmony in the joint agency working relationship. Golden nuggets of creativity are more likely to exist in the areas where we disagree with agencies rather than the areas where we agree furiously. The trick is to create these moments of disharmony whilst maintaining a strong and positive working relationship throughout the process.

Why don’t we try something different? Let’s try not to talk about collaboration at all. Let’s use a philosophy and process that encourages disharmony, debate and ultimately a process that maximizes the chances for breakthrough creative thinking.

It’s called OCD (Opinion, Collision, Decision).

So how does it work?

Firstly, encourage clients to let all agencies work off the same brief BUT have the space and time to shamelessly create and present the best ideas through the lens in which they see the world – their opinion.

Then crash these different points of view and ideas together in a room with the client to identify and uncover the potential breakthrough ideas that could quite literally have come from any of the agencies – the collision.

Finally, through skilled facilitation by the client or a lead creative agency, re-focus the joint working team on a tight executional brief but centred on the best break-through idea – the decision.

From that point on, the joint working becomes really simple. Agencies go off and execute ideas to the best of their specialist capabilities with the confidence that we are all working around one core idea and approach that we all buy in to.

So why don’t all agencies just do it that way already?

Let’s be honest, conflict is not a very British thing. As a culture we avoid conflict, we certainly don’t actively go in to meetings to encourage conflict for positive reasons. But with the right mindset, strong agency and client leadership and a process that helps facilitate it, positive conflict can lead to great thinking.

At Atomic we try and take this approach where we can and the ironic thing is that despite the odd ‘crunchy moment’ in the process, all of the agencies feel prouder of the work and come out with stronger working relationships to build from.

So let’s stop trying to collaborate and try a bit more ‘OCD’. Only thing now is that I need a better name for it than that. I could brief a multi agency collaborative workshop to crack it for me of course, but I expect I’d get a better answer if someone who specializes in naming things could just send me some ideas instead.

Jon Goulding is CEO of Atomic

About the author:

Formerly Chief Operating Officer of DDB, Havas and Tribal, he’s delivered award-winning campaigns for many clients, including Carling, Volkswagen, Virgin Media and Phillips. Jon is now CEO at independent creative agency, Atomic.

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