Creativity, Anyone?


“I’m not creative.” I get it all the time and I say get over it. You are, I am, the whole world is, or at least it would be if we didn’t beat it out of ourselves by age 18 . The scariest part is I find the divide worse off in the places where it should be furthest from existence: advertising agencies. By the very fact that there is a “creative department” we run into an exclusionary issue. What seems like a harmless label to describe the work of one department thereby tells other departments they do not deserve that label. In other words, “this department is creative and yours isn’t, so there.” *sticks out tongue*

Call it psycho babble, but I think this has a profound effect on the motivation and quality of thinking in the work place. Do I have study results showing direct correlation? Nope, but the gut feeling is there and remains whenever I interview for a position. I don’t just want to work in a creative department, I want to work in a creative agency–the type of environment that fosters creativity through all levels and department positions. Let the ideas lead and let them generate from everywhere and anyone. Few agencies put enough emphasis on this prospect although some are getting there.

CPB Group has it listed directly within their employee handbook on page 7 under “Your Sensei.” It is said that you are assigned a mentor called a sensei and “most importantly, your sensei will be in a different department than you. We have found that departments are necessary to get the work done, but we have also found that the more people ignore departmental boundaries, the better it is for the work. That is why it is always a good idea when media people come up with creative ideas, and creatives come up with planning solutions, and production people come up with media ideas, and so on and so forth. For this cross-pollination to happen, you will have to become comfortable in the other departments and what they do.”

R/GA is another example which has created their own model to address their focus on digital services. Taken from the July/Aug 2009 issue of Communication Arts, “the agency has been set up so that groups work in multi-disciplined teams–technologists partner with copywriters, designers, researchers and planners. The teams collaborate on projects from start to finish, instead of handing off ideas to separate departments or outside suppliers.” Because the ideas can flow easily between copywriter, producer, et al, the end result does not become disjointed, nor does it require longer turn-around time due to volleys of e-mails just to stay on the same page. If isolation is an issue with departments, what do you about multiple agency locations? Employee growth has caused R/GA to take its commitment a step further with a newly-minted program series called R/GA University; creating open thought provision across disciplines and departments within their entire network–that is putting your size to use. The message is clear; if your departments (or agency locations) are isolated, then your work might as well be outsourced.

As for those tiny creative hot shops that you hear about? Thanks to their smaller size it usually allows greater ease of communication and project awareness between all the staff.

The result: Love’em or hate’em, these agencies have produced consistently successful work at all levels. All three examples allow ease of communication between department levels and a shared sense of effort toward the common goal of improving the client. It’s no longer every department for herself, it’s every agency for her client.

Though I haven’t yet worked at these agencies, I can attest to their models. When I worked on the National Student Advertising Competition at Emerson College in 2008, we adopted a similar approach. Every day started and ended with a live update from each department presented to the rest of our team. We always knew what everyone else was doing and it was made clear that anyone could drop by a department to contribute their thoughts even if they weren’t officially within that department. In effect, this led to better thinking across the board and allowed us to hone some initially far-flung concepts into leaner, pitch-ready executions.

And yet, only a small percentage of company cultures embrace these progressive models. In an age where companies can thrive solely from the power of an open source model, it’s amazing how many still fail to trust the untapped creativity beyond the walls of their creative department.

Imagine that impact on the business. A creative idea in research might mean doing something non-traditional. Maybe focus groups and surveys aren’t the answer this time. Perhaps if you fostered creativity in that department they would feel inclined to go the innovative route for gathering qualitative data. Creativity in media planning is just as important. Where is it being placed? When are things top of mind for your audience? If your media team is willing to be as creative as the messaging it is given, it will work hard to both imagine and execute on the best ways to reach your audience. Or, even better, the media team will have a great idea that lives outside its department while other departments provide great ideas that live within media.

In point, every department should be a creative department.



Filed under Ideas, Marketing/Advertising

3 responses to “Creativity, Anyone?

  1. this is a great point dylan, i’ve thought about this a lot in the six months i’ve been at an agency. by having a ‘creative’ department, other departments by default may think of themselves as less creative, which only perpetuates the problem. in an ideal agency model, people don’t feel as bound to their job titles, and people in the ‘creative’ department don’t get all fussy when an account person suggests an idea.

    • klymenko

      Thanks, Ivan. I love having your perspective since you’ve been living full-time on the agency side for half a year now.

      You’ve raised a good point about the phenomena behind the ‘creative ego’- yet another negative trait propagated by the exclusive title of a ‘creative’ and the sense of entitlement which ensues under that banner.

      If an agency truly values its client(s), its work, and frankly, the notion of continuing the industry it was built on, it needs to start by valuing the individual. All of them.

  2. Emi

    We’ve talked about this before- and I always have agreed with you 100%. When you talk to others about this in conversation over coffee, drinks, etc, people see this point that there is no harm in breaking down the boundaries and being “creative” as a whole. However, it’s when you go to an interview or stuck in an environment that has this great divide that you are considered “not good enough”, “not creative enough” , or people just look at you like you have 2 heads.
    To quote Amy Adams from the Summer Hit Julie and Julia, “I have thoughts”-in fact, I believe we all do, and that golden, award winning, life changing creative thunderbolt can come from ANYWHERE…people just have to be more open to the possibilities.

    thanks for bringing this up!

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