What Is A Tissue Session?

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We just had a very productive and positive TISSUE SESSION with a new client. On the drive out to see the client, I started thinking about an ad club luncheon where an account guy talked about “tissue sessions” and where the name originally came from. He said the term was used by agencies that are often left crying and reaching for tissues to wipe their tears away at these “working sessions”. While this sounds good in theory, it isn’t accurate.

I’d like to set the record straight on where the term comes from and why and how to set expectations properly so no agency should ever leave one in tears.

The term tissue session comes from the use of drafting or tracing paper, also called tissue paper, to draw up ideas. It’s an older term used from when art directors sketched a creative team’s IDEAS to show to their creative director. It harkens back to the days BEFORE there were computers …hard to imagine.

At the good agencies, where ideas come first and a great idea is still the most important way to move a client’s business forward, art directors sketch the creative team’s ideas up as quick layouts with a simple drawing and headline. The creative teams and the agency creative directors don’t want to waste time going to the computer and spending hours working on an idea that isn’t strong or is off strategy.

These tissue sessions begin most often between creative teams and their creative directors. Account planners and account directors are brought in after the CD is feeling comfortable with the concept or big idea. Very often, this is where the tissue sessions end and
computer “comping” begins.

There are a couple of reasons these tissues should also end up in front of clients. Having a tissue session with a new client, or a potential client, gives everyone time to work together and understand how the process is moving along. It’s good for both client and agency to get a chance to weigh in on the direction of creative and get an idea if the brief has lead the agency down the right path. Also there are no grandiose expectations set to see designed ads with beautiful photography and stylish typography. At tissue sessions, the focus is purely on the ideas and strategic platforms that have been built from the creative brief. The IDEA is king here, as it should be.

When the final execution of a great idea comes after a tissue session, or a few tissue sessions, everybody involved—from client to agency—can feel much more comfortable that hard costs of production are being spent wisely. And at this point, everyone involved in the process should have given input and addressed any concerns if there are any.

A tissue session is a critical check point along the way to success. If there are changes that need to be made, it’s much less difficult at this stage of the process. And that is why, if tissue sessions are properly managed and expectations properly set, nobody should ever leave one crying.

Update 5/18/14 (If you make it to this point in the post):
I want to share an excerpt from the best book on creative advertising that I’ve read in the last couple years. It’s John Hegarty’s book Hegarty on Advertising. It’s a wonderful book written by a truly brilliant Creative Director and agency owner. I think what he says about tissue sessions is pretty awesome even though it’s very different than the safe approach I’ve described above. He says, “Have you ever had to suffer a tissue meeting? All of us in advertising have at some point, haven’t we? For those that don’t know what I mean, count yourself lucky! A tissue meeting is a stage between strategy having been agreed between agency and the client and the final creative presentation. It’s a meeting where the agency shares a number of creative routes with the client. The idea behind a tissue meeting is to make the client feel happy and involved with the work they’re going to buy. All very reasonable, you might think, but brilliance is rarely reasonable.” He goes on to say, “Whoever came up with the completely stupid idea of tissue meetings should be taken out and shot. They are the invention of the predictable mind trying to make the unpredictable predictable.”

Read his book if you want to understand how the owner of a legendary creative agency thinks.

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