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Endangered species in IT and advertising

September 18, 2009

Yesterday, I spent the morning with IT people at a large European multinational, and the afternoon with some advertising people at a Top 5 global advertising agency. Both groups were attempting to work with their clients – internal for the IT group, external for the advertising agency. Both were struggling. The IT group had set up a whole intermediate function to connect the nerds from IT with the suits from the business. Of course, this group had credibility with neither side, but was trying very hard to earn it by showing they could elicit specifications from users with exquisite precision. The word “specs” is a tip-off that co-creation will be an uphill battle.

With advertising folks, the agency had established not one, but two layers of intermediaries between the client who actually wanted to develop a campaign and the creative people who would eventually design it. One layer was the account manager, while the other was what agencies call “planners” – people meant to represent the client’s point of view inside the agency – as if the client couldn’t do that themselves more effectively. Both exist to help develop “the brief.” The word “brief” in advertising is a surefire signal that co-creation is not wanted there.
At both workshops, I asked why the producers of code and creative advertising material could not engage directly with business people. I learned how fragile both populations were, and why they had to be protected from predator clients who had the audacity to believe they might contribute directly to the process, if it were made transparent to them. “We had an application guy on-site once” an IT senior manager told me, “and he nearly resigned because the client kept wanting to change the specifications.” Recoiling the horror of it all, he added: “Apparently, the client loved it, though. And it was done very fast.”
The account manager in advertising was dishearteningly honest. “If the creative people spoke directly with the client, what would be my job?”, he asked. One could see he was trying very hard. “My job is to simplify the number of ideas, bring it down to one or two, and brief the designers.” He could see he was perceived as a bit defensive. “Well, my job is also to elicit the passion of our designers. They have to be highly enthusiastic about what they present.” I suggested the executives who were footing the bill might also be looking for a chance to express their passion during that process. Wouldn’t their sense of engagement be as important as the designers’? I even suggested maybe some graphic artists could draw live sketches or concepts as executives were devising possible elements of positioning. By now, my advertising account manager looked ready to cry.
Of course, I’ve had many chances to ask actual IT developers and creative advertising people whether they’d like being exposed directly to their clients. The vast majority of them would jump at the opportunity. The endangered species may not be the animals after all, but the zookeepers.
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