I’ve been talking a lot about writing and ideas lately. It’s not surprising. They’re my stock in trade. But I’ve just realized that there’s a myth out there, that needs to be dispelled. So I’ve appointed myself the bearer of the news:
Contrary to what you may have been led to believe, ‘Creativity‘ is not the exclusive province of writers and artists and actors and directors and fashion designers and make up artists and hairdressers and lighting directors and singers and composers and interior designers and photographers and musicians and the like. Every human being has the ability and, as far as I’m concerned the responsibility, to think creatively. Without holding a paintbrush or a pen or a microphone or a camera or any other ‘tool’ those of us who are creative, use.
Here’s a good example of what I mean: One of the ad agencies I worked for, is BBDO. It is one of those huge, international (289 offices in 80 countries, 15,000 employees), full-service agencies that’s been around for eons. Since 1891, to be precise. I have worked for more than my fair share of the top agencies in the world, so I speak
from personal experience when I say what I’m about to say:
Of all the agencies I’ve ever worked for, when it comes to creative excellence, delivered consistently, throughout the world, they rise head and shoulders above all the rest. At least when I worked there (not suggesting I had anything to do with it, by the way). In fact, their tagline is “The work, the work, the work”. And they mean it.
And even though I’d had many jobs by the time I landed there, and had enjoyed a very successful career up to that point, it is BBDO where I ‘found’ my voice. It was like they sprayed ‘creative thinking’ through the air vents. It was palpable. You felt it the minute you got off the elevator, and arrived in the reception area. And it was ‘present’ in every office, on every floor.
Honestly, if you were not capable, or willing, to think creatively, if you weren’t passionate about ‘the work’, if you didn’t want to own your own, little piece of it, then you really didn’t belong there. And frankly, you would never have been hired. And I’m not referring to those, like me, who worked in the Creative Department. Those who, like me, created the ads and the commercials and the direct mail campaigns and the websites and the billboards and the loyalty programs and the questionnaires and the contests that consumers see and respond to.
The people I’m talking about are the Suits (the ‘adults in charge’, who run each piece of business and are the client’s partner in the agency), the media department folks, the researchers and traffic people, assistants and even the accounting department and HR. I’d never seen anything like it before. On my first day at the agency, the HR department hosted an indoctrination session for all the new employees. Nothing unusual in that. Except when I heard the HR Director talking about the work BBDO did, and discussed the reel of some of their most recent commercials she was about to show us. I had to give my head a shake, because she sounded as enthusiastic and excited as the creative teams who produced that work. I was blown away as much by her, as I was by the work.
But that wasn’t all she did. She talked about HR innovations she had championed in the agency. Paid sabbaticals, flexible working hours, the ability to work some hours each week from home, and that was just part of it. All this done years ago, before all the dot.com companies came into being and working conditions like these became the norm. They were way ahead of their time. Creative thinking.
It didn’t stop there, either. I was completely blown away by the ‘creativity’ I experienced working with their media planners and buyers. They came up with some of the most brilliant, most inspiring ideas I’ve ever seen; and they were true partners to those of us in the creative department. When I wanted a ‘teaser’ on the front page of one of our daily newspapers, that led to the client’s ad, and mentioned which page the ad would be on, they found a way to make that happen. And then they ‘saw my idea and raised me an idea’. In those days, we still used floppy disks (feels like the middle ages I know, but it wasn’t that long ago). They decided that we should put an ‘offer’ on the disk and tip the disk on to the page where the ad was, in a specific spot on the ad.
Do you have any idea how impossibly difficult that was? Not only to come up with the idea, but to get the newspaper to execute it. But that was just another day at the agency for this group. So was the time that they suggested that a client who couldn’t afford TV, but had to make an ‘impact, buy every single transit shelter poster and every single bus and subway billboard in the ‘footprint’ where there target audience lived and worked. It was beyond spectacular; and beyond-your-wildest-dreams successful.
Their CFO (Chief Financial Officer) devised new and creative ways for the agency to get compensated, endearing him to clients who were fed up with the same old, same old rigidity they found at most agencies. I could go on and on, but I think you get my drift.
Now that I think about it, I do have more to say. Not about BBDO, but about creative thinking, in general. So I just might continue this conversation tomorrow. We’ll see what kind of a mood I wake up in. And whether or not I get ‘struck’ by another idea I absolutely HAVE to share with you, immediately.
A demain …