Choosing not to follow the rules laid out for you might just be the difference between mediocrity and greatness.
Browse a few communications agency websites and you’ll quickly see that every agency has a branded process for their work. They preach it internally and promote it to clients and in new business presentations. Many of these processes are proprietary, yet nearly every one of them includes some combination of research, strategy, creative development, and measurement. Each agency has its own unique twist, spin or terminology, but the basic building blocks are always there.
It’s so important to have a well-defined process and approach. Following a process is how we learn. It’s how we grow and hone our craft. No matter the industry in which you work, you must spend time practicing the basics. Where would Fred Astaire be without his first dance class? Where would Shakespeare be without learning the basics of sentence structure?
But the hard truth, the one most agencies never grasp, is that you can master the basics—you can follow them to a “t”—but that approach will never lead to great work.
Truly great work happens after you’ve mastered the basics and followed them. It happens when you know the process, know the client, know the marketplace, know your craft so well in and out that you can trust yourself to forget that process and throw the template in the trash.
Ask a world-class painter, dancer or musician what makes their art or their performances inimitable. They’ve spent countless hours practicing their craft, but that’s not what brings audiences to tears or to their feet. It’s the way those steps, brushstrokes or musical scales act as foundations and platforms for something transcendent. And transcendent does not fit into a neat, templated process. It’s not the dance step, it’s how Misty Copeland dances it. It’s why scribbles on canvas are not captivating, but Cy Twombly’s art is.
In this world of three-second attention spans and the media-gullible, you can fake it, but not for long. This past weekend, in Richmond, Jerry Seinfeld talked to a sold-out theater of people about fancy restaurants, drizzling reductions onto things you can’t pronounce and delivering the checks in beautiful little books. It’s hyped, it’s fancy, it’s new, it looks great—but at the end of the day, when it comes time to pay that check, all you can think about is how you “got ripped.” The theater roared. We all know it’s true. Overdressed mediocrity abounds these days.
Any agency can create an exciting-looking process and hype it up. But can they go beyond that trademarked approach? Can they go beyond knowing how to use the tools, and actually use them to create something truthful, singular, personal and beautiful? Therein lies the difference between mediocrity and greatness.
If you want to do the work your clients crave, and the work you long to see yourself achieve, remember that you’re not done when you’ve followed every step of a process, or filled out the pre-defined sections of a brief or template. Remember that when you’ve gotten that far, so has every other agency you’re up against. Ditch the process, break the rules and make something memorable.