I once worked for a company that liked to charge clients in 15-minute blocks. You literally had a stopwatch on your computer screen to start and stop a project to keep track of the time.
The business owner thought this was great as they could keep track of every minute and charge the client. And most logically-minded bean counters would agree as this process attempts to monetise the creative process.
But should the value of a creative idea be based on the time it took to create it – or should it be based on how effective it is for the client. My vote is for the latter and how long it took to create is (within limits) irrelevant.
As a creative person with more than a few spins around the block, you know that occasionally an idea will come to you immediately – and sometimes it will not. When it comes easily it may be because you are so attuned to that piece of business that you just ‘get it’ straightaway. Or it may be that the brief is so well constructed that there can be only one logical solution that requires just a bit of your creative input.
Unfortunately, more often than not you’ll find yourself working for a client you’ve only just met – or with a brief that has so many holes that you’ve seen more watertight colanders.
There are even some rare instances where you just get a ‘gut feeling’ about the best way to proceed – but try explaining that to an accountant or entering it on to a spreadsheet.
Writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg (both part of the Beat Generation) understood the importance of ‘going with your gut’ and following your instincts. They lived and worked by the mantra ‘First thought, best thought.’ because they believed that this created more ‘spontaneous and fearless writing, a way of telling the truth that arises from naked and authentic experience’.
While that’s great for creative writing, for a commercial exercise like advertising, there are certain realities that impact on the creative process to meet critical objectives. The trick is knowing how to corral the best of the creative idea into a commercial framework – and that can only come from experience (usually counted in decades, not years).
I couldn’t count the number of times I have walked out of a briefing session with a client, already knowing the best course of action to take. So what do you do it that situation? Do you not charge the client because you actually haven’t started ‘the clock’? Of course not, because knowing a direction to take is usually just the start of the process.
Finding the most effective way to deliver this solution may require much trial and error, chasing ideas down blind alleys or ‘playing’ with images or copy to craft them to the desired finish.
But just as important in this creative process is knowing when to stop – when you have ‘it’ – and how to deliver that ‘it’ – that ‘direction’ – to achieve the best possible outcome. And that is where the years of experience come in – and experience doesn’t come cheap.
This point comes back to the main thought of this article – Effectiveness Vs. Efficiency – because ultimately, you get what you pay for.
For example, you may find someone online to design you a ‘customised’ logo for as little as $5. Or a design student who can do you up a website for under a grand. While these are cheap, don’t count on them being either ‘customised’ or effective.
Developing a ‘brand’ is much more than just creating a logo. Customising a website is more than using a template. And making choices like these can say a lot about your company – and it’s not all good. When I see a ‘dodgy’ logo, it tells me that the company doesn’t value their public perception, doesn’t understand the importance of ‘standing out from the crowd’ and probably hasn’t got the faintest idea what a ‘Brand Essence’ is.
Their logo is not instilled with the values of your organisation, it has little hope of resonating with their desired target market and looks the same as all the other brands out there competing for attention. So while it was efficient (read cheap), it will never be effective.
In the end, being effective is not about finding ‘an answer’ – but about finding the right answer, the most effective answer. And while that can take time, it has a lot more to do with experience and treating the creative process as an artform – not something that you measure out in 15-minute chunks or sell by the kilo.
The advertising legend and guru Bill Bernbach once said: “Advertising isn’t a science. It’s persuasion. And persuasion is an art.” And no one ever asked Picasso, Dali or Warhol how long they took to create a work.
At Spearhead Creative, we always meet with the prospective new clients to understand their requirements, before we can suggest any course of action or any idea of cost. By getting to know them and listening to what they are trying to achieve, we can then recommend an effective tailored solution as part of a detailed proposal – that includes an indication of the overall project cost.
That way, there are never any surprises and no one has to worry about the ticking clock when the project starts. Then, as marketing professionals, we can do our thing and deal with the ‘effectiveness’, while the client can determine the ‘efficiency’ based on their budgetary circumstances.
Head of Creative