The problem with creative revolutions.

Why should creative be the preserve of creatives? Anyone can have an idea? Ideas don’t care who has them! Collaboration is the new way of working, don’t be so traditional.

Sound familiar?

Frankly, if your agency isn’t having a creative revolution you’re really not hanging with the cool kids.

But if you are, let’s assume that it is only the creative work your agency produces that is the subject of this type of ‘revolt’.

I mean, nobody seems to be saying Why should finance be the preserve of accountants?

Creative work has a tendency to appear quite sparkly and appealing by comparison.

Of course creativity has always been a collaborative process. Without a great strategy most creative ideas are just fluff and without account handling skill those ideas can die cruel and painful deaths. It’s all teamwork.

So what’s new?

Well now ‘silos’ is the new dirty word in adland.

Yes, silos…otherwise known as ‘departments’.

In last week’s Campaign magazine we have Anna Vogt (DLKW Lowe’s head of planning) ushering in a new age of Planning via more collaboration with creative teams. Planners now need to be involved in casting, music and directors treatments. Planners will be encouraged to pitch their own ideas alongside Creatives.

So, good news for all those student creatives wasting their time slogging it out on the streets of Soho and doing placements for years at agencies who never intend to hire them.

Just become a planner.

But what’s brought on this sudden rush to democratize creativity as if it’s been the sole preserve of an elite band of Artisans and perverts?

Maybe we should look at who or what is a creative?

Nobody ordains you at birth, nobody puts you in that department because you’re weirder, more socially inept, have a bigger ego or a better than average chance of wearing clothes twenty years too young for your age.

So where do we come from?

Say you wanted to have a creative brainstorm and you didn’t have any creatives in your agency. No problem because, well, Anyone can have good ideas right?

Well, let’s assume that Jenny from finance has a cracking idea during that brainstorm.

Okay, so Jenny has such a good idea and it becomes a famous campaign. The next time there’s a brainstorm or a creative brief and you don’t have any creatives because anyone can have a creative idea, Jenny is likely to be invited right?

In fact Jenny from finance keeps getting invited to those brainstorms until pretty soon someone thinks she should do this full time and actually another agency gets interested in Jenny to come and think up ideas in their agency and before she knows it she’s a…well…shit…this can’t be right…er…..Jenny is a…a fucking creative.

Well, we’re not inviting her to the next brainstorm for a start! Get me a planner!

That’s all we are. People who are quite good at coming up with ideas, and writing and having decent taste and solving problems laterally. After a while you can get pretty good at it if you keep doing it enough. You might even get to judge what is a good idea and what will and won’t work – based on your past experience.

Those people are called Creative Directors and they tend to have got there on the back of some decent advertising ideas they did before.

(This is of course no qualification for Creative Direction in its self but it’s a broad indicator).

The beauty of creative departments is that it’s a wonderful meritocracy. You come up with ideas that people like, someone will pay you for it. You don’t, and you have to find someone that will.

All the long beards and pink hair in the world can’t help an idealess creative.

You have no divine right to sit at the table of creativity without raw talent or a track record. But that doesn’t mean you can’t.

If you are that Jenny from accounts, go for it. Learn your craft, work at it and enjoy it because yes, literally anyone can be a creative. You just need to be able to come up with ideas all the time and to order. And your career will be ultimately judged by those ideas. I wonder if you are a planner pitching your idea alongside creatives, will you have the same level of terror at producing a turkey, if not for the client for your own reel and subsequent career?

“But we don’t want to be creatives, we want to be planners who have creative ideas.”

So what of agency creative revolutions? Is the time right to throw out your creatives and replace them with circus performers?

A few years back it was crowd sourcing that was going to revolutionise creativity.

In August 2010 Pepperami decided to ditch their agency and crowd-source their new TV campaign. Out of 1,200 entries by the general public the £10,000 prize money was won by a….yes you guessed it, a freelance fucking creative team.

 I mean what is the point of a creative revolution if all the creatives keep coming up with the ideas!!!!

Take the real life case history from Harvard Business school concerning an agency in Stockholm who had decided to shake things up creatively. The MD had replaced the award winning Creative Directors with his head of strategy. He put production in charge of pitches, he made creatives do strategy and turned everything on its head. He wanted to revolutionise things and not have prima-donnas (AKA creatives) getting in the way of the work.

He hired technicians, artists, inventors and theatre directors.

Two prima-donnas bad, four random specialists good!

Now, to be fair, the agency has been very successful, but advertising has become only 20% of their business. Inventing things has taken over. So be it.

So what became of the new CD?

Turned out that he had to ‘let him go’ as within a couple of months he was seen as getting in the way of ideas and being counter productive, rather like a…er….Creative Director you might say.


So since then he has done without any CDs and had ‘project leads’ do the job.

So, still got creative leads then.

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”



5 thoughts on “The problem with creative revolutions.

Add yours

  1. Great think piece!

    I firmly believe that everyone is creative if they allow themselves to simply express the semi-formed thoughts that enter their heads; but it is only a subset of people who have the skills, time and (dare I say it?) creativity to create.

    When I was Associate CD at Medicus in Toronto, I would routinely invite anyone who could break away from their desk to help brainstorm an interesting challenge, and I think everyone appreciated the opportunity to contribute because, as you rightly said, Creative can seem like such a sparkly bauble.

    And I think the Creative team appreciated the sharing as it is easy for even the most creative of creatives to get stuck in their heads, dashing themselves against tree after tree without ever seeing the forest.

    At the end of the day (or at least the brainstorm), however, it was up to the Creative team to take those raw ideas and turn them into something that might service the client’s wants and hopefully needs (subject of a completely different discussion). I worked with some amazing people of all stripes.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  2. A good idea could come from a planner or even the client. I think the CD has to acknowledge that and make those ideas better or come up with a better idea themselves.The problem arises when the CD’s notion of a good idea conflicts with that of his or her colleagues, the client or – worse still – the target audience, as described by a market research agency that earns more in a few days than the CD earns for the total account. Good advertising ideas sell things. Good advertising that sells and is also recognised by CDs as good advertising is better.

  3. Really interesting read and certainly a topic of conversation that is on-trend. I firmly believe that lowering the barriers between departments (not removing them) is the future. Of course, there are certain qualities and traits that make art directors and copywriters great at what they do. The same goes for both planners and account handlers. This must be treasured. But encouraging more collaboration amongst one another rather than hiding behind strict ‘departmental’ roles ensures we can continue to challenge each other, that there is rigour to our thought and ultimately that we (as more informed individuals) can execute our specialities more accurately, leading to a richer output (be it a brief, a proposition, a ‘big idea’, a tactic etc. etc.) I think we should make every department across the agency subject to this ‘revolt’, not just the creative work. I for one, applaud the decision from DLKW Lowe to encourage collaboration and hope it spreads beyond the Planning department.

    1. Sorry for the tardy reply. I think collaboration has always been at the core of successful work. I am certainly not advocating any kind of rejections of the normal cut and thrust. But in recent months I have come across certain clients and agencies who simply don’t respect the talents that are inherent in good creatives. It has become some sort of game to play as light relief from the real business of advertising, namely strategy and planning. People often mistake imagination for a creative idea, or value the creatives ability to put it together as the main remit of their art directors or writers. This is not enough creative sustenance for most creatives that I know.
      By all means include planners and other team members, I know I do. But if you remove all responsibility from a creative team to come up with the ideas and make them compete with the entire agency it shows a lack of understanding and respect for what we do.
      And ultimately maybe you’ll find truly creative people will seek other jobs where they can flex their muscles with more freedom. And that can’t be good for advertising as a whole. By the way – thanks for your comments!

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