How Good Is Your Squid Game?
Published in Nov-Dec 2021
The question that seems to be doing the rounds these days is – are advertising agencies losing their grip on what is traditionally considered their creative space?
There are multinational companies that do not feel tied to a restricted roster of agencies and are open to inviting creatives from others. Companies are going to universities with briefs and buying creatives from the students. Which, in turn, may or may not be fine-tuned by their agencies into a final communication. Content providers, digital agencies and even production houses are reaching out to clients directly with non-advertising solutions. So what do advertising agencies do in this scenario?
Take a little inspiration from Squid Game.
Red Light, Green Light
When do you stop and when do you move? Every agency has to stop now and then to reassess and restructure. Any agency that stays still for too long stagnates. Systems and processes that worked 10 or even five years ago may not work now. In fact, they will probably not work now. Change is constant, relentless, ruthless. Agency creatives have changed, the dynamics of the industry have changed, clients have changed. How we work and what we produce in terms of creative output needs to reflect all of this. And we have to move fast. Really fast. Whether it’s in the time we turn around a project or how we anticipate our client’s needs and moods. Get to know your client better than they know themselves and strike a rapport that will transcend their time in the company. You will know what they are looking for and, more importantly, you will know how to pitch to them and when to do it.
Hitting the sweet spot requires more than creativity; strategy will come into play in more ways than one. Strategy is finding a better way of doing something, a better way of reaching the consumer. It appeals to the rational and is harder to argue against. It is the backbone and support of all creative directions. It is the bellwether of trends, and where the winds are blowing the tide is turning. Once the strategy is in place, give the creatives full freedom to experiment and if necessary, fail. Failure is a great teacher. It tells us what not to do next time. It tells us when to change. Strategise where and how your agency will play. You cannot do everything. If your core strength is advertising, then stay focused on it and produce the best advertising in the world. Don’t get distracted by digital and content. Let the experts in that field handle that. Be the expert in what you do best. Look at what your competitors are doing, but not for too long. Just enough to see what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong.
Tug of War
Experience matters. The elixir of youth brings energy and enthusiasm and propels creativity into many exciting directions. But that energy can be misspent if it tugs away without results. Ultimately it is the experience that guides youth and takes their creativity (and your agency) to that well-deserved win. There is a reason why a Millennial Mark Zuckerberg placed Gen Xers in key leadership positions – he needed their experience and gravitas to balance his impatient vision and give it focus. Experience brings past lessons into play and provides the right solutions at the right time. It is measured in the number of years but more importantly in terms of maturity and lessons learnt over the years. Experience gives direction, knows when to pull back, when to let go, and youth with all its zeal provides the brute force to get that win. Both are lost without the other. Find that magic mix of experience and youth.
It is not always the big wins. More and more it is the small wins that matter, the one-off projects that are both creatively and financially fulfilling. Smaller accounts give a certain amount of freedom that larger retainer-based clients may not – and so do bigger accounts on a solitary project. However, while you go out to win a marble or two, others might be doing the same at the expense of your clients. After all, there is no honour code in our line of work. Guard your turf. And keep an eye on interlopers. Going after the marbles should not come at the expense of valued retainers or agency partners. Then you lose trust and potential affiliates. You need to pick and choose whom you are playing with and against.
This is the age of partnerships and alliances. Find the right people to partner with. Be it in the form of production houses, content creators, digital agencies or even freelancers. And do it fearlessly. Make them your best friends. Everyone is not an enemy. But the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And moving forward, we all need friends. As the Airtel commercial goes: “Har aik friend zaroori hota hai.” If clients are bypassing agencies to get creatives from universities and hire freelancers, then so should you. Create relationships with universities and move proactively to bring the best under your fold, before your client does. Wait for others to move forward to see where they fall through and where they move ahead. Keep a watchful eye and then move ahead with your alliances in place.
The advertising world is going to become more ruthless in the days ahead. We are playing the Squid Game where others are invading your space and you have to invade theirs. Take a step back to assess and reassess. Put your best team in place and if someone is not a team player or does not have the talent required, let them go; get the right people in. You are here to win. And win you must. Play to your strengths, and keep your eye on the prize. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. May the best win.
T. Khan works for an advertising agency in Pakistan.
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