Director and founding partner of Blast Brand Catalysts, ponders the business of being creative. I love awards. I love clever people who win awards. Especially when they hold onto their humility.
My very first award started with a Clio straight out of AAA. I was offered my first job in San Fransisco, but decided my career needed to start closer to home. Barely six years in, I already knew I wanted to establish my own shop. My focus shifted dramatically to running that business. It became the business of client management, operational and sales effectiveness with, of course, creativity. Today, everything that comes out of our studio is strategically thought out and exceptionally well produced. I can say that many pieces are certainly worthy of entering into awards. But are they winners? My personal benchmarking suggests – not just yet.
So what, then, is the purpose of being in business, with such high creative standards, and not pandering to that ultimate, creative self-fulfillment of racking up the awards? The answer probably comes in truly loving what you do, even though you don’t always get to decide how you do it. I love that the work we produce builds our clients’ brands, that we have an influential hand in moving their sales figures, and that we do really great work, whether it’s a national brand campaign, a promotional leaflet, or the next social media post.
Of late, the legendary John Hegarty has become a little scathing about our business of being creative. We’ve become so obsessed with technology that we’re losing our brand resonance. Global campaigns often fail to connect with the local culture. Awards events, once the inspiring by-product of recognizing great work, have now become the primary motivator of doing any work at all. We’re more interested in our stage performance, our rock star image collecting those pieces of heavy metal, than the actual selling performance of the work. And as for scam work that doesn’t actually run, Sir John has this to share: “Award schemes were set up to demonstrate to clients how great creativity can aid brands and increase effectiveness. Scam is an abberation. It is like drugs in sport. It is a delusional practice, and the problem is we’ve created a beast called awards and it’s taken over.” So what is it that keeps us creative stalwarts coming back every morning? Are we just masochists that have become hardened to the vagaries of oftentimes knee-jerk briefs?
The trick is never to take it too seriously. My partner once joked with John Hunt that he shouldn’t overly worry, it’s all just advertising. He did not get an amused response. (Perhaps that’s why neither of us currently resides at advertising’s Mt Olympus.) If you are precious, easily despondent, have anger management issues, or just have an ego that’s too big for your talent, you will probably at best be a shooting star. If you have a bit of corporate DNA in you, you’ll rise to the level of a CD, then ECD and possibly even that great paradox, CCO. Creativity and corporate titles don’t really resonate convincingly. It’s rather like making Pablo Picasso Group Head of Cubism. Who cares? Just show us the work.
Learning not just if and when, but how, to fall on your sword is an art in itself. As a creative person, it is statistically expected that you will be better read, more artistic and more articulate than your suit attired colleagues, say nothing of your ambitious clients, bless them. But then there’s this thing in advertising that just won’t go away. It’s called a target market. And no matter that you may prefer glibly to ignore it, your suits and your clients are intimately engrained with that target. They are forever reminding you that you may be speaking over your market’s head, that you’re very clever, but could you dumb it down a little. So you’re challenged even further to be as superlatively creative as you can, but at the lowest common denominator. You must deliver genius with simplicity, for the non-thinkers. So it is your Key Performance Indicator to go forth and create great revelations of mediocrity. Not always. But it often feels like that. Particularly on Tuesdays. Tuesday is usually the day that the dreaded debrief lands back on your desk from the previous week’s presentation. You know, the one where they kept you away from the client, just in case you were to have an opinion and actually say something, heaven forbid.
Most assuredly, as a creative, you want to be in a creatively driven agency, a place where the brief is at times disregarded, the strategy put quietly back in its box and the budget deftly ignored. After all, there is no reward without risk. To conceptualise by numbers, and actually collect a salary at the end of the month, is no fun at all. Breathing is only a conscious pleasure when you’re living dangerously. Adrenalin and hyperventilation are the two sure signs that, either you’re creating something phenomenal, or you’re having sex. The two activities are, in fact, quite similar. Either way, somebody, somewhere is being roundly rogered. But it’s still the most fun we can have with our clothes on.