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.