Dienstag, 11. März 2014

Werbewoche - Translation

Note: This is the translation of the article below. Werbewoche is Switzerland's most important advertising trade magazine. In every issue they have something called the "head of the week" a portrait of someone they find worthy for such a feature.

Another note: The name of the company... An eplanation: My last name "Wrage" (as often in German, the "W" is spoken like a "V") sounds almost like "Frage" which is the German word for "question". As you might have already guessed, "Antwort" is the German word for "answer". Makes for a pretty good name. In German. 

Wrage’s Agency For Boosting Creative Powers

After 20 years in international advertising agencies, Folker Wrage is starting his own consulting company. His “Wrage/Antwort” wants to help companies find creative answers to business challenges.

During recent years, his work was characterized mostly by change management projects. On his last assignment that lasted over a year and ended in August 2013, he helped bring back McCann Erickson in Istanbul almost “from 0 to 100”. Wrage’s answers to change were also in demand when McCann Erickson wanted to improve their position in Zurich in late 2010. Their change management was well on its way when their headquarter in Frankfurt lost the Opel account globally. In Zurich, this was more than half of the business. Consequently, the office was closed. “Not the right decision”, as Folker Wrage is still convinced today.

Still, this turned out to be a fortunate turn of events for him. “Without my transfer from Zurich to Istanbul, I probably wouldn’t have gone back to school again.” Folker Wrage turned his experience with the creatives on the Bosphorus into his thesis at the renowned Berlin School of Creative Leadership, earning him his MBA. The subject of his thesis: “U-Turn – How To Turn An Agency Around In 12 Months.”

When the Turkish office was running well again without him, taking the courage to start his own thing was the logical next step. His new company Wrage/Antwort is operating from Zurich and offers companies a variety of consulting products. One of the main offers is a combination of interim and change management, aiming to use times of transition in the management to start working on important change projects within the company. And even in shorter analysis assignments, an integration into the work process is sought.

“The basis for this is my conviction that after many rounds of cost cutting and efficiency programs, companies will increasingly need to tap into creative potentials within their company and use them to differentiate themselves from the competition. This is not only true for communication and product development, but for all other parts of their business.”

Discovering creative potential

The offer is primarily directed towards companies of the creative industries, but is explicitly not limited to those. At the moment, Wrage is in conversation with his previous employer McCann, and is already working on several small projects for the Swiss branch of an international brewery.

Wrage can also help find answers when, for example, an agency or any other company does have creative abilities and capacities within their organization, but somehow struggle to “transfer” it into the creation of their products. “We put too much focus on simply carrying things out, just operating, and don’t make any progress in creativity” is what these businesses might be concerned about. Wrage also thinks that many agencies have not been able to tackle the digital challenge very well yet, both on an organizational and on strategic level. “That’s a question of structures and processes, really. My role in this can be either strategic or tactical – but always very close to the work process” explains Wrage who can look back on more than 20 years of experience in different agencies.

Folker Wrage started out studying psychology. Around that time, he also worked as a flight attendant for five years. “But that’s not necessarily a profession that you really want to do all your life. So the question arose: What can I do that challenges my brain more?” The answer for him was writing. The music connoisseur that still DJs from time to time on his days off, worked his way up to being an editor-in-chief for a magazine for the club- and in-crowd in Frankfurt, primarily writing reviews. And since he knew a creative director at OgilvyOne, the music journalist could occasionally take jobs writing on small advertising assignments. His work was well received, and so he was finally asked to work 100% in advertising. In just ten years, the DJ moved from being Junior Copywriter to CD, and finally Executive Creative Director at OgilvyOne.

In 2003, Wrage moved on as CD to Leo Burnett in Frankfurt. 2006 he changed for the same position in the same town to Saatchi & Saatchi. And finally, in 2008, he was called to work in Zurich. At Publicis Dialog the task was to creatively push the integration of Fisch Meier Direkt.

After the “fire drill” at McCann Zurich the troubleshooter was offered an assignment with an even more difficult task within the network, in Istanbul. “I didn’t exactly know what was waiting for me down there. But after a whole day of talks in the agency and dinner with the new CEO I simply looked into his eyes and knew: This is a big challenge, but also a chance.” Three weeks later, Folker Wrage moved to Istanbul.

