Posts tagged “agency”

Small Stories About Small Creative Consulting Firms

Given what we’re trying to figure out and plan for here at Portigal Consulting (essentially growth in all the ways one might define that), I enjoyed listening to two brief podcasts about starting and growing (design) consulting firms, one with Chris Fahey and another with Myk Lum. Both are in the category of here’s what I did which is very different than here’s what you should do. That’s not a criticism, of course. Anyone who is has been in similar situations will hear a number of head-nodding-in-recognition moments, and maybe find a few ideas for things to try.

Consulting Co-Creation

One of the interesting things about having a small business is the flexibility in how we can work. Our business model is based around a certain type of engagement: typically 6 to 8 weeks of half to 3/4 time, working directly with medium to large number-sized client team. But many other things come up (i.e., two of our last few projects involved direct collaboration with another agency, who had the original client relationship). Sometimes these different ways of working don’t work out, sometimes they are non-starters (like the call I returned a few weeks ago in which my guy had to wrap up the call to claim his court time; had an idea for a new company “but we’re not doing it for money”, and despite my clarity that this wasn’t a fit, was told I would be hearing from the partner, who of course didn’t follow through), but overall, I like the possibility that others can construct (or suggest) scenarios beyond what I may have thought of.

Recently I had a fun and simple gig; spend a day with a team, helping them to synthesize some data; pulling out some key themes and putting some text to it. There was no proposal, no deliverable, it was just a day of thinking, talking, synthesizing, organizing, writing.

Of course, we’re all hoping that it turns into more, either more like that, or more bigger, but as a first step, it was pretty fun. Variety is one of the key benefits of working in a consultancy, and varying the structure of the engagement is one source that I am always learning more about.

Designer Gods

Disclosure/disclaimer – I teach in the Industrial Design program at CCA, where Yves Behar is the co-chair.

This Wired article may not be the most egregious example, but it was the one that tipped things for me. It describes the work of fuseproject on the $100 laptop. But like many articles about fuseproject, and indeed many articles about design firms in general, it casts the firm as the manifestation of a single person’s talent, skllls, and vision. I don’t know how they work at fuseproject; I would imagine you’ve got to be pretty damn good to get a job there (given the reputation and output of the firm). This management of public image using Yves exclusively may be part of a deliberate attempt to build a brand around an individual, it may be ego, it may accurately represent how things work. I’m working hard not to make too many unfounded assumptions.

As soon as they accepted the challenge, Béhar and a handful of his 28 staffers began a stretch of late nights at the studio, sketching shapes on tracing paper. They reviewed 20 or 30 models that other designers had proposed at various points in the project. They gave special attention to Design Continuum’s original version, a boxy green laptop with a prominent power crank.

“There were too many parts flapping around, too many open places. It wasn’t realistic,” Béhar says. “It should be compact and sealed, like a suitcase. And it should really look and feel different. It shouldn’t look like something for business that’s been colored for kids.” (That’s more than an aesthetic concern: An unmistakable, childlike design will be the laptop’s only real defense against theft and resale.)

“My temptation as a designer was to explore a lot of options,” Béhar says. He looked into electronic ink displays, which run on very low power and could allow for smaller, lighter batteries. (The laptop must be light, since kids are meant to carry it everywhere.) He liked the idea of a soft keyboard, connected to the screen with something called a living hinge (think of the way a cap attaches to a shampoo bottle), which would be cheap and practically indestructible. But E Ink technology is not mature enough, and kids who have no desks at school would find a floppy hinge awkward to balance in their laps. Besides, the laptop was supposed to roll off an assembly line at Quanta, the world’s largest laptop manufacturer, by the end of 2006. He had to move quickly. “A lot of concept ideas I eliminated pretty early on,” Béhar says.

Figuring out how to protect everything from dust and moisture was harder. Béhar replaced the traditional keyboard on Design Continuum’s model with a sealed rubber one and built a sensor right into the palm rest to eliminate the seam between it and the trackpad found on a regular laptop. Other problems: The USB ports were exposed to the elements, and a pair of radio antennas had to stay outside the machine. (The Media Lab wanted the antennas to have a half-mile range for building a city- or village-wide mesh network, with each laptop acting as a node.) Solving one problem solved the other: Béhar turned the antennas into a pair of playful “ears”that swivel up for reception or down to cover the laptop’s naked ports.

“Everything on the laptop serves at least two purposes,” he says.

In March, Béhar’s team presented two models to the One Laptop per Child panel of researchers, engineers, and former Media Labbers. Members of the Design Continuum team also presented two versions. Only one design would survive to a final round of revisions. After Béhar showed off his work, he wandered out to the hall for a glass of water. Fifteen minutes later, he walked back into the room and was greeted with a round of applause.

At least there is an acknowledgement of this as a team effort in a couple of places. But the writer (and Yves himself) attributes decisions and actions to Behar alone.

Contrast this with a piece of Kevin Smith’s My Boring Ass Life

My apologies for the lack of updates, but we’ve been pretty fucking busy. Week 3 is wrapped, and tomorrow, we start our second to last week on the show. Both cast and crew continue to dazzle. I continue to dream about getting more sleep, as I spend all day on set, then lock myself in the editing room ’til usually two or three in the morning. I may be sleepy, but I’ve cut every frame of film we’ve shot already, resulting in one hour of the movie completely assembled. The simultaneous-to-shooting editorial has been tremendously helpful in allowing us to go back to scenes and shoot any missing pieces I didn’t know we’d need, or allow me to revisit scenes I feel need a bit more (or less) detail. If you’re ever gonna make a flick, cut it (yourself) while you’re shooting, kids; you won’t regret it.

