Outcome-Focused Creativity

Working backwards to create success

By Robb Wagner

A few years back I visited a major broadcast executive in her luxury Manhattan office suite. During the visit, she asked me what I had been working on recently. Then, I told her that I had been doing outcome-focused creative work. And, she asked what that meant.

To explain what I meant, I told this broadcast executive about my 2012 intro meeting with Carnival, the world’s largest cruise line. And, how Carnival had retained a world-class consulting agency to tell them who their future customer would be. Further, the consultancy told Carnival what kind of entertainment experiences their future customers would want. Moreover, the consultancy was headhunting creatives from every corner of the entertainment world, myself included, to help Carnival execute this strategy. And, Carnival listened.

Subsequently, the broadcast executive said to me, “Wow Robb. You can’t imagine how frustrating it is for me to be part of a big, slow-moving industry like broadcast, where executives think they know what people want, then order a pilot, show it to a focus group, and green-light millions of dollars for a series, only to see the project fail. And then they wonder why.”

Now, jump ahead nine years to 2021. I recently received a phone call from the development division of a major broadcasting network. They asked if my studio would be interested in developing creative assets for their in-house development projects, and had one immediate project that I could help with. Then, they told me about the idea for the first presentation. Next, after hearing about the presentation idea I asked the network how they knew it was something the audience wanted. And then, I was told they didn’t. And, that a network executive is ‘just going to make the decision to go straight to series based on his gut feeling after watching the presentation’.

Now I’m the one saying wow because that just sounds crazy to me. Especially for an industry that is losing audience share in double-digit landslides. And, I kindly passed on the offer, because the network didn’t have an outcome that I could help them achieve. They wanted creative work to be done. But to what end? If I don’t know what success looks like, how can I help create success?

I often quote Steve Jobs, who summed this idea up. “We don’t hire smart people so we can tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” -Steve Jobs.

Certainly, I’m not calling myself smart. But, I am quoting a business philosophy that I believe in and practice. For instance, in my upcoming book, I talk about how to give feedback to artists on their work. To clarify, I always justify my feedback to artists. That is to say, when I give feedback to artists, I let them know the outcome we’re trying to create with the work, so they can use their minds to help me achieve the outcome. As a result, I get better work.

Above all, when I take on a project for my studio the first thing I want to know is what success looks like. Then, I want to know how success is measured. From there, I want to work backward and reverse engineer a path that creates the desired outcome. Of course, all the while collaborating with the project’s key stakeholders.

Steve Jobs said this too. “You have to start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology.” -Steve Jobs

My recent experience talking with the broadcast network that was about to spend millions of dollars without an outcome-focus made me reflect. That is to say, it reminded me of the gratification and success that comes with outcome-focused creativity. Below are some of my favorite case studies from the past 15 years.

Def Leppard Tour

In 2006 Def Leppard approached me about developing their first-ever multimedia concert tour. Next, I thought about the outcome that I could help Def Leppard create designing multimedia content for large LED displays on stage. Then, I imagined how amazing it would be for fans who are in their 30s and 40s to feel like they are teenagers again. And, I asked the band if stirring their fans’ emotions by using archival footage to take them back in time felt right. Subsequently, the band agreed. So, with an outcome in mind, I asked singer Joe Elliott for full access to Def Leppard’s video archive, and he willingly handed me the keys. Firstly, there were dozens of DVDs, brimming with candid behind-the-scenes footage from tour busses, recording sessions, and concerts. Secondly, I asked Joe if I could use everything in the archive, or if I needed to be cautious or sensitive about which footage I integrated into the multimedia content design. And, I’ll never forget the moment when Joe paused, looked up toward the ceiling and said, “It is what it is.” I thought that was so rock and roll. Moreover, I took the signal as my green light to design a modern multimedia concert experience with a nostalgic emotional layer of archival footage woven throughout. And, the first time I heard ten thousand fans singing “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, accompanied by the nostalgic multimedia in the video screens, I knew that we had accomplished the outcome we set out to create.

