The Care And Feeding Of Creative
Alan Rosenspan has been a Creative Director in three different countries. He and his groups have won over 100 awards for creativity and results. Here's how he was able to do it -- sometimes without even speaking the language.
Today, I am going to reveal one of the best-kept secrets in the advertising business.
It's not that long letters are better. Or self-mailers don't work. It's more general and more profound than that.
It's this: Good creative people have choices.
Let me repeat that -- good creative people have choices.
They can sometimes decide which accounts to work on. And they can always decide how much effort they put into it.
And what that means is, if you can make your creative people love you, or love your product, or love the work they produce for you, you will never have to worry about your advertising.
My goal is to show you how to achieve that.
But before we start, and just for the fun of it, let's do an exercise.
Let's try to imagine the very worst way to run an agency. And how to make sure we get all the very worst work.
First, let's name the agency. Let's call it "Ruthless, Cunning, Fear and Greed Direct". The name has been changed to protect what may be your agency.
Now, with a name like that, how should we treat our creative people? I have four suggestions.
1. Keep them frightened. About their jobs. About their work. About themselves. That's why that gun goes off at the start of a race, right? To frighten people into running their best?
2. Never let them know where they stand. If we have to say something nice to them, we make sure no one else is in the room. We play favorites. And change them often. Because we know that is only when creative people are more concerned about their job than their work that the work can really suffer. Then, when they come to us for advice...attention...or with a new idea, what do we do?
3. Just say no! Insist they do it our way, and we don't even need a reason. Or we can make one up like "I know -- that The Client will never buy that."
4. Never let them see you sweat. Make sure the creative people understand that you're not part of the team, you're the captain and somehow above it all. And remember that great quote..."Youth and enthusiasm can always be defeated by age and treachery." Follow these four simple steps, and I guarantee you will get the worst work from even the very best people.
But now let's talk about getting the best work. To give you a bit of my background, I first became a Creative Director at the tender age of 23. I was the Creative Director of Ogilvy & Mather Hong Kong. My staff consisted of one Czechoslovakian, one Australian and nine Chinese. They didn't speak much English. I didn't speak Cantonese. Which is probably why we got along so well. But needless to say, I wasn't able to provide much creative direction.
As the years have passed, I have managed several different creative departments in different countries, and I have grown increasingly more effective. And I have sometimes wondered why.
Have I become more mature? Not unless your definition of the word "mature" is broad enough to include boxing with a client while attending a focus group. Or chasing an art director down the hall with a water pistol.
Have I grown more wise? No, but I have grown a beard. I have become more experienced, but that's not the whole answer. There are many people who claim ten years of experience when they've really only had one year -- but they've had it 10 times. And so, after puzzling about this for awhile, the real answer finally came to me. The real change that has made me become a more effective Creative Director is this: I have become a parent.
This is not to say that creative people are childish. I do not believe that. What I do believe is that creative people are more in touch with the childlike aspects within each one of us.
They see the world a bit differently. They get excited about things that most people take for granted. And a good creative director, a good account director or a good client can take advantage of that.
For example, let's suppose you're in the box business. But you don't design boxes. Or make boxes. Or even sell boxes. You simply move boxes -- to places like Omaha, Memphis or Tulsa.
How can anyone get excited about a business like that...unless the company happened to be Federal Express? It was the creative people getting excited about that service that made the work exciting that helped build the business. There is an excited child within each of us. The trick is to listen carefully for this voice.
There was a recent best-seller that was based on this principle. It's called "All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten."
It's a wonderful book. And there are some wonderful lessons that the author has learned. Let's see if these lessons can work for us in Direct Marketing.
Lesson # 1: Share everything
The key word here is "everything". Share the credit, share the awards, share the opportunities. In our business, the first thing to share is information. You never know when one little fragment of information can lead to a brilliant piece of advertising.
For example, I used to work on the Dove soap business. What happened on Dove, which was just like any other soap, was this: The creative people took a tour of the factory. They saw something added to the soap.
"What's that?" one of them asked. "Oh nothing, " said the plant manager. "It's just lanolin." "What's lanolin?" The plant manager grouped for words, "It's like a cream. It helps hold the soap together."
The promise that "Dove is one-quarter cleansing cream" has sold billions of bars of Dove for the past 25 years. A little bit of information can go a long, long way.
