Creativity vs Process. Please don’t squeeze the Chairman.

September 25, 2008

A situation came up at work today, which pitted Creative against Process…As Chief Creative Officer I am first and foremost an advocate for Creativity. Duh, right? But here’s where it gets tricky. I also happen to be Chairman of Euro RSCG Chicago. And while process is not necessarily in that job description, intuitively I feel managing process (not managing against it) is.

And so here I was, with a pair of embattled creatives looking for support. And on the other side of the table, two worried account executives beseeching me for a version of the same. What’s a Chairman and Chief Creative Officer to do?

I am reminded of that famous parable, where the philosopher (Socrates?) settles a dispute over the lineage of a child by suggesting they cut the little one in two. According to the legend, he knew the real parent would never accept this bargain. And thus the rogue was revealed.

The stakes today were clearly not that high (and I’m no philosopher) but for the young creative team, their idea was not unlike a child, and that creation was in mortal jeopardy. For the suits, it was all about managing a metaphorical parent AKA the client.

I’m not comfortable relaying the specifics. It’s company business. And we (I) have not arrived at an equitable solution. But the dilemma is worth discussing in the abstract because it is a classic one. I mean, really. How long have we seen these battle lines drawn?

What I think is interesting in this case is not so much the squabble between suit and creative but, frankly, my role in the matter. Unlike a pure creative director, I take the “other” side almost as often as I do my own. And certainly just as seriously.

Maybe that makes me a little less creative but I doubt it. At Euro, we talk about Responsible Passion in our creative department. And this is precisely where the “R” word comes in. As Chairman, I am responsible for the well being of our agency and that means every facet of it, not just creative. It also means I deserve a fair shake from the managing directors and the CEO. Which I get. And will get tomorrow when we resolve this thing.

In the end, we are not an account driven agency any more than we are a creative boutique. Agencies always talk about doing “both” when it comes to building brands and driving sales. The same principle applies here. I like that and I think most of our employees and clients do too.

Curious what my peers think. Do I have this about right…or am I a traitor?

9 Responses to “Creativity vs Process. Please don’t squeeze the Chairman.”

  1. Voice of Reason said

    Stef-
    Don’t see yourself short. You are a philosopher. Maybe not a great one but still…
    -VOR

  2. I believe the famous parable to which you referred was King Solomon, not Socrates. Or, at least, that is the most famous version.

  3. Jason Fox said

    It was indeed Solomon. I Kings 3:16-28.

    In regards to the post, it’s a bit hard to judge (ohh, the irony) without knowing specifics. But I’ll go ahead and give it shot since no babies will actually be harmed in the writing of this comment. I like your agency’s idea of Responsible Passion. In two words it tidily sums up what we as advertising creators (and not just the creatives) are supposed to do. You have to passionate because messaging without passion is dead on arrival. But you have to be responsible – to the brand voice, consumers tastes, etc. – because to otherwise is self-indulgent and often to the detriment of the brand. It’s the being-cool-for-the-sake-of-cool syndrome. The question is, in the particular circumstance, who is really being more responsibly passionate? This, Solomon Postaer is your challenge. Good luck.

  4. SRP said

    In the words of the great philosopher, Homer: D’oh!
    I knew the name started with an “S”
    As for Responsible Passion, it’s one of my credos. Two other promises we make and like to keep are 1) smart vs. clever and 2) max impact for min dollars.
    SRP

  5. Bernasri said

    Ah, the Suit and the Creative!
    Indeed, a match-up for the ages.
    Like the Tortoise and the Hare.
    The turtle wins in the fable and so the suit must be honored.
    Though everyone admires the bunny -so cute and fast!
    May they all live happily ever after.
    -Bern

  6. Reb said

    I’m just a boring suit, but I appreciate your willingness to see both sides of the issue. Agencies need both parents and children to succeed.

  7. Andy Webb said

    Present the creative team’s baby to the client along with something more in line with what the AEs envision — with instructions to the AEs that they have to recommend the creative team’s version. If the client chooses plan B, so be it. The creative folks will have to move on. They shouldn’t worry. Ideas are limitless; but good clients are in short supply.

    Andy Webb

  8. Necessity is the mother of invention.
    Compromise is the mother of mediocrity.

    Safe is average. Chairman and CCO — not a position I envy.

  9. I agree with Andy Webb’s suggestion above.

    Also:

    Are the account team’s concerns backed up with valid thinking? If yes, do the changes kill the idea? Because i’ve found there’s often a way to perform a bit of creative aikido to make the work as good, or better, in the face of challenges.

    As a creative, just because the work is not done “your way” doesn’t mean it’s not good. You have to evaluate on a case by case basis. If you’re actually creative, you should be able to find a solution. (This is a lesson I’ve learned after much frustration over the years regarding changes to my work.)

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