- Disaster-related damages more than tripled
- Disaster recovery funding quintupled, going from just 11% to over 55% of damages per-capita
- The ratio of preparedness-to-recovery spending slipped from $1 preparedness per $3.50 recovery to just $1 per $142.85.
Yep. Look at yourself. Closely.
But not yet.
I’ve got three very simple questions for you to answer, and a single simple restriction. Here are the questions you’ll answer:
- Based on what you see now with your own eyes, How many more creases appear on your forehead when you change from slightly raised eyebrows to raising them as high as you can?
- Based on what you see now with your own eyes, do you think that you’ve got an attractive face?
- Based on what you see now with your own eyes, do other people think you’ve got an attractive face?
And here’s the simple restriction:
- You cannot use anything other than your own eyes to determine the answers to the questions. So, no reflective surfaces, cameras, objects of any kind, or other people to aid you in your task.
When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.
We’re frequently asked by prospective clients whether or not we’re specialists in particular industries such as healthcare or technology. The answer is that we’re not. And we don’t ever intend to be. While this sort of specialization was intriguing to us in the early days at Stokefire’s, we ultimately decided it would be better for our clients (and thus our long-term success) to go in a different direction.
I acknowledge that this decision seems to run counter to the traditional wisdom given to businesses of all types. And I’m good with that.
I can’t argue that industry specialization is universally bad. Far from it. It’s a critical ingredient in successful financially oriented businesses, such as auditing and investment banking. Even if the entire organization doesn’t specialize, employers retain industry experts that lend credence to an organization’s findings. Similarly, Stokefire employs or contracts with specialists to handle behind-the-scenes jobs that require specific training and experience, such as certain illustration styles, animation, or programming. Each of these is an industry of sorts. (No one, least of all me, wants to see what would happen if I tried to do this stuff by myself.)
I’ll also grant that, for the vast majority of organizations, industry specialization may actually be a good plan. But my reasons are something you probably won’t like.
As Jean Marie Caragher suggests in her article for AICPA, industry specialization includes benefits like high profitability, economical marketing, easily identified prospects and competition, fewer geographical barriers, prestige, increased knowledge of clients, and more. Studies (including this one by Craswell, Francis, and Taylor in 1995) find a link between industry specialization and the ability to charge more for the same services.
With a list like that, it’s hard to imagine why anyone wouldn’t jump on board.
Put yourself in a client’s shoes for a moment and reread the list from their perspective. How many of the benefits help them? One could argue that industry experience helps projects run more smoothly, allows for common tasks to be done very quickly, and increases confidence that the work will meet industry standards. For accounting or other services that aren’t traditionally visible to the client’s target market it makes a lot of sense.
But what happens when the industry specialist’s work is front-and-center rather than hidden under layers of organizational process? What happens when it’s a branding, marketing, or advertising organization that decides to focus on a single industry? What happens when it’s the essence of who you are and what makes you the best in your industry that is crafted by an industry specialist?
Put on the client’s shoes again, if you would (this time as a client of an agency.) All the stuff that was desirable in the back-office is now questionable at best. Sure, the agency knows your competition, and may have even worked for them. But what does it say about the quality and importance of that work (or the ethics of the organization’s leaders) that they’re willing to immediately sell the same services to you? How could they avoid contaminating the guidance they give you with information gained from private meetings with your competitors? And if they share this information with you (overtly or not,) what would stop them from sharing your secrets?
Regardless of how they may position themselves, industry specialists serving most audiences are limited in the concepts that they can bring to you, since if they were to propose a concept that actually pulled market share from another client they might be liable for damages. An agency that gets a reputation for selling out its clients is an agency that won’t have that problem for long.
So, to my way of thinking, a creative agency that farms a single industry either doesn’t believe their work has the ability to materially change the fortunes of its clients (and thus can sell to direct competitors without worrying about conflicts of interest), or they don’t care that each new contract they get in their industry is likely to devalue the work they’ve done for others.
