I was discussing what we do at Storythings recently with Ben Lunt, and we were talking about a interesting pattern we’d seen in some of the agencies and companies we really admire. Traditionally, creative businesses focused on delivering services for clients or consultancy work, but many of the most interesting companies also have products, events or services that they run themselves.
For example – BERG have the excellent Little Printer (the first part of the bigger BERG Cloud idea); Hide and Seek are launching Tiny Games on Kickstarter in the next couple of days; RIG started the brilliant Newspaper Club years ago; Mint Digital have launched a few products, including Stickygram; Telegraph Hill have recently launched their own Youtube channel The Fox Problem; The Church of London started by running excellent magazines like Little White Lies, and have now spun out their own agency Human After All; John Willshere’s Smithery makes the lovely Artefact cards, and Clearleft run numerous events including the excellent Dconstruct. At Storythings, we have been running our event The Story for four years now, and have recently published our first book – hopefully the first of many.
These aren’t just ‘20% time’ projects, or one off things the companies are doing to jump on a bandwagon and get a quick bit of profile in the design press – they’re ongoing commitments to making and running something that feels core to the work they companies are doing. These projects aren’t just ways to rehearse ideas that you might then get clients to pay for – they’re fully realised things in themselves, wholly owned by the companies, not their clients.
The advantages of owning projects that you run for a long time are many. You get to learn about all sorts of interesting logistical and regulatory issues, whether that’s working with manufacturers across the globe, shipping products from warehouses to customers, running a crowd funding campaign, or making sure venues are suitable for audiences at an event.
Most of all, you get to deal with people – customers or audiences – directly, regularly, and for a long period of time. Rather than seeing people as numbers reported back to you by a client at the end of a project, you learn what it means to build a loyal user base, how to respond to people’s questions and demands, and what to do when something goes wrong.
This isn’t the short burst of contact you get on a campaign. It’s a deep relationship that only gets more interesting and valuable over time, as the feedback you get starts to change your ideas about the project. Your projects start to become things that are owned jointly by you and your audience/users/customers, creating their own velocity and momentum. These Long Projects pay off in lots of ways that aren’t measured in commissions, funding or awards (although they sometimes lead to all these things).
It feels like this is an integral part of running a creative company now. Alongside the things you know (your consultancy/strategy skills), and the things you do (your making/producing skills), there are the things you own – the long-running projects that help us understand what it feels like to make culture now, and that in many ways define who we are and what we do.