“When we first saw what Robb had done, we didn’t change a thing. I spent the next six months taking compliments night after night from friends, from colleagues and fans whose comments only cemented our beliefs that we’d done something really special. Thanx Robb, let’s do it again only BIGGER!!!! – Joe Elliott, Def Leppard

Disney’s High School Musical: The Concert Tour

That same year, Disney wanted to transform their existing TV movie asset, High School Musical, into something brand new. Further, into something that people had never experienced before. To clarify, the studio wanted to transform its hit High School Musical TV movie into a first-of-its-kind concert experience, where the stars from the movie would sing live on the concert stage, and trade-off call and response verses and choruses with more filmed stars from the movie, only in the giant LED displays. To help accomplish this, I worked with Disney and Director Kenny Ortega to reverse-edit the TV movie. First, I obtained unused daily footage from Disney. Next, I worked with my team to give new life to scenes that were not destined to be part of the TV movie’s final edit. And, the concert was so successful domestically, that it created international demand. Further, this international concert tour generated tens of millions of dollars for Disney. Above all, Disney achieved their desired outcome of adding even more value to the TV movie asset they already had.

Disney’s Hannah Montana 3D Concert Film

In 2007 Disney had a runaway concert tour success with its Miley Cyrus: Hannah Montana Best of Both Worlds 3D concert. But the concert was so over-sold that it inadvertently left millions of kids heartbroken, because they couldn’t get tickets. Then, Disney decided to create a 3D concert film with the outcome of mending all of the broken hearts. And this desired outcome influenced our creative decision-making. That is to say, if the kids couldn’t attend the concert, they could attend the film. So, the 3D film experience would have to be as good or better than being at the concert. As a result, this caused our creative decisions to be focused on making kids feel as if they really attended a concert event. For instance, we decided not to hide the cameras from each other. Instead, we purposely blocked the behemoth 3D cameras into the frame, which created more immersion, as if moviegoers were inside the arena. And this helped erase the line between fantasy and reality for the audience. My part was live-directing the principal 3D photography under the supervision of Director Bruce Hendricks. Principal photography had to be completed in a single night because it was the only chance for Disney to get the filming done around a concert tour in motion. Further, reshoots would be impossible because of the rigorous tour schedule. In conclusion, we got it done and the film went on to become the second-highest-grossing concert film ever. Moreover, Disney created the outcome of giving all those kids a chance to fill their hearts and experience the concert, albeit in a different medium. What’s more, Disney added even more value to the concert asset that it already had.

Michael Jackson’s This Is It

In 2009, Michael Jackson wanted to give his fans the greatest comeback concert ever. What’s more, he wanted to take his legacy as the world’s greatest music video artist to a new height with the addition of a 3D multimedia experience at the concerts. To clarify, Michael’s idea was to integrate a first-of-its-kind 3D LED display into the concert stage. Then, the pre-filmed 3D footage in the LED screen would supernaturally converge with the live-action performances taking place on the stage in front of the display. Moreover, Michael’s big idea was to erase the line between fantasy and reality for the concert-going audience. Meanwhile, I was summoned to a clandestine meeting where I was introduced to Michael by his co-director, Kenny Ortega. Subsequently, I was commissioned to oversee all of the 3D film and video production, and Stimulated-Inc. was commissioned as the production company for the 3D project. Consequently, Stimulated-Inc. took over 3 sound stages at Culver Studios, where Michael had filmed his legendary Smooth Criminal music video. And, we completed filming over six long but very exciting weeks. Subsequently and very sadly, Michael passed during the concert production rehearsals. As a result, Michael’s outcome of giving his fans the greatest comeback concert ever was in doubt. But then, Sony acquired the film rights to the behind the scenes and rehearsal footage of the tour. In addition, the studio could have chosen to focus the film on rumored behind-the-scenes controversies. Instead, it chose to focus on Michael’s desired outcome, and told the story about the King of Pop staging the greatest comeback concert ever. Further, Sony wanted to give Michael’s fans a chance to appreciate what the tour would have been. So, Sony asked me to finish my work so it could be integrated into the feature film. Because, as Sony put it, Stimulated-Inc.’s work was the only part of the tour that could be completed without Michael. And, Sony’s film went on to gross hundreds of millions at the box office, while preserving Michael’s legacy as the King of Pop. Above all, the film achieved the outcome of giving Michael’s fans a chance to experience the greatest comeback concert ever.

