Sunday, June 13, 2010

The importance of creative gardening

The creative department of an agency is like a big garden. You plant different species of flora depending on the requirements. Where the soil is gritty and dry, you plant a hardy species like a cactus. At the entrance of the garden, where you want to make an impression, you plant roses. And in the pond you plant water lilies.

Some Creative Directors make the mistake of just planting roses. That is to say, they hire creative stars whose main objective in life is to produce award-winning work. As I’ve mentioned earlier, building and maintaining your reputation is important. And awards are one way of doing that. You need roses to help you create an attractive image. But when you plant a rose in dry, gritty soil, it shrivels up and starts to die. The same is true when you put a rose in a pond. The excess water drowns the poor thing.

The fact is, it’s no use hiring someone to help you create award-winning work and then put him on a retail account. He will do exactly what you hired him for. He will produce award-winning work. The client will reject all this work and your creative person will become frustrated. The client will become frustrated, too, because she’s not getting the kind of work she expects. And eventually one of two things is likely to happen. Either your client will ask for the person to be taken off her account. Or she will fire the agency.

But that’s not all. Even if you do take the creative star off the account, where do you put him?

You start to see the problem, don’t you. Before you know it, you have a whole lot of creative people in the department who have no accounts to work on.

Your staff costs will start to go through the roof. And at some point you are going to have to start firing good people. Nothing is more demoralizing to a Creative Department than seeing its stars being forced to leave.

My first agency faced this very problem. The Creative Director at the time had put a bunch of star creative people on a retail account that didn’t appreciate, or want, ‘great’ creative work. This account was the biggest revenue earner in the agency – and was essential to keep in order for the agency to make its numbers at the end of the year.

However, the account was nearly lost because of the terrible friction that was caused between the client and the creative stars. The creative people were desperately trying to force work on a Marketing Director that simply didn’t want to buy it (sounds familiar to our physician story, doesn’t it?).

If the account had walked out the door, fifteen people would have had to be laid off.

When I took over the CD role, I pulled these people off the account straight away and brought in a very senior art director who was happy to do the kind of work that was required. The client was happy (because she got what she wanted), the creative department was happy (because they could concentrate on accounts that did want creative solutions), the person we hired on the account was happy (because we gave her a huge wad of money every month). And I was happy (because the department could get back to the business of creating ‘Great’ ideas without having to worry too much about the financials).

Next week, we'll talk more about the types of people you need to hire.

More by the author:

A crash course in surviving the future of advertising

Man from Zork

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