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The Influencers

Build a Tank and Defeat the Bad Guys

INFLUENCER: Recipe CD Matt Waller says if the A-Team can do it with a small tight team, why can’t agencies?

Build a Tank and Defeat the Bad Guys

I’ve worked in agencies for the best part of 19 years. I’ve been part of a creative duo, (a partner called Dave is usually best), and on projects where creative is king, to completely flat structures where there’s almost no separation between departments. Every agency has its own take on what they think is most effective. Even in the past two years we’ve seen great shifts in both agency and brand models: budgets must work harder, production must be quicker and clients are becoming far more involved in the supply chain than ever before.

The modern team has evolved with market forces. Copywriters can turn their hand to photoshop, art directors have a strong opinion on the words, and both claim a love of all things digital. But, by becoming adaptable across all fields, they risk becoming a ‘jack of all trades and a master of none’ - their skills blurring. Same advertising course, same inspirations, same POV. 

But, let’s look at the alternative; An open invite to every man, woman, and their dog to a creative brain drain. A horrifying prospect. The pitch is often the worst offender.  

We’ve all experienced the ‘big pitch’ - the one that will change the agency’s fortunes, the simple ‘must win’. The boardroom fills with creatives, strategists, social experts, CEO, CCO, CDs x 2, MD, Account team, project managers with freelancers on speed dial. Did I leave anyone out? Apologies, you’ll be invited to the next one. 

Even with the best intentions and moleskin notepads ready to capture the gold, the windows better be bolted down, because there will be jumpers. Time will fly making sure everyone is doing something. Confusion and frustration spread quickly, right up to the moment the ravenous deck demands feeding. 

So, what’s the answer? 

The A-team of course: Hannibal, B.A. Baracus, Faceman and Howling Mad Murdock. A team of many individual skills. Locked away in a shed with only a few scraps of metal, they can burst out only a few hours later with a fully working tank. 

Try applying a ‘Tiny Tight Team’ approach to any project, regardless of the size of the prize. Whilst it might be tempting to throw all of the company’s best minds in the mix, try choosing a small gang who have the right skill sets to answer that particular problem. Anyone from a digital creative to a data analyst, a project manager, an editor, a creative or (dare I say it) a client. 

TTT was born as a solution to tackle the limitations of the traditional creative team structure:

- Shake up the team dynamics: Ideas that come from the same minds time and time again inevitably end up becoming limited in originality – no matter how talented the individuals are. While long-time pitch teams foster chemistry, the longer they work together the more difficult it is to detach yourselves from personal politics and emotions. By shaking up this structure and challenging people with different influences, you encourage new ideas to emerge.

- Democratise the idea: If there are 15 people in the room, then amidst all the noise and under intense time pressure, the group naturally ends up reverting to the most senior person in the room – and the best ideas might get lost. By working in tiny, tight teams that are custom built for the bespoke needs of each project, you strip away the baggage and allow creative ideas to be seen for what they’re really worth. 

In the ideal Tiny, Tight Team, you want people with experience but, crucially, they don’t have to be the most senior person. It’s all about the right team of people cracking an idea, giving them full autonomy, and the power to pull in the necessary resources when they feel they need it, and, crucially, if one of those people is the client, we shouldn’t be afraid to bring them in.

If your client is part of the idea process they can understand why you might have landed at ideas A and B rather than making you run through ideas C – Z before they settle on one. It incites trust and it speeds up the process. Picture that scene in The Wizard of Oz when we finally get to see what’s behind the curtain. Well, the curtain separating clients from how their ads are made has been inching back for years now. So, it’s about pulling it back all the way, demystifying the process, and inviting clients to get involved. (But, never push the red button!)

There can, and still should be a ‘ta-da!’ moment. But today it’s less likely to come from closed doors, furrowed brows and a few weeks. But rather from collaboration, more conversations and less meetings. 

As a young agency, Recipe has been born into this new model world. Just as digital natives have never lived in a world without technology, Recipe has never lived in a world with long lead times, fat budgets and a ‘them and us’ mentality. 

Long live collaboration. 



Matt Waller is creative director at Recipe