If you're an account director, the surest way to endear yourself to the creative department is to have that information, to be an expert on your business, to be able to answer any question, to be able to say "Yes, we can" or even "I'll find out" instead of "I don't know."
Sometimes the best thing to know -- is that you don't know. One of the most famous advertising campaigns in history came after the agency spent 90 days getting to know the client and the business. They discovered that the client had absolutely no advantage over the competition. The result was the "We Try Harder" Campaign for Avis Rent-a-Car.
In direct marketing, creative people are also extremely interested when you share results. And how many of us do that? All the time? Creative people want to know what worked? What didn't work? Why? We all spend so much time creating and producing a mailing package or advertisement -- but how much time do we allow to share the results of it, and the lessons learned?
My recommendation is to perform an autopsy on every piece you do -- even your best ones. Literally open them up, weigh each element, and try to discover how it can be improved.
Of course the most important thing to share is the credit. Bill Backer was Executive Creative Director of Backer Spielvolgel Bates Worldwide. He did the "Miller Lite" commercials, and a lot of the great Coca Cola commercials.
He's written a fascinating book about what he describes as "The Idea Family."
He compares a new idea to a new born baby. It needs a family that extends beyond the immediate parents if it's going to grow and live up to it's full potential. It needs teachers, doctors, coaches, aunts and uncles. Every one of them has a role to play, and ever one of them should share in the credit.
Someone once said "It's amazing how much you can accomplish, if you don't care who gets the credit. "I'd like to embellish that thought. "It's amazing how much more you can accomplish in an environment where everyone gets the credit they deserve."
Lesson #2. Play Fair
To paraphrase Mark Twain "This will please a few people, and astonish the rest."
Playing fair means not pulling rank, but pulling experience; not hogging the juicy assignments for yourself; not stealing other people's ideas; and knowing when to back off rather than take over.
Let me give you a recent example. My agency works on the Gatorade account. Gatorade is a scientifically tested sports drink that replaces the essential minerals and electrolytes lost during periods of athletic activity.
Gatorade wanted to do a direct mail campaign to teenagers and young adults. It was a very high visibility project and a great opportunity. I assigned it to the best creative people in my group, and here's what happened. Their campaign -- "Liquid Technology" has now been rolled out to television, point of sale, and it's even on the Gatorade bottle.
My contribution? -- I got out of their way, and I let them do their best. It was the best possible contribution I could have made.
Lesson # 3: Flush
By this, I mean get rid of those people in your department, or your agency, who don't belong there.
Firing the right people can stimulate your creative people just as much as hiring the right people. Who should you fire?
1. People with a bad attitude. If you can't change them, get rid of them fast. Life's too short, and direct marketing is too hard.
2. People who aren't willing to work hard. Claude Hopkins was one of the first great copywriters. He wrote a book called "Scientific Advertising". His agency believed that the secrets it contained were so valuable, that they kept his manuscript locked away in a vault for many years. In my opinion, Claude Hopkins most valuable secret was this. He said "If my advertising works twice as hard as anyone else's, it's only because I have worked four times as hard on it."
3. Finally, fire people who don't love their work. When my daughter came home from her first day of Kindergarten, her eyes were shining. She could hardly wait to tell me about it. She said "Daddy. It was great. We colored pictures. Then we made up a story. Then we learned some new words." I had exactly the same day. People who love their work are not only the happiest people; they're the best at what they do. The old quote goes, "When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece. And probably an Echo Award.
By the way, you don't have to have a product like Gatorade to love your work. Remember that boring old box company? And it doesn't have anything to do with the size of your account.
In fact, there's a great quote which goes: "Advertising is the only business where the largest clients with the most amount of money can bully and demand the agency's worst work...while the smallest clients with little or no money must meekly accept the agency's best.
So how can you get creative people to love their work and give you theirbest? What exactly do creative people want anyway?
They'll never tell you, but I will. Start with Praise, a steady diet and don't skimp on the helpings.
It is very hard to create something, and once you do, it becomes a part of you. Once again, I think back to my children. Whenever my son hands me something he made, he is unsure of himself. He is attempting something new. And the first thing he needs from me is my encouragement and support.