The McCann office at the border of Europe and the orient was „de facto devastated, both regarding motivation and the business. Without their own fault, the office had lost two large international clients. As a consequence, many employees had to be let go. The executive creatives had left the agency, as well as the Chief Marketing Officer. “It was a mess. But I tried to find among the people that were left those that I could motivate again to create positive change. We immediately started to make some important decisions, primarily because most of the leadership had left. On the other hand, I wanted to go for a new positioning of the agency. I quickly saw that we needed to create a digital product that would be creative, visible, and of high quality. Without that we wouldn’t have had a chance to differentiate ourselves in that market.

After just three months they were already there: The creative department that “had been left without pride and confidence” had been turned into an “active, modern, and happily working department.” Of course, a bit of luck was involved as well. “We quickly won a large new client. That helped grow trust quickly.”

Developing in different directions

Towards fall 2013, Folker Wrage moved back from Istanbul to his tastefully renovated farm house close to Dübendorf. Here, he could take the time to enter the last chapters of his thesis for the Berlin School of Creative Leadership into his computer.

But the idea for this additional education had been circling in his head long before Istanbul. “There comes a point, when you have worked your way through the creative departments of the international agencies to reach management level, when you have two options: You either think everything is just fine and you’re satisfied with what you have achieved. Or – and in my case this is what happened – you want to take on more responsibility than “just” as the head of the creative department.” Most agencies, he says, are still organized in a way “where even the CCO is regarded as a CD, and not as part of the management.” Folker Wrage was way too interested in leading and shaping a company to be limited to this traditional CD role. “With an MBA, you do get more respect.”

With his international professional history in different agencies, and now with his degree, Folker Wrage counts primarily on advertising agencies to be interested in his services as consultant and coach. “Many companies have been reduced to efficiency and have been shrunk to the max. How do they want to improve their position now? They are under heavy pressure. Employees are overworked, motivation is low. In short: There is simply no more time for an “extra round”, do do something on top. In cases like that my job is to enable this organization to take a more creative look at how they work and how they are structured.”

Folker Wrage is convinced that there is more creative potential in every organization than suspected, “and that’s what I want to help harness.” How this is done and in which areas doesn’t have to be specifically defined in advance. “That becomes clear in the first conversations with my clients. They understand that they could do more, and then we approach the task together and analyze, what can be done where. There is no shortage in tools and models.”

Of course, being from Germany, Wrage has also thought about the possibility of starting his business somewhere else, and not in Zurich. He wants to work internationally, and has just published a long article in the American issue of Forbes. But the German feels that he is in the right place, even after the latest elections [that ask for a limitation of foreigners moving to Switzerland]. “Switzerland is an international place. I can work well from here, serving Germany, and Eastern Europe.” Plus: His wife Constantine, who was looking after their home during Wrage’s excursion to Turkey, is deeply busy with projects herself. As an independent producer she is working for different advertising agencies, and has just completed the production of a new TVC with Roger Federer for Credit Suisse. “That’s a big one,” as Wrage comments. From time to time he enjoys her help in organizing his projects. But starting an agency together is – for now – not an option.

Wrage/Antwort was constructed primarily around the experience of his creative head, and will work using his “exciting and diverse network.” He also relies on this network in communicating his new services. Wrage built it as a jury member of various creative awards and festivals like Cannes Lions, New York Festival, John Caples Award, and Golden Drum, as well as by being a speaker at a number of summits. This March, he is speaking about change management at the World Summit of FESPA, a global organization for the print industry. And in May, he will lead a workshop in Prague, asking “how can I make my company more creative?” The founder is convinced: “By being present at these events, and by presenting content and ideas, my business is more or less building automatically.”

Being asked whether Wrage/Antwort might one day turn into a “real” advertising agency, the versatile consultant wants to “keep all options.” A lot of people in Zurich that had worked together with him, would like to work in agency with him again. But: “I prefer not to define what Wrage/Antwort will turn into. I like to leave that open, and I find it much more exciting to start now with something that I believe in, and then look how people react to it. I compare this to prototyping, something that is normally done in product design. It’s one of the principles that I started this company with: a business model that is constantly adapting while the company is developing, going through phases and steps of change.”

