Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What hides behind the brief?

Normally our private parts, which in US slang, when used to describe people, are not very complimentary.

This piece is not a litany of the servicing people's woes, but is a clarion call to the creative people in agencies to stop hiding behind briefs.

KKDY Briefs

Not for a moment am I defending the lazy servicing types, who wouldn't think through a problem before briefing their creative team. I am no subscriber to the KKDY (Kuchh Kar De Yaar, or Please do something Buddy) school of briefing. But at the same time, I am not for the creative people who use briefs or lack of it as an excuse for not being creative.

"This brief is not very inspiring;" "I don't understand the brief;" "Can you be specific in your brief?" Oft-used, seemingly harmless comments, which more often than not reflect a lazy mind not willing to stretch.

Our industry is today plagued by such people who would much rather while away their time, than think laterally about what imaginative solution would lick the problem that keeps the client awake.

If you've got it, flaunt it

There are enough examples where creative people have accepted the challenge of a sodden brief and have come out tops! Let's recall one such creative piece. This piece may not have won creative awards, but has stuck in my mind as a brilliant example of work where the brief would have been innocuous. This was an ad released a few years ago for Virgin Atlantic.

The ad shows a caricature of veteran Bollywood actresses Jaya Bachchan and Rekha sitting in an aircarft next to each other, angrily looking away from each other (it is alleged that Jaya is not very kindly disposed towards Rekha, because there was a rumour of her husband having an affair with Rekha). And the tongue-in-cheek headline mentions how the travellers can now choose who sits next to them, as they will now get a free ticket for every ticket they bought.

The most likely brief for this would have been - "Hey guys, Virgin is giving a free ticket for every ticket you buy. Can you do an ad for this promo offer?"

Now this is what I call creativity. Putting two dissimilar, apparently unlinked facts together, and creating a memorable communication out of it. And I am sure, before this communication got created, the normal creative-servicing dialogue would have happened - what are the insights, who is the target audience, what is the response we seek (what do we want the audience to think, feel, do?), etc. But, here, the creative team decided to rise above this dialogue, and delivered a completely lateral piece of work.

By definition, creative people are expected to look at the challenge posed to them, well... creatively. They are expected to look beyond the obvious. They are expected to find ways in to the cosnumers' minds. Not delivering that, is tantamount to failure.

It is regrettable that today, in our industry, we are faced with a lot of such failures. They blatantly hide behind briefs given to them. If they were genuinely non-creative, I would understand this. But, they are extremely aware, extremely articulate and extremely intelligent. And still they creative excuses to avoid being creative. The only possible answer seems to be laziness. They would much rather dissipate their creativity in finding reasons for not delivering, than actually deliver.

Superman wears his brief on the outside

It is anecdotal that once upon a time a brief was given by servicing which actually was used as is, in a piece of communication. This brief was for Allen Solly (remember the 'Friday Dressing'?). The brief goes - 'a week according to Allen Solly - Friday, Friday, Friday, Friday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday'. Now, while this is an inspiring brief, such briefs are one in a thousand.

The creative people have a choice - they can either keep waiting for such 'once in a blue moon' briefs, or pull up their socks and start to deliver creativity, which by the way, is the very reason for their existance in the industry.

It's time they shed their laziness, and start to be creative. It is time they stopped to look at the glass as half-empty, and call it half-full instead. It's time they stopped cribbing, and start to crow. Or else, they will be the ones who will be squarely responsible for the value erosion that is plaguing our industry today.

Friday, October 13, 2006

APAC Regional Offices or APAC Marginal Offices?

Possibly I am a sucker for brickbats. This is one Pandora's Box, which once opened is likely to lead to lots of gall flow! This slightly acerbic piece is dedicated to all those affected by their very own APAC Regional Offices.

In our corporate lives, we would surely and invariably have come up against APAC Regional Offices. These could be located variously at Singapore, Hong Kong, UAE, Australia, and in some rare cases, even in India. These offices are separate from the local office in that market. Their ostensible role is facilitating coordination between local country offices and the global office.

