Why do Creatives deserve to be treated with such reverence?
A long time a go, a new Creative Director came to a fairly established agency. He was joining a fierce management team and had some pretty big shoes to fill.
He was nervous and needed to make his mark. Consequently he made some radical pronouncements and mandates. Some great, some obvious and some downright silly and obstructive.
The Managing Director at the time was not of advertising stock. Some of these CD decisions were making his life difficult. The new guy was pesky. So in a fit of frustration he ranted, “Creatives are like mom’s apple pie. You can’t say a word against them. Ooooh, they are ‘Creatives’. They are sacred. They are Mom’s apple pie.”
This is both sacrilegious and insightful.
Creatives are fabulous. They are a talented bunch. Most of them are great company, clever, witty and fun. Some of my best friends are Creatives. They work hard and are often caught between, as the saying goes, a rock and a hard place.
Without Creatives, agencies could not exist. They are the heart and soul. The lifeblood. The USP. In the words of one of my first and favourite Copywriters “suits would not have jobs without us. Their role is to sell our work.”
And what would producers do without them?
What would it feel like to get on a plane and only worry about your own passport and immigration card? Why would you rememberwho is allergic to fish and who wants crème caramel as a starter if you are eating solo? Why watch reels? It’s just an advert.
There is a line in All that Jazz. Roy Schneider plays a character who is based on Bob Fosse at the height of his career when he was racing towards a heart attack.
One scene is set the cutting room, working on a further edit to a film about a Stand-Up. Schenider’s Producer walks in. (I paraphrase.) “What are you doing??? We are three months behind schedule. We are six million, SIX MILLION dollars over budget. Why are we still editing?”
Roy Schneider sits him down and says “Just watch.”
The Producer does so, and he is enraptured.
He then puts his head in his hands and says “Oh, my God, it is better. God help us all. It's better."
For me this is the ultimate scenario. A Creative pushes and pushes, you do everything you can to enable their vision, you go against all your practical reasoning, you make promises you are worried you can’t keep and manipulate your management, you risk the wrath of the Client and pray for sense prevailing. And you get a spectacular result. And you know that if you had pulled the plug at the sensible “it's fine as it is, it's good, it works (but)” point, you would have missed out on something special.
This has happened often enough to allow for the other side of the coin: The needless refining, the endless tweaking, the search for the ungettable celebrity, the negotiating for the track that can’t be bought. Because maybe it will be sharper, maybe it will get unheard-of kudos, maybe it is totally lifted.
Being a Creative is a proper job. It comes with responsibility. Advertising is a business. We need to indulge because it is right, not because of a sulk. A great idea that works for the product is a wonderful thing, a great idea that is just a great idea can ultimately be weak if not worked on. If you can’t take a bit of constructive criticism, even it is clearly destructive; you are doing the wrong job. Get down to your novel and paint your mural and I will pop round with tea and cakes to cheer you on. But I won’t champion you if you are just being petulant.
An Editor friend, over a pint, once asked a fresh young, already arrogant, Art Director what it was like to be a Creative. He answered, “Well, it just is. You are either creative or you are not.” Creative is still a job title. It is not an instant description of your possible talent.
In this digital world there is a trend in saying anyone can be a Creative. They can’t. It takes training and diligence and courage. Sure anyone can come up with an idea, but can they craft it, will they defend it, hone it, adapt it, and expand it?
Will they be there to the bitter end, changing the shade of yellow and ensuring everything is in safe title? Are they prepared to direct a luminary in a sound session and get into fights over semantics? Are they ready to kill their darlings? Turns out I can string a decent sentence together, but could I be a copywriter? Could I hell without a proper apprenticeship and/or a few years at college. Which incidentally could make for a hilarious sketch.
Some apple pie is sublime; some just claims to be sublime but is made up from dried fruit and concentrate. It can be outstanding if care is put into it, and it is fresh and it is packed full of loveliness. It is often even better with complementary accompaniments like ice cream and custard. Or, for fear of stretching this analogy, creative work need support like project management and Producers and Directors and Editors and Flame Ops and Sound Techs and Musicians and account management and all.
Mom’s apple pie shouldn’t be revered just because Mom made it. It has to be good as well. Then it is sacred.