There are many terrible cliches that lurk like sewer rats in the daily effluent of the advertising industry. And much like sewer rats they are always close to the surface, wholly unpleasant and bloody difficult to eradicate.

By far the most pernicious and destructive is the now widely held belief that ‘ideas can come from anywhere’. What this annoying little platitude means is that anyone engaged in a project whether client or agency and regardless of their discipline may be the person that cracks the big idea.

So far so good and of course like all cliches it did have a use at one time. By the 1990’s above the line advertising agencies had become so overwhelmingly and unjustifiably arrogant that they effectively acted as a block on any form of collaboration or innovation. Whether within those agencies, between agency and client or between the different disciplines that were beginning to partner the advertising agency to deliver integrated campaigns.
Against this approach there was real mileage for those in the market that refused to indulge prima dona behaviour, that had more fluid and collaborative working practices and who were far more open to partnering other agencies. As a sales trick, suggesting that an idea can come from anywhere worked a treat, and indeed some clients more interested in the process of making work than the quality of the end result, lapped it up.
The trouble is that while there may be some truth in this belief – theoretically great ideas can come from anywhere, just as theoretically a sufficient number of monkeys equipped with typewriters will create works of great literary merit – it is a disaster for clients and agencies alike.
Maybe the odd idea can come from anywhere but from whom are breathtaking strategic, creative and executional ideas more likely to come? Who is more likely to be the architect of a ground breaking piece of strategic thinking? Who is more likely to find a creative expression that dramatises it in a way that has never been experienced before. And who is more likely to create an executional approach that mesmerises people? It could be anyone involved in the project but my money is on those people that do this every hour of everyday of their professional lives, people that instinctively know when something is verging on greatness or just a pile of tat.
And what on earth is the future for any company in the ideas business that pays its people and its rent by creating ideas no one else can possibly come close to, if they believe that actually its a piece of piss and anyone can do it. After all you don’t find architects running around suggesting that anyone can design a building or even that any other architect can design a building as well as they can. An agency might as well pack up shop and go home if it doesn’t have enough self respect to think that, although anyone might come up with an idea, no one is likely to come close to the God like genius that they can rustle up.
Clients value great ideas, they pay us for great ideas and they stay with agencies that consistently author great ideas. Any agency worth its salt will ensure that, while there may be a scintilla of truth in this hoary old cliche, the greatest ideas only come from them.

Image courtesy of Markus Nielsen

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