Samstag, 8. März 2014

Chances And Challenges Of Change

Note: This is the script for a speech at the FESPA World Summit 2014 in Munich. It was directed at top executives of the print industry – but due to the nature of the subject, it will be interesting for other audiences as well.

For 20 years, I have been working for international advertising agencies like Ogilvy, Leo Burnett, and McCann. About half of those 20 years, I was working in management positions.

During these years, I have seen lots of things change. When I started, there was no internet. We were sitting in front of monochrome monitors, working with MS-DOS, and none of the art directors had a Mac. They didn’t have any kind of computer.

Like I said – really lots of changes. But what I have never actually witnessed in any of these companies was something that could rightfully be called a change initiative, or a change project. Not even in the most extreme cases.

Change Management?

We bought other companies – no change management. We lost big clients and plenty of people – no change management. Even when we successfully turned around pretty big agency offices, it wasn’t actually treated like a proper change project.

It made me think. Why is that? And I have come to the conclusion that there aren’t really many people around that truly understand change, and how to deal with it. It’s such a basic word, such a common thing, and we don’t need a definition of it, we all know what it is. But do we really?

What Is Change?

It’s not that easy. Yes, we know, if something is one way one day, and different another day, something has changed. And we can all say smart things about it, like change being the only constant in life, and things like that.

Most of these expressions reflect how we look at change quite well. A change is gonna come. Change is something that is inevitable. An outside force, something we can’t control, almost like the weather.

And it’s true. It’s a force of nature, in a way. But that’s not all, of course. Because we know – we all can change the world. Or at least part of it. There is that feeling of self-efficacy. As much as we all are forced to live with change – we’re also very much capable of changing just about anything we want to change.
Inside and outside

So there are two kinds of change. The change that comes and the change we bring about. We learned a lot of smart things in business school, but one of the smartest was this: If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is in sight.

Both forms of change are related to each other, of course – but not necessarily in a way that we need to react to the change coming from the outside with the change we bring about on the inside. We need to be quicker than that – and actually change on the inside before the change that comes from the outside actually affects us. So if we manage change well, both kinds of change are good.

And if it’s not good?

Now – we sometimes find ourselves in situations where change seems to be something really bad. Like for example when a new technology is giving us a hard time, maybe even threatening to put us out of business completely. Like for example the digital revolution.

But if we look at the subject closely and honestly, we will have to admit a few things. First of all: This didn’t happen overnight. As quickly as the world may be changing – the idea that the digital revolution might be changing the game for a lot of industries has always been pretty obvious.

Secondly: The digital revolution has opened up millions of business opportunities, and it still does, for everyone, including advertising, including printing – absolutely everyone can benefit from it.

So how come the changes of the digital era have turned into a problem for some people? We’ve heard it a moment ago. Because in those cases the rate of change on the inside must have been slower than that on the outside.

What do we do?

The question, obviously, is – well, how do we change? Sticking with the subject of the digital revolution, and looking at positive examples it is quickly obvious that some people have already taken advantage of it.

You will find examples in every single industry. Automotive: The first car manufacturers are teaming up with Google and Apple to get an advantage over competitors. Advertising: Some agencies have started to change their organizations as much as 15 years ago – and deliver a seamlessly integrated product today. And yes, of course, there are people in the printing business who are taking advantage of the new possibilities that have come up over the last decade or so.
What you really need: Honesty

There are two things you can’t do without if you want to manage change. Number 1: Honesty. Primarily regarding yourself and your company. It’s really hard. You’re proud of what you are doing, proud of what you have achieved, and we all know how it is – you like to see things in a positive light. We all do.

You can’t change anything if you are not able to analyze your current position honestly and objectively. Sometimes it’s very easy. On my last assignment, we had almost no senior management left, the agency had no digital strategy whatsoever, and no visible digital product, it had a structure that didn’t represent the size of the organization and didn’t give it a chance to answer the needs of the market. Sounds like a nightmare? Not if you have been sent in to change things.

It’s a lot more tricky if the need for change isn’t as dramatically obvious. It’s up to you to be honest to yourself, and to ask yourself: Do you have the right people? Do we have the right structure? Are we investing in the right technologies? Am I still the right guy to run this company? Are we still producing the right products? Are we selling our product the right way? Don’t paint it black, but don’t fool yourself either.

