Ditch the ‘present and listen model’ and start collaborating

I’m a big fan of Mad Men, Matthew Weiner’s critically-acclaimed drama that plays out in the glamorous New York advertising scene of the 60s and 70s. The sharp suits, Don Draper’s theatricised process, the show-stopping eureka moments while clutching his drink of choice, an all American old fashioned — it’s catnip for creatives.

It's useless to be a creative unless you can sell what you create.

Don DraperSterling Cooper Draper Pryce™

One of the show’s main tropes is arguably cigar smoking executives sitting around a huge (always elegant) table, poised and ready for Don Draper to deliver a winding narrative that sucker-punches the clients with an unforgettable reveal moment. It’s undoubtedly captivating. And in the real world, this process of taking the client on a journey through pitching has led to the creation of countless iconic campaigns.

But I can’t help but think it feels increasingly outdated as an approach. The digital era allows for evolution, nuance and quick change. Never before have we had greater freedom to iterate and adapt ideas on the go.

As much as our working processes have changed, so too has corporate culture. We no longer work in hierarchical, linear process models; we have the ability to be far more agile. As a result, building up to a ‘big reveal presentation’ to sell a concept or idea can alienate the client from the creative process and can lead to ideas that at best feel underwhelming, and at worst — totally miss the mark.

Thanks to the emergence of multiple collaborative tools, we can now involve the client sooner than ever before. We can be transparent about our process from the start, bounce ideas around and ultimately, galvanise momentum and ensure our clients are as excited as we are about the formation of ideas, in real time.

Todd Padwick – Creative Director at Function & Form
We want our clients to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in. Because they’ve got years of insight behind their business which we need to tap into, every step of the way.

Todd PadwickCreative Director

In the early days of our agency, we, like many, tried the ‘big reveal’ on multiple occasions. But in all honesty, we repeatedly found that our clients failed to recognise an idea or concept as something they could own and adopt. The end product we were presenting felt unfamiliar as the client hadn’t been part of its inception. We quickly realised that clients are a vital part of the creative process, and need to be involved from the start not only so that they can see the idea evolve but so they can actually participate in its creation. Nobody understands our clients’ businesses as they do, so we’d be doing them a disservice by working with them solely on a few workshops at the start. We need their thoughts, feelings, ideas, concerns and buy-in throughout.

We want our clients to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in. Because they’ve got years of insight behind their business which we need to tap into, every step of the way.

We’re never scared to send work in progress, snippets of ideas and thought starters because we want to push buttons, spark lightbulb moments and ultimately, ensure we’re doing the very best job we can with our clients, not for them.

Sure, the Mad Man era agencies might baulk at our lack of polished presentations (and certainly at our lack of elegant boardroom table), but we like to think they’d be pretty impressed by our work. And that’s what really matters.