Matt Williams: building a creative reputation isn’t rocket science but you have to get out there and do it

Sorry to start a column with a cliché, but they say it’s the little things in life that really make a difference. And in advertising that’s often the case.

Let’s face it; most decent-sized advertising agencies are very similar. We hate to admit it. We even have ‘What sets us apart’ pages on our website to argue otherwise. But the fact is that you can drop someone into the middle of most of the top 40 agencies and they’d struggle to really tell the difference.

Hey, that can be a good thing. I say it because most agencies can boast some exceptionally talented creative individuals, a vibrant culture that would both impress and baffle an accountant in equal measure, and a smart and driven leadership team. When all these come together, in conjunction with a great client, then brilliant work can be made. It’s partly what makes the industry so exciting.

It can of course also be what makes the industry so infuriating. The similarities are such that a genuinely subversive agency like Mother comes along so rarely. And it’s done nothing for our approach to diversity (that’s a much bigger topic we’ll save for another day).

It’s also why the little things in the industry really can be so important, particularly in new business. Unless you have an idea that smashes everything else out of the park on day one, causing the client to cancel the pitch and appoint you immediately (no, I’ve not seen it either), then chances are you’re going to be battling it through rounds of chemistry and tissue meetings against seven or eight other like-minded agencies, all of whom will be saying similar things to the client, patting similar backs and concocting their own suite of strategies and ideas.

Maybe then it is the small things that can tip you over the edge. We’ve all heard the stories. The slickness of certain agency receptions. One agency being more memorable than the other because they simply provided better refreshments. Agencies fighting to go first/second/last in the pitch running order so to make the most impact. Hell, there’s even a whole load of little things beyond your control that can wind up making the biggest difference – how lucky is it that the client also turns out to support the same crap football team as you, or just so happens to get your same commuter train in the morning?

It’s the same when it comes to building a personal brand. Ask business leaders how they got to where they were and along with a large dollop of talent, a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, they’d likely pick out some small moment of seeming insignificance that elevated them above their peers.

I say this in particular after attending an interesting DMA talk last week from Nick Entwistle (below left with former creative partner James Clancy), a freelance creative. You may know Nick as the man behind One Minute Briefs. Or the Bank of Creativity. Or Agency Quotes. If you don’t know them, I do urge you to check them all out – they sum up in my opinion much of the collaboration, much of the creative freedom, much of the entrepreneurialism that holds the future of the industry in such good stead.

But they also sum up the importance of doing the little things that set you apart. Entwistle is the master of ‘just getting on and doing something’ that’ll help him stand out from the crowd. He knows he’s fighting against other creative freelancers every day, so it’s those small moments of inspirations that will gain him that competitive edge. By taking the time to set up One Minute Briefs he now engages with a community of creatives who feeds off ideas and inspiration. With Agency Quotes he interacts with an entire industry, one that’s more self-aware and united than most. And with various internal agency projects he adopts a reputation as the man who goes the extra mile for the sake of his colleagues.

All of this of course needs to be backed up with good ideas and great work, but at least he’s put himself in the position to get that shot. It’s grown his network far further than an average creative enjoys, and elevates him to a status on the industry circuit usually only reserved for agency leaders and top marketers.

And he’s done it by nothing more than ‘just getting on and doing it.’

How many of us from time to time have said ‘we should really take all these embarrassing agency moments and put them on a Twitter site?’ Or even if not that specific, how many times have you heard ‘wouldn’t it be great to set up a platform that does that?’ Or ‘wouldn’t it be great to just give our creative teams a brief to work up something fun like that?’

That’s all Entwistle has done. He’s clearly a talented creative, but much of the ideas mentioned above have not required much technical skill, much (if any) money and hardly any pre-existing kudos or authority. OK, it’s clearly required a lot of time, but social media has made that easier to manage, and I’d argue that for many it’s less about ‘not having the time to do these things’ and more about already spending too much time procrastinating.

Because if there’s one thing that’s frustrating about the industry, is that we’re all very good at talking a good game, very good at coming up with brilliant ideas, yet very bad at turning talk into action. There are plenty of reasons as to why this can be the case – some valid, others certainly not so. But considering we want to be seen as one of the most interesting, creative and impactful trades in the world, I’d really love it if we took a bit more inspiration from one of our industry’s best pieces of work. Just Do It.

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