Feed Your Creative Team
Quality creative can't be rushed--it should be nurtured
By Lois Geller
Last week a potential client came to see us here in Florida. The chairman told us he needed creative for a new e-commerce site and infomercial—and he needed it fast.
"How fast do you need it?" I asked slowly, watching our creative director's newly acquired tan fade before my eyes.
"Three weeks," he said. "I've found that when you press the creative team, you get better work."
Hmm. When did we ever do great creative—fast? Well, we once had to do a subscription mailer in an hour and a half: copy, design, mechanical. It worked pretty well. We wrote a 60-second TV spot in 10 minutes, and it worked. (Don't you love direct? You always find out what works!) So, I guess we can work pretty fast, when we have to. But is it a good idea?
If Einstein had been pressured to work fast, he'd probably have come up with something like this: "The, um, energy thing, you know? I think there's like a weight thing, mass isn't that what we call it? And maybe if we, like, multiplied it by the speed of light times the speed of light. Who really knows? I didn't have time to read the brief, but this seems to have wheels, don't you think?"
Given time, he came up with E=mc2. We may not know what it means, but at least we remember it.
Think It Through
Hemingway once said, "If it's easy to read, that's cause it's writ hard." Indeed, complicated and convoluted half thoughts come out quickly. Simple, complete and persuasive thoughts take time. Creative is better when the people doing it have the time to:
- understand the product, the history, the market and the target audience;
- sift through testimonials;
- think about copy and design concepts;
- have time for second and third thoughts;
- rewrite copy until it sings
- tweak and tighten the design; and
- deliver creative that has a visual impact and a compelling offer.
Sure, pressured and fast creative can be OK. But calm and thoughtful can be very good, even great. And since there is a good deal of money riding on the difference, pressuring the creative team does not make much sense.
Here are some other thoughts on the care and feeding of your creative people.
Add An Element of Excitement
John Updike once wrote: "… any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better."
Who can disagree with that? I've worked at, and with, many agencies, and I've noticed that the best creative—results, not awards—come from writers and art directors who focus, who are excited, and who make the effort to really get into the nuts and bolts of the client's business.
If a creative group is distracted—quibbling, angry, overworked, jealous, whatever—its work will be so-so at best. At one large agency, years ago, we had three different groups working on a TV campaign. One of the groups was comprised of youngsters with just a glimmer of an idea as to how direct response worked, but they were talented, enthusiastic, delighted to be in the running, and their work showed it. They came up with an outstanding idea. It needed work, but the core was theirs. It was breakthrough, great stuff. The other two groups bickered and diddled and never really came up with anything that had a core. It was, well, just OK.
Expose Your Mind to New Ideas
Brains that easily absorb lots of varied and seemingly irrelevant information tend to come up with great creative.
Every really good copywriter I know reads all the time—novels, history, politics, newspapers, magazines, comic books, CD covers. I think it's because everything that's written is ultimately about people; how they think, what motivates them.
David Ogilvy used to visit prospective hires in their homes before making a final decision on whether they were going to get to work for him. He wanted to see what books they had on their shelves, what magazines they read, what kind of art was hanging on the walls.
When we were in New York, new staff members were astonished that our creative director, Mike McCormick, could be deep into reading something while weaving through the lunch hour crowds on Madison Avenue and jaywalking without getting killed. Mike reads all the time, and he learns things that pop up in his direct marketing ideas. In a way, what we do is the end result of an ongoing study of what makes people react, and you find clues everywhere.
Make It Fun
I suppose some people do great work when they're feeling miserable. I just don't know any of them.
Bobby McFerrin had it exactly right: "Don't worry, be happy." I think you do better than usual work when you're happier than usual. I sure do. That's why it used to amaze me when I saw agency creative directors—or worse, the "suits"—bullying writers and art directors as if they were trying to "beat" ideas out of them. Who can work like that?
Years ago I worked at Poppe-Tyson. The chairman, Fred Poppe, made everything fun. His smile and confidence were contagious, and he got wonderful ideas out of his people.
A few years ago, our agency was working with a health insurance client in Manhattan. It was a great client. The people briefed us, listened to what we had to say, asked for "different" creative, and were enthusiastic when they saw it—and they usually bought into it. Then the client hired one of those efficiency experts to streamline processes. It was a hairy thing to watch. Once he was finished, our contacts had changed. Now organized into teams, like the teams in Dilbert, nobody would approve anything! They were so nervous about everything, they worked hard to make sure the creative was unassailably bland. I didn't even recognize it when the teams were through with it. It also didn't work.
Create Staying Power
Money's a motivator but unless it's a 100-percent raise, it is not the biggest motivator.
Remember the old mantra, "Do what you love and the money will follow."? It's true. Smart, talented, creative people will stay where they're appreciated, where they have fun, where they learn, where they like their bosses and coworkers. Are there any creative departments like that? Sure, lots of them. And they do very good work. People eventually move on, but only for offers they'd be insane to refuse, and even then they linger as long as they can.
Lois K. Geller is president of Mason and Geller Direct, a direct marketing ad agency now in Hollywood, Fla. She is a popular speaker at major events and owns the Direct Marketing Boot Camp, a two-day program for corporations that need a refresher. Reach her at loisgeller@ masongeller.com.