That’s why Stokefire doesn’t go in for industry specialization. When given the freedom to do great work for our clients we’ve enabled new industries and reshuffled old ones. To then go back to all the competitors our work has marginalized or impeded and say, “See what we did for XYZ Co? If you want to stand a chance against them then you’d better hire us.” is lacking in scruples even if it might make short-term business sense. (It’s not all about morality, though. Another reason we don’t do it is that many of our larger or more strategically-minded clients pay a premium to ensure we won’t work in their field for a period of time following our project on their behalf.)
I’ll again grant you that industry specialists may work faster or more efficiently, and that these qualities have the potential to result in lower over-all costs since they’re not billing as many research and administrative hours. I’ll even grant you that it’s a helluva lot easier to run a profitable agency that specializes in one industry. But I can’t seem to connect either of these with the sorts of outcomes creative work is capable of achieving or that clients actually need.
To those consultants who espouse industry specialization for creative agencies, and to those agencies that farm single industries for profit, I ask you this: How does your industry focus tangibly improve outcomes for your stable of competitive clients?
Anyone willing to venture in and share their contrasting views?
Following on my previous post about Steve Jobs’s phantom “We’re here to put a dent in the universe” quote, I can’t help but wonder if the sentiment behind it is actually a good representation of what Jobs tried to do with his life.
There’s not much point in arguing that Jobs never said anything about denting the universe. I do, however, wonder why he said it.
First, putting a dent in something is typically associated with an act of brute strength.
He may have led with a sledgehammer in his back pocket, but hope for all our sakes that bending others forcibly to his will was not his end-game.If we consider Jobs’s leadership style there’s at least a little connection. He was seen as a “high maintenance co-worker” who was blunt with criticism. He dismissed people who didn’t impress him as “bozos”. If the universe he was trying to dent was made up of the psyches of the people who reported to him then this might apply. But it would also be a pretty shallow and callous goal.
Second, dents tend to make things harder to use and less efficient.
When I think of the products that came out of Jobs’s Apple I picture clean and easy-to-use designs, not duct-tape and Bondo. The work done under his watch seems to have done the opposite of denting the universe.
I know, I know. In theory we all love the character that stuff gets as it picks up the scratches and dings of our lives. But we still go out to buy the shiny new stuff that is easier to use than the perfectly working but slightly older equipment Jobs convinced us to buy a few months earlier.
Third, the only way that “denting the universe” actually fits didn’t apply until he was no longer a part of it.
There’s a difference between leaving a legacy and changing the way the universe works. Jobs helped us to understand that great design matters, and that capability and simplicity aren’t mutually exclusive. That’s his legacy.
Jobs was brilliant. He was able to conceive of or recognize concepts and guide the development and execution of them in ways that were virtually irresistible. That’s also his legacy.
The dent in the universe that he made, though? I really hope it isn’t something he wanted to leave. Two quotes from Rob LeFebvre’s article from cultofmac highlight it pretty well:
“Steve Jobs, however, saw their potential and, with a characteristic mixture of blind faith, naiveté, and ruthlessness, refined them until they met his own exacting standards.”
“Mr. Jobs’s own research and intuition, not focus groups, were his guide.”
The dent he was trying to make was something that only he seemed able to understand.
Is the dent Jobs made in the universe is the one left by the space he occupied so powerfully? While his legacy will live on, his exacting standards and the intuition that built the legacy are gone.
Now we’re left with a dent we have no idea how to buff out, and no knowledge of what it’s supposed to look like when it’s done. The decisions made by Apple since Jobs’s passing – at least as viewed from the outside – are looking more traditional than “insanely great”.
I miss the guy and I never even knew him.
And I’m more than a little pissed that he appears not to have taught anyone else how to use his gift. If he’d done it then wouldn’t we have something other than bigger iPhones and smaller iPads by now?
Anyone else out there hoping that Jony and the team are secretly working on some Jobsian creation and are just working out the kinks before they set the universe wobbling again? Color me hopeful, but not optimistic.
Commercial design is broken, and (for the most part) we practitioners are doing a pretty crappy job of fixing it.
