The Grand Reveal Is Dead: or, Reestablishing Our Partnerships

I get it. People have a hard time trusting advertising agencies. This is not a new thing.

This is born from decades of smoke and mirrors from both sides, I feel. Agencies are dependent upon what I’ve always called the Myth of the Grand Reveal – where things are done in secret and only revealed at the point of maximum impact. Creative becomes a big bang. On the other side, clients have come to expect this routine. They want the big bang, because that’s what you pay for when you get big creative.

Programming Note:

This article first appeared in the March 2012 issue of South Dakota Advertising Federation‘s quarterly newsletter, AdLib.

Every agency wants to be McGarryBowen or CP+B. And every client wants to hire McGarryBowen or CP+B.

But we don’t need more McGarryBowens or CP+Bs. We need more partnerships. We need more focus not on the agency or the client, but on the people for whom we’re creating these marketing messages in the first place. Why waste our big bang on each other, when we have potential customers to impress?

It starts by recognizing our patterns. Here’s the traditional agency workflow:

  1. Client makes request
  2. Agency spends three weeks brainstorming and creating for a big reveal
  3. Giant meeting is scheduled with lots of logos and crazy ideas
  4. Client is either wowed or underwhelmed
  5. Go back to step 1

Client services – and the process of creating something worthwhile – depends on a lot more than hunches and magic. It depends on constant communication and deep research. The traditional agency/client relationship is broken in that there’s too much flash and not enough talk. Surprises and unveilings and last-second reworks are part of advertising legend – it’s the sexy part of our jobs, this desire to impress – but they’re quickly becoming a thing of antiquity.

Too much pressure is placed on the reveal, when in practice we should be constantly placing pressure on each other at all points of a project. Every idea should be met with a “Why?” and every stage should be pushed forward gradually. Together. Without drama. In this way, we no longer draw the line between sides. There are no longer agencies and clients. There are only partners. There are only projects that require constant feedback, multiple iterations and, most importantly, no more surprises.

This isn’t cheap. This takes time. Which means the relationships needs to adapt and change.

Robin Sloan writes in his essay “Iteration” (from The New Liberal Arts)”

“Making things is a circle. You start the arc with an idea about the world: an observation or hunch. Then you sprint around the track, getting to a prototype – a breadboard, a rough draft, a run-through – as fast as you can. Your goal isn’t to finish the thing. It’s to explose it, no matter how rough or ragged, to the real world. You do that, and you learn: Which of your ideas were right? Which were wrong? What surprised you? What did other people think? Then you plow those findings back into an improved prototype. Around the circle again. Run!

“This is the basic tenet of work methodologies like Agile, and it’s the new way to handle creative services: expand in ideas one part at a time, continuously return to the drawing board, and change course when necessary.

“Ideally, iteration isn’t a circle at all; it’s a spiral. With each loop, you know more about the world. With each loop, you’re making something better. With each loop, you’re simply making better.”

We need to introduce more research. More interviews. More collaboration. And we need to help our client partners understand why these things are worth paying for.

Because with this in mind, we’re no longer trying to sell a creative product – we’re selling ourselves, our ability to react and adapt, and our process. We’re not relying on awards and luck, but on hard work and togetherness.

The grand reveal is dead. Long live our partners.