Damon Stapleton: The DNA of Lego

20140406-193615 (1).jpgA regular blog by Damon Stapleton, chief creative officer of DDB New Zealand

Success is most often achieved by those who don't know that failure is inevitable.
Coco Chanel

Average advertising agencies and great advertising agencies are often like country clubs and football clubs. You join a country club but you belong to a football club. You join a country club because of status and perhaps the amenities. You belong to a football club because of the people, passion and belief. And that belief in a promise stays with you and becomes a part of you.

I suppose the question we have to ask ourselves every day is are we part of a country club agency or a football club agency?

If you look at the great agencies around the world they have uncorrupted DNA. Others would say they have a strong brand. And what is a brand? A promise.
Isn't it odd how many companies want advertising agencies to shape their brand while many of those agencies have no concept or understanding of their own.

Now,with great agencies you will normally find a few things. The founders had very strong beliefs and are often still very involved. This is the magic energy of start-ups. It is often why in the beginning independent agencies have so much success. Also, with these agencies the environment shapes you as a creative. There is always a strong belief that is set in stone. It is not just a slogan or packaging, it is how things are. If you work there, you believe it. It is what I call spiritual consistency. This is the most important and underrated condition you need for creativity to thrive over long periods. People often discount the soul of an agency thinking it's a nice to have or worse still window dressing. Well, try doing that to a football club. Manchester United. Great facilities, good players but we take away the passion and belief. Doesn't really work does it? Agencies are the same.

Think about this for a second, the great illusion about agencies is the passion and belief remains the same inside them because they remain in the same building with the same logo on the side of them.

The rise and fall of agencies is often about the smallest shifts. (I could give you many examples) And for the powers that be, remember this, I know conventional wisdom says everybody is replaceable. But, what you have after the person has left the building will never be the same. It might be better and it might be worse. Never the same. The agency has mutated ever so slightly. If your core DNA isn't strong, you can become all sorts of wrong. Very quickly.

As an industry our primary resource is people. These people are like the most amazing lego blocks mankind has ever seen. When the agency DNA is right they can build the greatest agencies. And what's more, these strange and crazy people can build things nobody has ever imagined. Most importantly, it is the combination of these people that create the secret sauce. Yet, average agencies often think whatever ingredients you use will give you the same secret sauce.

To take the example further they also try to do this without a recipe. They just hope it tastes good. And hope is not a strategy.

It is time we all remembered what an agency is. It is not a flashy logo. It is not a slick business card. It is not a big title. It is not a building. It is not a foyer with lots of awards. It is not a shiny boardroom table. It is not buzz words and jargon. It is not empty mantra's and hollow slogans.

A great agency is a whole lot of people coming together for a brief moment in time and having the same belief. In the end, an agency is simply a promise to itself.

The people are the lego. The belief is the DNA. You have to have both. When you do, those amazing lego people can do anything.

And when you don't you have a whole lot of pieces strewn across the carpet that somebody will have to pick up again.


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