What if Usain Bolt charged per hour to watch him race? It’s a ridiculous thought, of course. Yet we all know that the only reason he is able to run 100 meters in less than ten seconds is because of years of preparation. He has spent a lifetime training to be able to do what he is best at faster than anyone else. How many of us are the same way? I spend hours every week just reading about new marketing ideas and campaigns. I study new reports and studies of human behaviour. Why do I do all this? Because I believe (and have seen over and over) that my ability to think on my feet and deliver good strategy and creativity for clients depends on all the work I do before I ever walk into that meeting room.
The irony is, I have spent most of my working career in roles where I have billed clients per hour. It is the most commonplace method of estimating and billing for work in most forms of professional service. I set my hourly rate, multiply that by how long I think I will spend on your project, and I have my budget. But what if I come up with the perfect idea in a moment? Legendary Ad man Phil Dusenberry from BBDO tells the story of bouncing through the streets of New York in a cab the night before a big pitch to GE – and finally landing on the perfect theme line for their advertising: “GE … we bring good things to life.”
This happens a lot. Creative people have a million ideas, and often they share them quickly. Having insights as opposed to ideas is more challenging, and often takes more time … but time isn’t a necessity, it is a side effect. And sometimes the most brilliant ideas come without side effects. In other words, they happen in an instant. Which leads to one of the oldest questions in the advertising business and perhaps many other service based businesses as well: should we charge less if we take less time to come up with the perfect solution?
The notorious law firm solution to this problem is to hire many junior lawyers and clerks to do busy work that burns hours (and is billed back to a client). Some marketing agencies have their own way of doing the same thing. If we want to move any of our industries forward, this model needs to crack. It is one of the things I am most excited about now that I am on my own. Hours matter less than results and creativity doesn’t always happen on the clock.
So the next time you think about being creative, or inspiring someone else to be creative on your behalf, think about what you’re really giving them an incentive to do. Hopefully it is delivering you the best insights, ideas and executions … no matter how long they take to develop.