Creativity and Implementation: Two Sides of The Same Coin

In a recent business trip to Beijing I had a reunion with the creative team I worked with in the past. We talked about the development of homegrown creative talents and the emergence of a new breed of independent creative hot shops.

I observed a particularly interesting development. Local creative agencies are starting to embrace a hybrid model to offer services covering everything from strategy, ideation, through to integrated production. Some of the agencies I met up with even have in-house creative roles from film directors to animators, and with photography studios housed under one roof. It takes the notion of through-the-line to a different level.

This is rather different from the development of the agency structure in the West.

Paul Simons talked about the difference between ideas, execution and implementation in his recent blog. He considered that implementation has shifted ‘to a different place driven by tasks that tend to be more mechanical’. He also described how today’s multiple channels and platforms, and creative work running internationally, had turned implementation massively complex – so much so that ad agencies won’t have the resource, knowhow and technology to handle the job in hand. The solution, what it seems to be the obvious one, is to outsource it.

I agree with some of his viewpoints. The ‘decoupling’ of ‘Implementation’ and ‘Production’ from ‘Creation’ has indeed happened, especially in Europe and the US, with various degree of success for different clients.

However, what I think we have to bear in mind is even when ‘Implementation’ is technically being defined not as part of the creative process, they should not be treated as ‘post production’ – or sometimes, even as an after thought.

It is especially so when campaigns are going to be launched simultaneously in multi-markets, across all touch points and particularly, for lifestyle brands. More often than not, a certain degree of rethinking needs to apply.

Creative agencies recognising the importance of that aspect of implementation had positioned the function of technologists as an important element within a creative team. Implementation is embedded within the ideation process. Jeff Benjamin of CB+P once said: ‘When we brought the technology piece in house we made it a point to say this isn’t a production capability, this is a creative capability…A technologist is as creative, in a way, as a writer.’

Joel Koplan of AKQA even argued that ‘the job of creatives is also about making ideas happen, having an eye for execution…It’s also the ‘follow through…It’s coming up with an idea and taking the step to make it come to life in the right way’.

That, to me, is what ‘implementation’ truly is.

It is exactly when we treat the implementation process as totally separate, mistakes bound to happen.

The recent blunders of the Ikea catalogue (which I discussed in one of my recent blog) were good examples. In the case of Ikea, I imagine this was what happened – an ‘implementation/ production’ company were tasked to localise the Ikea catalogue for 10 different markets, and one of the ‘requirements’ was that in the Saudi Arabia version they need to take away the female images (somehow, a top down decision as written in the form of a localisation brief). Meanwhile, the retoucher proceeded according to the ‘brief’ without having the luxury of time to consider about the outcome and implication of the work. He/ she did a fantastic job in the retouching, probably within 24 hours turn-around and then, zoom, went to printing, which was again, possibly outsourced to a printer away from the production centre. The process also may have escaped the final screening by a local marketing manager, since either the company had eliminated such posts during the streamlining/ re-structuring or the ‘production/ implementation’ agency was not tasked to do it. It was not within the ‘scope of work’.

Technically, nothing wrong. Digital files were pristine. Assets were digitally archived. Job in question was completed within SLA. Catalogues were delivered on time.

I believe that any form of communications, no matter how technical the process, is still a creative product. And creativity, not to mention culture and local relevancy, does play a large part in its success.

Even if we were not literally doing each other’s work, there are bound to have cross-overs and we should not implement ideas like a ‘conveyer belt’ style.

Ultimately, an idea never really completes till the last minute before any work goes live.

If I polish my crystal ball, here are some of my predictions in the discipline of ‘implementation’:

  • The role of implementation will go beyond production. It will involve transforming a creative platform into any form of media suitable for any particular market, culture, and of course in any language. In the digital arena, implementation will encompass roles such as user-experience designer, interactive designer, strategist, tech head and integrated producer.
  • Creatives need to think of media-neutral platforms and not media-centric ads. As such, the role of implementation is to completely understand the DNA of an idea and be able to expand it beyond any boundaries of a specific media.
  • Back in the days of traditional media, the line between creative and execution were clear. With digital comes to the fore, creatives often have in their mind the question whether the ideas that they come up with could actually be executed. The role of implementation is first to advice whether it is feasible and what is the best way to organise it to optimise both quality and costs effectiveness.
  • ‘Creative’ and ‘Implementation’ agencies will form tighter strategic alliance and collaboration. The discipline of media and creatives had been surgically divorced in the 90s, with no respect that often the ‘media’ were the ‘message’, and we’ve learnt the lesson. In the future, execution and the way an idea is implemented will have a profound impact on the magic of the idea. Creatives, media and implementation will need to find a way to work back together. Collaboration is the new activation. Or as I always believe, T-shaped hybrid talents will be the real star in the future.
  • The creative inputs within ‘Implementation’ will evolve in the form of ‘Planning’ and will become more crucial in the overall delivery, and more importantly, will be recognised as part of the strategic process.

Looking forward, leading implementation agencies need to join forces and articulate the value of their work, and be rewarded appropriately for what they contribute into the success of the final output.

I will continue to expand on these thoughts in future blogs. I also like to hear from your experience either as first hand from an implementation agency or from the point of view of a creative agency that had benefited from some of the best practice in this discipline.

I will also like to explore the significance of the hybrid model of some of the creative agencies in China and profile some of the need-to-know talents.

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