Thursday, June 25, 2009

Transmedia Task Forces

There are a lot of very smart people working at creative and media agencies. A lot of great talent to mine. There is no shortage of good ideas. In some cases, robust technologies on offer. In other cases, account management that is deft and multi-functional. Leaders who can do more than just sell. Creatives who understand business objectives. Media folks who get messaging and conversation.

Despite this, the agency construct, by and large, lends itself to failure. We've seen this and talked about it ad nauseam - how departments and disciplines operate in silos, how traditional and digital are at odds, how media and creative don't walk the aisle et cetera et cetera.

So my colleague Ezra Cooperstein, who works at one of the biggest media agencies in the world, made a great point: As the system continues to fight for its self-preservation, why not establish and deploy task forces that exist entirely to run point between these silos?

Ok, so you're probably thinking that this idea isn't anything new, and in theory it really isn't. However, when you look at all the "disruption" groups within agencies and networks, the idea still isn't working. In fact, I would venture to say that many of these groups exist purely to window dress and satiate the paranoia of clients and upper management who need to know that an integrated practice somehow exists or is being put into place.

There is also a much larger issue: finding people who can truly think and speak in a transmedia capacity. If you were reared in a big agency environment, chances are you were groomed as a specialist of one thing or another, or, if you were multi-disciplinary, you were probably discouraged from developing ideas in this way. I can't tell you how many people I know who have suffered this fate, and had to work extra hard to become competent in areas outside of their focus. I can also tell you that personally, this is the first time in my career where having multiple skill-sets has greatly benefitted me... although big (or bigger) agencies are still hesitant to hire me full-time. Go figure.

So, the questions remain: who would make up a task force and how would it operate?

A task force would likely be comprised of anyone who advocates ideas. Sounds rudimentary, I know, but if you really think about, the current system mostly prioritizes placement or mechanism first, and the idea second. How many times have you seen an idea shoe-horned into a media buy? An expensive application built without a strategy? A broadcast campaign with all stars and no substance, not to mention no calls-to-action with complementary media? A viral video campaign that spikes and then dies on the vine? The point is that there are media planners, digital strategists, traffic managers, art directors, web developers, copywriters and biz dev folks who all have the capacity to connect the dots on the landscape and are willing to collaborate. They just need the opportunity. They want to dive into new areas of innovation. They crave the challenge. And, more importantly, these are the folks that are invested in the future of the agency... people who are true "change agents" (Man, I hate that phrase...)

As to how the task force operates, well, this can be sliced any number of ways and really depends on what can be streamlined within the org chart. What often happens with disruption groups is that they have meetings about meetings and don't immerse themselves in the development nitty-gritty of the various departments. They don't really want to know how bad communications or operations can be, and they certainly don't want to management consult, nor do they know how. So, the simple solution starts with a staffing assessment (who is involved in development meetings and what roles to play) and implementing hard-line communication protocols, such as limited email correspondence, no mobile use during meetings and the mandate that everyone has to come to a development meeting with a potential solution set laid out. And the respect to all the inter-departmental briefs that are generated during "phases"... whittle that mess down to one initial brief, one mid-point summary and then an activation plan.

This is clearly fodder for a much deeper conversation, but you get the point. 

Look, we all seem drawn to this crazy business because of those intermittent and often fleeting connections we make with consumers. We recognize that advertising can be such a powerful thing. So maybe it's time we got our act together. After all, we're consumers too, and if nothing else, we owe it to ourselves. 


Griffin Farley said...

Very Good Post!

Gunther Sonnenfeld said...

Thank you, Griffin... always appreciated!

Jeff Gomez said...

This post is prescient and entirely relevant. I've designed and implemented transmedia task forces for several global brands at some of the largest media conglomerates. This is no easy feat and requires a combination of diplomacy and a fierce loyalty to the tenets of the IP or brand itself above all else. Studios, agencies and publishers that are not doing this are finding themselves trailing the frontrunners...

Jeff Gomez
Starlight Runner Entertainment

Gunther Sonnenfeld said...

Jeff... glad to hear from someone running point in the trenches and who has done it for real. Would love to continue a dialogue with you about this - clearly you have quite a lot of knowledge to share.

Ivan Askwith said...

Fantastic post, Gunther.

These are issues a lot of us, in transmedia production, digital agencies, marketing and advertising are struggling to work through on a daily basis.

Your emphasis on starting with the idea (simple as it sounds) is exactly the model that more people need to adopt if we want to start seeing better work.

Thanks for writing this!

Gunther Sonnenfeld said...

Ivan, my pleasure. Let's keep the conversation going...

Jeff Gomez said...

I'm prepping a new seminar on how companies can prepare for transmedia success using task forces, incentives and IP clearinghouses. Would love to figure a way to share it with some smart colleagues. A huge encouragement for all of this is Variety's new article on the subject:

Gunther Sonnenfeld said...

Jeff, count me in, it would be an honor, and I will be sure to read the article asap. Let's connect; you can always DM me on Twitter (I believe we are already following each other):