What was that you said? Takeaways from the Say Media Create Conference

Claire Elsworth, Digital Account Manager, on key takeaways from the SAY Media conference she went to last week:


James Dyson is not an inventor. You heard me. He’s not an inventor, and he’s not an entrepreneur. He’s a thief. At least that’s what Dan Germain, Co-Founder of Innocent would have you believe. This controversial voxpop was aired at the 2013 SAY Create conference, hosted by the good folks at SAY Media last week.

Among the glorious stately grounds, the lucky delegates were treated to a round of clay pigeon laser shooting (to get the blood flowing), an Apprentice-style product launch task (the product being wine, naturally) and even an improv comedy troupe. And that’s not even including the feature speakers. Sadly I don’t have an equivalent two days to take you through the full event, but since you asked so nicely, here’s a whistle-stop tour:

Improve, don’t invent

So back to that James Dyson business. Don’t worry, this isn’t some guerrilla effort to slander the good name of Sir James on behalf of Hoover (which, by the way, is a word you are categorically NOT allowed to say at Dyson HQ, according to Dan). Let’s take all the great “inventions” from the last 50 years.  We’ll start with the Video Disk, invented in 1963. It was a glass plate which could show stored audio and visual simultaneously. So really, it was a better version of the already existing photo slides, no? What about soft contact lenses in 1965? Just a better version of eye-glasses? Wasn’t the Post-It Note in 1974 just an improvement on little scraps of paper all over the house / desk? Mobile phones in 1979 just better, portable landline phones? And the Dyson just a better version of the humble pillow-case vacuum cleaner?

You get the idea. Dan Germain’s theory is that inventors, and their inventions, certainly in the recent past, are more like improvements than inventions. The wheel – that’s an invention. But as we all say at least 25 times in a working week, nobody is re-inventing the wheel here. We’re just improving it. And that’s still brilliant, and all of those improvements have changed our lives significantly. But how many deep-hearted sighs have we all let out when our clients have challenged us to bring something new, innovative and fresh to the table on a small-fry campaign? Isn’t it much less daunting to try and “improve” the great stuff we already know, rather than “invent” new stuff? It’s all still finding a better way, right?

You can’t predict how people will respond

One of the last features of the conference was a Q&A with super awesome screenwriter, Emma Frost, hosted by the BBC’s Creative Director of New Writing, Kate Rowland. We spent a fair bit of time talking about the process the Beeb takes in selecting new pieces of writing (they only read the first 10 pages of a script to start with. Of about 10,000 scripts); how an idea for a script is formulated (in Emma’s case, a stream of consciousness, which leads to a thread being pulled out, then woven into a fully formed idea, and then a script which follows); and maybe most interestingly, the challenges faced by any creative person. And yep, that includes you and me.

Emma answered an opening question about her earlier work with the observation that “adaptations are easier to get made, especially for a female writer”. Kate then followed up later by suggesting that “we try too hard to anticipate what will get made”. Sound familiar? How many times have we put a plan forward which we “know” the client will go for, even if it’s boring? And then how many times have we been challenged to “be more innovative”? We know that innovation doesn’t have to mean invention (because it could just mean improvement), so what is it that makes us still try and anticipate what the clients are after, rather than what we know is a pioneering idea?

The journey is sometimes more important than the goal

Remember the Olympic Opening Ceremony from last year? Of course you do. It’s all anybody talked about for those few days. Remember the guy who wrote it? Some of you? Not everybody? OK, well it was Frank Cottrell Boyce, and he also wrote 24 Hour Party People, bits of Corrie and other various brilliant things. He reckons (through the medium of Kate Rowland), that we have “lost the ability to wonder”. And not just in the child-like bright-eyed wonder we talked about at the Pan-OMG conference this week. But more the “wonder around an idea”. We’re always so busy rushing towards an idea that we don’t take the time to explore the rabbit holes which appear when we’re formulating a plan. And sometimes, of course, it’s that time spent wondering, that time spent falling down rabbit holes which leads us to the fairy dust which makes a campaign sparkle.

Of course, this is just a little scratch of the surface from all the goings-on at SAY Create. For more information on the event, go here, or hit up your local Claire Elsworth.


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