There’s Only One Job in Advertising

When we decided to move a portion of the agency to Boulder, Colo., a very surprising thing happened: The mayor’s office asked to take a meeting.

This seemed like a good thing. The mayor of Miami had never asked for a meeting. Maybe this meant we’d play a more important role in our new city.

I was excited and a bit nervous. Boulder has done an amazing job managing its growth. There are greenways that connect virtually the entire city, and parks and public places scattered everywhere. And they have bought up most of the land around the city to create open spaces that can never be developed, and which will prevent other cities from growing into Boulder. In fact, cities now come from around the world to study how such a livable place was built.

To put it lightly, I didn’t want to fuck the meeting up.

Well, these people I admired so much opened the meeting with a great line — one that made me gulp. “Boulder isn’t looking for any new businesses,” they said. “We have enough and as a city we only allow 1 percent growth per year.”

Oh shit, I thought. Boulder is a closed game and they’re not going to let us play.

Then something amazing happened: They said, “But.” My heart soared like an eagle. There was still a chance. And then what they said after the “but” blew me away.

“But yours is a creative company working in the field of creativity and employing creative individuals, and that is exactly what we want to invite more of into our community.”

Oh, baby. I was home.

These people did not just randomly decide that day that they wanted creative companies and creative citizens. They understand the dynamics of the coming economy and they understand that the U.S. economy is not powered by manufacturing; it’s powered by creativity.

A lot has been written about this transition, but this was the first time I’d seen it in action on such a grand scale. It knocked me on my ass. They actually seemed to see more potential in my company than I did. They saw more creativity, too, because they didn’t ask that we only bring “creatives.” They didn’t know the way we divide up duties. They didn’t know we erroneously call a single department the “creative department.”

We are so lucky to be in a creative field at a time when the economy is running on creativity. Yet we are still inculcated to mistrust the concept of creativity. We may be perfectly positioned, but we spend our time trying to add scientific processes to our strategies and scientific testing to our work. Why do we distrust something that is so easy for us all to identify and identify with?

We all agree on what a creative solution is. We all know a creative strategy when we see one and we know when it’s going to work. We try to make our “creative” departments islands supported by our “science” departments.

Well, I don’t know what everybody else is experiencing, but my clients are asking for more creativity from each and every department — bigger ideas, more out-of-the-box thinking — not more science.

Sure, we’ve added analytics and diagnostics and dashboards, but we’re adding them in support of creative thinking from each and every department — in support of leaps of logic in planning, in media, in business strategy.

I’m sure the idea that we work in a creative industry with only one deliverable, the idea that the entire world is beginning to run on creativity, will piss off some people. But if it really is so upsetting, you can always join another industry — or perhaps just embrace your inner creativity.

We all have it. It doesn’t mean you can draw or sing or compose music or write. It might mean you have a unique ability to sniff out the right audience. Or an uncanny ability to find the truth of a business hidden in the numbers. Or maybe you have a way of talking to consumers that allows them to reveal what they’re really thinking.

Anything we do as humans, when done well enough and with enough passion, becomes creative. Creativity is not inherent to the activity. I play guitar and it’s certainly not at a level that I would consider a creative endeavor. I’ve even written commercials that in retrospect I would not consider creative.

I’ve also seen strategy decks and marketing plans that were outrageously creative and flat-out brilliant.

It’s not the job. It’s how you do it. Creativity and excellence are synonymous.

Kids just inherently get stuff that takes the rest of us a while. When I became co-chairman of CP+B, my kids asked if the name of the agency was going to change “because you’re not a creative director any more.” They may not know corporate hierarchy, but they sure as hell get the value of creativity.

So what can you do if the word “creative” isn’t on your business card, either? Just embrace your new-found economy. Embrace your new-found industry. Embrace your new-found mission. Embrace your new-found creativity.

I plan to embrace all that and more. Because if I don’t, I’m pretty sure that my kids and the mayor’s office will kick me out of town.

Alex Bogusky is co-chairman of Crispin Porter + Bogusky. The shop opened its Boulder office in 2006.