First published in Open 3.

I’m not from around here. I’m an outsider. If I’m honest, I didn’t even know about this book until a few months ago. So why have I ended up with the honour of filling the next page with my thoughts? I’m assuming it’s because I’m not from around here and may say something unexpected. So here goes.

Firstly, who am I? I am one of those creative agency types – but slightly weird. I grew up around farms, know how to hotwire cars, trained as a designer, love to code, worked with Hollywood movie studios, created kids cartoons, ran digital marketing agencies, started start-ups and am writing this as Director of Innovation and Technology at WCRS, one of the UK’s top 5 ad agencies.

One of the first projects I got my teeth into at WCRS was that Women’s Aid billboard. The one where you look at it to make the bruises go away. That was pretty much my first OOH experience. It was a good one. It won a bunch of awards. Suddenly, I like the OOH world. It reminds me of the internet back in 2000. Anything seems possible if you’re smart enough to join the dots. You want infrared cameras? Sure. You need snow machines? Cool. Special build on the moon? I’ll call the media owner.

Source: Sign Media

I split the OOH world into three buckets. The special builds, the collars and cuffs and the missed opportunities.

The special builds are fun. Excitable creative teams at the agency regularly swing by my desk and ask “is this possible?” while offering up a series of ever-more bonkers ideas. Unfortunately, many are not physically possible but they always lead to something better down the line. Advertising clients may not be as adventurous as charities or arts companies and it’s this freedom that makes charity work more likely to win the awards.

The other creative teams have their heads down. They know it’s not even worth asking whether it’s possible. It is. They’ve been given formats and it’s their job to make them as exciting as possible. “Collars and cuffs” as I call it. Go crazy but make it all sort-of match. The impact is often in the scale and consistency.

Then there’s the missed opportunities. You have a pretty groovy media plan but only have the basic dimensions stated in the specs. Rarely are there the magic details needed to deliver something that plays to the strengths of the format. How were you to know that the digital 6 sheet also had wifi and a speaker? So it gets filled with a version of the print 6 sheet but with a snazzy swoosh animation across the logo. If only you knew the secret sauce…

And this is where the issue (and opportunity) is. The client, the agency, the media buyer and the media owner are circles in a Venn diagram that never seem to properly overlap. The client briefs the agency and the media buyer separately. The agency comes up with the big idea and a bunch of smart ways it will work in everything from OOH to social. In a room, 3 miles away, the media buyer expertly plans the media and books it based on the media owner’s capability to deliver to the media plan. This is then confirmed with the client and sent back to the creative agency to deliver the correct formats. The media plan is a surprise to the creative agency whose ideas are based on interactive screens near train stations but have been given long list of online banner sizes. Lots of frowns happen.

I’ve seen this too many times for it to be an accident yet the solution is relatively simple. One cliché word… talk. Creative agencies, talk to the media buyers and suggest formats that work with the creative concept. Media owners, talk to creative agencies regularly about what your formats can offer, how to get the most from them and why you’re different from the competition. Media buyers, talk to the agency after the campaign and share the stats. What worked? What didn’t and why. Only then can we all make the next one better.

Unrealistic? Not in my experience. We actively make time to nurture genuinely fruitful relationships with media owners. I know their first names. They phone us up with exciting new formats. This gives us a competitive advantage. I host innovation sessions. Tech providers pop in for a coffee. We run joint brainstorms with media buyers to identify the exciting, effective formats to focus on. And amazingly, they often get bought.

If you do one thing, nominate a person to have a monthly coffee with their counterpart in that Venn diagram from before. Seriously, do it. Swap phone numbers. Ask “is this possible?”. Share what excites you. Come have a coffee. I dare you.

Dino Burbidge

About Dino Burbidge

I know enough about most things to be dangerous. Currently Director of Innovation and Technology at WCRS.

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