Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Creative People Are The Soul Of Advertising

I am shocked at the number of account people I see who never mention creative work or creative people they have been involved with.  I guess it is very easy to forget that the engine that runs all of advertising – traditional, digital, media, planning, etc. – is the creative department. Without them, the business doesn’t work. 

With few exceptions, creative people work longer hours than others in the business.  It is your friendly creative director, who, under deadline pressure, edits commercials until four in the morning.  It is the creative team who must have the work done for tomorrow’s presentation and they haven’t gotten enough input from their account group. Consequently, they are on their own.  As a result, and I am not supposed to be saying this, they create their own strategy to fit the brief and then they do the work.  And it is usually the creative team that presents the work to the client.

It is they who are standing in front of the room, naked, so to speak.

Writers and art directors are demanding, because, sadly, few account people fully understand what information the creative department needs to do their work. I once had a creative partner, who couldn’t do  anything until he fully understood every nuance about the company and the assignment.  Sometimes the smallest detail would affect his ability to do the work well.  But once he understood, the work was magic.  (I wrote a Tribute to Ned Viseltear several months ago.)  He really taught me, after many years in the business. how to motivate and work with good creative talent.

Creative people take pride in their work.  After all, the results of their work is the public face of the business.  It doesn’t matter if they can’t work without proper input. It doesn’t matter if the planner’s insight and direction is slightly off.  It doesn’t matter if the client pushes them to do less than perfect work. It is still their work.

Some creative people are more difficult than others.  Some are totally committed to winning awards at the expense of selling.  Some are just pig headed and some are both pig headed and brilliant.  

The rest of us feed the engine.  Our feelings matter less. I remember once working at a highly creatively driven agency.  The ECD (executive creative director) once said to me as I was going out the door with a portfolio of photographs from a shoot, “Don’t come back unless you get the client to buy our recommended choice.”  It was a really great comment because that portfolio contained his soul.

Media people just don’t feel the same attachment to their media plans.  Few account planners care as much about their insights. And account people learn not to have big egos attached to what they do.

Once upon a time, and it was a long time ago, the creative department was loaded with eccentricities.  Creative people had water fights.  They had dartboards in their offices. Creative people came in late to the consternation of clients (it still happens).  But all the while they were thinking about their craft and trying to make great work for their clients.

It may not be what the rest of us do, but it is the most essential part of the business.


  1. Vince D'OnofrioApril 8, 2014 at 11:20 AM

    A very nice tribute Paul, thank you for that. I have been very fortunate to have worked with some great account people who were not only supportive but have been instrumental in providing leads and recommendations for which I am grateful. I always felt agency people needed to look after one another, regardless of their department.

  2. Spot on Paul. If the account people aren't good, the client will request new account people; if the creative product isn't good, the client will request a new agency.

    1. That is a really brilliant and true observation. Thanks.

  3. I count my blessings that I had a father who was a creative director and who mentored me as I took my first account job. To his credit, he didn't disown me.

    I enjoyed your post, Paul. It's amazing, though, that many of the challenges you write about are the same ones that people complained about during my agency days in the 90s. Not sure why it's so difficult to train/coach account & media people on what it takes to "feed the engine."

  4. Well said, Paul. And Tony V, my dad was also a veteran creative director. He always coached me as an account guy to understand "the terror of the blank page."

    Final thought: It is the creatives who make agencies a fun place to work.

    1. There is a well known former agency president who was interviewing to be the head of one of the major agencies. One of the things he told me was that he scared them off when he told the Chairman that he wanted to bring back water fights in the creative department. He felt, correctly in my opinion, that there needed to be even more fun in the business. He did not get the job, but I thought he was totally right. By the way, he is an account guy.

  5. Well-put, Paul! As an account person, I usually make a point of mentioning outstanding creative folk with whom I've worked--and I try to support them as much as I can. I don't run into too many who want to be so thoroughly informed (particularly during onboarding); I suspect this owes to the rather trim deadlines within which we work these days, so distillation is usually key.


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