Shooting For 10

Marketing magazine yesterday revealed Diageo’s “Shooting For 10” rallying cry to its agencies (you can read about it here and here).

I think this is A Good Thing.

Why? Well on the most basic level, this is one of the UK’s biggest marketers publicly stating that they want to strive for better creative work.

Yes, I know there will be the arguments like “You shouldn't really have to say it” or “What have they been shooting for in the meantime” - and they are good questions.

But, the simple fact that an influential marketer has gone public to support and demand better creative work for the betterment for their business is a big step in the right direction at a time when it feels like there has been a paucity of inspirational advertising.

Tens are hard. Tens require everyone involved having the ambition to make a ten. You’ve got to be honest about the things that are stopping you shooting for 10...

On the agency side:

An agency needs shooting for tens to be in its DNA. The whole agency needs to be built around excellence in its work. Not just every now and again, but always, on every project. No compromise. To achieve tens, an agency has to believe it can make every piece of work a ten. Ten-ism must run through the agency like the word Blackpool through a stick of rock.

This is easy to say, but very hard to do. For us, we're a very small unit, that's why we set-up, that how we do everything, it's why we come to work in the morning, its why the agency exists. Everyone is here to do it. Sometimes it is a very hard road to travel, it requires a lot of hard-work, honesty with yourselves, and it requires very solid relationships with clients, and the balls to stand up for what's right. We've been shooting for 10s since 2005. God knows we don't always achieve it. But that's the focus of every day at Sell! Towers.

All agencies will tell you this is what they believe in. But most are lying to themselves. To be fair, we know it's really hard these days for agencies to be like this. Advertising is a vastly over-supplied market. There is huge pressure on almost all agencies from up high (be that holding companies, board, or shareholders) to increase, or at least maintain income. For most agencies, their priority is winning and keeping business. At all costs. That is really why they exist. To shoot for tens would require a complete shift in most agency's philosophies these days. But if large clients demand it, then maybe they can change.

The agency needs to let their staff know that shooting for ten is why they're there. The staff should feel empowered that when a difficult situation comes up, they can use that as the guidance for what to do next. In most agencies currently, the guidance would be keep the client happy.

The agency needs to nurture its best people. It needs to accept that creative talent is the thing that will help them achieve their goal. It needs to create an environment where they can flourish. Bring the creatives in early on the project, not just the ECD for the meetings - in all likelihood he/she won't be doing the work anyway, the actual creatives on the job. Let them be part of forming the brief and the strategy. Strategies that are handed over a fait accompli to creatives are rarely the most fertile ground for growing 10s.

Agencies need to stop over-complicating the process especially the bit before the creatives get involved. It has become normal practice for agencies to spend months in strategic development, not least because this is very profitable for them, and also because it's something that looks rigorous and 'provable'.

But this logic-athon gets in the way of the magic. Let me tell you this clearly. You can't logic your way to a 10. Creating tens is not a science. The way you came up with a ten last time, well I can guarantee that won't lead to a ten this time. Guarantee it. Go ahead. Give it a go.

Creating 10s is not a process. It is a skill, a talent. You need talented people, and an environment that gives them the best opportunity to succeed.

On the client side:

The relationship between client and agency is absolutely crucial to creating great work. The relationship must be a partnership of equals, where there is a mutual trust and respect for the relative skills of both parties. The client must remove fear from the relationship. An agency can't create it's best work in an environment where they feel like they might lose the account. The only pressure the agency should get from the client is the pressure to achieve excellence. Only the client can create these circumstances.

The client needs to remove fear of failure from the relationship. Look, we know this isn't easy. Everyone is under pressure to make targets, earn their bonuses, please the board etc. But if you manage to remove the fear of failure, it is a huge step in the right direction of creating an atmosphere where great work can flourish.