YouTube Music Awards

In 2013, Oscar winner Spike Jonze wanted to create music videos that were filmed live, in real-time, in front of an audience and live-streamed on YouTube. To clarify, this was Spike’s outcome-focused creative direction for YouTube’s first-ever music award show, the YouTube Music Awards. And, unlike traditional award shows that stage one-off ‘performances’, Spike wanted to create the same kind of music video that is played on platforms like YouTube and Vevo. That is to say, the same kind of music video that is traditionally filmed on a soundstage, or on location over several days, with weeks-long post-production. But, Spike wanted to film them live. The artists included world-class performers such as Lady Gaga, Arcade Fire, Eminem, and MIA. But, there were people involved with the project who pushed back on Spike’s idea, stating it couldn’t be done. But, my job as the Producer of the project was to make it happen for Spike. And that’s what we did. The Live Cinema music videos we filmed that night in front of an audience went on to earn tens of millions of views for YouTube and the artists. Moreover, the views added up to about one-third of the Super Bowl viewing audience. And, Spike Jonze achieved his desired outcome. To sum it up, without Spike’s creative vision, the YouTube Music Awards would have likely been another ephemeral blip in a long list of award shows. Instead, it achieved the outcome of creating music videos that people can still watch, remember, share and talk about today.

Carnival Cruise Line

In 2012, Carnival Cruise Line embarked on its journey of stepping up into the entertainment big leagues with the desired outcome of giving its next generation of customers what they wanted and more. As I mentioned in email #1, Carnival retained a world-class consulting agency to tell them who their future customer would be. Further, the consultancy told Carnival what kind of entertainment experiences their future customers would want. Moreover, the consultancy headhunted creatives from every corner of the entertainment world, myself included, to help execute the strategy. And, for the past ten years, I have worked with Carnival to not only develop and produce multimedia entertainment. But also to get to know its customers and develop in a way that we hope always surprises and delights them. What’s more, Carnival invests a lot of work into understanding and having empathy for its customers. To clarify, I work with Carnival’s in-house creative development team to observe, understand and know the audience, while we develop entertainment for them. Moreover, when customer research isn’t completely clear, Carnival’s in-house team is relentless about drilling down into the psyche of their guests to extract the real emotional data, so it can give them what they truly want. The outcome for Carnival’s effort has been the highest-ever customer ratings and customer satisfaction. Unfortunately for Carnival, the cruise industry was hard hit by the pandemic. Now, I am helping Carnival plan and execute their post-pandemic return to service, using the same outcome-focused creativity that created all the earlier successes.

So it makes sense that when I meet with potential clients, one of the first things I want to qualify them with is whether they have an outcome that they want to create. For instance, I recently received a call from a casino that told me they wanted to create ‘eye candy’ for a new LED display. But, eye candy is not an outcome. Similarly, it is incapable of creating value that can be measured. In conclusion, it is inert. And, there’s no way to prove success.

On the other hand, our studio recently became engaged with an industry-leading med-tech company whose products are designed to benefit humanity. And the company’s stakeholders are able to articulate what a successful outcome looks like. Moreover, they are able to articulate the emotions that they want to stir and the messages they want to deliver. Knowing these desired outcomes will let me and my creative team work backward, to reverse engineer a multimedia content solution that stirs all of the desired emotions for the audience. Moreover, it will enable us to develop an outcome-focused experience with measurable results that can be improved over time.

In conclusion, outcome-focused creativity can let companies achieve new heights in business success. But, it requires a mindset shift. To sum it up, without being outcome-focused, can you really use creativity to drive success?

Robb Wagner is an experiential artist, creative advisor to global brands, founder of Stimulated-Inc., and author of the upcoming Hybrid Creative Playbook.

