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The future of collaborating? Let’s talk it through

29 July, 2011

A few weeks ago, Much awarded British TV writer Jimmy McGovern was asked

“How does the relationship work between writers?”

(in reference to a couple of shows – ‘The Street’ and ‘The Accused’ which he has a team of writers collaborating together whilst he leads).

He made a quip which I thought was quite good…

“We confuse writing with typing. This is writing, walking around, getting into your character, into the concept. That’s writing, sweating blood. Sometimes, I’ll have walked round and hours will have passed. “

I thought this was good because it’s a fundamental challenge confronting the world of agencies right now. Collaborate we’re told. Play nice. But it’s quite superficial. We type. We create ’360′ documents/ toolkits/ dossiers that get farmed around with each agency inputting in their two penneth based on their discipline and taking the opportunity to land grab.

Nobody wants this. It’s a pain in the arse for everyone, not least the client.

And quite simply, this isn’t collaborating. Collaborating means doing what Jimmy and the team do. They put down their pens.  They acknowledge who are better at some things than others. They go and explore. Together. They also explore each other – as each other explores. Thinking out loud is actively encouraged.  They listen to each other and riff off a half baked idea.

And I thought this was quite a smart idea. What if, as an ‘all-agency’ team, nobody wrote anything until everyone had explored the problem and then explored each other as each of the other teams explored the problem? i.e. So there is an all-agency briefing. Each agency then buggers off to think about their bit of the puzzle. But, then halfway through that thinking time, where no one’s cracked the brief yet, you’re forced to put down your pens, stop typing and go and visit the media agency, the ad agency, the PR agency, the experiential agency etc and you go and chat about some of the things they’ve been thinking about – some of the challenges and opportunities the brief throw has thrown up for them. Chances are you may even have some of the same issues or maybe it’s thrown up new ones for you.

The key to collaboration in my mind is the initial talking-it-through phase. Having a walk and a cigarette down Charlotte Street with the PR director on the account (you pair of cliches you). A pint with the media planner. A breakfast with the ECRM dudes. Having an appreciation and a humility that you can’t do it on your own and making sure the other disciplines understand your limitations, processes and nuances. Integration is as much about acknowledging weaknesses as it is recognising strengths in each other.

I think this is how we should be collaborating more. Not writing ’360′ presentations. Less typing. More talking.


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