Years ago I wrote, “Design is an opportunity to continue telling the story, not just sum everything up.” And while I’ve heard from many designers who have embraced the sentiment, the industry as a whole remains focused on aesthetics and summation. While these qualities may make clients happy, they don’t do much to help clients make better decisions, move the design industry forward, or do much of anything other than ensure that clients are willing to write checks. On January 8, 2014 I’m looking to begin changing all but the last bit by hosting our first “Designers on Deck” event.
What is Designers on Deck?
Well, I’m working on that, but here’s what I have so far:
We’ll be turning the traditional “let someone brag while everyone else takes notes” networking event on its head. From my experience those events typically result in learning someone else’s singular solution to a problem you don’t have, rather than learning how to develop your own solution for issues you’re likely to encounter. The best way to do create value here, I figure, is to learn from someone who hasn’t been able to overcome their challenge. And lest you think no one will step up and where the “I’m with stupid” shirt with the arrow pointing up, I’m perfectly willing to be the test case. More than once, if necessary.
A few more potential details:
- We’ll be on a deck, or (as will likely be the case in early January) be deck-adjacent.
- We’ll have a limited number of guests from across creative (and related) professions with varied levels of experience. Probably enough to cover all the positions on a baseball field.
- We’ll start with around-the-group greetings, and anyone facing their specific un-solved problem can share it. Anyone interested in helping to resolve can connect after the main event.
- We’ll have a featured speaker or case study that quickly illuminates an unresolved issue with the commercial application of creativity or creative strategy; showing the impact of the issue and covering any attempts that have already been made to resolve it. Possible topics include consensus building challenges, inability to speak with decision-makers, failed brand launches, or something related to stories in the news or suggested by a guest previously.
- Following the presentation we’ll have an active discussion amongst guests and presenters, and will work to clarify the issue and propose methods of resolution. The presenter will commit to an update by a specific date if applicable.
- To close out the structured part of the event, we’ll have smaller chats around the issues guests identified at the start.
We’ll kick this off at our own HQ in Alexandria on January 8th and see how it goes. I’m guessing it’ll take a few tries to get it humming, but initial feedback from those I’ve spoken to is promising.
Interested in participating? I’d love to get a sense of the potential participant pool. Send me a note or drop a comment and we’ll try to keep you informed as this thing firms up. (And before you ask, the time is still TBD.)
I’ve been hearing from my peers in the branding and advertising industries that they’re getting invited to participate in many more RFPs, and that this is a sign that the economy is recovering. But I’m also hearing from them weeks later that they aren’t winning when they submit responses. Some firms are pushing three to five proposals per week out the door and only getting a nibble once or twice a month. Many respected and competent firms complain that the RFP process is flawed, and quite a few refuse to respond to requests for proposals entirely since most decisions seem to be made purely on price or back room handshakes.
I spent about a decade working for other people before opening up my own shop, and remember the constant pressure to get responses out the door. The bosses played the numbers, knowing that we’d land 8 to 12 percent of the opportunities, focusing our efforts on increasing the number of fish in the pond rather than becoming better fishermen. We used databases of canned responses and lightly customized them for fit. I recall numerous times where the final proof-reader, so tired from reading the same damn material on every single proposal, glossed over an instance where the wrong client name or industry example ended up being sent along. It upset leadership, but they still invariably valued increased RFP response volume over increased customization, believing that if we could just get into the final group we’d take the time to get it right. And when we did get into the pitch group most of my bosses did a good job closing the deal. We may have only landed about 10 percent of the RFPs overall, but when invited to pitch our success rate went up to about 40% – and that’s where the leaders focused.
As Stokefire approaches our ninth year in business I look back at a client list that includes Google, Motorola, Heinz, Charles Schwab, The US Department of Defense and hundreds of other worthy organizations, and realize that if I’d followed the tactics I’d been exposed to earlier I’d probably have landed about 10 percent of what we’ve gotten. And that’s where I was headed until something momentous happened.
