Creative in Business

Everyone likes to call themselves creative these days, long gone are the days when creative purely meant those weird arty types who draw, act and write poetry. No these days everyone thinks they’re creative and are entitled to be creative. Often I hear people say, “ideas can come from anyone, even the tea lady”. Does that make her creative, or perhaps part of the creative department in an agency? My best are the bean counters who handle the money and assign the budget, who proudly proclaim to be doing, creative accounting. Well I have to agree, creativity is not exclusively for a single department, any more than being good at business isn’t restricted to the suits. But we all have our roles to play and more importantly our responsibilities within an organisation. Lets face it, we are all paid accordingly.

The creative department; by which I mean art directors, copywriters, designers etc quite frequently solves business problems, that is the business we are in. But more often than not, creative departments go beyond merely solving the client’s business problem, they are often solving a critical agency business problem. So what is this problem I speak of? There is no title, because purely calling it a business problem, would mean the business side of an agency would have to take responsibility and actually do the job they are titled and responsible for, and being that they also want to be part of the creative process when it suits them, we just don’t want to label it. So let me explain. Quite often the business side of the agency agrees to things, over commits, under charges and so on, while the creative departments are left to find a way to get it done. More often than not, the creative departments work themselves to death and complete the ridiculous tasks set before them, often feeling under valued, resenting the client (who is usually blamed for the poor timings etc) and putting out some half-baked work, that does little more than keep the lights on. All while having to share what they’re doing with the business folk, to make sure they don’t feel left out and like they’re just paper pushers, you know, they have ideas too. I was once told I’m like Willy Wonka and sometimes the suits also want to share in the magic of the chocolate factory. Vom!

I’d prefer that the business side of an agency focus on business, hell they could even get really creative about business, but as long as they keep the money on their end and don’t make it the creative departments problem. By this I mean they need to start caring and taking responsibility for bringing in the numbers without inconveniencing the creative department. I promise you will not get better ideas through threats of being fired by the client if we don’t nail this concept. All the time lurking while creatives try to solve these problems, should be spent thinking of creative ways to bring in more revenue for the business. Finding better ways of working with the client to write a brief, plan their project and hopefully save everyone some money.

I am yet to have a business person walk into my office with a puzzled look on their face, and after I asked whats wrong, get told, “I am trying to figure out a way to make real money from digital” or “I am trying to figure out a better way to estimate time on projects, so that we don’t under charge our client” these are business problems that could involve creative, my door is always open, so I am happy to help where my insight is most valuable, but these are challenges facing suits which they should be thinking about.

Being on the digital side of advertising for most of my career, I have often felt a lot of pressure to deliver the goods on some ridiculous budgets and deadlines. I constantly try to think of new ways that we could manage this all better, how we could increase our rates without chasing away clients and how we could better manage client expectations on time and project outcome.

TV as an example hasn’t changed in years and while current trend is to reduce media spend, TV in most parts of the world still has the largest reach, so it’s a profitable business to be in. The format hasn’t changed very much, so the production is pretty similar and easy to estimate, get buy-in and get a reasonable advert produced. Digital on the other hand is more often than not, pretty unknown. There are so many variables involved and quite often being innovative means, so many are unknown. Yet the manner in which digital is billed, is completely flawed. Clients generally pay by the hour, which is charged based on an estimate before any of the relative teams who actually produce the project ever even know what has been agreed upon. A half-baked brief is put in the system, usually just before month end, so that the suit meets their monthly target and then it’s up to the creative team to solve. Suits rarely ever like to phone the client and ask for more time and budget when the teams figure out that what is being asked for is impossible and more often than not, build something that delivers to some degree, but could have been much better had they had the time.

Often when people see my personal websites people comment on the level of craft that goes into them, well there’s a simple answer. I constantly keep perfecting the design and functionality, while I aim for a target date, I would rather do it properly than meet the deadline. I constantly keep iterating even after launch as the beauty of digital is it’s not like a TV Ad that has aired or a printed item that once the ink is dry, it’s done, no more changes can be made. I see this as a huge opportunity to continue to make money, as it means no project is ever really complete and if only someone could make the client understand this, we might be onto a way of making money continually while offering the very best solution.

What amazes me is that clients pay millions to produce 30 second TV Ads, yet they won’t spent nearly a fraction of that on digital projects like websites, which actually live online 24-7-365. This is one of those business problems I feel our suits should be trying to solve, their chance to get creative doing what they do. You should be proud to say you are in the advertising industry, it is perceived as creative, but that doesn’t mean you should try to be part of the creative team, be a team player by being creative about how you do business and bring in real money, so the business has the time to be creative.