Scrap the tissues

Don't let tissue sessions wipe away your edge. Stand for something, and stick to it

A confession: For the longest time I believed in tissue sessions. I even, sacrilege, scoffed at Hegarty when he pooh-poohed them. I believed they were a great way to get our clients involved in the creative process, make them feel a part of it.

But actually, while there was a small grain of truth to this, the bigger part of it was a lie.

Really what I actually liked about tissue sessions is they made me feel more comfortable. It made me feel like I could slowly but surely eke out the right kind of work, that it would give my team more time to get better.

What I didn’t realize until recently, when we have so little opportunity as a small agency to create work, was what tissue sessions were taking away from us.

They were taking away the edge. Since when was comfort a good thing in creativity?  I found that, instead of being rigorous within the agency, ruthless in deciding what went forward and what didn’t, we would instead find "territories" that we felt had potential, potential we could then discuss with clients. We went easier on ourselves. Our ambitions as an agency, both in my past as the owner of Lowe Bull and the CCO of Lowe Worldwide, and my present at The Bull-White House, is to produce jaw-droppingly glorious work that transforms, positively, the fortunes of our clients. Yet we were getting there less and less. Much more vanilla was being served than is palatable.

Instead, we were wasting loads of time expanding upon those territories, polishing those turgid turds, instead of slicing the crap out and finding that magical one, then spending our energies, passion and talent on making the very most out of that magical one.

Even worse, at some of those tissues, we would tell the client all our work was crap but perhaps there was a nugget in there they would see. Meaning we weren’t smart enough to see it for ourselves — the net result being they thought we were as crap as the work we showed them.

In short, we stopped standing for something. Ended up standing with a lot of things.

But no more. We don’t do tissues any more (we even had a cute name for them in the early days of the agency — Scratch and Sniffs — anything to be different). Instead, we make two promises to our clients: 1. That we will create work that is safe from safe, that is fresh, original, and right for the task at hand. 2. We give them a date when we’ll be presenting that work. The first trumps the second, of course.

This obviously ensures that we need to be going at it and going at it hard from the word go. No vacillating. Clear, concise feedback. No second and thirds, only winners.

Of course the risk is the client hates the thing we love. My experience is if you have lived up to your internal culture and beliefs, this seldom happens. And if they do hate it, as an agency we clearly understand why they hate it, which helps us to then come back once more, with work we both love. This is not a hypothesis, this has been my experience — before I grabbed the tissues.

It goes without saying that keeping close to your client partners, mining them for information, asking their opinion on insights informally, is and always will be a vital part in creating great work — both before and after you have had the monster idea. Clients appreciate constant communication with their agencies. But only if it results in wonderful work.

And the best way to do wonderful work is to shove those tissues back in your pocket.

Matthew Bull is founder of The Bull-White House.


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