Creative Thinking

A burning question for many marketing executives staring in the face of a Six Sigma mandate is this: What impact will it have on creative development? Marketers tend to bristle at any attempt to apply rigid rules to the free-flowing creative process. “It would be hard to apply Lean Six Sigma principles to an advertising campaign,” says Valerie Mason Cunningham, Xerox’s VP of corporate marketing services. “You have some data points, but it isn’t a process in which you can use DMAIC.”

That lack of process makes Six Sigma implementation a challenge for many marketing organizations. “To CMOs, process is meetings and due dates,” says Gordon Wade, founding partner of EMM Group, a marketing consultancy. “For Six Sigma to work, you need inputs and outputs. Most companies don’t have a complete, end-to-end demand-creation process.”

So it would seem, then, that an ad agency is the last place to look for fans of Lean Six Sigma—until one talks with executives at Young & Rubicam. Inspired by the success Xerox has had with Lean Six Sigma, Y&R Brands Chairman and CEO Ann Fudge directed two executives, Lori Nicholson and Shelley Diamond, to champion the expanded use of the frameworks across the agency. Attending a Lean Six Sigma training event at Xerox in July 2004, Diamond was quickly converted.

“We realized that we have a ton of processes at Y&R with a lot of rework and inefficiency in what we do,” says Diamond, executive VP and managing partner with Y&R Brands. “All of us have gotten into the advertising business to be idea driven, to drive sales for our clients, to express our creativity. We find that oftentimes we spend a great deal of our day doing wasted things, things that our clients don’t value.”

That type of insight is a defining moment for marketers’ understanding of Six Sigma: that done right, it actually improves creative development instead of inhibiting it.

“Our currency is not money, it’s our creative,” says Nicholson, executive VP and managing director of Y&R Brands. “This is all about enabling our creative and account people to do the best work while eliminating all the waste and the processes that don’t add any value. That’s where we’ve seen the biggest benefit.”

Eighteen months into its program, Y&R has more than 30 green belts globally and has run more than 20 projects, both internally and with Xerox. Its other clients are benefiting as well. “The clients see the benefits almost by accident,” says Nicholson. “We improve what we do, so the product we’re giving them is much cleaner.”

“Have we saved money? Sure,” Nicholson adds. “But that’s not what we’re in it for. We haven’t gone crazy trying to do ROI on a lot of projects. In some cases there will be no pure dollar value. But we’re freeing people up to really add value for the client. And that’s been huge to us.”

From CMO magazine (a publication of CXO Media, Inc.), January 2006

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