Friday, April 25, 2008

How to ensure zero-based thinking

Image from DeFeBa

Sergio Zyman glared across the table at me. "You don't care about my business. Want to know how I know? Because you don't care about my money. This commercial should cost no more than $70,000."

That was quite some time ago, when Sergio was at Coke and I was a CD at one of his agencies.

Sergio, if for some reason you have your name on Google Alerts, and you're now reading this, I have to confess you were right. (Except for the bit about the production budget. There's no way that spot could have cost less than 200k.) No, we didn't care about your money - not in the way you wanted us to, anyway. All we knew was you had a budget, and we passed our days thinking of clever ways to spend it.

As beaten up as it is, there's still a sense of entitlement in the agency world. Specifically, the money is on the table, and the assumption is it is there to be spent. In fact, if you DON'T spend it all, be prepared for a lousy performance review from your boss. So, spend and justify, justify and spend.

The agency's vast reservoirs of ingenuity are applied to thinking up what magazine campaign to run, what website to build. The simple question "should we?" is rarely heard.

The solution: cut the budget to zero. Now what would you do?

Slowly add in layers of funding, and each time ask what new actions are made possible. You'll find the creativity demanded by this exercise is not about the message, but the venues and actions themselves. And that at the end of it, you'll have a much clearer set of priorities.

We've done it for clients, both as an exercise and out of necessity (we love start-ups!). It always leads to surprising and very valuable answers.

I'm collecting examples of zero-based 'we have next to nothing' thinking. Any contributions?

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