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February 9, 2021 // Paul Sears // Opinion  //       //  Opinion

The Lowly Meeting Invite - The Most Powerful Tool to Drive Brand Relevance

I’m a recovering ad guy of nearly 15 years. Sure, there were highlights -- celebrities, commercials, multi-million-dollar campaigns. And some lowlights: among them, a constant game of chicken-and-egg between creative and media. I picture a stalled assembly line where no one can decide who goes first. This froze countless projects. But to be fair, I realize it’s hard to take that first leap of faith.

Upon entering advertising rehab, I took a friend’s advice and became an Agile Scrum Master.  Later I also became an Agile Scrum Product Owner. While the classes are for software creators, it was surprisingly easy to adapt the concepts to marketing. Agile helped me rethink the premise that creative and media have to happen in sequence. “What it says” and “where it goes” are one problem to solve, not two.  

Let’s take the linear assembly line and make it a figure-eight shape. Tiny boxes containing small increments of brand value fly around at high velocity, colliding to spark compelling customer experiences. On the figure eight, there’s no hierarchy, no sequence -- just one big team working in a continuous loop. “What it says” and “where it goes” always go together.

It starts with culture change. Good ideas don’t just spontaneously come from anywhere, they must be cultivated from everywhere.  

  • No egos: The creative and planning environment has to be flattened. Instead of hierarchies and siloed workgroups, the entire team becomes equal co-owners of the business outcome and the work that drives it.   
  • No passengers: The whole team must lean into the hard work of nurturing good work.  No one is allowed to lean back and toss out lazy critiques. 
  • No boundaries: It takes practice to see the hidden potential in the kernel of an idea.   Today, this is no longer the sole purview of the creative director. All disciplines must be trained to respectfully review and elevate each other’s work. We must learn each other’s tribal language and acknowledge each others’ sensitivities. “Yes-and” becomes a core part of the vocabulary.

It also requires a big-picture view. I reminisce on the account planning convention of breaking every big problem down into tiny slices -- briefing, reviewing and approving each initiative in isolation. Perhaps one or two people on the team see the whole problem, while most others just make stuff. Agile thinking would suggest this vastly undersells the team’s capability. Good ideas come from access to information. The “smart people” need to get in the weeds, and the “doers” need to be invited up to 10,000 feet.  

The workflow looks a lot different. I lose creative friends when I talk about briefing on Monday, looking at work on Tuesday, outlining our presentation on Wednesday, polishing the deck on Thursday and presenting it to the client on Friday. It sounds like a death march, but it’s actually totally achievable, and I’d venture to say a lot more fun:

  • MVP: Thinking in minimum viable products, we focus only on the work that drives value right now. I’ll never forget as an advertising account director, sitting through 120 pages of layouts for six creative concepts, which took at least three weeks to create, yet none of which struck gold. Wouldn’t it be better to align early and let the client contribute to our thinking, rather than spending labor on a beautiful yet disappointing product? By focusing only on the minimum information needed to have a productive early discussion, we can achieve way more impact with much less effort.
  • We’re a team: There’s no pride of ownership if the media planner blurts out the perfect word of copy or if the art director recommends the perfect media placement. In baseball, when the first baseman has to stop a ground ball, the pitcher covers first base.  Everyone cheers getting the runner out -- and celebrates the dynamic change in roles.  Removing swim lanes fosters better ideation, relieves pressure and makes the whole process more enjoyable.  
  • Hack it: It’s proven -- deadlines drive results. Clear the schedule, get together and make it happen. We recently did this for a genetic testing client. With only weeks until launch, the ad agency still hadn’t landed a concept. We brought together cross-functional client teams with our strategists, creatives and channel planners.  Within a structured eight-hour session we landed four viable campaign concepts (with initial tactics and skeleton-plans) that already had client buy-in. With a little polish, we had award-winning paid, earned, shared owned activity in-market within three weeks.  

In an age of radical fragmentation, brand relevance comes from delivering the right increment of value to the right person in the right place at the right time. It’s a four-dimensional moving target easier to miss than it is to hit. It requires opening minds, breaking down barriers, rethinking processes and empowering teams with a big picture view. It means solving “whole problems” together as a team and working in real time. Brand relevance all comes down to the lowly meeting invite. Answering “what it says” and “where it goes” the right way, requires everyone at the table.


Paul Sears is Executive Vice President, Brand & Engagement Strategy.  With nearly 20 years in advertising, social media, content and brand strategy, Paul spends most of his time helping clients sharpen their strategic focus – at the brand level or for individual products and campaigns.

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