The Due Diligence of Ideas
My partner in crime, Kevin Brown, talks often to our clients, our team and our media owner partners about ‘the due diligence of the idea’.
He presses us hard to be crystal clear about the creative idea we are working with - before we even begin to go on to make our media ideas.
Clear about precisely what the idea is, how it works at its best, and how it doesn’t work.
Clear about how it fits against the brand and the JBTDs (jobs to be done).
Clear about what makes it distinctive and alive.
And of course clear about how we think it connects with its audience.
Doing this ‘due diligence’ is often just a matter of dedicated chat- but a rigorous chat in which the idea is interrogated to confess its strengths. Hard chat!
But also chat about what could it be, where might it go, what other ideas might it spawn.
Due Diligence of Ideas is a real real skill set!
Sounds fun, yes?
And it is, and it should be.
But be very very clear it is a real and critical skill.
All the great account planners I have worked with over the years will tell you that doing due diligence on ideas is one of the critical intangible skills that the books don’t talk about;-the Ninja skill, the skill that helps the team see what their idea is precisely and therefore what it can be.
And as a skill it is hard won.
First, it takes practise- the legendary 10,000 hours of practise.
Second, it takes a fluency and sympathy with ideas- after all, the purpose of due diligence is to understand an idea in order to make it even better, and to exploit the hell out of it in a way that ‘moves it on but doesn’t move it off’.
And finally, of course, it takes a true love of ideas deep down- a joy in them flourishing.
Is there a skill deficit in our business?
Surprisingly, Kev has those skills in abundance .
Over my years with Kev I have found him as good as any top planner I have worked with- a Jim Carroll, a Derek Robson, a Paul Matheson etc etc.
‘Surprising’ might sound like a bit of a back-handed compliment for a partner in crime I know!
I say ‘Surprising’ because Kev started his working life in media and has lived his working life on the media side of the business
It is unusual (and I know the dangers of being media trolled when I say this ) for someone from the media side to be so skilled.
There is a real Idea skills deficit in media
My proof for this is anecdotal.
I have chatted to planners on both media and creative sides over my years at BBH and overseeing The IPA Diploma.
But the fact that there is a skill deficit is of course entirely logical.
After all a media planner does not spend every day in creative reviews listening and learning. A media planner does not sit next to and work with the best creative teams day in day out.
It is hard to get to a thousand hours of creative practise let alone ten thousand.
And of course their media specialism - their ten thousand hours - is developed elsewhere in learning the media landscape and its opportunities. And that landscape, for better or worse, is often a land of KPI’s, ratios and hard number crunching. A black and white world.
Not a world of exploration of boundaries, of nuance and subjective speculation;- a world of ‘greys’.
Why would we expect media to be experts in ideas?
Forgive me if you think I am entirely wrong
In my defence please recognise that my previous two confessional pieces have cried ‘mea culpa’ and looked to how account planners can become more generous.
But in this piece I would ask us to think, if only for a paragraph or two, to accept the provocation and consider how this ideas skill deficit might be tackled.
Certainly it is unarguably an area of importance.
There is conclusive proof that the ROI of creativity is critical. In fact according to the Data2Decisions seminal econometric analysis across 100’s of case studies creativity is the second most important driver of profitability (after market size/margin) and is roughly 6x more important that the plumbing of where and how to place that idea.
And it is getting more important in a world of media and content oversupply. The latest Donald Gunn/IPA survey confirms this.
So what can we do to improve our skills at the Due Diligence of Ideas?
The Formal Approach -The School of Ideas
The media world has done an impressive job over the past ten years of training itself. On The IPA Diploma I watched as media agencies invested in their best people in order to get to grips with brands. They have also built on their skills in business and numbers and invested in creating tools and platforms for measurement and effectiveness.
When the media business tackles a problem it does it properly in my experience.
So what if we created an Academy of Ideas?
One that was supported by all media businesses. One that was built online, one that was open to all?
Wouldn’t it be fun to think of a curriculum and learning program for that beast?
It would have to be Aristotelian in conception i.e involve learning by doing.
It would have to have role reversals where the media voice has to come up with the creative ideas.
Sessions where people learn to critique their fellow students ideas, famous ideas and current ideas- each and every week.
And ideas from outside advertising- film ideas, fashion show ideas, artists ideas, comedy ideas etc etc.
It would invite ideas people to talk about their experience with ideas.
To have reading lists on ideas and their creation (there are some good books on advertising and beyond).
To watch videos of creative people talking about how they are inspired (watch Grayson Perry or Liam Gallagher to name just two.)
In effect I think it would be rooted in Kevin’s due diligence of an idea - hard/soft chats, but mega scale on speed :)
The Informal approach - the Buddy system
But in this case I am not sure formal training is the answer.
What is needed is a cultural shift to ‘leaning into the idea’ on the job.
How many media planners push themselves or are invited to creative reviews or briefings?
How many media teams ever take the chance to talk to a creative director or team in charge of the idea?
And of course as every planner worth his/her salt knows ideas are built in the margins- the conversation on the train, on the stairs, in the coffee bar. They are built before they are ever presented.
So how many media bodies are crowded into the darkened sweaty research backrooms every week?
How many media strategies are built alongside the creative strategy and briefed with togetherness as a ‘Meta Strategy’, as I suggested in my last piece?
Overall just how many media strategies are built without truly engaging with the creative agency?
We know why this is.
Our worlds were separated. They were separated for very good reasons and with great results in many ways. But surely the time has come to recommit to the benefit of being twins from birth?
In the end there is only one idea- it’s not really about a creative and a media idea.
It’s about a Total Idea.
So my simpler answer is lets create a ‘buddy system’ on each account- every account planner twins a media planner.
Let us make that the best practise behaviour, let us job spec it, let us appraise it, let us reward it, let us build budgets and processes to support it. But at it’s simplest let every media planner and every account planner starting on a business commit to each other and buddy up.
In short just chat- hard and soft chats. Chats on the strategy, on the research, on the Meta brief I discussed in the last piece and most of all on the Due Diligence of the Total Idea.
Understanding the idea is to understand the object that, in the ultimate analysis, is what the audience engages with.
So coming together around the idea, gluing our thinking together around it must help us be better and work better together.
Agreeing upfront what we all think the idea is makes everything so much simpler .
It provides a filter for judging decisions.
It informs what should and shouldn’t be done.
it forces distinctive bespoke thinking vs ready made laziness.
And finally it is what drives the consumer journey. Data describes it brilliantly but the idea and ideas transform and change it.
After all we do know that the exponential business benefit of ideas is irrefutable.
So let's do our Due Diligence on them.