The big reveal. Its one of those tropes about advertising that pop culture can’t seem to let go. On TV and in movies, it’s an exciting thing. A bunch of smart, hard working creatives hunker down with a brief, and a few days later, they swagger back into the conference room to wow the client with the magic of their groundbreaking ideas and keen design sensibilities.
Unfortunately, in real life, the process isn’t quite as sexy. There aren’t many cool montages of ideas coming to life on bar napkins, or novice copywriters jolting out of bed with the idea that cracks the brief. Champagne corks are not popped as frequently as you might imagine. (Though the all-nighters are real.) In reality, the road to the big reveal is often paved with exhaustion, a lack of communication, misunderstandings and frequently disappointed clients. That’s probably why it’s a dying practice.
It’s also not just the big reveal that’s dead. It’s that the working client relationship on the whole is changing — it’s no longer about a single campaign idea with a single deployment, but a single campaign idea that is constantly refined based on the effectiveness we’re now able to measure.
Today’s client needs span an incredibly broad spectrum and agency models are increasingly coming in all different sizes and specialties to accommodate those requirements. Clients are becoming more digitally focused and we now have the tools to prototype, iterate and test together. This inherently allows us to work quickly and collaboratively and get real time feedback and results. The big reveal is changing because there is no (real) launch moment. We’re pushing things out into the world and constantly monitoring, maintaining, analyzing and then pushing them back through the strategy and creative process to make them better.
We’re seeing the traditional one-size fits all format for the client-agency relationship has gone out of style, and with it, the old-school big reveal.
So it’s worth looking at whether the big reveal was ever really a process that drove successful work. At its core, it was always a sales tool, a one-sided spectacle designed to rig the process so that clients would be in so deep by the time they saw the idea, they’d be more inclined to buy it. And, it’s also a great way to give ego-driven creatives an opportunity to score big, ceremonial wins that rely more on the presentation than the actual work itself.
There’s another thing the big reveal does for agencies that is less obvious, but more important for clients to understand – it lets them avoid real collaboration.
Why would agencies want that? Well, that’s because managing creative collaboration is hard work that demands an additional skillset that not everyone possesses. It requires leaders who can foster free-flowing creative exploration between different stakeholders (who are often just meeting each other for the first time) while keeping everyone focused and the project on track.
It also lets the client peek behind the curtain and see what really goes into the secret sauce. There’s no question as to what they’re paying for once you’ve done away with the big reveal – that of course, makes some agencies uncomfortable.
Perhaps this sounds terrible, like trying to work with your boss standing over your shoulder all day, but in practice, collaborative client relationships have benefits that far outstrip any of the reasons agencies have shied away from it.
When collaboration is managed well, agencies can streamline the workflow and avoid major derailments because they never run off on creative tangents that don’t work for the client. They can solve problems faster, because the client is on the team, ready to give them all the information they need. They don’t need to worry about whether or not the client will like their work, because the client was there giving input on the process as it was being created. All of this adds up to produce much happier clients, and makes day-to-day life at the agency more pleasant as projects stay on time and on budget.
At the end of the process, most clients have to answer to a higher power – their bosses. Getting that buy-in is a lot easier when a client is armed with the insights and the reasoning for every piece of creative – because they helped to shape them.
Sure, there’s something seductive about crushing the big reveal and reveling in a moment of triumph. But there’s an even greater reward in working together with a client to produce something they know is going to work really well for their business. It’s one thing to sell someone a nicely packaged idea, it’s another to give them exactly the solutions they need tos move the needle for their business.