Goodby Sets an Example for Redefining Agencies By Redefining As, Well, Something

logoA feature on ShootOnline describing how GSP won both Agency of the Year and Top Interactive Shop accolades for 2008 quotes an internal memo: “This was the year we decided we should no longer be an advertising agency.  In fact, no one should be an advertising agency.  They just don’t know it yet.  Instead, it turned out we should be something that leads our clients to create and embody popular culture in the world at this point in time.  Something that puts them into mainstream media well beyond advertising.”

Given it was an internal memo, let’s overlook the arrogance of the ‘they just don’t know it yet’ comment because the rest of the statement outlines a bold vision, even if it is left open-ended.  How exciting to think you will leave ads behind and enter the culture to redefine yourself as, well, something.  As a something, GSP certainly is an amazing something.  They have developed a singular style for massive, cross-platform projects that is both technically impressive and imaginatively ambitious.  This innovation springs from their thorough embrace of true interactivity.  So what can that teach the rest of us?

Primarily, we simply must create cultures of innovation.  We need to embrace the ongoing need for change and improvement, for redirection and reinvention.

We should innovate our creative staff mix.  Bernbach teamed art directors and writers back in ’47 and we haven’t changed since.  At the least, we should introduce interactive experts into that equation: user experience experts, flash designers, information architects.  But how much more interesting would it be to bring in radio station programmers, rock critics, magazine editors, game and packaging designers, performance artists and improv comics?  It might not always work, but we’d at least get better stories.

We should innovate media planning.  With today’s hugely splintered audiences, there’s real opportunity in creating bespoke brand networks across unrelated platforms.  The instruments in the media mix have never been more diverse; it’s time for new sounds, new experiments with how and where we hear brand voices.

Finally–and this is perhaps the biggest example Goodby sets–we need to innovate the reach of our assignments.  A client may want an ad, but it would be so much cooler to expand that assumption and deliver a movement, a force for social change or a platform for real commentary and engagement.  ‘Enter the mainstream media’ indeed…

A friend of mine who sold a successful Chicago business and moved to New York to start an entirely new successful business recently told me “That old ‘if you can make it here you’ll make it anywhere’ bit really should apply to Chicago because it’s harder there.  New York and the West Coast want innovation; Chicago resists it.”

It’s an interesting if debatable point, but ultimately, it is no excuse for a stumbling Chicago ad scene.  Because innovation doesn’t begin with clients.

It begins with us.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79