About five years ago (prior to landing our first globally recognized client) a huge prospective client took me aside and said something like, “Look, man. You’re good. Very, very good. The fact that your four person firm has made it to the final four out of 128 agencies we considered should indicate that you’ve got something special. You brought up all sorts of insights and issues about the deliverables we asked for that proved you understood what we needed more deeply than anyone else. And then you lost your courage, and checked off every box on your RFP response and committed to delivering exactly what we asked for anyhow. And that’s the problem here. You have to admit, no matter how insightful you are, you can’t possibly deliver exactly what we’re asking for better than a nationally known firm a thousand times your size. And even if you could, the board members of a public company aren’t going to take a risk on an unknown like you . The only way I would ever get their approval to hire you is if you’d stuck by your guns and refused to give us what we asked for, and instead insisted on giving us what we need.”
There’s some serious paraphrasing going on there, but I believe I’m being faithful to his theme. It was a two hour conversation with a leader of a multi-billion dollar organization. And he so wanted to hire us that he not only took the time to tell us why he couldn’t, but to teach me how I could earn his business the next time he was in need as well. The last thing he said was that he was looking forward to working with us down the road.
No, he still hasn’t called us back (which would make this a much better story, I know) but we took his lesson to heart.
Today we respond to only a small fraction of the RFPs we receive. It’s not that we don’t believe in the process. In fact, it’s the opposite. We use the RFP process as a screening process to ensure that we’re actually a good fit for the client and opportunity. Our job as a branding and advertising consultancy isn’t to answer the questions and accede to the demands made in RFPs, it’s to figure out what’s behind the questions and demands, and ensure that the stuff in the RFP actually has the potential to get the results the client really wants, if they want anything at all. The RFPs we tend to respond to are the ones where we can prove there’s disconnect between what’s being asked for and the results they’re likely to get from the investment.
When a client knows exactly what they need and how best to get it, then my firm is like just another lowing cow lost among the herd, hoping that today it’ll be our milk in the pail the farmer brings to his own family. All the respondents are checking all the boxes provided. It’s like cows jostling and mooing – “You want milk? Well, I make milk. Let’s do this!” and “Me toooooo! Look how milky my milk is. It’s the very definition of what you’ve asked for! Why go anywhere else?”
How the Hell is the farmer supposed to choose when every cow can provide the requested services at the required levels?
When a prospective client requests a proposal they provide a structure for response so that each can be evaluated in parallel. The farmer says he wants milk, so he ensures that he only considers solutions that get him what he says he wants. Cows, goats, sheep, are the likely candidates. If he gets really creative he might consider almond, soy or rice milk – and feel all the more insightful for it. But what isn’t up for discussion – and is rarely even mentioned in an RFP process – is why the desired product or service is needed, and why the solutions outlined in the RFP are the best way to meet the need.
Stokefire doesn’t make milk. Real nor imagined. We figure out why the farmer says he needs it for his family, then determine if milk is the best product for the job. If it is? We go on our way – there are plenty of lowing cows ready to compete for his attention and give him what he asks for. If we find that the farmer’s real need is better served by something other than the proverbial milk? That’s when we invest the considerable time and effort crafting a response to an RFP – one that cannot be compared to anything else under consideration because it addresses the needed results rather than the ‘required’ methods and steps that have little chance of getting the farmer what he wants, and an even lesser chance of landing us the job.
The key to successful RFP responses isn’t getting the answers right. It’s having the courage and insight to modify the assumptions, questions, and rules so that the original request becomes irrelevant. Sure, the farmer said he wanted to bring milk back to his family, and there are millions of cows able to give him that milk. But what if you learned that the entire family was lactose intolerant, or that he was using it to fill his swimming pool at the rate of one bucket per day, or to clean the mirrors in his house? In each case, the best response wouldn’t be to fill the stated request and follow the process, it’d be to find a product better suited to the requirements.