“Live your best creative work life.” -Robb Wagner

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Live your best creative work life.

By Robb Wagner

Living your best creative work life requires two pieces. Firstly, doing what you love. Secondly, not having to do what you don’t. Case study: @stimulatedinc, my own creative studio where I developed a framework that let us eliminate thousands of hours of non-creative work for each project we take on.

For instance, our team will deliver over 22,000 seconds of original, high-level animated content in the first half of 2021. However, we will never have to do the following non-creative work.

  • We never have to search for artists
  • We never have to assign work to artists
  • We never have to jump around between sites
  • We never have to do project management
  • We never have to wade through emails
  • We never have to worry about being disrupted
  • We never have to have too many technologies
  • We never have to give artists instructions
  • We never have to do inefficient, costly, and exhausting work
  • We never have to work without a framework

Eliminating these pain-points from our creative work lives eliminated thousands of hours of zero-return, high-strain, non-creative work for myself and my team. Whatsmore, I could convert these found hours into high-value creative work. Most importantly, this benefits all of our stakeholders, from our internal team, to our remote workforce, to our clientele.

Kicking non-creative work out of your way before you trip and fall over it isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. Here’s my approach. Firstly, start by forecasting any problem that might hurt your ability to keep ahead of the world’s evolving creative needs. Secondly, imagine a framework that would let you head off those problems before they become problems. Thirdly, design and build the framework. Finally, implement the framework. 

The frameworks I develop always include a technique, a set of rules, and technology to simplify complex workflows. I’ve been doing it for my entire career, from my earliest days as a post production supervisor until today. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Off-the-shelf solutions never work, because there’s only one of you and your unique set of problems. Experimenting with off-the-shelf solutions, or improvising with them will only cost you time and money while you fail to find a real solution that helps you thrive.

If this sounds like a lot of work it is. But immediate gratification is also possible by leveraging an existing framework. For instance, Stimulated.Works, the content production resource for agencies. This helps advertising, marketing, and digital agencies to produce high-level digital advertising and marketing content without having to search for talent or manage artists.

-lrn.

#TipTuesday #CreativeWork #MarketingAgency

Assigning Work Isn’t Working

by Robb Wagner

When you assign work to an artist, will you really get their best work? You’ll never find out until you try something different. For instance, what if you could let artists read job briefs and tell you what jobs excite them? Would you get better work? I wanted to find out, so nine years ago I designed a bidding system into Stimulated.Works. Now my production team could post briefs with all the details and specs of our animation, motion, development & design jobs. And when we click to make our jobs ‘Live’, all of our curated artists can see them. This lets our curated artists see every detail of the job, including creative requirements, technical specs, budgets and dates. If an artist sees a job that excites them, they click to submit a bid. These bids are mini job applications that let our production team know which curated artists are capable, available and onboard with the job terms. Bids can arrive within minutes and work often starts right away.

So, did this get us better work? You bet it did. Today our curated artists often exceed our expectations, which is what we have come to expect of them. Better work comes naturally due to the Stimulated.Works technique. To sum it up, our technique is the opposite of assigning work, and another case study in how to fix a broken system called creative work.

Learn more about Stimulated-Works.

-learn.

Transforming music into a visual art form.

The visual history of Stimulated-Inc. #1

Stimulated-Inc. is celebrating its 16th anniversary and we want to commemorate this milestone in a big way. Since we couldn’t throw a sweet-sixteen party due to Covid, we decided to do something we love instead- tell our story through visual art and media. 

Our curiosity for doing new things inspired us to turn our Instagram gallery into a creative showcase of years past. Over the next four weeks we will roll out a series of visual works inspired by our sixteen-year history. Our storyline will unfold as we reveal each art piece- beginning with this one. 

This image pays tribute to our roots in transforming music-television and concerts into heart-pounding, ears-bleeding, cortical-singing fan experiences.

