True Innovation = Invention

True innovation can occur in virtually any product category. It just doesn’t happen very often. In its purest form, we call innovation “invention.” The automobile, for instance, was an “invention.” And for the last 100 years the auto industry has given us product improvements, enhancements or variations. One bold idea, many years of imitation. Creativity in advertising works in a similar way. Someone’s great idea leads inevitably to other things (and, unfortunately, this sometimes leads to clutter).

Creativity feeds on passion and dedication. It thrives in a culture committed to excellence. And it is and always will be the lifeblood of the ad industry. At its best, advertising is art enhancing commerce. That means the creativity has a purpose — beyond winning awards — in the marketplace. If there is less creativity now than in the past (“Why Advertising Is Different Today,” Oct. 13), a notion I don’t necessarily agree with, it is because folks have found the creative standard a little too awkward to carry, or a little too heavy. And that’s a shame. Agencies should strive for creativity and clients should push them on it. Creativity, innovation and ideas are more important to the advertising industry — and to clients — than share of voice, CPMs, click-throughs and myriad other important aspects of marketing. The latter provide ratio or comparison in an ideal world where all messages are equally effective. But all messages are not equal; creativity, innovation and ideas make messages effective. 

Advertising has always tried to create the right message and deliver it to the right consumer at the most opportune time. In today’s world, that never simple task is far more complicated. Consumers are willing to become brand advocates, but they want something in return. They want to be understood. They want marketers to acknowledge that they know and appreciate them. And they expect marketers to know how and when they might be receptive to a message. There can be creative solutions to all aspects of marketing communications. And there should be.

The only truly necessary ingredient in a great creative agency is talent. That talent must live and work in an environment with a value system and DNA that embrace creativity, not just for its own sake, but for its ability to make brands famous and help clients win in a measurable way in the marketplace. The best creative agencies do not just have the best writers, art directors and designers. They have the best talent in all agency positions — media, account service, production, planning, IT, even finance. And all those people believe in and work toward creative excellence. True success requires the best talent across the board. And a culture where creative excellence is the expectation, not the exception. The creative culture must be supported throughout the agency — or it isn’t a culture.

Innovations in technology, new media and changing consumer behavior offer both challenges and opportunities in the industry. But technology and analytics do not replace talent. They make it an ever-greater need. Creative talent in technology, creative talent for understanding numbers and making them useful, and the creative talent that in the end must execute. A large, cleverly targeted media plan with mediocre creative execution will not have as much success as a smaller plan with great creative. That’s just how it works. Even the brilliant execution of a humdrum strategy will likely be more effective than a brilliant strategy with humdrum creative. That’s how art enhances commerce. And that’s why we are in a creative industry.

I run a public company, so financial results are not only important to me, they are the benchmark of our accomplishments. But I believe that for those agencies that seek big ideas to increase exponentially their clients’ success in the marketplace, financial success is the inevitable by-product. That’s how it should work. A great idea, a creative idea, an effective idea is worth more than a mediocre idea.

Holding companies can help by encouraging their agencies to invest in creative talent and by helping their people and their companies to have confidence in their creativity and the value of their ideas — to believe in their own worth and the value of creative talent. Agencies must do whatever it takes to preserve a creative culture, from always recruiting the best talent to rewarding people financially for the exceptional quality and impact of their work. And clients can help by demanding great creative from their agencies. If a client pays an agency for 10 hours of time to create a print ad, that client is not demanding great creative. We can all work together to lift the industry from institutionalized mediocrity. Ideas and talent, strategy and execution, focus, commitment, belief and confidence. 
New technology presents new challenges to advertisers. It always has. But the talent that can tell the most engaging, memorable stories are still the most valuable resource for an advertiser. And I’m betting that a successful agency of the future will be a place where great talent lives.

Miles Nadal is chairman and CEO of MDC Partners.