Written by John Townshend, Chairman, and Founder at Now.
I once took a puppy to a business meeting.
It was a really good meeting. For me and the puppy. And I think the clients too.
It broke that ice that coats every business meeting. As a young copywriter, I used to find myself trying to make a joke, play a film, do anything to recalibrate the atmosphere in the meeting before we talked about ‘the creative.’
Puppies are the opposite of business. Puppies are natural, full of enthusiasm, bounding about, making mistakes, bumping into walls, picking themselves up. They’re dismissed as ‘sweet’. But they’re transformative.
A bit like a ‘creative person’.
And the opposite of a ‘business’ person.
That’s how it used to be. There were business people, and there were creative people. Business people were sensible and boring. Creative people were zany and irresponsible. I have often heard marketers talk about what we do as the ‘fluffy stuff’ or the ‘pictures’. And this phrase; “I’m not creative, but…” They were worlds apart.
Business needed creativity like tea needed a little sugar. So they hired advertising agencies.
As we sail deep into this century, we’ve seen a huge sea change in the role of creativity in business. The cult of the entrepreneur, the rise of the coder. And the deification of the designer, like Saint Jony Ives of Apple.
Brilliance is normal now. Can you imagine 20 years ago believing that every plumber, student, chief executive and artist would all own the same devices, with shwoosing touch screens and minimal design?
Think of the most successful businesses of the last decade – look at how seriously they take creativity. They are not dividing creativity and business.
I was talking to a client in the hotel business the other day, who was frustrated with the quality of his brand’s ‘hard working’ communications. They were managed by a different team, and created by different people from the advertising, and looked cheap, and nasty. I suggested that if the cleaners had paid as little attention to the appearance of their bathrooms they’d have been fired.
Richard Reed at Innocent knows that the witty words on their packaging are as important as the quality of the smoothie. The guys who run Pret bother about the typography on their instore posters a lot – you just know, because it is so beautifully and consistently done. And the people at Uber understand how watching your cab make its way to you on-screen transforms the experience of waiting for a cab.
The division between creativity and business is disappearing because of the rise of service brands. You can’t divide the product from the experience – the point of sale, the poster, the UX are all part of brand building.
What is creativity anyway?
Creativity is ultimately about humanity. Because ‘creativity’ really is about framing a business’s offering relevantly to the customer – putting into their life, enhancing, and occasionally moving, but always defining their perceptions.
And that way of thinking is as relevant when defining a customer proposition as when designing an ad. Creativity is not a skill, it’s an attitude. And it’s an attitude that should be part of business thinking – at all levels.
Our business, I think, should be helping businesses to be creative as much as creating for them. We should bring our process to them as much as the ideas.
Creativity starts when we open our hearts. And that’s why it’s hard. A creative team in an ad agency have more rejections in a week than most people do in a year. They, like puppies, come bounding up to the wall tails wagging, and get bounced back, and do it again. It’s tough, but it’s understood that that’s the game. And boy do you learn fast. It’s like having a weekly performance review.
It’s a very different way of working than most companies. Number One, you have to overcome the biggest barrier – THE FEAR OF LOOKING STUPID. It’s created in company culture, or by departmental divisions, or heirarchy. So much of ‘creativity’ is about connections that you’re dead in the water if you can’t create connections.
At our agency, we find that bringing people together from our client companies is as much part of the creative process as the execution. It’s all about creating a climate in which people feel safe, to ask dumb questions, to share opinions, to come up with crap ideas. It also allows for the possibility that the solution may be something other than a traditional advertising execution.
Here’s a manifesto by which any company should live, agency or client: Be curious. Look for new. Aim for better. Challenge yourself. Work differently, fail happily. Listen, learn. Be humble. And play.
And above all, stay restless.
Like a puppy.