The Road Less Traveled
A few weeks ago I took a relatively unplanned road trip through the Balkans. Besides pointing to some unpronounceable eastern European city names on a map and saying, “yeah, we should probably check that out,” and lining up a friendly Serbian tour guide—a friend of a friend—who agreed to “be guru for Belgrade, to show all things worth seeing, and maybe some things not worth seeing” (in his words), we planned virtually nothing in advance. My philosophy on traveling is that the best experiences are the spontaneous ones—but that doesn’t mean you should lose sight of your goals for the trip, or that you shouldn’t have goals at all. I knew I wanted to see crumbling Soviet-era buildings. I knew I wanted to see the Croatian coast, and I knew I wanted to try the pizza in every country I visited. I knew I would accomplish those things, but didn’t know exactly how. And that’s where the real excitement comes in.
As a natural planner, it takes a lot for me to leave a trip to chance. My day as a Brand Coordinator consists of looking at schedules, planning meetings and meticulously proofing copy, so you can imagine how strange it was for me to embark upon a trip with almost no itinerary. I realized, however, that more important than an itinerary were my overarching goals. At Mechanica it’s important to always keep the broader objective in mind, to remember the client’s chief needs while creating an agile framework to help you execute. Giving yourself the freedom to be flexible, change direction, and make creative pivots is key. Encouraging unconventional thinking and wandering that unplanned path often leads to the most inspired ideas, and goes a long way toward meeting those goals—whether it’s a broad strategic positioning or a Governing Brand Idea.
Often when building out a brand’s platform, we present various directions to a client before settling on one, and even then it requires significant tinkering before moving forward. To offer a single direction that the client loves immediately would be great, but the process of trial and error, of multiple iterations and continued brainstorming, makes that end result even sweeter. Really living with a concept or goal for a few weeks, thinking through all the obstacles, and coming up with creative solutions, make my day as a Brand Coordinator truly unpredictable and exciting.
Similarly, it’s the unplanned pivots that I remember most from my Balkans trip. The last-minute midnight drive from Bosnia to Croatia. Stumbling upon a waterfall just off a side road. Having dinner with an eccentric Macedonian farmer in the middle of nowhere. These are fonder memories than any picture I have of a beautiful building in a well-trafficked capital.
That’s not to say structure should be wholly discarded—just be careful that plans don’t become prisons (thankfully, I managed to avoid an actual Serbian prison). And if an agency is going to do its best, most inspired work, it needs to be as agile as the traveler.