Flotsam

My name is Keith Byrne. I'm a Creative Director at R/GA. This is my take on random stuff that floats by.

The First-Ever Post About Case Study Videos

For good or ill, the case study video has become the metier of the moment. As annoying and overblown as many of them are — and they are — they can be a nice way to synthesize what can seem like complicated work in a bunch of channels.

With award season soon upon us, I stumbled across a pretty good resource, the ambitiously titled World’s Best Case Study Videos

My advice: Make yourself watch 20 of them in a row. That is basically what judges have to endure — and you quickly see the things to do, and, more importantly, not do. 

Here are three especially, um, instructive ones. 

CASE STUDY: Kotex - Softness Surprise from Ogilvy on Vimeo.

Am I uninspirable?

Everywhere I go I seemed to be bombarded with media that’s supposed to inspire me — inspiring videos, inspiring quotes, inspiring installations and, of course, inspiring stories.

(People like @brainpicker  have created modern media empires around inspiration peddling.) 

This is a recent effort by Levis

It’s well-designed, features a snappy hashtag, a Kickstarter-like element and a handful of inspiring types giving pretentious interviews that I’m sure are supposed to inspire me.  

Listen to how they describe photographer Ryan McGinley. 

Ryan is an observer.
Of fringe landscapes. 
Of fringe lives.

Artist and photographer, Ryan McGinley sees beauty in the strange. Whether it’s outré youth or untamed landscapes, he lives for discovering the different.

I mean I love outré youth as much as the next guy. 

Except I’m not really inspired. And I wonder if anyone else is either.

I see things like this and my small bitter brain seems to say the same thing over and over again. Okay, okay, I’m inspired. Now can you please just leave me alone, please. 

Then again, Levis — and others — did inspire me to write this. That, I suppose, is something. 

R.I.F.

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Business Week reporter Brad Stone recently published an inside look at Jeff Bezos and Amazon.com, 

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. (You can read an excerpt here.)

One of the more interesting bits is Bezos’ insistence that important meetings starting with a 6-page narrative and 30 minutes of silence in which everyone in the meeting must — wait for it, wait for it — actually read the document. 

The blog idonethis captures the practice in some detail. 

In Amazon senior executive meetings, before any conversation or discussion begins, everyone sits for 30 minutes in total silence, carefully reading six-page printed memos. Reading together in the meeting guarantees everyone’s undivided attention to the issues at hand, but the real magic happens before the meeting ever starts.  It happens when the author is writing the memo.

What makes this management trick work is how the medium of the written word forces the author of the memo to really think through what he or she wants to present.  

"Full sentences are harder to write," [Bezos] says. "They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking."

(via Amazon’s Jeff Bezos: The ultimate disrupter - Fortune Management)

In having to write it all down, authors are forced to think out tough questions and formulate clear, persuasive replies, reasoning through the structure and logic in the process. 

In agency culture, there is too much talking, especially by people who haven’t taken the time to understand the details of the situation and the assignment. Too much forwarding. And, well, just about no reading. (Who has time for all those words?)

This seems like a pretty good way to make people focus and start in reality — not to mention cut off 30 minutes of uninformed blather. 

I think I’m going to try this. 

Empathy

A few weeks ago, there was a story in the Times about how rich people just care less.  

The gist: 

"A growing body of recent research shows that people with the most social power pay scant attention to those with little such power. This tuning out has been observed, for instance, with strangers in a mere five-minute get-acquainted session, where the more powerful person shows fewer signals of paying attention, like nodding or laughing. Higher-status people are also more likely to express disregard, through facial expressions, and are more likely to take over the conversation and interrupt or look past the other speaker."

This got me thinking to the power dynamic between clients and the agency — and agency management and staffers. 

Too often, clients treat us — and we act — like the help. The clients, like the rich folk, “show fewer signals of paying attention.” And the tools we use to communicate — email and project management platforms like Basecamp — only make it easier to foster this dynamic. 

A few weeks back, we shared a cut of a video we were making for a client on a conference call. They asked about a few decisions we made. We explained. They said, “okay, I see.” Then three minutes after the call ended, they posted their comments in writing. Rather than discuss it with us on the phone, they knew it would be faster and easier to just convey the orders in writing. 

In the name of efficiency, we’re automating empathy and discussion out of the process. 

And too often, we’re doing the same thing with the way we staff work at the agency. 

