Does Your Creative Truly Measure Up?

Years ago, I worked with a creative director who had stints at several agencies around the country. One day, as we were filling out creative award entry paperwork, he made an offhand remark about how refreshing it was to not get ulcers over awards.

Because applying for industry honors is normally a stress-free proposition, I asked him what he meant. It turned out that at his last agency, a well-regarded regional shop, his job security was tied directly to the number of creative awards he and his department won. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. Snag X or more awards—congratulations, you get to keep your job; fail to do that, and you better have a good reason why you shouldn’t be sent packing.

When I asked him whether such trivialities as, oh, let’s say, clients’ sales, market share growth, direct response rates, customer acquisition success or any other yardsticks possibly linked to creative effectiveness were at least partially taken into account for his job performance evaluations, he chuckled. “Those things were non-factors when it came to my review,” he said. “It all came down to how many statuettes I won for the agency, period.”

This sad but true account explains, in part, why companies have a nagging mistrust of marcom agencies. When hunks of lucite and gold-plated figurines take priority over business results, who can blame them? It’s why we’ve all become familiar with the creative department stereotypes, as perpetuated over the years by pop culture. The “bow-down-before-my-layouts” art director. The “change-a-word-and-you-die” copywriter. The “angels-sing-when-I-enter-the-room” creative director.

The good news for you is that those days are over.

In the past, when precise customer behavior metrics and response mechanisms weren’t an integral component of every campaign, the creative product was cut some slack when it came to bottom-line accountability. If you couldn’t accurately measure the effect of the creative on customer behavior, you couldn’t totally blame the agency, right? But, hey, isn’t it awesome that the print campaign won an Addy?

Well, now that the marketing communications landscape has made a seismic shift to online and electronic channels, there’s no more hiding. EVERYTHING is measurable. Computable. Trackable. And, because marketing budgets today are being squeezed like never before, clients expect to see tangible results from every penny spent.

Agency creatives today understand that. Accountability is no longer anathema to them. It doesn’t take a genius now to see that creativity is only as good as the lift it generates in web site hits, click-through rates, “likes” and “dislikes,” conversion rates, Facebook friends, Twitter followers … you get the idea. Heck, just fire up YouTube and you can see exactly how many folks viewed your video of the flash mob at the mall last week, the number of thumbs up or thumbs down it got, as well as all the snide comments people made (as well as who made them).

Because of all this hyper-granular measurability, agency creatives today are finally getting to be as results-focused as you always hoped they would be. The “artiste” mentality has given way to a “salesperson” perspective. Instead of just getting you to think about and admire this product or service, what can we do to help you purchase it? Get a free sample? Visit your nearest dealer? Refer three friends who might also be interested?

In short, what gets measured gets done. When sizing up your agency, be sure that it’s measuring the right things. Creative that gets attention from industry peers is good. But creative that delivers quantifiable results is necessary.