“Committee” is a word that strikes fear into the heart of any creative agency bod and in my experience, can leave what would be effective branding, advertising or design floundering in a sea of beige. Don't get me wrong, most clients thankfully appreciate that creative marketing is subjective and therefore best limited to one or two key decision makers, but it's not always the case. Let's look at how the ideal creative project works between agency and client:

  • The agency meets the Marketing Manager (or Marketing Director) to discuss the project
  • The agency formulates a brief in consultation with the Marketing Manager
  • The agency gets to work creating some powerful, effective, unique work that fulfils the brief
  • The agency presents the powerful, effective, unique work to the Marketing Manager
  • The Marketing Manager checks that the powerful, effective, unique work fulfils the brief
  • The Marketing Manager presents the powerful, effective, unique work to the board, explaining how it fulfils the brief, the underlying rationale and strategy
  • The board respect the Marketing Manager's professional opinion (that's why they're paying him/her £45k a year, including a generous car allowance and performance related bonus) and approve the powerful, effective, unique work
  • The Marketing Manager goes back to the agency with the good news
  • The agency get to work on implementing the powerful, effective, unique work across a range of media
  • Sales go up, the board congratulate the Marketing Manager who in turn congratulates the agency, who in turn congratulate themselves and go down the pub to celebrate

Now which part of the process do you think is the most important to ensure a successful outcome? In my experience, it's often the board's ability to respect the Marketing Manager's professional opinion and accept what is being recommended. Company boards (who will individually be experts in their own fields of finance, HR, IT, business etc) are inevitably committee-like, but by trusting their Marketing Manager they are able to act decisively before personal opinions cloud their judgement over exactly which shade of purple will give the best market penetration.

Let's run that process again from the bit where the work is presented the work to the board, but this time with a board who don't value their Marketing Manager's professional opinion:

  • The Marketing Manager presents the powerful, effective, unique work to the board, explaining how it fulfils the brief, the underlying rationale and strategy
  • Despite paying the Marketing Manager £45k a year etc, they think they know better than to trust his/her professional opinion as the MD's son is doing art A level and is a bit handy with Photoshop. The ensuing debate quickly degenerates into a totally subjective free-for-all over who likes what colour best, which typeface is friendliest and how adding a stock photo of someone on a phone would encourage customers to get in touch. The brief is forgotten and the project henceforth becomes founded on personal opinion rather than research, strategy and consumer insight
  • The Marketing Manager goes back to the agency with the bad news
  • The agency try their best to create something new that satisfies all of the wildly different opinions of the board and inevitably end up with something beige. Or possibly grey.
  • The Marketing Manager presents the beige/grey work to the board
  • The board are disappointed with the watered down, uninspired, unremarkable work
  • The project flounders, the board berate the Marketing Manager who in turn berates the agency, who in turn berate themselves and go down the pub to drown their sorrows

The good news is the agency end up down the pub in both instances, but that's not really my point. OK, so I've highlighted the two extremes here, but I've genuinely experienced both situations and the former is definitely preferable for all involved. We do present directly to boards sometimes; that in itself is not the problem. Design by committee rarely ends well, but if carefully led by a strong Marketing Manager and backed by a trusting board, powerful, effective, unique work can be created.

Comment