Sharing the Secrets

Last night I had the pleasure of being able to attend the latest event put on by the Transmedia New York City Meetup group. It was my good friend Steve Coulson presenting a behind the scenes look at Campfire’s highly creative and stragic work supporting the first season of HBO Game of Thrones. Thank you for organizing such a great event.

Steve is an amazing Creative Director that any company would love to have on their team because he brings the perfect balance of strategic AND creative thinking that is needed in today’s marketing world. He only has that knowledge after years of work on a variety of projects. Those skills don’t magically happen after reading a stack of books and blogs.

After the event, we talked about how he pulled back the curtain a bit on how much work goes into a successful campaign. It was the type of stuff that isn’t talked about enough and we wondered how much of it should be shared to the general population. As he mentioned in his talk, it is very much like a magicians guild or something similar where you want to share some, but not all of the secrets.

One thing I will share about these secrets is that they are more art than science. Because of this the only way you get better is by doing more of the work.

Every single successful campaign I’ve ever worked on (and there have been many) presented us with a unique set of challenges that needed a unique set of solutions. It is only through experience working through these problems that you learn the craft.

The blunt truth is I’m seeing more and more people who do lots of talking about this space, but rarely actually do anything. They haven’t put in the long hours throwing ideas around to come up with the best ones. They haven’t challenged themselves to go so far away from the tree with their creative thinking that they don’t know how to get back. They haven’t put in the time to make a campaign work and then look back at the end and find out how it could have been better.

Anyone can look out at the social world in front of them and come up with a content strategy that leverages all the right channels. But, that doesn’t mean that anyone possesses the needed creativity to make it stand out from the masses and reach their clients goals.

That might be blunt, but I firmly believe it is the truth.

Anyone can take a picture, but not everyone can shoot a photograph. You can pick up a camera and film a video, but it takes skills to tell a compelling visual story. We all doodle, but not everyone can draw a cartoon.

I want to bring some reality to this world and make sure that brands of all sizes remember that while you shouldn’t be scared away because of budgets, you must also realize that you sometimes get what you pay for.

Hire, trust and build relationships with those of us who have been in the trenches and done the work. We’ve spent a lifetime honing our skills, please pay and respect us accordingly.

I’m noodling a lot on this and would love to hear your thoughts. This is certainly not the last post I’ll be writing about this.


  • Thanks for the post, CC. I agree with the “get what you pay for” part – and getting something good/better generally costs more. 

    I think one issue is that people tend to focus on, “What does it cost to get this (a 500 word blog post, for example, or a two minute video, or whatever)?” instead of, “How much do I need to invest to achieve the goals I’m pursuing?” The first thinking commoditizes the work and drives a race to the bottom creating pieces of work as cheaply as possible; the second reflects a strategic thinking that creates a space where good—and even pricey—ideas can get considered.

    • I couldn’t have said it better. Thanks for chiming in!!

  • This came hot on the heels of a comment I made on LinkedIn to a post about how easy it is to build your own website. I guess it is easy to build a website, but it’s not easy to build a good one. Or launch an effective marketing campaign. Or design a great logo.

    • Exactly. 

      All I was trying to say is that YES anyone can create things, but it takes experience and skills that are only learned through DOING that actually make it something great.

      It is the reasons that the concept of being an apprentice was and still is around in many fields. It was the only way you could fully learn a craft and I think of this in a very similar light.

  • Pingback: Too much talk, not enough walk —

  • Anonymous

    I agree with you in principle – “You can be an expert just because you read the experts.”  But I’m left with a “but wait a second…” feeling.  How are people expected to get started (in creative, media, or whatever it may be) if  they are to be judged right out of the gate?  Everyone has to start somewhere, and (unless you’ve got family money), everyone needs to make a living.  I’m not claiming to be a creative expert, and I don’t suggest that my company shun hiring those that are.  But, I do have some creative thoughts from time to time.  Will I get judged now for trying to act on and implement those?  (looking forward  to the dialogue on this, because it’s been something I’ve been thinking about recently, too, since there are other recent and similar discussions, but on different topics)

    • I think I said you CAN’T be rather than can.

      Yes everyone does have to start somewhere. I’ve had so many junior staffers work under me over the years. I love the ones who take to it and really dig in and realize that even when doing something flagged as “grunt work” they are learning.

      I think the best leaders are the ones who never ask someone to do something they won’t or can’t do. By putting in the time you understand that.

      As for will you be judged. Of course you’ll be judged. Humans judge other humans for everything. It is in our DNA. If you are not confident enough to push forward with those ideas then why should anyone ever support them?

      • Anonymous

        Right, and I saw that (I think I didn’t articulate my point 10)%the way I wanted). My head-scratching moment is the “on the one hand, people who are expected to do well in this space are expected to have a set of polished skills; on the other hand, one can’t break into the field without demonstrable work.” It’s like the old saw of “you need five years of experience” for a job, but no one is willing to give you experience, ya know?

        Re: “I think the best leaders…” – man, I agree with you 100%!  Too many times have I seen a task roll down hill, and the requestor either is too proud to do it, or – sadly – not able to.

        RE: the last note – I like it.  I have the confidence, for sure, to suggest, try, push, and just ‘do’. If people value initiative and drive, then cool!  What I’m hopeful is that there are more of those organizations, rather than the ones where there is a pocket of elites at the top that sneer at the people trying to make a living.

      • Listen, the world is always going to have the chicken & the egg problem when it comes to experience.

        The people who succeed are the ones who find a way to get that experience. This might mean you working with your favorite nonprofit, band or local business on the side. It might mean working on a project at your work that you are not that in to, but it’ll give you the experience to find another job.

        Complaining about it won’t do any good. DOING something to get the experience is the only way.

  • Anonymous

    You definitely get what you pay for…
    Thanks for sharing this, as it is something that I think about quite a bit too. I need to give this some more thought later today…

    • And even with that, this is a bigger discussion than just budgets because sometimes the smaller budget forces extra creativity, but you’ve got to be working with the right person to make that happen.

  • Amen. I’m going to get on that “creating” thing this year. 

  • Is there any field worse than marketing where there’s a lot of SAYING yet not a lot of people are actually DOING? This is where agencies (and CDs like Steve) can gain a strategic advantage by lifting the kimono and showing not only WHAT they’re doing, but HOW. 

    I love the fact that my agency (Story) never allows our creative juices to be stagnant. We not only put out great work for clients but create content on our own behalf, like a recent children’s storybook iPad app that focuses on reading and not just entertaining ( ).

    I don’t want to end this comment without mentioning the importance of storytelling as well, and I’m glad you brought it up (I’m actually sorry I missed this event!). There are countless agencies out there that can create digital assets. But how many can truly find the story at the heart of your brand? Last year I had the opportunity to speak at the School of WOM (hosted by WOMMA) conference and ran a 90-minute workshop basically exposing most (but not all) of the methods and exercises we use during our story platform development workshops. We can all benefit by brands (and advertisers) telling better stories, so why keep it to ourselves? I was happy to pull back the curtain. 

    But to (finally) bring it back to the crux of your post, it’s not easy for brands to find the right agencies (or designers, consultants, whatever) that can actually achieve the brand’s goals. But we only hope that they’re willing to dedicate the time, because when they do their due diligence and force marketers to prove that they’ve not only done this before but understand how to do it specifically for the brand, then it can pay huge dividends (especially if the vendor isn’t just trying to be the lowest bidder!). 

    Well done C.C. Will be tweeting this out ASAP.