The sound of tearing paper can be heartbreaking. Especially if the paper has some of your writing on it and is currently being ripped in two (no, wait, make that four).
That’s a flashback to the distant days when I worked on a local newspaper. Back in 1987, we typed and submitted our copy on paper, at least on my little English rag. The editors would correct it with pencils. If it got as far as the editor’s desk, that is.
Clearly, this specific piece was not going to make the journey. The news editor handed it back in fragments. “This is a mess,” he told me. “Try again.”
You may not think of writers as creative people, but deep down they are sensitive bookish types. Editors occasionally fail to remember this when they take an article apart. In that respect, it’s easy for writers to empathize with agency creatives, who are required to be brilliant to order and then swallow their pride when their ideas are handed back to them in metaphorical pieces.
“Managing creatives requires almost as much skill as actually doing the creative work,” an agency boss recently confirmed during an informal chat. “Creatives know they’re doing a job and that they shouldn’t take it personally, but that’s only in theory. In practice, it stings when you’re passionate about an idea and someone else just shrugs.”
The simple secret, as you might imagine, is to give constructive criticism. “You can’t just say, ‘I don’t like it,’ obviously. You have to explain why in some detail. You have to give them something to work with.”
André Toledo, global creative director at LOLA MullenLowe, echoed this thought. “It’s always best to explain why the idea doesn’t fit into the brief or within the creative level we want to achieve. The best cds, ecds or CCOs are the ones that teach something new with every feedback.”
Not that he’s averse to being challenged. In fact, he said, challenges are what make creatives tick. “As a filter for ideas, we always ask, ‘Will people talk about this in bars?’ If the answer is yes, we have a great idea on our hands.”
But bringing those ideas to life requires clients with reserves of courage and trust. The relationship works a hundred times better when creative and client are striving together for greatness.
Johanna Marciano has been in the creative hot seat and is now executive producer at In Finé, the luxury arm of French production company Quad. She said, “When clients and creatives talk on an even keel, both parties are more motivated to reach the same goal and find creative solutions.”
Working effectively with creatives means appreciating the pressure they’re under, she added. “As a creative you feel an enormous burden of responsibility. Because if a project fails, it means your idea wasn’t good enough.”
Plenty of emotional support is required, therefore. No creative in any profession should be obliged to fly solo because it can be a short fall to shattered self-confidence.
“Nothing is more motivating than team spirit,” observed Marciano. “Collaborative discussions always lend themselves to more creative results. If everyone keeps the goal in mind, any criticism will be supported by a ‘why’ and [will] therefore be constructive.”
As a boss, she advised creatives be flexible. “Being married to an idea walls you in. Commercial art is meant to be seen, read, understood by others. It’s important to listen to others because they may have a different angle on the same idea and be able to complete it.”
That goes for writers, too. They are aware that their first draft is usually terrible, but they tend to relax after the second or third. Often, however, that’s only the beginning of the journey. Editors now weigh in. As like advertising, creativity is a team effort.
Another thing writers have in common with agency creatives is that we often work to a brief. An incomplete or meandering one leaves us floundering. Or we may answer a specific brief only to find that the client, or rather the commissioning editor, has since changed their mind about the direction. A solid, consistent brief leads to good work.
Even if it’s not good enough, at least these days it comes back with notes rather than in shreds.