Post by Brian Hickling
It was Nov 6th, 2015 at 2:30 p.m. that I met Mike Maloney, Halifax PR guy for a coffee at Lion & Bright, a local Halifax hipster joint. I knew of Mike over the years but we never had the occasion to actually meet and chat. As we got to know one another, that coffee turned into a beer. And the discussion turned to the present state of the local economy and of the advertising and communications industry on the East Coast.
After some serious griping, a few shared war stories and a few laughs, there was a pause in the conversation. We looked all around us and there were about 30 people with coffee or beers, all staring deeply into their laptops, working away on various projects. Having both spent decades in the agency business, we thought it rather funny that the largest ad agency in the entire region was probably right here in this cafe. Independent creatives working on everything from digital UX to ad development and strategic planning.
A lightbulb moment.
Suddenly we both looked at each other and thought, what if we harnessed the creative potential of this room? What if we could connect and leverage this collective of creativity. At that moment The Give Agency concept was born. The idea: bring the disparate talent together to use our creative powers for good. And as a group, we’ll have a one-week think-athon for not-for-profits! We would create the ad agency we always wanted to work at. An ad agency with more diverse expertise. MBA’s, communications pros, graphic designers, advertising strategists, UX specialists and clients all mashed together. Holistic thinking is done by experts and clients together. Fast.
Having an idea was the easy part.
So we had a cool idea. That was the easy part. We have them all the time. Putting them in motion is not. Especially when you’re trying to create something totally new and unproven. But we just couldn’t shake the thought that this crazy idea, in particular, could work. So we set out to test it the concept.
The next day I connected with Louise Berube from NABS. NABS is a nonprofit dedicated assisting people in the creative world who might be struggling due to illness, injury, unemployment or financial difficulties. As luck would have it, they were looking to bring the Cannes Reel to Halifax as a way to promote their brand and service in Atlantic Canada. I floated the idea of The Give Agency by Louise. She loved it! We discussed it for an hour and a half. She wanted to help and we talked about a NABS sponsorship. She would do her best to find us some funds.
Listen to Yoda. Do or do not. There is no try.
In life, timing is everything. But timing, in this case, seemed to work against us. It was after Christmas and sponsorship money was hard to come by. Our sponsor was only able to provide us with very modest funds. Not enough for us to put on the event the way we wanted. We had a decision. It was no or go time. Do it or pull the plug on the project. We decided that, as crazy as it was, we would try to put the event on a less than a shoestring budget. With the talents of my wife Karen - The Give Agency’s event manager - we worked with the money we had. With Karen’s keen eye on the budget, some generous in-kind donations for signage, photography, video and website development we committed to the project. We secured the brand new and stunningly designed Halifax Library’s creative lab space for the week. Mike got the word out and people started to join our staff roster. We even had MBA and filmmaker Chaz Thorne volunteer and join us for all five days! We had people help with the creative briefs, we connected with five charities and we set the date. Feb 22 - 27, 2016.
Sometimes the hard less traveled road is the one you need to go down.
The first day was exciting as we set up the first banners with our logo. The chairs were arranged and the coffee and muffins were set out. Everything was in place. At exactly 9 a.m. we opened The Give Agency and started to work.
Normally in the ad business, we get anywhere from 10 to 30 days for strategic and creative concept development. Because we only had our client for a day we had to design a faster, more streamlined process. One that would drive results in a single day. We needed to hone in on the problem, find great ideas and solutions, and then identify the best of the best all in 6 hours. But would this work? Having jammed entire creative pitches into two days in the past, I knew that 6 hours would be tough.
To overcome the lack of time, we would simply increase the brainpower in the room. We would include the client who could help steer the strategy on the fly so there’s no wasted time. Ideation, strategy and client buy-in, all moving together in a fluid dance.