Let me paint you a familiar scene. You have just finished a meeting with a prospect or client. Things went well. The typo on slide 14 went unnoticed. Conversation flowed, croissants were passed, and ideas were exchanged.
And as the official meeting draws to a close, the real business begins.
On the way out, you will gently traipse towards the elevator. On the way in, you may have discussed your weekend or the weather, but on the way out, you candidly chat business. And this is often where you’ll hear the most critical part of a project.
There is something disarming about that post-meeting wander. When all the items on the agenda are ticked off and hands have been shaken, this is the moment where a client will typically mention what excites them or keeps them up at night.
When I was jury president for the Brand Experience and Activation Lions, we awarded the Grand Prix to the Microsoft Adaptive Controller. I’ve since heard that the project didn’t come out of a straight process briefing but rather something Microsoft engineers had been working on and casually shared with their agency as something they had in the works. The nuggets of information not part of the brief or written on a slide are often the most important and can lead to our best work.
Sometimes, clients can deem contextual information too small, or they cannot see its potential due to their closeness to it. I think it was on the way to a lift that Carlo Colpo, group marketing communication director for Lavazza, told me they’d found a way to remove a naturally occurring wax from coffee beans; the wax is the cause of stomach discomfort in some coffee drinkers. We got talking and excited about what we could do with the wax itself, upcycling something otherwise wasted.
For a long time, this valuable moment was lost with the pandemic and the advent of the Zoom era. Suddenly there was no shield-down moment where you get precious intel via a passing “oh, by the way…”. Every interaction was scheduled and instantly exited with a click.
Rapport was hard to build – and attention even harder to earn. People could be on a call, but their focus might be scattered across a sea of open tabs and nagging tasks. We are teleported in and out of meetings. There is no wind-down period as you wander to a lift. The meeting ends, and that is it.
As a result, creativity suffered. After all, creativity results from the things we don’t control coming together in those small moments. It cannot be forced and requires the built-in space to make it happen. No scientific method or planned session can draw it out artificially.
But now, the magic of happenstance is returning en masse. And not a moment too soon. With agencies, their creatives and clients navigating a challenging economic period, we need all the information we can get to create effective work which cuts through.
As David Ogilvy famously noted, “stopping advertising to save money is like stopping your watch to save time”. Creative ideas have never been in such high demand, or so important to the health of our clients.
As our current era of hybrid working cements itself, brands and agencies should look to enshrine some rituals from the old world. The walk to a lift is never on the agenda. But often it is the most important part of any meeting – and one we can’t afford to lose.
Jaime Mandelbaum is Chief Creative Director for EMEA at VMLY&R
This article was originally published in Creative Review.