We went an extra day last week, shooting on Saturday to get Lee on his “Earl”-free day. The Randal/Lance showdown is a real highlight of the flick, but the award for scene-of-the-week goes to Mewes. When you see the film, you’ll know what I mean.

If you’ve seen Smith interviewed (or giving those entertaining convention or college campus talks), he surprisingly uses “we” to refer to the filmmaking process. He will also use “I” regularly to talk about writing or other things he alone does, but he seems to have made a conscious choice to keep language collective and plural as much as possible.

It’s certainly apples and oranges and I think it’s too easy to draw ridiculously simplistic conclusions from the comparision here. I think the contrast is interesting, however, because it suggests that either way of presenting the creative head is not the only way it can or needs to be done.

[Additionally, I thought the Wired piece was blogworthy because it offers the rare-for-press snippy stuff that always goes around designer conferences around which firm screwed up this for that client and who came in and saved ’em. I always hear those stories but never see ’em in print.]

Don’t Abandon Expertise For The Fleeting Pleasures Of Collaboration

In a thoughtful piece that carefully debunks some of the co-creation hype, my friend and colleague Denise Lee Yohn writes about Viewer Created Adverising Messages at brandchannel

Much more important, however, is the fact that these ads likely miss the opportunity to demonstrate brand leadership; that is, to express the unique and compelling brand point of view that transcends the product or service being sold. The ads everyone points to as having been the most disruptive, and therefore the most successful, are ones that represent the thought leadership of the brand. Think Apple’s 1984 commercial and Nike’s original Just Do It campaign. No consumer, no matter how talented or cool or brand fanatical, would have ever come up with those ads.This is because consumers know what they know at the moment-they know why they like a product-but they don’t know the vision of the brand. They don’t know the company’s dreams and aspirations for the brand, and so they lack the insight and foresight to realize an ad’s full potential. Their ads may be cute or clever, but they won’t further brand leadership. Just as product development should be consumer-informed, so should creative development. But innovative, game-changing companies don’t ask consumers to actually develop new products for them; they shouldn’t ask consumers to develop ads for them either.

Now, I’m not questioning the effectiveness of some brands’ consumer-created ads. Converse and MasterCard stand out as companies that have not sacrificed brand consistency, thought leadership, or alignment in their efforts to engage their consumer base in fresh, interactive ways. And before you accuse me of being some old ad agency type pining away for the good ol’ times, let me tell you, I’m not. I’ll be the first to assert that the old advertising model is broken and creative teams need a big wake up call. But that wake up call needs to come from the clients, not consumers, and therein lies the fundamental reason why V-CAMs [Viewer Created Advertising Messages] are a mistake.

Brands are the responsibilities of the companies that produce them. Companies are ultimately responsible for the perceptions of and relationships with consumers that brands develop. Although the consumer now has more information than ever on which to base her brand perceptions, and she is in more control of the brand relationships, it remains the marketer’s role to shape and nurture brand image and equity.

In the blogosphere, consumer-generated content thrives. So even if companies don’t solicit V-CAMs, they’ll still be created. And that’s okay. But actively pursuing consumer-generated advertising as a marketing strategy is a lazy and irresponsible approach to branding. Furthermore, it’s doomed.

Agency “Tour,”

PSFK Agency “Tour”

We’ve started a series of agency visits in New York. If you’d like us to come in and say present at, say, a team meeting we’d be happy to. Our 30 minute conversation includes a break down of PSFK, a look at three critical global trends and a Q&A.

*Flash* Portigal Consulting to launch 4-Star Eatery Tour. We’ve started a series of high-profile power lunches at exquisite restaurants. If’d you’d like us to join you, say, for a meal, such as lunch, or perhaps brunch, we’d be glad to do that. We’d order a selection of appetizers, and regale you with funny (and relevant!) stories from episodes of the Simpsons and Kids in the Hall while we share some dessert after the entree plates are cleared.

If you are an influential player with an expense account, get in touch at steve AT portigal DOT com and we’ll set up our nosh-fest.

BRAINSUSHI – The Mutant Media Agency

BRAINSUSHI – The Mutant Media Agency

Avant-garde technologies, social mutations and cultural turmoil… New York vampyres, Mexican freaks, Silicon Valley nerds, Guatemalan gangsters, London fetishists or Japanese otakus, the Brainsushi agency is specialized in documenting contemporary phenomena that foresee the world of tomorrow.

Interesting idea for an agency. Looking at the team, they are a bunch of cutting-edge/outsider/freaks themselves. It’s not clear what use their clients make of this information, and I see that if you must sign a non-disclosure before you can receive any of their insider cultural information (which makes sense business-wise but does seem at odds with the whole notion of cultural info.

[via Pasta and Vinegar]

Rewriting history – a good thing?

This is a new at&t ad (pdf) for the SBC merger/renaming thing that’s going down now (and filling the off- and on-line press with stories about deaths of logos, competition, brand, and the like).

The text in question:
mergers come with a winner and a loser.
This isn’t the last time we’ll rewrite history.

seems pretty messed up. Doesn’t rewriting history mean that one goes back and changes the written record to reflect what is more preferred to think now (wasn’t that what Winston Smith did in 1984)? It’s an accusation of dishonesty when we speak of rewriting history. Yet at&t is proclaiming that they are going to head off and do just that. In some ways, the rebranding is indeed rewriting history, pretending that the split from Ma Bell and all the other mergers and splits didn’t happen over the decades, and that this company you’re doing business with is the same company back in the good ol’ days.

But that isn’t what they mean, is it? I think they mean that they’ll be making history – dispensing with the old truths and breaking barriers and doing great things. Making history, and rewriting history are two very different things.

Is this doubleplusgood quacktalk? Or just really really lazy agency work (and dumb-ass clients)?


About Steve