Marketing and Public Relations

Protecting your Idea from Frittering Away

By May 16, 2019 July 18th, 2019 No Comments

This article was originally published with The Manila Times on May 16, 2019.

I work with ideas, and the work starts with a stickman drawing, or a storyboard, which contains a barebones rendition of the story.

A good idea must be stark, so stark, it can be narrated in seconds, if for a television commercial, in less than thirty seconds. That landmark advertising campaign that will be executed in various media and iterations and last decades must be told in one sentence. It is a check mechanism if your storyboard has a story, if your idea is simple enough to tell in the advertising, a science that works in seconds.

The point of this article, or lesson, is that we should protect the idea, and to do that, we have to respect the storyboard.

The craftman’s tendency is to add and embellish

All hands – within agency and without – including those of clients, all itch to enhance, improve, refine and add to the story.

This is natural: people seek to augment and provide the creative product with touches of their personalities and proficiencies.

Talents will add themselves, their renditions and interpretations of what is asked of them. If you asked for a smile to mean “mmm!”, he might just ham it up, with a jig and a laugh.

Others will suggest filters, backgrounds, music, and sounds, and executional devices: “can we morph this man’s face into that of the other?” According to one’s particular skill and field of expertise, one adds to a storyboard, slaps clay onto the stickman.

The musical scorer hears his music and fails to note the intended nuance in the announcer’s voice; he boosts the volume, overpowers the voice, weakens audibility and the sale pitch. The production designer produces a set, and expects that the scale and grandeur of the design will be seen in the shot, and in the final cut.

Sandali lang!

There is no one in the system screaming “hep, hep! Sandali” (“whoa, just a minute!”). Everybody adds; nobody restrains addition.

In any project in communications, there must be tenacity to the idea, to the basic concept. In any project, there must be a creative guardian.

Now a good example of a guardian is the editor, because a true editor is ruthless, uncharitable even. Faithful to the story, he will carve away the fat and the unnecessary and the only beautiful. “Fat” will be shots the director particularly loves, usually because he had difficulty achieving them. It is the editor’s job to cut out, deny, limit, strip, expunge what does not help tell the story.

Creative guardianship is a check in the flow of the work

Sometimes, hours into a shooting day, you find that you are still not involved with core of the commercial, that you are shooting frills, the setup, the scenario.
You need to know how to look for “the commercial”, keep an eye on the Big Idea, and not let go of it.

I recommend holding a RedFlag Meeting. A RedFlag meeting is an impromptu meeting. You reiterate the definition of the big idea, you ask and answer: “what are we
doing? What is the vision of the storyboard?” And you watch for it during the shoot.

You hold one before the shoot, so you do not scratch your heads and ask questions after. Anyone should be able to call for a RedFlag meeting – creative, accounts, producer.

Pause and check if the shot you are doing adds to the concept or is merely a frill. Now this does not mean you should do without it. It is a reminder of its relative importance, so you do not spend an inordinate amount of time trying to perfect it.

If it’s a one day shoot and you haven’t touched the Big Idea yet by, say, 3:00 pm, it’s time to fret.

Examples of not stepping back

We were producing a commercial for the Nissan Frontier, and we wanted to impart the idea that the vehicle was engineered powerfully; that it was “a wild animal in pickup clothes”. The intention was to have the vehicle move about like a wild cat, pacing and growling in his cage. Later I thought it looked more like the pickup was just revving up in a fenced parking. While a decent spot, we failed the vision. We were focused on details.

‘Bundok Cimarron’

The Mitsubishi Cimarron was a powerful pickup: its torque and sinewy suspension allowed it best-of-the-market climbing ability. We shot in Baguio to capture the story.

The team and crew came back with reels and all sorts of footage: passing shots, shots where the vehicle was silhouetted breathtakingly against the mountains of Baguio, but nary a shot of the vehicle climbing.

Without an anointed guardian, the point, the big idea — the frame upon which the commercial depended — was lost. They forgot to shoot the Cimarron climbing. To show the vehicle on an incline, we tilted the frame.

It’s a flaw in the system; the work requires everyone to add and enhance. There is a tendency to see the woods for the forest: there are many highly skilled craftspeople on the set, all dedicated and focused on what they do for a living, and not on intent, objective, motive. There is dedication to motif but not to theme. It is best to assign the task of guardianship to somebody in the agency, or at least remind everybody in the team to be conscious of the point.

This is not about philosophy or principles. This is about producing materials faithful to their storyboards and visions so they sell well. There is nothing scarier than seeing a material after production — after spending millions of pesos and time — miss the point, forget the big idea.

This does not mean we should not strive to produce good-looking ads. It simply means we should train ourselves to be protective of our storyboards. The same boards we took pains to create and have approved.

The author is chairman of Estima, an ad agency dedicated to helping local industrialists and causes, and co-founder of Caucus, Inc., a multi-discipline consultancy firm. He can be reached through

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