Collaboration: the art of playing nicely

Posted 19 July 2016.

​By James Boult, Director, BEAT

​As advertisers and marketers find themselves increasingly pressured to produce bigger, better, brighter campaigns on smaller and smaller budgets, one word continues to present itself as the white knight: Collaboration.

But how do you achieve it in reality? Having recently emerged from the thick of V Energy’s campaign “Jono V Ben”, and with a bit of metal under our collective belts, it seemed a good opportunity to reflect on how the combined efforts of agency, PR and media owner were able to make the campaign Frucor’s most successful Limited Edition NPD (new product development) launch.

It’s crucial to recognise early on that sharing resources isn’t a bad thing. This, frankly, goes against the ideals of most agencies and media houses out there. How on earth are we supposed to share resources when everyone is after their piece of the pie and is convinced their company has the ability to do everything on its own?

It means no silos, it means shared vision, and it means ensuring you’re there to play a part. Defining a role from the outset and understanding how you’re going to help the team achieve the purpose instantly gains the mutual respect of your collaborators. It also means re-examining how budgets are split, how creative is developed and how execution is managed.

Start with a common purpose. Admittedly, easier said than
done. How do you unite agencies, media houses, brands and consultants for a collective execution of something with a single aim: to do the best job? Most brands will have you believe they do this smoothly and with no hurdles. This is a lie – any good collaboration will have its moments of stress and inevitable calls from all parties asking “Are we doing the right thing? Have we made a mistake?” But that’s the unseen side of collaboration: achieving a unified approach and seamless execution is hard work.

It requires commitment from the very core of the business and that’s a commercial challenge the industry has to work together to overcome. Marketing is the art of creative solutions to commercial problems – collaboration is about making the best use of resources industry-wide to develop that solution and bring it to life.

This common purpose needs to be known from the beginning and central to the brief. Don’t bring people together to “raise awareness” or to “promote a new product” – bring people together to solve the challenge that those things are designed to overcome. Sure, your new product might be a potential solution, but there may be a better one. That’s the beauty of collaboration.

Finally, everyone has to get along. Some people are simply better at things than others, which is why we need to combine our powers to produce the best result; that’s the point of having different agencies, different specialties and different roles within our teams. But somewhere along the line someone forgot that the playground isn’t a naturally collaborative place. At school we have teachers reminding us to share, to include young Nick in the game, or not to throw sand in little Johnny’s face. No one plays this role in the grown-up game of marketing. In lieu of a ruler to the wrist, we need to actually get along to make it work.

A big part of success (or otherwise) therefore comes down to personalities. Does everyone in your team of collaborators get along? There’s no need for a fire-side ‘Kumbaya’ singalong, but it’s far easier for frank conversation to occur if you actually enjoy each other’s professional company.

Collaboration might be one of those hot buzz words with its own awards category, but in reality it’s something we do every day. That’s not to say it isn’t in a state of change as the industry is adapting and changing too, but it’s also a gentle reminder of its ongoing role in our job as marketers.