Again, in the name of efficiency, we staff work with 20% of a writer here, 30% of an art director there, shuffling the percentages, and the people attached to them, like cells in spreadsheet. Perhaps this helps max out utilization rates; it doesn’t particularly help the work. Or the people. 

In both cases, it’s just a humiliating way to work. Feel free to disregard the conversation with your facial expressions.    

Don’t call it a comeback.

As you probably didn’t notice, I haven’t written in this space in months. I’ve been, as we say on Long Island, ridden hard and put up wet. Sometimes in a good way. Sometimes, less so. 

Anyway, I’m getting back in the game. Take it, LL Cool J… 

Don’t call it a comeback
I been here for years
Rockin my peers and puttin suckas in fear
Makin the tears rain down like a MON-soon
Listen to the bass go BOOM
Explosion, overpowerin
Over the competition, I’m towerin
Wreckin shop, when I drop these lyrics that’ll make you call the cops.

Or something like that. 

The Art of Saying Less and Not Listening

Over the past month, we’ve been helping two start-ups working with one of our clients to refine their pitches, and make a compelling case as to why people should invest in them — in 6 minutes. 

It was an exercise in what the gurus around this place call “reductive storytelling.”

In a world where 130-slide presentations are becoming the norm, the art of taking things out is a dying one. A constraint like 6 minutes forces discipline and making choices.   

It was also an exercise in the importance of confidence and a strong sense of self. 

These start-ups were participating in a three-month program in which they made their pitches dozens of times to a rotating collection of mentors and brand name gurus.

If there’s one thing mentors and gurus are good at it’s giving advice. 

One of the companies knew who they were and what they wanted to do. They took some of the advice, and ignored other pieces of it. 

In other words, they knew when to stop listening. 

We worked closely with them, and helped them create a stellar presentation. I have no doubt they are going to make it. 

The other company listened to everything.

The barrage of mentors didn’t help them harden their vision. It made them question every decision. They re-wrote their pitch every few days.  

In the end, their final presentation was better than their initial one.

But their uncertainty raised lots of questions about their prospects for success. 

These two experiences mirror how pitches tend to go down.

You have pitches with a clear vision and strong leadership. And pitches that lurch from review to review. 

I’d recommend the former.

Tamales! Tamales! Tamales!

For the past few months, there’s been a woman selling tamales outside my subway station. 

When you get to the bottom of the stairs that lead out of the station, you can usually hear her, in her sing song, voice.

Tamales! Tamales! Tamales! 

She hasn’t been there all week. I kind of miss her.

This Is My 100th Post And It Is Below Me

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Last August I started this blog, thanks to the encouragement of my favorite blogger and all-around mensch George Tannenbaum.

I’ve written slowly, if not steadily, and, lo and behold, this is my 100th post.

I haven’t promoted it much besides the occasional tweet.  (I still can’t bring myself to do the auto-triple Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter post.)

Yet I’ve always been tickled when far flung readers start following. So perhaps I’ll try the triple on this one. 

Anyway, this post, like the 99 that came before it, is below me.

I mean, aren’t there self-promotion slaves who can take my white board ruminations and write these for me? I am scraping the upper levels of middle management now.

I kid. But over the past few months, I’ve heard this complaint again and again. 

I met an interaction designer who doesn’t “do wireframes.” He’s a storyteller.

I’ve heard three different writers lament that some assignment was “below them.” 

And I’ve heard through the rumor mill that we didn’t win a pitch because the clients asked for something small and perhaps unglamorous and we went in and told them how we did so much more. They were concerned we wouldn’t do what they asked and chose someone else. 

I think it’s all part of the guru-ization of the business, if not the world.

How else can we explain job titles that obscure what people actually do? 

Everyone wants to be a guru. No one wants to do the work. 

At the risk of sounding like the Man, I tell my charges that this is kinda what the job is. More often than not, it will be below you. Your job is to do the best job you possibly can. And complain about it later, preferably over a rare Tunisian lychee martini spiked with three drops of bone marrow extracted from a dying albino llama.  

You’re Welcome

A month or so, I spent a few weeks on a major pitch for a major international client. The work was good, the process was grueling, as pitches often are. 

After weeks of we-won, we-lost, we-won-a-piece, we-won-nothing, we learned we so impressed them that we can pitch them again. 

That is, as we say on Long Island, a real kick in the stones. 

Needless to say, we’ll be there once again, with deck in hand a smile on our face, pretending the whole pitch process is completely reasonable.