Those uses may seem obviously wrong, but put in the context of what we see on branding RFPs are actually pretty reasonable. We’ve seen RFPs requesting logos that increase customer loyalty, demanding reuse of previously used campaigns for increased results without creative expense, and asking for a rebrand intended make a highly visible company scandal go away. These and many other RFPs got dozens of responses that checked every box. We didn’t check a single box for any of them. We couldn’t deliver what they asked for so we responded to the RFP we believed they should’ve written.
And we won.
Does it work every time? Absolutely not. About 10% of the time it doesn’t work and we fail to change the prospect’s perspective. About 5% of the time it doesn’t just fail, it fails spectacularly. If it was that farmer’s RFP, he’d grab his shotgun and unload both barrels into our chest. Then he’d tell us we didn’t get the job.
As bad as it sounds, I know from experience that being screamed at by prospective clients for having the nerve to challenge their assumptions is survivable. And it’s led to some wonderful client relationships months or years later, when the prospect has tried it their way and we have the, “You know, funny thing about that pitch you made…” conversation. It helps to keep that result in mind when resisting the urge to wipe their spittle from your eyebrows during the pitch.
If you’re not willing to take the risks needed to achieve results, but still blame the system itself rather than your ability to use it to your advantage? I’ve got no problem with that. In fact, I’ll even help. There’s a word you can repeat in your mind as a mantra that will ensure you always deliver fully compliant responses to RFPs. It’s easy to remember, and oddly comforting, too.
Say it with me…
In a brief exchange I had with @kwheaton and @Bryan_El_Parker over on Twitter, both raised concerns about the way large companies hire their employees. They were responding to our blanket rejection notice posted previously on our blog. Bryan pointed out that the traditional system strips applicants of their individuality by making them check boxes, to which we said that “unless you’re a checkbox you shouldn’t work for large employers.” Kristan reasoned that not working with big employers may be easier said than done.
And so we slept on it. For a week. And here’s what came of it:
The issue isn’t that big companies can’t work with highly creative or visionary types, it’s that the best path to big company employment for people with these qualities is probably not a system that rigidly dictates and automatically enforces the form and content of their applications. If you’re genuinely creative or visionary then you’re better served by either finding another way in that allows you to show your skills, or by breaking or manipulating the ineffective process to show why they need what you bring to the table. Your goal shouldn’t be to do the best you can within the system, but to prove that the system is set up to solve the wrong problem or deliver the wrong result.
Daniel Pink explains part of the problem in his book (which is excellent, by the way,) To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others:
…a few years ago, the Conference Board, the well-regarded U.S. business group, gave 155 public school superintendents and eighty-nine private employers a list of cognitive capacities and asked their respondents to rate these capacities according to which are most important in today’s workforce. The superintendents ranked “problem solving” number one. But the employers ranked it number eight. Their top-ranked ability: “Problem Identification.”
Checkboxes seem best suited to addressing a presupposed problem for which the right answer is at least intuited, if not outright known. And that’s why big companies use them. They believe that they know what they’re looking for and how to find it. If you don’t have a better way to see things, or a different problem identified, then checkboxes are probably not doing you a disservice. But if you do see a different problem that needs solving than the company does, each box you check will make your unique value less visible.
If you want (or have) to work for a big checkboxy organization and aren’t a checkboxy type you can, of course, just suck it up, check the boxes and hope for a job and role you can’t stand so you can change things from within before you have the life sapped from you. Or you can show them from the start that the problem that needs solving and the person they need aren’t a part of their checkbox system.
If you’re good, the considerable effort and insight this approach requires will be nothing compared to the pain and frustration you’ll avoid by having a job that encourages you to think, say, and do exactly as you wish rather than forcing you to be someone you hate to see in the mirror every Monday through Friday, holidays excepted.
If you’re not quite good enough, or the organization doesn’t appreciate your obvious talents? That’s a conversation for another day, I think.
Many thanks to Kristan and Bryan for their help in identifying this particular problem.
To me consensus seems to be —the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no-one believes, but to which no-one objects. —the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead.
What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner “I stand for consensus”?
Those are some exceptionally important words to me, and to the organization I’ve built. I reference them at nearly every speaking engagement and each new client briefing because they’re equally applicable to the fields of branding and design.