What need even more: Creativity

Crucial point number 2: Creativity. I really don’t know any industry that hasn’t been under intense pressure over the last two decades. Rounds and rounds of cost cutting, endless restructuring processes, and plenty of efficiency initiatives have been run. It is very exhausting. Today, we are working more and harder than ever, and we have become incredibly efficient.

Did that ease the pressure? Did that help us be more relaxed regarding our competitors? Of course not. It’s like the race between the rabbit and the hedgehog. Can’t be won. And for a lot of companies this has led to a situation where motivation is low and sinking, workload high and rising – with negative effects on corporate culture.

My answer, clearly, is to start getting creative about solving business challenges. You don’t want to run the efficiency race, the cost cutting race, the price slashing race – it’s a killer. To a certain extent you will probably have to, but you need to do more. Get creative. Open your mind. Creativity isn’t just something that goes into your products, it should be something that is part of every aspect of your business.

Look around

You can find inspiration everywhere – new ways of doing things, of looking at things, of managing things. Simply because everyone is basically facing the same challenges you are. One of the most interesting definitions of creativity, or of an idea, is “making connections between or among concepts that the thinker previously saw as separate and unrelated.”

So look, learn, and apply. Other industries are doing things differently – and often in ways that can help you at least take a critical look at how things are done in your company.
Example #1: Think about structure

Look at how the most creative companies in the world are structured, how they are organized. You will see that they look at structure in a very different way, and I bet there is something in there that can help improve how you work. Most companies that struggle with change have very rigid and hierarchical structures. There is a good chance that less formal structures could help, and that project based teams can solve problems better than fixed teams.

Example #2: Think about workflow

Take a really good look at how projects are managed in your company – and how other industries handle it. It’s really hard to get people to learn and apply a new way of organizing workflows, and it needs training, but it can make a huge difference. Look at Agile Project Management as an alternative. Yes, it’s a method that is applied in design agencies and in software development, but it is clearly not limited to it. People who work with Agile almost always say that they achieve better results in a more structured way and with much better use of the time that is available.

Example #3: Think about innovation

Almost every company is convinced that they are innovators, but the least of them are. Again, be honest about it. Understand that it takes more than just the will to innovate. You can’t just tell your employees to start inventing things. Innovation needs to be understood, and people need to know methods of innovation. Yes, do create an innovation spirit, but support it with innovation knowledge. Choose your most creative minds, teach them, create a skunkworks.

Example #4: Think about workspace

Even in industries that are centered around creativity, the workspace rarely is designed to inspire and to interact. Most of the time, even the meeting zones are terribly uninspiring, and they usually can’t be accessed for group work. You don’t even have to look at Google or Facebook to understand how companies enable creativity, new ideas, group dynamics. At Bloomberg for example, there are dozens of social zones where people meet, have a free snack, enjoy a free soda or juice, and talk about projects. It’s not a small investment, but it clearly pays off for them. Interaction creates opportunities.

Example #5: Think about technology

Even if you are working in a high tech industry like large format printing, it pays to try and find new ways of looking at it. Sure, it pays to invest in machines and systems that are designed to save time, money, resources, that are designed to give you the chance to produce something that others can’t deliver. But it doesn’t help so much if everybody else buys them too. Develop your own opinion and path regarding technology. Sometimes even looking back helps. If everybody is going digital, it might pay off to look the other way. Try to find a good letter press printer in Germany, for example. Difficult.
Example #6: Think about finance

Yes, finance and creativity. Not creative accounting, no – but it might pay off to look at finance critically and analyze if the way you are handling finance is actually helping your business – or if it is creating obstacles. Apple for example – it is fair to say that one of the reasons why they are creating better products than other companies is because they just have one bottom line, and not a dozen. No silos. No conflicting interests. If your company consists of several corporate entities, chances are that this is keeping you from getting better results.

Example #7: Human resources

Actually most of the six previous points automatically lead to changes in and around human resources. Which obviously is only possible if HR is a valuable part of your organization – and in a lot of companies it simply isn’t. A lot of companies rely on employees suggesting newhires – leading to organizations that are made up of homogenous circles of friends. This may result in a good atmosphere to work in, but usually not in a work force that is able to tackle a wide variety of challenges. Nothing is as dangerous as homogeneity in your work force. Your business is complex, no matter what your business may be – and you need a good variety of talents and characters to handle it.

