The creative business problem

What is the creative industry selling? Ideas… The time when ideas had currency is long gone.

The question is if this is an issue of profound gravity, or if it is a packaging problem? I would suggest it is the latter, and more precisely it’s a business problem.

The arguments:

    1. Lack of creative thinking

    In his talk at 99% (found at the bottom of this post), Yves Béhar suggests that business models in the creative industry are so unimaginative and simple that a sixteen-year-old intern could run any business. The problem is the way we sell our ideas; by treating creative people as consultants – as an expense, not an asset – to the brand that hires them. This leads to, as Béhar explains, companies wanting to get rid of the hired hands as quickly as possible. Which again makes it impossible to deliver on the most important thing when it comes to creativity and innovation: 99% persistence. The time, effort and stamina of proper creative handcraft are not applied to the product, and it comes out as a mass manufactured cliché. (This last bit is my own words, not Béhar).

    . There is no stickiness in the current relationship between an agency and a client.

    Ask yourself this: How can a brand switch agencies every two or three years without it having any consequence on the effect of their marketing or communication? Is it because we are so damned good at following or leaving behind a strategic roadmap, or is it because the creative product only runs skin deep?

    Has the creative product become a commodity?

    The way we are packaging and selling creativity today is creating too few reasons, other than personal chemistry and exceptional individuals, for clients to acquire and stick with us as partners.

    3. Is creativity more or less valuable today than yesterday?

    Measured in the hourly fee I’m under the impression that a creative consultant today is worth far less than only 15 years ago. This is because while the value of everything else has gone up, the cost for one hour of consultancy is about the same

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    . This stagnation, or decrease in value, is not mirrored in other industries, and is a very good indication that we need new, better, more effective and important products than the ones we are peddling at the moment. (It doesn’t matter if people are the same today than 50 years ago, corporations and media clearly aren’t and the creative industry is at an impasse when it comes to reflecting this.)

      A local / Norwegian example: Four years ago the IT industry averaged around 75-80% of what could be charged hourly for a creative consultant, today this ratio is 120-125%. A red flag if there ever was one.

The creative industry is so hung up on their deliverable: the creative product, that they are not seeing that it needs to be packaged differently today than 50 years ago if it is to remain an interesting product for brands to keep investing in.

Where should we start to look for solutions?

This is not black magic, we’re probably already half way there by admitting that this is a problem and being flexible enough to see that the way things are done today might not be the best solution forward.

And figuring out that the solutions are not more creativity on new hyped up networks or apps. It is rethinking the content and packaging of the core product – what are we helping companies achieve?

Two simple suggestions:

    1. Explore long-term strategic partnerships with clients. Brands are asking for positioning – a living, breathing, transforming strategy – not a static one-off, ad-hoc solution to a brand or marketing investment. If the creative output is only skin deep, than this is not the right tool for helping with the clients strategic challenges. Positioning is broader and deeper than what could be bought and flogged on a surface or through a channel (or presented as a final product in a ten page powerpoint), it’s a cultural concept, it is a journey for the brand to undertake that includes innovation, learning and adaption. Most brands understand and implement on this

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    . Most agencies only deliver to parts of this.

    2. We must explore collaborative business projects with our client

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    . Investing a split share in the product and a split share of the revenue.

    We need to build stronger ties with the strategic direction of the company or product and we need to find a position where our investments are not viewed as an expense, but as an investment in future capitalization.

This is not a new problem or new solutions. It is stepping outside the bubble and looking at what is happening without blinders.

And ask this question: Has the creative product become a commodity?

Yves Béhar at the 99% conference on the creative business model (starts at 16 minutes).

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