And today they seem even more relevant and true. Today there’s a new lack of consensus. Thatcher’s passing earlier this week has been simultaneously marked by loyal praise and passionate derision from those impacted by her efforts. She is now either loved or reviled by the masses for the things she held most dear and the controversial steps she took to effectively defend those things.
I can’t imagine that she would find this particularly upsetting. Thatcher didn’t stand for consensus; she stood for her convictions. And the United Kingdom as a whole and the world at large are stronger for it.
The lesson? As goes politics, so goes branding. Address the issues, don’t avoid them. Or do. After all, it’s only the wellbeing of your organization and its people at stake.
Yesterday I chatted with Matthew Abraham and David Bevan from ABC Adelaide’s aptly named Breakfast with Matthew Abraham and David Bevan. The topic was the previous evening’s launch of Brand South Australia, a project that I was admittedly pretty much in the dark about.
After taking a quick glance at the logo and reading a few pages on the positioning I plunged in as most talking-heads do – without a clue as to what I was going to say, but with a hope that it’d at least be entertaining and perhaps a little informative for all involved.
I think it lasted about four minutes, much of which seemed to involve Matthew and David explaining some of the work we’ve done to their Australian audience (perhaps because they didn’t know of our legions of fan down-under) and summing up my abilities as a brander with the exclamatory, “You’re evil!” which, given the esteemed reputation I have with myself I can only surmise is Australian for awesome, similar to how Bostonians label everything good as wicked.
So, right back atcha, Matthew and David! Wicked evil!
Anyhow… I shared a couple opinions about the fact that the only thing the logo seems to do well is convey where South Australia is, and if that is the primary reason that people aren’t visiting the area then it’s doing its job well. I also mentioned that the logo was fine aesthetically.
But what I didn’t say is that I don’t think that a disinclination to read maps has anything to do with the troubles South Australia has had in attracting businesses and tourists.
There are plenty of towns and regions that most folks can’t find on a map, and yet many are stacked with tourists every year. We don’t need to know where something is in order to get there. That’s what we pay the airlines and taxi cabs for. I’d wager that 99% of the world’s population couldn’t point to the location of the Sundance Film Festival, but that doesn’t prevent Park City from being overwhelmed by tourists and artistic-types every January.
The new South Australia logo combined with the built in “open the door” messaging conveys a lack of understanding about what brands can do. While it is technically true that in order for any international traveler to get to South Australia they will probably have to open at least one door, a lack of understanding about how handles and hinges work has nothing to do with why they haven’t beaten a path to the region. (And yes, I know it’s a metaphor, thank you.)
Open the Door sounds like a feel-good way to broach the wide ranging possibilities and opportunities of SA, but it’s actually pretty damn tired. Googling “open the door” and “slogan” finds about 6.5 million hits. It’s the sort of phrase that creative types resort to when they can’t come up with a singular compelling reason to engage with their product. It’s a lot like how every business considers using some variant of turning dreams into reality or resorting to other time-tested but valueless positions.
The reason masses of people haven’t visited South Australia is because no one in the region has come up with a compelling reason for the masses (or a profitable subset of the masses) to do so. Pointing out where it is and that there’s lots of stuff to be had in the region that is “Creative. Innovative. Industrious.” is neither compelling, nor unique to the region.
It’s true. A book on religious perspective published in 2006 states, “Americans have historically proven to be a creative, innovative, industrious […] people.” And the same three words in the same order are used to attract high school kids to the film industry, and to reinforce the moral leadership and eco-political realities of the Philippines. Also, for a limited time only, there’s a company in Atlanta that apparently would like to put all of Southern Australia to work.
Best of all, in a book called Brass Tacks Tips for Business Owners, a chapter beginning on page 111 starts, “Creative, innovative, industrious managers are a hot commodity these days. The owners of companies know that the quality of their leaders determines the success of their ventures.” Replace “managers” with “regions” and there’s your brand! Heck, it even comes with a built-in spokesperson. I found Mr. Andropolis on LinkedIn, whose own summary of his skills is right out of Brass Tacks, making him ideal for the job. Well, except for the fact that he lives in Wisconsin. (Still, you’re welcome, Perry. And I’ll only charge 10%.)