There is a set of 10 rules they operate by:

1. Local country offices are babes-in-the-woods, and cannot even blow their own noses without barrels of help from these Regional Offices;
2. If someone points out that things are going wrong (whether or not they actually are), then surely the Local Office/s would have goofed up;
3. The key to acting as a flawless conduit between Local Offices and Global Office is to bury the Local Office under reams of reporting. Such reporting has only one parallel - a Country's Bureaucracy and the red tape that results there from;
4. Huge amounts of meaningless data must be sent in response to any request for help from the Local Office/s - in fact, the effort the Local Office/s must put in to get any meaningful stuff out of this should be approximately similar to that of getting 10 gms of gold from almost a ton of ore mined in South Africa;
5. The clients are always right;
6. Corollary to that - the Local Office/s are always wrong;
7. Global Office is always right;
8. When Global Office or client asketh, you are not to reason why;
9. Activity and work are not necessarily co-related (almost no work may get done while the activity generated by them may fill many a 150 hours-a-month time sheets for multiple resources at Local Office/s);
10. And last but not the least, processes and SLAs take precedence over deliverables.

With such clear set of rules, they naturally generate the same level of frustration amongst the Local Office/s as is experienced by a typical gamer while he's trying to master the newest version of his/her favourite game just after its release.

If Global Office crowd is 'Gods', the Regional Office crowd is no less than 'Demi Gods'. Their visits lead to hurried purchases and gifting of books/DVDs on the Local Office location. Many a times, ATG happens (those in Hotel Industry must be familiar with this TLA - for the lesser mortals, it means 'Aarti-Tika-Garland', and while we are at it, TLA means 'Three Lettered Acronym).

Whoever mentioned that corporates don't have any sense of humour, just need to take one quick look at the modus operandi of these 'Regional Offices', and I can bet my last dime, their view will hurriedly change.

Since this is supposed to be an objective viewpoint, let's take a look at why these Regional Offices behave the way they do.

These Regional Offices do not handle any clients on their own. More often than not, they get somewhat euphemistic job roles, and even more nebulous appraisal criteria. They are required to visit and be helpful to the Local Offices in their region. When they do, chances are they may end up impinging upon the Local Office/s' time. Lest it is seen as an unwelcome infringement, they need to invent ways to make their visits come across as important. While they are not travelling, they need to come across as busy and delivering to the larger organisational vision and objective.

These are no small challenges - and hats off to the smart guy or guys who contributed to creating this robust list of rules which all these Regional Offices live and die by.

These rules have led to assignation of such lovely descriptors for these Regional Offices as 'Watch Dogs', 'Dogs in the Manger', 'Wet Blankets', 'Stooges', 'the set that doesn't know its a** from its elbow'.

But let me remind you - these Regional Offices are a necessary evil. We, by now, have deliberated enough over the 'evil' part. But what makes them 'necessary'?

Surely, those of you you who have come across these 'Regional Offices', also have their Global Offices tucked away in some remote (or not-so-remote) corner of Europe or USA. All such sufferers would have also faced a perennial phenomenon called ConCalls (wonder why they have stopped calling these 'conference calls'). Typically, these calls happen with a blatant disregard to the time gap between the Global Office market and these Local Office markets. Willy-nilly, the Local Offices end up holding on to the short end of the stick. This is where these Regional Offices play a crucial role. Enough and more times, you can depend on them to attend and debrief you about what happened (or didn't happen) during these calls. You don't have to be on these calls at all kinds of odd hours. This is ONE important role they play for the Local Office/s which justifies their existence.

Another smaller, but still significant role they play is that of being the first punching bag for the Global Office. As everything else, even these punches get diluted by the time they travel from the Regional Office to the Local Office/s.

I am positive that the readers of this little piece will have a thing or two to add to this. For doing so, kindly do write to me and I will definitely make an attempt to incorporate as much of that feedback as possible.