What else?

And strategy? My advice would be to not get too complicated about it. Stick to the simple equation of defining where you are now, defining where you want to be in two, three years, and defining what it takes to get there. But do it thoroughly, with a good deal of research, analysis, and honesty.

And be sure to understand change management. If you don’t know John Kotter’s eight step change process yet, make sure you and your most important managers do. There are a million things you can do wrong in change projects, and most of your competitors will. It’s a big opportunity.

Mittwoch, 29. Januar 2014

Shut Up And Play Your Guitar. Or: Creativity Takes Over

People talk. More than ever. We have reached an era in which people redistribute other people’s thinking and build their reputation on it. Flow-heaters are called influencers now. They are running around saying super smart things like “Make is the new think” – and make nothing. It’s like talk is the new make.

Not that there is a way to underestimate the value of inspiration. But I keep wondering how much of that inspiration is actually turned into action. So when I decided to write something like a call for action, the title of a Frank Zappa album came to mind. “Shut Up And Play Your Guitar”. Zappa was always very creative when it came to album titles, and you can almost see where this one came from – auditions with guitar players who would just talk about their approach to the instrument rather than showing what they can do with it.


In advertising – and I am sure this will apply to almost any other industry – we are even worse. We sometimes don’t even bring our guitar. We just sit there, all agitated and willing, and throw around a whole lot of “we should”. Like in “we should invite inspiring people to come to our agency and learn from them.” Or in “we should think about structure, reduce rigidity, form teams based solely on project requirements.”

Sure – change is a lot harder than people think. Simply deciding to change something and expecting different results automatically is a great way to make sure that no one will ever attempt to change anything after that. Resistance to change, and the tendency of even the good-willed people to fall back into old patterns are forces that are extremely hard to overcome.

Whiteboards and foosball

As well the inability to apply. We tear off all those posters from a big wall in the agency, put up a board, and tell everyone that they will fill it with great ideas, projects, inventions. What happens? Nothing. A few juniors will put up print ad ideas, and a few seniors will look at them with scepticism. The board turns into a new place to play the same old game.

We create playgrounds, put up playstations, x-boxes, foosball tables, funky sofas and other loungy furniture. And then we’re waiting for the miraculous burst of creativity that is going to result from all of this. In the end, some of the work time is turned into game time, and as a consequence some of the free time is turned into work time. No. Increased amounts of time spent ego-shooting your way through Siberia do not pave the way to Cannes.

So even if we bring the guitar, we don’t get far beyond strumming along the old “Smoke On The Water” riff and maybe pumping a fist or two. And we don’t see that while we are calling ourselves creative agencies, we’re often just profit generating machines with a creative zoo attached.

Obviously, there are ways to do it better. Simply by understanding creativity, by respecting it, and by making sure that it has a chance to do its magic. One thing is painfully visible every day: If we don’t let creativity be the heart of our organization, its products will also not be creative.

So what does it take?

Creativity comes from loving something, and love is fragile. Creativity needs the right ecosystem. It needs commitment, trust, openness. And if you really take a look at your own organization and be truly honest about it – you probably don’t find much of that. Yes, we do have these great PowerPoint presentations that proclaim that creativity is at the heart of the organization – but that’s usually where the story ends already.

Actually, most of the time we are unable to truly work on it – especially in multinational organizations. Regional management just about has the right to proclaim and voice demand – but normally not the power to act upon it. Try to tell a local CEO how to hire and fire – he won’t be happy, and usually doesn’t follow suit. And as long as he comes up with the bottom line he is supposed to deliver, he’s pretty safe too.

Divisions divide

We keep looking at the amazing story of Apple, we marvel at their creativity, their superior design, their incredible ability to come up with products that the consumers didn’t know they wanted badly. What’s the magic? We’ve read it a thousand times. It’s commitment to creativity, and putting all resources together to work as one team. And we have also read it: At Apple, there is just one bottom line, just one P&L.

