3 Tips for Entangling Creativity and Innovation in Advertising

Engineering and creative teams need to work in unison

illustration of two hands, one black and one white, screwing in a lightbuld
Integrating tech practitioners, engineers and data scientists with creative minds makes ideas bigger and more impactful. Fairywong
Headshot of Deb Boyda

Spend a day browsing the business press or attending a few seminars at an industry conference and you will hear two words dozens of times: innovation and creativity. An idle observer would understandably think these are the two secret passwords for opening the gates of industry fame and fortune. But for all their popularity, these two domains rarely overlap in practice. To borrow an old and familiar phrase, they are more like two ships passing in the night.

What we really need is a collision—a big one.

Innovation is the lifeblood of our business. Creativity is the oxygen of innovation. But too often, innovation and creativity are viewed as disparate pursuits. We place the responsibility for driving innovation at the feet of the tech practitioners, engineers and data scientists who brood about flow and function and deliver seemingly impossible (to the layperson) feats of technological wizardry. Then there are the masters of creativity, the right-brained magicians that pull the big ideas out of hats to make people laugh, cry and scream. They make us feel.

But too often [innovation and creativity] remain separate, rendering each form of creativity less potent.

But it’s the seamless integration of the two that makes ideas bigger, implementation more impactful and success more triumphant.

Let’s consider one definition of creativity, which is to make something new for the world, something never seen before. This can come from the creative side in the form of an engaging message divined from a behavioral insight. It can come from the technology side that’s engineering a breakthrough using bespoke architecture to meld technologies together in an enterprise-wide solution. For both, it’s an ingenious way to solve a business problem, designed to provoke or connect or persuade.

But too often they remain separate, rendering each form of creativity less potent. When done properly, they both involve a true creative process: one that thrives on failure, relentless experimentation and a refusal to compromise.

Such collaboration may not happen naturally; these are quite often different types of thinkers, but there are ways to help stimulate the process.

Get everyone in the room

Look across the marketing landscape and you’ll discover the continued tendency to silo disciplines within an organization. It’s like kids sitting in cliques in the school cafeteria. The creatives go to Creative Island, do all that creative stuff, then fly in with their big idea. The technology innovators are sprinting designs forward to see what breaks and then determining how to reengineer them.

Bring your big thinkers from both disciplines into the same room at the very beginning of the process. Technologists and creatives both embrace robust creative processes—albeit in somewhat different ways—and each can fuel the other. You just need to make it an absolute imperative.

A team that pitches together wins together

An underlying goal of any pitch is to hear from a prospective client that they couldn’t identify who represented tech, creative or strategy. Instead, they just saw a unified team. That’s when it’s working. That’s a big win. When all team members are on board with the greater goal, they are more likely to contribute to the big picture, take ownership of both the process and the product and make the collective output better. Make certain that your teams are really teams. And when you succeed, the reasoning behind all of the effort becomes crystal clear and consumers will want more.

Get out of your lane

Ideas, no matter what they will ultimately fuel, all come from the same place and out of the same process. A productive creative process tends to be a messy one and can be frustrating to anyone not comfortable with uncertainty and nonlinear progress. Your tech superstars can contribute by bringing their more rational understanding of process to the confounding world of ideating. Their expertise informs how to test and learn quickly in order to move forward to the next thought—and the next.

When pushing to make these fundamental changes, initially you might get eye rolls if not outright resistance. But if you stick with it, you’ll end up with a cohesive team that feels enlisted to the greater good and, not incidentally, a better final product. That’s what businesses want, clients need and customers expect.

So, let’s get those ships on a collision course and create the unknowable and unthinkable. Let’s make the concepts of creativity and innovation bigger than words, bigger than silos. Let’s make this unified front the norm.

This story first appeared in the March 2, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Deb Boyda is the U.S. CEO of Isobar Group.