We live in a era of agency subservience, where the client has a massive upper hand because the thing the most agencies are most worried about is losing the business. But you have to remove this. The agency should feel empowered to challenge the client. The client and agency should feel like they can have a proper, stand-up row about the work, then shake hands and carry-on, knowing that the argument is for all the right reasons. People should feel good about challenges and disagreements, not see them weakness or bad things.

The client needs to let the agency know that they have enlisted their help for their expertise and ability, not because they want them to say yes to every suggestion, or just to give the client what they think they want.

The client needs to give the agency the time and space to create a 10. Sometimes great ideas come quickly. But not often. If you allow the agency proper development time, and the agency uses that time properly, you have a much better chance of getting a 10. Also, allow the agency the opportunity to say, “We're not happy” and move the review without any negative feeling. Don't see this a sign of weakness, see it as a good sign that the agency is not going to show you something it doesn't genuinely think has potential. Meetings full of cannon-fodder don't help anyone. Let the agency know they have this discretion, and you'll be amazed how hard they work to not have use it.

The client needs to field experienced people of its own. People who have the courage of their convictions, who have the power to say yes. A lot of interesting work can get canned in middle management before it hits the people who have the power to take a chance on it. In an ideal world the most senior client needs to be directly involved with the advertising. Not just at the final board sign-off, but in the first presentations. On the whole, experienced senior clients tend to be involved in the best work.

One of the big problems in the business of advertising at the moment is that there's a whole generation of people, hundreds of people, who have never been involved in making a piece of great work. Its just a result of circumstance, and in a way its a self-fulfilling prophesy.

This is true on the client-side as much as it is agency-side. If you've never been involved in making a 10, it's hard know how to create the environment for it to happen. And it's hard to know when to leap, when to take the chance, when to trust the agency, and when to trust your instincts. How do you know what a 10 looks like on a script, or a storyboard?

This is a really difficult situation, and from a client point of view, it means having someone around who has actually been involved in making great work, to offer support those who haven't, or as above, to be intimately involved from the first meetings.

Don't be afraid to be different in the category. This is hard for some clients (and some agencies!). But most true 10s defy category convention. It creates it's own category of one, where it becomes the benchmark, and everything else becomes everything else. In an era where you can see a lot of advertising, especially in the drinks category slavishly following rules-of-thumb about product shots and casting (Hey, look! More people in the target market dancing, drinking the product!) it shouldn't be that difficult to stand apart. It just takes the cojones to do something different.

Shooting for 10.
It ain't easy.
The first step is being honest with yourself about the barriers that might be stopping you.
The second step is doing something about it.


  1. God, I wish my agency would wake up to this truth. It's all gotten so half-assed that the only way we get to tens is by accident.

    Success by accident. That's the method we're married to here. It makes me want to taze kittens.

  2. God, I wish my agency wasn't the way you describe. We only achieve 10s by accident because of the process we follow. A very very flawed process.

    The success by accident method. Hooray for progress.

  3. You are so right that many agencies say they shoot for 10s. Then you have a little look and they lied. Too hard to be honest.

    I analysed the Campaign School report last year. It must have been a slow week. Where they score ad agencies out of 10, you know the one.

    Whether they have the ability to do this and how they do it and the stupidity of billings etc I left aside.

    Firstly only 22 out of 80 agencies agreed with their score.

    Not one single agency scored it's self below a 6.

    Yet Campaign scored 45 agencies below a 6.

    Every agency that was scored 6 or lower by Campaign, scored it's self higher. i.e. Campaign thought 4 out of 10 and the agency thought 6 etc.

    The only agency if I remember rightly that scored it's self a full point lower was Adam and Eve, who gave itself a 8 when Campaign gave it a 9 and Mother thought it was an 8.5 year when Campaign thought a 9.


    I know full well this is not the ten you seek Sell Sell, or talk of in your blog excellent blog, my point is that agencies need to look a little harder in the ugly mirror IMHO.

    When it all comes down to it talent is created by a culture of continually improvement.


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