An Idea Isn’t Everything

This is another in a series from AKQA creative Nathan Archambault. You can follow him on Twitter @NKArch.

Concept is king. It’s all about the idea. Your goal with every brief should be to come up with an idea so big that other big ideas become jealous. Right?

Not so fast. Coming up with a big idea is just one of the many steps that it takes to produce great work. And it isn’t always the most important step to a client. Sometimes it’s not even the most important step to an agency.



The details matter

Lately I’ve been seeing student books that feel like they’re full of high-level case studies. Videos that present the idea but don’t actually explain how it comes to life. After nailing a big idea, you’ve got to figure out the minor details. Not every big idea translates to a great ad. Without thinking through the small things, you’ll never know if your big idea is anything more than a great starting point. When it comes to executing a campaign, an idea isn’t everything.
The strategy matters
Clients don’t want ideas that come out of left field, even if it’s a great idea. Your campaign needs a foundation. You need to be able to explain the insight that led to your idea. Be perfectly clear about why this idea will be an effective one for the client and the target. When it comes to thinking strategically, an idea isn’t everything.
The client matters
Don’t forget that we work in a service industry. Our clients aren’t in the business of supporting the advertising industry. They’re in the business of making profits and selling products. They’re only interested in one type of idea – the kind that grows their business. When it comes to client needs, an idea isn’t everything.
The budget matters
A client isn’t going to toss more money at a project because an idea is so freaking awesome. Doesn’t matter how much they love it. If the best idea goes over budget, the next best idea moves into the starting line-up. Or, even worse, you’re asked to rework your great idea until it’s nothing but a sad shell of its former self. When it comes to sticking to budget, an idea isn’t everything.
The presentation matters
Part of the job is getting clients pumped up for your big idea to become a big reality. That may mean some theater. It may mean bravado. It takes a different approach for every client and every presentation. Just remember, clients weren’t there during your brainstorm sessions. They may not fully understand the thought that led to your idea. You’ve got to set it up for success, making it sound revolutionary. Make it seem like anything but your big idea would be disaster. When it comes to the presentation, an idea isn’t everything.
The objective matters
Every ad has a job to do. Your great idea should lead to action, interaction, or whatever the goal may be. An idea can be cool, but it also needs a nerdy side. A side that accomplishes the very straightforward and quantifiable goal put forth by the client in the first place. When it comes to building a brand, an idea isn’t everything.
There are a lot of factors that can make or break a campaign. Do all these things well, and your big idea becomes that much bigger. It also moves that much closer to becoming a reality.
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4 thoughts on “An Idea Isn’t Everything

  1. Well said. I wish I saw this an hour ago, I could have just read it word for word during our internal meeting on how to respond to an urgent client RFP.

    Clients love rationale, IMO. Show them there is a method to your madness and they will be more comfortable letting you run with it.

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  2. Thanks for the comments Jake and Burke. Just ran across some reinforcement for the concept that an idea isn't everything that I wanted to pass along. The founder of Maxim wrote a book and one chapter is entitled On The Fallacy Of The Great Idea. He says “Having a great idea is not enough. It is the manner in which ideas are executed that counts.” Perhaps he read this blog post? Anyway, here's the full article: http://blogs.forbes.com/jeffbercovici/2011/03/11/excerpt-maxim-founder-felix-dennis-on-the-fallacy-of-big-ideas/

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  3. Alois Schober is the CEO of Y&R in Vienna. He doesn't get a lot of credit here in the States, but he's one of the smartest guys I've met in advertising.

    He once told me, “Everyone says it's all about the big idea. That's only half right. The other half is the relationships you build.”

    That may not mean much to young creatives who just want to win awards and mess with culture. But as a long term strategy for building a solid company with clients who trust you and will stick with you, that statement carries a lot of weight.

    (You can visit Alois here: http://www.yrbrands.at/index.html. What a guy.)

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