One giant brief for mankind
You might have noticed a few programmes recently about the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landings. Just the one or two. So what the world really needs now is another blog about it. Especially one about lessons that can be learnt for creative agencies. But I also work for an agency that likes to work with ambitious people on ambitious projects and what was the moon landing if not that?
I’m a bit of a space geek despite being totally scientifically defective. Last week, my commute to work was taken up with the BBC’s awesome 13 Seconds to the Moon podcast. A brilliantly enthralling dissection of space travel that even I could comprehend. I can’t recommend listening to it enough.
So what can we take from the most ambitious, most expensive single feat that man has ever undertaken into what we do day to day?
Keep it focussed
One of the reasons NASA was able to pull this off was because it had a simple aim; to get man onto the moon and back in under a decade. Anything else was a distraction. Anything diverting or extraneous was removed. Call it a tight brief, if you want. If you know what you’ve got to achieve, it’s a hell of a lot of easier to do that. And make it inspirational too. Kennedy’s speech launching the programme is still spine-tinglingly good.
But there was also a very clear deadline. And nothing focusses the mind like a deadline. Especially with a client as scary as the US government.
Keep it clear
The communications between Houston and the crew on Apollo are amazing to hear. I started as a copywriter so listening to them is a lesson in brevity and clarity. Extra words get in the way when you’re dealing with mission-critical information. Just the facts delivered succinctly. Again, great for briefs.
Trust your team
Recruit wisely, recruit well and give people responsibility and trust and they’ll do their job. The average age of the Ground Control team was ridiculously low. Recruits came straight out of university and got on with it. The man who made the last minute call to okay the landing in final descent was 26. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough. Everyone knew what they had to do and had implicit trust in the rest of their team.
Use technology wisely
There’s the much bandied about story that most washing machines now have more computing power than the guidance systems in Apollo 11. It’s true, but misunderstood. NASA could have put more powerful machines in there, but they didn’t. The lander had to be super light and efficient; everything was stripped back for maximum efficiency to save weight. The tech used onboard did exactly what it needed to and not more. So the lesson here is what does the job really need? The tech that delivers results for the brand or the latest shiny thing for the sake of it?
Have a great narrative
The launch of Apollo 11 was nothing but spectacular. Over a million people came to see it happen live. It was photogenic and a stunning spectacular event. You could see where the money had gone. Call an immense piece of brand activation if you want, but at the core of it was a great idea and an utterly compelling narrative. People were engaged by it. Which meant when it came to the actual event, it didn’t matter that the initial pictures first came in sideways, were virtually unviewable and that sound was mainly static.
And have a hook
A great story has great lines. And ‘One small step, one giant leap’ is just a killer.
I’m about to turn blue. I’m out of here.