This has all the hallmarks of a brand built by committee. The logo is all about the cartographic location and opportunity (but not conveying what kind, since that would end up peeving some of the stakeholders.) The tagline, “Creativity. Inovation, Industriousness” tries to sell every ingredient of the regional cornucopia at the same time rather than picking what matters most and running with it. And can South Australia truly claim those three qualities more genuinely than Victoria or New South Wales? And if the brand is meant to attract international attention, then how will their claims stack up against similarly positioned heavyweights like England or Switzerland, or even States in the US like California or Arizona? Or Mr. Andropolis?
Brands aren’t meant to be built by groups. They’re meant to be built for groups once a singular goal is identified. It looks like that singular goal was never found and it led to an aesthetically pleasing but mostly meaningless launch campaign that tries to boldly state “we’re for everything and everyone, so come visit us because we’re RIGHT HERE!”
If there’s good news in all of this it’s that most regional brands don’t do much better. Since so few regions are willing to take the risks involved in creating meaningful brands that change the behavior of a target audience, it’s unlikely that the populace will know that things could’ve been any different. The citizens appear to be focused on what the logo looks like rather than what it can do for them – and that might be because they haven’t been told what it will do, so the only thing they have to take issue with are colors and shapes.
Oh, and maybe a few qualms about the stealthy secession of Tasmania from Australia.
Last, the launch did get a lot of notice and press coverage, and now there are hundreds of thousands more people who know where South Australia is. Assuming that Nathan Paine (Executive Director, Property Council of Australia) is correct and, “The ‘where’ is important: the geographical misunderstanding that triggered the state’s search for a new external identity…” is the reason behind the lack of interest in the region, then it stands to reason we should see a huge uptick in tourism and businesses relocating to the region in the next year to eighteen months. The clock is ticking.
Creative, innovative, and industrious operators are standing by.
No. I don’t.
But I’ve been asked if I do with some regularity, and while it’s all in fun (I hope,) I find that when I ask other creatives if they get similar lines of questioning their answer has always been something like, “No. But I gotta ask, dude… ARE you?”
During the unveiling of a new ID kit for a husband and wife business team just this week I was again asked if I’d gotten a concept by sleeping with a spouse. And it was the wife asking if I was sleeping with her husband.
So, I’ve got that going for me.
Two things seem to consistently precipitate the question. First, we have a stable of improbably big clients that no one can figure out how we land. And second, our work tends to communicate an intimate understanding of our clients – as though we might’ve gotten the idea from pillow-talk.
Regarding our ability to land clients, I’m not sure exactly what Stokefire’s success rate is on pitches now, but I’m guessing it hovers around 80%. A couple years ago we were over 90%. But, as fun as sleeping my way to profits might be, I’m pretty sure I’d be a lot less successful using any organ other than my brain to close deals. Our secret is that we only go after projects and clients that we know (and can prove) we’re ideally suited for. Sure, we might win more business overall if we went after everything put in front of us, but the wasted strategic effort and insight is something that I can’t stomach. We put a huge amount of effort into our proposals, so I don’t like to see them go to waste.
As for sleeping with clients to get better creative concepts? I’ve never tried it. I get results by putting the client under seriously uncomfortable pressure while I’m building their brand. I challenge their stated beliefs and test their commitment to their principles. It’s like Seraph from The Matrix Reloaded said, “You do not truly know someone until you fight them.” Every one of our break-out successes on behalf of clients has come from pushing past what they said they wanted to expose a deeper truth that they couldn’t previously express or were perhaps even trying to hide. We build the brand on that newly exposed, raw, and unchanging truth so that regardless of what challenges lay ahead for our clients, the brand’s foundation will remain strong and stable enough to surpass them.
Great branding work does require intimacy, but only in a pants-on kind of way.
So, no, I did not have sexual relations with that client.