In 2004, our visionary, Robb Wagner, saw the potential for big LED screens to be used in completely different ways. He saw them not as just an extension of lighting or scenery, but rather as an extension of narrative and story. Robb committed himself to raising the bar for these big screens, and launched Stimulated-Inc. as the antidote to mundane cut-and-paste visual content. In 2005 Stimulated-Inc. stormed the industry, bringing big video screens to life in seemingly impossible ways. The studio instantly stepped into a role as an industry-leader, being noticed and recruited by the “77th Annual Academy Awards” and the “MTV Video Music Awards” in its first year. 

Historic Factoid: The 2005, water-themed VMAs took place in Miami and the rehearsal was shut down when hurricane Katrina ripped through southern Florida. Look for the fishes in our visual story. After the storm, the show went on and Robb spearheaded P. Diddy’s virtual duet with the late Notorious B.I.G., and grew Shakira into a 30-foot high Queen of Latin Music. During this event Stimulated-Inc. also gave My Chemical Romance the visual superpowers they needed to pump the audience’s heart with an explosive performance of “Helena”.

Over the next five years, Stimulated-Inc. went on to transform music show-by-show and concert-by-concert, for the biggest tv networks, music artists and millions of fans the world-over.

A-list artists included Beyonce, The Pussycat Dolls, Foo Fighters and Michael Jackson. Major broadcast events included The “MTV Video Music Awards”, “MTV Movie Awards” and “VH1 Rock Honors”. Significant global events included “Live Earth, The Concerts For A Climate In Crisis”. Other global music events included “Disney’s High-School Musical, The Concert Tour”. For Disney, Robb and his team worked with film director Kenny Ortega to create a new, interactive kind of concert experience, where live stars on stage traded verses and choruses with pre-filmed stars on the big screens. To achieve this Robb and his team reverse-edited Disney’s TV film and turned it into something new.

From this point on, Stimulated-Inc.’s method of Experiential Transformation started to emerge and the studio became focused on the radical creativity that drove this project to success. Robb Wagner coined the term Hyper-Transformation, which meant taking a brand’s existing assets and transforming them into something that people have simply never experienced before. During this period Stimulated-Inc. became a go-to for other industries that were eager to try new things. 

In film, Stimulated-Inc. helped Disney and Sony make two of the top-three grossing concert-films of all time. In 2007, Stimulated-Inc. was chosen as the live directing company by Disney for its “Disney’s Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds 3D” concert film, and in 2009 by Sony, as a creative producer of “Michael Jackson’s This Is It”. During this technologically-explosive era in entertainment history, live music was transformed into a visual artform, and Stimulated-Inc. was at the center of this Experiential Transformation.

If you were part of our story, or even if you weren’t, please share a comment. And please follow our Instagram @stimulatedinc to see our visual story series unfold over the next four weeks.

COVID-19: RAPIDLY ADAPTING TO REMOTE CREATIVE WORK

By Robb Wagner

With so many in-house agency and other creative teams being forced to work remotely, I want to offer my help. In the short videos below I’m sharing insights gained over seven years overseeing large-scale remote creative projects. I have included a link at the bottom of this blog for anyone that wants to reach out with questions. Stay safe and be well.

1. SHIFT YOUR THINKING FROM PROJECTS TO JOBS (:36)

2. CREATE STRONG BRIEFS TO GET THE BEST WORK (:27)

3. IMPLEMENT PROCEDURES OR LOSE CONTROL (:18)

4. USE A SERIAL NUMBER TO ID EACH JOB IN PRODUCTION (:34)

5. IDENTIFY AND NAME EACH STAGE OF YOUR PROCESS (:49)

6. A SIMPLE WAY TO ORGANIZE ITERATIONS (2:01)

7. ONLINE SERVICES ARE A PROBLEM TO OVERCOME (1:34)

8. COMMUNICATION IS ANOTHER PROBLEM TO SOLVE (:35)

9. I’M HERE TO HELP (:38)

WE WANT TO HELP YOU PUSH THROUGH THE CRISIS. SCHEDULE A FREE CALL WITH ROBB WAGNER TO DISCUSS YOUR SPECIFIC SITUATION.