Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Times They Are a Changin' and So Am I

In my 26 years as a creative, I've pretty much done it all:

Art director. Copywriter. Creative Director. Executive Creative Director.
General advertising. Direct. Digital. Pharma.

(I recognized early on that in advertising, necessity is actually the mother of reinvention.)

But never in my dreams did I expect to become a convert to social media, let alone an evangelist. But that’s precisely what happened. Call it an epiphany, a rebirth, an awakening. I saw the light.

Say “hallelujah,” brothers and sisters!

Like any creative worth half his salt, I always sought “the big idea.” Whether it led to a clever headline, a breakthrough visual, or a big-budget commercial, the big idea was –and will always be – everything.

But the business was changing. General advertising was becoming more like direct. Direct was becoming more like general. Digital had a lot of promise, but the work always seemed to be more about the latest bells and whistles than the big idea. And pharma, was, well, pharma.

When I used to hear the words, “social media,” my eyes would roll. I was skeptical. It seemed so complicated. And so far removed from the big idea.

Then it hit me: Just as I have been reinventing myself for my own survival, the advertising business has been doing the same thing for its own sake. It’s a whole new ball game and anyone who wants to stay in the game better learn the new rules. Because social media makes more sense the more the economy tanks.

After all, with the abundance of powerful new online analytics tools, social media can provide clients with an economical alternative to the big TV campaign, with much more accurate, measurable results. In the current economy, how can businesses afford not to give it shot?

But the state of the economy wasn't the only motivation for me to change direction once again. There was also the need to challenge myself creatively, in a whole new way. I realized that creative as I had known it had been largely self-serving. “Look what I wrote! Look at my awards shelf!" (Of course, the fact will always stand that the better the work, the better it works for the brand.) I began to think it's time to look beyond feeding my ego while finding a more stable way to feed my family.

In social media, the creative product immediately benefits those who choose to engage with it. You are not forcing anything upon consumers that they don't already want or need. They've actively come seeking the information or dialogue that you provide. You can’t find a more qualified audience anywhere. And with strong creative thinking, you can reward them for their commitment by providing them with real value. Authentic engagement is what today's disenfranchised consumers really want.

Social media can do extraordinary things, especially at the grassroots level. In pharma, for example, it can help patients who learn important information about their condition at a live event to share it online with others who suffer from the same thing. The good will generated by hundreds at the event can be amplified and experienced by thousands more who will then feel compelled to share it with tens of thousands more. Positive word of mouth is a valuable commodity, and with a little creativity, it can be made to spread organically, like wildfire.

In the financial sector, social media can help the battered lending houses restore their customers’ faith in them by opening up a truly authentic dialogue. Now global banks really can have relationships with their customers at the local level instead of just claiming to do so. The account holder can once again feel that the bank truly understands his or her needs. How long has it been since anyone could say that? Again, this takes no small degree of creative thinking.

And because we now have at our fingertips the technology to be a fly on the wall and get an accurate picture of what is being discussed on the blogosphere, we can see changing attitudes and points of view in real-time. And we can use this information to adjust our messaging to meet the ever-changing demands of the market. Of course, this takes a lot of creativity, too.

The more I think about the creative possibilities, the more excited I get. I’ve discovered a whole other side of me that I never knew existed. Let the second act begin!

Now you may ask, how can a creative who had always knelt at the altar of the big idea suddenly become an advocate of helping people to communicate their own messages?

Well, here’s my answer: Can there be a bigger idea?



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