by Jason Harrison. Everyone keeps saying “do more with less” but are we in adland prepared for the consequences?

I recently watched Chicken Little with my daughter and there’s a scene where this little rooster runs around hysterically shouting to the townsfolk, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” My daughter then asked me, “Dad, what does that mean?”

I told her that it was a saying that had been around for hundreds of years and it meant that the person saying it believed the world was coming to an end.

To which she responded, “But it’s not, Dad; it’s just a movie.” #kidssaythesmartestthings

Rallying mantra

It reminded me of the inevitable Predict-the-Future-of-our-Industry-January-Edition that contained another potent remix of “we are all doomed”, a smattering of Daft Punk’s “Harder. Better. Faster” added to a deep base track of “data, data, data”, and the seemingly viral rallying mantra of everyone: “Do more, with less.”

Of all the predictions, “do more with less” is the most-damaging narrative to buy into, in my view. I’m ashamed to say I even used it in a management meeting recently. I say ashamed because, when you think about it, it makes absolutely no sense as a statement whatsoever. It’s the equivalent of logistics company saying, “We need to drive double the distance, with half the petrol,” or a civil engineering company saying, “We need to build a skyscraper three times higher, with half the bricks,” or the government saying, “We need to double the electricity output, with just three pieces of wet coal.” (Too soon?)

In no realms of reality would that statement make sense or be accepted, except in our industry, where we’ve consistently demeaned and devalued the thing we all make as marketers and advertisers. It’s tantamount to everyone admitting to the CEO, “We don’t really know what it does anyway so, yes, we can certainly do much, much more of it… with less money, less time, less people and less critical thinking.”

In a world gone mad, where the amount of complexity, clutter and confusion has reached an unbearable high, does the world really need MORE communication? And are we prepared for the consequences of more on our people — more mental illness, more anti-anxiety medication, more therapy, more burnout, more talent leaving for other industries?

Here’s a radical suggestion for this year: “Less with less.”

The following is attributed to Steve Jobs, “The hardest thing we do at Apple is constantly figuring out what not to do”.

So how do we do less this year?

If it’s good enough for Disney, it’s good enough for us

I’m reading a book by Bob Iger, The Walt Disney Company executive chairperson, called the Ride of a Lifetime. In it he writes about being interviewed as the COO to take over from the then current CEO, Michael Eisner. He goes through numerous interviews over a six-month period and his single-minded plan to reinvigorate the global phenomenon that is Disney comes down to three simple things:

  1. Devote disproportionate time and capital to the creation of high-quality branded content
  2. Embrace technology to its fullest extent to produce better content and reach more people
  3. Become a truly global company

Three things! Fifteen years later, he had the EXACT same strategy and it had enabled him to buy Pixar, Marvel, LucasFilm, 21st Century Fox and build the biggest-ever DisneyWorld experience in China, transforming it into a multi-billion-dollar company.

What would happen if you sat with your client and just picked three things that you were both going to back to make a massive difference to the fortunes of the brand this year, and the next, and the next? I bet the social media calendar would fall by the wayside pretty quickly…

“Less things. More focus. Bigger results…” I can hear the new Daft Punk remix already.

Chief simplicity officers

As a suit, your title is not “account executive” or “business director”; it’s “chief simplicity officer”. Your job is to cut away anything superfluous and provide absolute clarity and direction to everyone around you (including the client).

The clearer you can get, the less time is wasted on the wrong conversations, wrong briefs and wrong solutions. Move from one-page briefs, to one-paragraph briefs, to one-sentence briefs. This clarity of thought alone will create enormous amounts of time to consider things more deeply and meaningfully in the pursuit of the perfect solution.

What gets measured, gets done

One of my founding partners and our chief distiller loves to say, “What gets measured, gets done.” Think about how much of what you’re doing actually has any kind of tangible and understandable result attached to it. Surely, if you don’t understand what success looks like, then you’ll never know if what you’re doing is actually working?

The suit’ job is to push the client to define that single audacious end point we’re all aiming for and then get everyone in the room to take the tiger line to hit it. Having that audacious end point liberates the right conversation to decide what not to do, as the proverbial ‘scope octopus’ tries to escape the netted drawstring bag.

So, the next time someone says, “We need to do more with less”, you can respond, “Perhaps less with less is a smarter way to change the brand’s fortunes this year.”

Here’s to a radical year.

See also


Jason HarrisonJason Harrison started as a 23-year-old account executive at Ogilvy & Mather before moving to London five years later to run three agency teams in three different European countries. He joined his old mates again in 2011 as one of the founding partners of the M&C Saatchi Group at 33. He believes that creating beautifully simple solutions for an increasingly complex world will, in fact, save the world. His MarkLives column, “The Suit” is about inspiring and helping up-and-coming suits to be better at their craft. He is no longer on Twitter.

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2 replies on “The Suit: How about “less with less”?”

  1. Spot on, Jason! Deciding what not to do is hard, but single-minded focus works.

  2. Thanks for sharing… I think the original idea behind the statement wasn’t to ‘do more with less’ – but to ‘achieve more with less’… Do is one of those words that can mean a number of things… I think it is totally OK to expect to achieve more with less (depending on the situation) – but I do agree that ‘doing more’ – more activity that is, is rarely the right idea… And deciding what NOT to do is harder, and more valuable, than deciding what to do.

    Thanks for sharing – good food for thought!


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