The graveyard account

The graveyard account

“The Graveyard Account.” That’s what we called it. Every marketing agency has a one. It’s the client that no one wants to work for. Which was a problem for me as creative director, because I was responsible deciding who worked on which accounts. Persuading someone to work on the graveyard account involved pleading, cajoling and bribery in equal measure. But there was one graveyard account that bucked this trend, and taught me a valuable and humbling lesson about being a creative director in the process. This particular client sold office phone systems. The product was boring. The sales channel was complicated. And their budgets were always tight. Whenever we presented new creative ideas, these clients would make so many changes that in the end our designs looked exactly like what we’d done before. They would say they preferred to stick with “what worked”. The entire agency was demotivated as a result. And as it turns out, the clients were not happy either. They felt they were not getting our best work, and were considering putting their account out to pitch. It was at this point, through luck rather than judgement, that I made a decision which changed everything. Within six months, the graveyard account was to become the agency’s most profitable and award winning client. It all started with a simple “please take one” leaflet. I needed someone to design it, and the team that usually worked on the graveyard account were already booked. So I asked a new recruit, Julie, to take it on instead. Julie hadn’t yet heard all the stories about “the graveyard”. And I wasn’t...
Momentum versus direction – why some organisations don’t innovate

Momentum versus direction – why some organisations don’t innovate

When we’re moving forward with a project, it provides us with reassurance. It feels like we’re heading somewhere, and from this we tend to infer that we’re heading in the right direction. But this confuses momentum with direction. In his book, Creativity Inc, Ed Catmull, president of Disney Animation and Pixar, argues that it’s essential for their movie directors to have a direction, even if it’s not necessarily the right one. A director must maintain the confidence of his crew, and in this sense, going somewhere is better than going nowhere. It’s a matter of leadership. But what if that confidence is misplaced? What if your project is moving rapidly in the wrong direction? All the team moral in the world is not going to save a project if you’re building the wrong thing. The risks are compounded in a business context, where a team left idle is a waste of money. As their manager, the business demands that you give them something to occupy them. Fast. So should you begin a project before you know exactly where you’re going, or should you wait for inspiration and risk wasting time and money? At Pixar, Catmull explains that they solve this dilemma by encouraging their directors to “fail early”. The argument is that you can always adjust your direction once you have set off, as you learn. And of course this is true, to a point. To be creative, you need the freedom to experiment and evolve your ideas as a project progresses. But innovation is about more than creativity. These kinds of course corrections are great for incremental refinement...