Forget War Rooms, let’s work in Scenius Studios.

I get annoyed by the prejudice our industry has for solo genius. Column inches, pay packets and industry accolades are still peddled to the superstar geniuses of agencies.

But the challenges we now face require the contribution of a variety of individuals with a variety of talents, from a variety of agencies. In this era of fragmentation and specialism, we need to bring together planners, researchers and creatives from different disciplines to solve the toughest marketing problems. Marketing has become a post-genius industry.

I’ve spent a lot of time writing about Scenius recently. The term ‘scenius’ was coined by the musician Brian Eno. The word combines “scene” and “genius”, to emphasise that genius is the talent of an individual but scenius is the talent of the collective.

Eno’s argument is that great work emerges out of intelligent “scenes”. In these scenes, groups of people are inspired by one another, they push boundaries and they reward each other for taking risks. Leicester City’s triumph is a good example of Scenius. Other examples are The National Theatre, 1990s Brit Pop, The Manhattan Project and The Government Digital Service.

Scenius provides a model for how agencies can continue to produce brilliantly effective work. I’ve written a fair bit about the actions agencies need to harness Scenius, but in this post I want to focus on one in particular.

An infamous location

The location of a Scenius is an essential ingredient of its success. The most creative and productive scenes take place in legendary places. Los Alamos for the Manhattan Project, La Masia for Barcelona FC, Cupertino for Apple.

There are three reasons the location of a Scenius is important. First, to create Scenius you need members of the scene need to meet and form bonds. Second, you need shared spaces for knowledge and ideas to be exchanged and third, you need a forum to celebrate successes.

The office as a creative instrument

We all tend to be well supplied with techniques for how to have good ideas. But we don’t know enough about the spaces where good ideas happen. Yes, we may have our best ideas in the shower, but unless we’re prepared to install more showers in our agencies, we need to make the best of our office spaces. We need to design collaborative spaces where Scenius can emerge.

My favourite APG case study is the Honda Cogs campaign. It’s a wonderful story about an outstanding piece of work. There is so much to admire: the Wieden & Kennedy team, the idea, its production, Garrison Keillor’s voice and Russell Davies’s account of how the work was developed.

But for me the real star of the case study is the W&K’s office. The team created a space in the office where a team of Creatives and Planners came together, let go their lone genius tendencies and started creating work, guided by a ‘house style’ of Honda.The team used the room as a creative instrument in itself and as a result, Scenius emerged. The following is an excerpt from the case study:

We wanted a way that strategic and creative people could collaborate on strategic and executional decisions, before we got on with making the advertising.

So we suggested that our first task, our tool for simultaneous creative and strategic exploration, should be a book designed to sit in the glove-box of every new Honda and explain The Power of Dreams.

It was simply a thinking tool for exploring the Honda voice with maximum creative flexibility and maximum strategic input.

We found quotes and images which expressed the Honda voice. We scribbled poems and doodles and thoughts which did the same… It was real creative/strategic endeavour, not just playing. Then we stuck it all on the wall and worked out what felt like Honda and what didn’t. We wanted a ton of different approaches which still all felt like Honda.

A week of thought and hair-tearing gave us what we needed; a ‘brand brief’ which outlined Honda’s voice; something which integrated what we say and how we say it; the strategic/attitudinal backbone for two years of creative work.

I think we should emulate Russell Davies by creating these studio spaces within their offices. I call them Scenius Studios.

Scenius Studios — The collective brain of a team

Picture source:

A Scenius studio is at its best the collective brain of an agency team. Campaign development might become akin to competitive group therapy. The aim is to gather a group of people who can work well together, challenge each other, play well together and complement each others’ strengths.

If you get the right people into the room (which is probably a small cross-agency team) you can assemble contributions not just into strategies or ideas but an overall feeling for what a year’s worth of activity is going to be like.

Get a room!

The nature of the challenges that lay before us, require the contribution of many individuals from a variety of disciplines. Marketing is now a post-genius discipline. To that end, we need to design our working practices to create Scenius. Scenius emerges when a variety of complementary factors align. The next time a big brief comes into the agency, get a room and turn it into a Scenius Studio.

Article adapted from this piece published on the APG website

Like what you read? Give Scott Brenman a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.