Chaos theory: Why agencies should embrace the messy

Robert Sanders is a new business consultant and head of the Sanders Consulting Group in Pittsburgh.

Chaos is often thought to be the enemy of the agency business. In fact, chaos is the future.

We would love to believe that the best strategies and campaigns are the result of big investments in research, developing key insights and proving our concepts in focus groups. A dirty little secret of the business, however, is that the best ideas and the most powerful campaigns are frequently the product of scribbles on a cocktail napkin or that brilliant flash of inspiration while in the shower. In fact, chaos, often combined with urgency, can produce exceptional results.

Less time to research and analyze produces better gut-level, instinctual and emotional thinking. This puts the focus back on the creative talent, lessens the tendency to over-think the product/brand and allows the essence of the communication to emerge. Chaos forces people to constantly think about their client’s business – preparing for anything that might come up. They end up always looking for the next big idea or thing that can be used to move the brand message forward. Properly handled, the client’s chaotic business requirements open the door for the agency to step into an “expert role” and resource for the client – helping them eliminate problems as they come up. Chaos keeps energy in the agency. It forces staff to be on their toes and creates a sense of enthusiasm and success, as each new emergency is put to bed. Ideas win over analytics, every time – and that’s a good thing.

While chaos can result in exceptional work, left unmanaged it can also strangle an agency. It’s a fine line between responding to the latest client emergency with a brilliant new idea and dropping the ball on the rest of the agency’s work.

Agencies today need to understand how to use chaos while still running a disciplined shop. In most firms, there is a real need for empowered leaders throughout the agency who understand and can act upon the direction and goals of the agency. For this new level of leadership to be effective, the overall vision needs to be communicated, rules need to be established and performance needs to be measured. These leaders have to have an active interest in both clients’ needs and the agency’s needs. The most successful agencies in the world work hard to develop the next tier of leadership while integrating more closely with their clients.

Leadership must have a clearly articulated vision for the firm, and the mission, goals and objectives have to be tangible and understood by all levels of the organization. To effectively embrace chaos, you need not just commitment but support from the staff as well. This ensures resources are properly used, good decisions made, and momentum toward your agency’s vision is maintained. By utilizing all organizational levels throughout the agency, the staff will take ownership of the vision.

Properly harnessing the power of chaos will benefit any agency, marketing group or client and motivate staff for the right reasons – promoting and selling integrated, highly creative work, on time and budget. As each year goes by, this is becomes more vital to the long-term future of marketing in general.

Image via Shutterstock

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