Agency Tenacity

This is an ad some friends of mine made at Y&R Chicago:


Here’s the story of the ad as I remember it:

  • The team working on Craftsman came up with this idea independent of a brief.
  • It was presented to the client who loved it. But they had too many looming deadlines and too many fires to put out for this to be a priority, no matter how cool. It was “put on the backburner” (i.e., ignored).
  • In the meantime, the team created two other posters (muscles and major organs).
  • The agency continued to remind the client that they should run this poster, to which the client kept saying, “Yes, yes. We love it. We’ll get around to it.”
  • Finally, the creative directors said, “The client liking the work isn’t enough. We’ve got to make it irresistible.”
  • The agency printed these as huge posters (something like 3′ x 8′) and with October a couple months away, the brand manager suggested repositioning them as a Halloween promotion.
  • They were presented to the clients again. This time, they bought them. In fact, they liked them so much, they approved production of a TV spot and hundreds of skeleton/tool t-shirts that were so popular the client charged their own employees for them and they still sold out. (In my opinion, the TV and t-shirts aren’t as cool as the original print. But they were still great opportunities, and the agency got paid to produce them.)


What was the difference? It might have been timing. It might have been the moods of the client. But there are three things the agency did right that they didn’t have to do:

  1. They were tenacious. They recognized great work and pursued it. Not every agency and not every creative director will do this. You need to gravitate towards the ones that do.
  2. They invested in making the next presentation irresistible. They printed these out as huge posters, not unmounted 11x17s, or even mounted poster-sized posters. They showed the client exactly what they would look like, and didn’t leave it up to their imaginations.
  3. They made it relevant to the client. These weren’t concepted as Halloween posters. In fact, that almost makes it cheesy. But it was enough to get the work produced. And that’s what matters.
There’s an alternate ending to this story:
  • The Craftsman team came up with this idea.
  • The client loved it, but sat on it since it wasn’t a priority.
  • It never got produced and exists only as spec work in the AD’s and CW’s book.
As Sally Hogshead says, “Brilliant ideas are fragile. They won’t get produced unless everyone in the agency is dedicated to helping them through.”

* * * * * * *

New addition: In early 2010, Sears began offering tool chests and storage lockers with the Craftsman image. So put down product design on the list of media affected by this off-the-brief and never-asked-for idea.

Credits for the original print campaign:

CW: Tohru Oyasu, AD: Rainer Schmidt, CDs: Dave Loew and Jon Wyville, ECD: Mark Figliulo

10 thoughts on “Agency Tenacity

  1. This is a great example of how to get great work through. Clients rarely buy the killer concepts the first time they’re presented. A lot of the work you see in the annuals is the result of the agency bringing the same work back to the client time and time again, showing passion and staying with it. Each year, my ECD and I make a list of projects that the client didn’t buy for whatever reason that we think are great opportunities. If there’s a little extra money left at the end of the quarter, or if we can piggy-back the idea onto something the client did buy, we try to get it through then. Keep a folder of all those ideas you really want produced. Just because the client didn’t buy them doesn’t mean they’re dead. Mention them to directors or photographers that you love. If they like the idea, they may do them for you to showcase their talents as well. And believe it or not, my agency has actually taken the same idea to the client so many times that the client finally said, “Fine. You’re obviously passionate about this. If we produce this, will you stop bringing it back to us?” No client or agency will ever fault you for being passionate about and persistent with the ideas you believe in.

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  2. This is a great example of why, especially when a client loves the idea but the timing seems wrong, everyone in the agency needs to fight to make it happen when the timing is right. Or less wrong. But most importantly, to make sure it happens.

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  3. I think this is a great article. I have heard too many creative directors walk into a meeting or get on the phone and say, “now this is a work in progress, but…” and then proceed to stumble through, thinking of what to say on the go. Why not go the extra step and flush your idea out and actually think about the presentation ahead of time? Sure, a good idea should sell itself, but a good idea, given a proper polish and a thought-out presentation will just make that good idea that much more powerful (and, as greg points out, more relevant to the client.)

    The posted comment about making a folder of all forgotten ideas is really smart. We all put a lot of time and get passionate about our ideas – finding creative directors that appreciate that and have a strong desire to fight for them (especially when they spend a lot of time figure out when that is appropriate) is priceless. That's someone I'd love to work for.

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  4. Reminds me of a project we recently did. We have one of those clients that writes their own spots and literally highers and fires our creatives. Needless to say, they want what they want when they want it and nothing else.

    But then some creative had a great idea – for a tv show no less – and we had to figure out how to help our client see the light. After a few weeks, we had a solid presentation put together and we sent our CCO out with a solid strategy and creative deck. To everyone's surprise (I'm still amazed), our client loved it and wants to double the budget, double the length of the show and double the manpower behind it.

    Now, the whole agency is floored and we're preparing to shoot an actual 12 week television show – a television show!

    Sometime you just have to put yourself out there.

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  5. Being in the fashion industry Im always on the trend forecasting station long before it reaches the mainstream consumer. My artwork has to be on target and I have to convince my buying team that what Im presenting will ring the registers.
    I had a design earlier this year that I believed in but they kept pushing back. Id sneak it in every meeting until finally they 'humored me' and placed an order. It sold out in 3 weeks, and was reordered.

    I like to attribute my attitude partially to BruceMau's Incomplete Manifesto (which sits on my work desk).
    '# 21 Repeat yourself.
    If you like it, do it again. If you don’t like it, do it again.'

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  6. I think there's a very fine line on when to keep pushing and when to let it go. But ultimately, if the ad solves a problem for the client, then it's worth being persistent.

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  7. I'm currently involved in a similar situation. I wrote a radio script that the client loves and would like to develop into TV and online. The budget will still be next to nothing, so it's on us to figure out what needs to be done to create this idea as big as we can get it. I'm using this blog posting to help fuel our determination to come away with more than just a book piece nobody ever sees.

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  8. One of the most important things an agency can do for its client is to have the guts to do something they believe in and know it's for the benefit of the brand. To many times the dialogue between the client and agency becomes a one-way street and nobody wins. It's essential that the communicator sticks to their instinct and doesn't let time, money or fear stand in their way of creating something significant. This is a great example.

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  9. This post couldn't hit home harder. I can't tell you how many times I've seen great work and great ideas die. There will always be obstacles getting in the way, be it political, logistical, time, money. but good ideas work, no matter where they come from, when they happen or how they come to be. we live and die on the concept of selling great ideas to clients, and there needs to be more effort put into making the best ideas happen. they're in the clients best interested after all!

    This is a great success story, but it's too rare a story in the grand scheme of things. if we can't sell our best ideas, then what are we doing going into work every day?

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  10. This is one of those campaigns you have to take care of like a screaming kid. It knows what wants just give it to him damnit! Great ideas are harder to get produced than, I dont want to say bad, but safe ideas. Congrats to Y&R on selling Craftsman a fabulous campaign and getting through the subjective hits and “oh I dont knows.” And can you say legs this Art Direction and Concept screams merch, and non traditional execution. Well done guys well done.

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