It’s been two years and change since a dear friend and ferociously talented writer, Ian Mackenzie, wrote a farewell piece and handed me the reins to his labour of love: the Big Orange Slide. Since that time, I’ve typed, cajoled, all-staff’d, small-group’d and hopefully justified Ian’s faith in me. But as Shakespeare noted, “we are time’s subjects, and time bids be gone.” And so I find myself sitting down to write a similar missive, and hand the Slide over to new parents.
Given the spirit of experimentation that bore it in the first, we’re going to try something new. Editorial duties will expand from a single editor to a full set of talented and dedicated social content strategists. Their writing skills, ingenuity, wit and insights into engagement will surely help take this already awesome thing to eleven. Doubtless, even twelve.
These editors are inheriting a project that has been coaxed through its mewling infancy to become a viral, ADCC award-winning beacon of our agency’s opinions, quirks, musings and graphic prowess. They’ll likely find their own lessons in what it’s like to be involved with such a thing. Since these are my twilight hours as a contributor, I’d like to subject you to some half-baked ramblings on what I’ve learned, because innate cynicism firmly aside, it really has had a tremendous impact on me.
1. A “spirit of making” changes everything at an agency.
When an agency is adamant about making projects for itself, every aspect of its culture and image is affected. The process itself forces you to define your brand. Defining your brand gives your population a stronger “tribal” feeling. When that happens, morale is boosted. Which leads to people wanting to work with you. And when that happens, people want to step up their game. Suddenly, you’re no longer inhabiting a “company.” You’re building a world from scratch and collaborating on its unique, shared history. Every bit of that was obvious throughout every aspect of the blog’s production: from blog meetings to individual pride in seeing one’s name “out there” and the electricity of seeing something go “viral.” I only ever want to work in places that know how magical that process can be.
2. Never surrender.
As with any creative project, having something like the blog can wear you down. In a busy agency, desire can easily exceed capacity, slow content, and deflate the whole damn enterprise. On this blog, we collaborate on original writing, align it with original illustrations, approve those, and push the whole enchilada through a process of further editing and (hopefully) proofreading. It’s a lot to ask of a lot of people. Accept that ebbs happen and inundate the agency with annoying all-staff emails containing cheerful cat photos. Chances are, at least two people will rise to the occasion, and you’ll be off to the races again.
3. Be unapologetic.
One of the most memorable moments this blog has experienced was Trevor and Julia’s “Anatomy of an Agency” infographic. And you know, for all the positive attention it got, there were a handful of people who grumbled about negative connotations or being passed over. You can’t please all the people all the time. But if you please some people some of the time, you’ve won half the battle. Shying away from being contentious in this industry is like serving near beer at a frat party.
4. Internal projects are key teething rings.
Want to test the mettle of new creatives? Give them a project that isn’t just easy enough. Give them something that has internal profile. Something that allows them to shape their voice. Something that will allow them to build confidence. We have had a number of interns come through Grip, and the first thing they get hit with on a slow day is: “Have you written for the blog yet?” This resulted in our awesome “New Kids on the Blog” series, numerous insight pieces geared towards an appreciative student audience, and all sorts of other awesome stuff. Suddenly, you’re not “just an intern.” You’ve become a producer of original content, with the latitude to show off a little. That’s sort of the point, no?
5. Line their palms.
Nothing helps out a little friendly competition like small rewards. The lovely Sara Vinten hand-sewed plush orange “slideys,” and we hand them out together with gift certificates to reward contributors to the blog who go above and beyond. Ok, maybe it didn’t dramatically increase our volunteers, but it made people smile. And it forced a little monthly retrospective, which shows what is working, what isn’t and who you can repeatedly bug for stuff.
6. Give everyone a toy to play with.
I’m a writer, and even I get cowed by putting my opinion out there. A single-minded content creation process alienates people and narrows contribution. Break your project down and figure out if there are other ways to collaborate. Maybe people don’t have time, but they have an idea for a post. Maybe they can’t write, but they can draw. Maybe they can herd the cats towards delivery dates. Maybe they can edit or animate. Everyone should feel welcome to the sandbox.
Six points seems too few, but I have to cut it off somewhere. I’m something of an editor, after all.
Please join me in wishing Grip’s fantastic social content team the best of luck. It won’t always be easy, but it’ll be worth it.