Monday, March 20, 2006

Trumps' Chumps

I love to watch The Apprentice. Not for the Donald, but for the way it makes me and my colleagues look good.

The assignments that the Donald hands out are a daily occurrence in our field. I am in advertising. Got a new product and need to get the word out? We do that. Got an old product with declining sales? We can help there too. Need to find the sweet spot for your product? Need to design packaging? Billboard? TV spot? On site event? Web site? Email? In store display? Yup... We do all that.

Where we differ from the contestants on the show is that we actually take a very clear, concise approach to solving the problem. It starts with asking a better question. Don't just tackle the assignment, ask and debate if the assignment is the right one. Then determine if it is a communication problem. If it isn't, then advertising probably cannot help. It might be operational.

After asking the better question we then gather insight. This is where we dig for information, anything at all, that will lead to that key detail or insight that provides the vehicle for developing the big idea and messaging. But the big idea and messaging do not live alone. They go hand in hand with finding the right, relevant point where the brand and product message can engage the consumer and make meaningful resonation. It's about connecting, not just reaching.

It's about approaching a communication opportunity as media neutral. It's about being opened minded and allowing us to look at a medium and find new ways to manipulate it to break through. It's about believing there are new ways to use old mediums. It's about finding the right new mediums to connect.

I know it's not a realistic situation, but I doubt the Donald ever starts by asking the contestants to spend time assessing the real issue at hand. Somehow he and Mark Burnett pair down the list of things that they think the contestants can handle within a given time frame. More likely they think of an assignment that will present a challenge.

It makes me cringe to watch these so called cream of the crop, wheeler dealer, "gunners" sit around a table and ramble on about what they should do. It's a bunch of back and forth, time wasting babbling. Can they not find a contestant who has ever, EVER conducted a real brainstorming session? These guys and gals do not know the first thing about addressing a problem - at least that is what the show portrays.

I suppose I should give them some slack. Maybe they do challenge the assignment, maybe they do 100 MPH thinking or "Be Like Mike" brainstorming to solve the problem at hand. Maybe. But then again, maybe I should leave well enough alone. After all anyone who watches the show and sees how difficult it really is to successfully complete the assignment might just get it in their head that this is something better left to the professionals.

So I like watching The Apprentice because it makes me feel good about the business I am in. It gives me validation. It almost makes up for the frustration I get watching these contestants and their extreme lack of emotional intelligence and teamwork.


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