Something very exciting is happening at d.trio. Possibly one of the most interesting things that can happen to a designer or creative director inside their own creative or marketing agency. I can’t tell you what it is yet, and that’s hard for me. One of my myriad quirks is that I have a hard time keeping my own secrets and I’m terrible at surprises.
I’ll take your secrets to the grave, but my own, no way. I have to buy Christmas presents the day before Christmas otherwise I just give them to people as soon as I have them. Happy Random Day in October! My friends and relations have gotten used to me showing up and just handing them a package straight from the mailbox or store. So, I’m going to do my best here.
It’s not very often that what is happening at d.trio happens at an agency and I’m really excited about it. So excited that I’m worried I’ll be disappointed in how I manage the final part of the project. You know that feeling you get when you lose a board game at the last minute or the paint color you choose doesn’t look exactly the way you thought it would once it’s on the wall? Not life and death, but you really wish that it had gone better? And maybe it could have if you’d just focused more? That’s the feeling I’m living in dread of.
I really hope we do this well. Or if we don’t that there will be an opportunity for a do-over. As a matter of fact, I’m trying to build in a do-over opportunity as we go along. Meaning that the thing I do best, the thing that drives every project manager and other linear thinker I’ve ever worked with crazy, the thing where I can see more than one path from here to almost any place I’d like to go, is finally doing me some good. It’s been good for clients before, and it’s been good for the agency plenty of times, but for my anxiety level? Not always great.
It is also giving me some useful insight into things our clients go through that until now I was aware of, and sympathetic about, but didn’t have deep empathy for. Let’s call it the Enthusiasm Divide. Or the Excitement Gap. Or even the Why-the-Hell-Isn’t-Everybody-As-Excited-As-Me Scenario.
We tend to encounter this phenomenon most often during branding projects. There is always someone on the client side who is the Champion. Who understands the importance, and is emotionally invested in the project and the outcome. And then there are the Others. The ones who either don’t get it, don’t care about it, don’t have time for it, or who get really nervous about change.
Given the fact that brand projects can be hard to measure in terms of success and doing nothing is so much easier than doing something meaningful, our Champion often feels as though they are sticking their neck out. That it would be easier not to care so much. Early on in these kinds of projects they are excited and upbeat and believe that everyone internally will be as excited as they are. By the time they get to hiring an agency they are usually one of two things: hysterical or terrified.
Perhaps those words are too dramatic, but we can see it in their eyes every time. Those that don’t fit into one of those two extremes usually try to distance themselves from the emotion: “the CEO thinks we need a new logo” or “I’ve been through this before, I know it won’t be easy.” The silent “please, please let this come out as well as I’d hoped” radiates from their being. We do our best to make our Champion look good.
We follow a process that makes sense and can be explained in practical terms. We try to weight the cost estimates toward the deliverables even if the discovery portion of the project is actually more important. We present our creative work with solid rationale that is developed from working with stakeholders. And yet, until the Others crack a smile, enjoy the work, say “that makes a lot of sense”, our Champion still sounds tense.
The projects that turn out best are the ones where the Champion realizes we are solidly on their team and tells us where the Others may cause trouble. The projects that go worst are when the Champion starts to lose their confidence in the face of internal apathy and says things like, “the agency said it’s important, I don’t know, maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s not a big deal.”
I have a better understanding of that moment now. It can be scary when your decisions feel like they are going to have a massive influence on the future of your company.
This is for all the Champions: whether you are creating a brand, refreshing a logo, changing an organizational structure, or starting a new campaign—if it matters to you, it is a big deal. Find people who get it, keep your foot on the gas, and make it happen.
And now if you’ll excuse me, I have a surprise to prepare.