Does anyone apply? Not really. Especially not in advertising. Most of our global networks have separate corporate entities for advertising, digital, media, PR, event, etc. We behave like Sony did when they had the huge opportunity to come up with an iTunes kind of product before Apple did. They failed. The reason: Separate divisions with separate P&Ls and separate interests. Does that ring a bell?

And no, we don’t really trust creativity. We trust the numbers. We deliver money, not greatness. And how many people have said it: Let’s come up with great ideas, the money will follow. The only ones that have proclaimed this and are still in business are the ones that never meant it.

Space and joy

Creativity needs the right environment, it needs space. I don’t know how many office buildings I have visited that simply don’t offer any space for people that want to sit together and dig for greatness. It’s mindblowing. And even if there are spaces, they are connected to endless bureaucracy. Come back later, your ideas have to wait.

Without joy, without happiness, without playing around, there is no creativity. If you don’t have space, you can’t play. If you have to fear the consequences of saying something stupid, you can’t talk about ideas. If you don’t have the freedom to explore, to be stupid, to be outrageous, to think the unthinkable, you will always be stuck with the ordinary.

Do they really know?

Another thing we think and claim to have learned from Apple is that it doesn’t help to ask the consumers what they want. It doesn’t help to walk around and do tons of market research, trying to minimize the risk of doing something. It leads directly to mediocrity. And no, it’s not really Steve Jobs that taught us this. Henry Ford was just as smart plenty of decades earlier when he said that if he had asked the people what they wanted, they would have said “faster horses.”

It’s not new. But again, we don’t apply. We don’t trust our instincts, we suppress gut feeling, we kill intuition. We have unlearned to use everything we know, everything we have learned, and connect it with what we feel is right – and then make a decision. We still think that if we do that we are taking a monstrous risk, and instead ask the only people that are guaranteed to NOT have the right answer – and then put our money on that.

Risk aversion is risky

That’s why our organizations are full of people who don’t do anything great, but also don’t really fuck up on anything. Risk averse, defensive, bottom line improving tight people. Creative people can’t manage, they say, they are unreasonable, don’t know anything about business. And then they go back to their computers and add “creative thinking” to their impressive list of abilities on LinkedIn, and boldly twitter stuff like “fail harder”.

And as much as this may sound like something illogical – creativity needs process, and structure. But usually not the kind of structure that is implemented. If we look at the most creative organizations on this planet, we can clearly see that their way of working, their process, their structure, their approach to project responsibility and accountability has nothing to do with the way other organizations are set up, including advertising agencies.

And what can be done?

Obviously, you can’t turn an organization around to incorporate all of these aspects just like that. After all – you also need the right people to do this. It takes years to build a creative organization, or to transform one to be creative.

Actually, it’s really easy to come up with a lot of “But” on every single aspect. There are always reasons why things are difficult, why people think they can’t be done. There are endless numbers of people who will happily block every change initiative that moves an organization towards a more creative culture.

Still, no organization will be able to think, decide, and implement on any of these points without difficulties. The answer to facing these difficulties is simple: Be creative. Finding ways to change things in your company is clearly the very first test of the creative abilities of that organization.

Step by step

Don’t tackle them all at once. Define change projects, read your John P. Kotter, and get going. You can’t turn your six P&Ls into one? Well, that’s just the way it is. The question is – what can you do to minimize the adverse effects this has on the creative powers in your company. Can you find a way to work around them? Look at process, structure, reporting lines, personnel. There is a solution. For sure.

You would love to create more space for your people, but you can’t, because your headquarter would kill you for exceeding the square meters per employee limit? Again – there will be an alternative to renting additional space.

And culture?

One thing you won’t be able to simply improve with a change project is your corporate culture. You can’t build trust, accountability, passion, and loyalty with change management. But you don’t have to. If you work your way towards an organization that supports creativity, you will alter your corporate culture as a consequence of it. Much of that transformation is a direct result of simply deciding to take that direction.

After years of cutting cost and personnel, and endless projects that increased efficiency, creativity is one of the few areas that will give an organization a chance to compete successfully, and leave the competition behind.

There is no alternative to being a lot more creative in the future – on all levels of your organization. And don’t tell anyone you can’t. Because you can. For sure. So shut up and play your guitar. Play it well.