The same is true of creative people. Whenever work is presented to me, I try to see the whole picture and find something I like, before I start picking at details.
I praise them too. Even if the work is not there yet. Because they've tried. It's not false praise -- it's selective praise. It involves recognizing the parts that are good. And motivating them to improve the parts that could be better. It is never personal.
Recently, I took a poll of all the art directors and copywriters in my agency, and I asked them to list what was most important to them at work. Money, awards, recognition, power, titles.
As you can imagine, money finished first. But recognition came up a very strong second. And the thing of it is this: I have a fairly tight budget for salaries and bonuses in my department. I can't give out a lot of money. But I have an unlimited budget for recognition. And I spend it as much as possible.
Let me give you an example. Remember the first time you got a business card? I mean, one that had your name on it? You probably showed it to everyone you knew, and maybe even a few strangers. I know I did.
So when an art director did a particularly good job on an important project for me, here's what I did. His card read "Mark Davis. Art Director" I had it changed to "Mark Davis. Brilliant Art Director." And so, for about $28, I made that guy feel great. And you better believe, he worked his best to live up to his new title.
I also think creative people need to be inspired. And that's not as hard to do as you think.
My first job was at Ogilvy & Mather. On my first day, I found a letter from David Ogilvy on my desk. It said, "Dear Alan, Welcome. You have joined the greatest advertising agency in the world. We've hired you because we believe that you have what it takes to add to our reputation."
How do you think I felt about my new job? What else do you feed creative people?
Time to do their best work. You know the old saying, "There's never time to do it right. They're always time to do it over." Now it's true that many creative people seem to do their best work at the very last minute. At least, that's what you see on the surface. What you may not see is the unconscious thinking, the creative process, that was going on all the time. That allowed them to do their best work before the presentation.
Trust me, I've been on both sides of the fence. I've set deadlines. And I've met deadlines. And I've missed deadlines -- but I was always guilty with an explanation.
Stan Winston, who was Vice Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Direct, put time in it's proper perspective. He said "No one will ever remember if it took an extra day, but no one will ever forget if it failed."
Of course, time is something you may not have. In our business, just like that box business, sometimes we absolutely, positively, have to get there overnight.
The key to getting the job done in these emergencies is not to make every job an emergency. There is nothing so discouraging to creative people than to race to meet a false or arbitrary deadline.
It's like the Little Boy Who Cried Wolf. But worse, much worse. Because you'll probably get something. It just won't be any good.
The third thing to feed them is Trust.
It has to be earned, but you have to provide the opportunity for them to earn it. If you don't trust their work, their ideas, their taste or their talents -- find someone you can trust. Personally, I trust the instincts of creative people more than I do research.
Tom Peters has a great example in his most recent book. He says "Suppose you had stood up in front of a focus group about 8 years ago and held up one of these? You'd say "It's a little yellow piece of paper. It has glue on the back, but not very good glue. It comes off when you pull it." What do you think the reaction would have been?
Today, of course, it's a multi-billion dollar product.
I had a large retail client that wanted to do something different for Christmas. I recommended that the client send each customer a gift. A $5 gift certificate good for anything in the stores -- with no strings attached.
I will never forget the look on the Marketing Directors face when she reached for her calculator, looked up at me, and said "How do I tell our Chairman that we want to give away seven million dollars?"
She trusted us. Her Chairman trusted her. And the store's customers were so touched by the gesture, they spent an average of $87. when they came in. We also received hundreds of "Thank you" notes and Christmas cards.
It is extremely important for clients to trust their agencies, for account people to trust their creative partners, and for creative directors to trust their staff.
When Doyle Dane Bernbach took the Avis account, they drew up an interesting contract. One part of it said this: "Avis is always going to know more about the business of car rental than the agency. Therefore, they will have the last word on all car decisions concerning car rental. "The agency is always going to know more about the business of advertising. Therefore, they will have the last word on all advertising decisions"
This was a formula that produced remarkable, and remarkably successful advertising campaigns. Let me give you a recent example of my own.
My agency works on the Gatorade account. Gatorade is a scientifically tested sports drink that replaces the essential minerals and electrolytes lost during periods of athletic activity. They wanted to do a direct mail campaign to teenagers and young adults. It was a very high visibility project and a great opportunity. What I could have done -- was do it myself. But it wouldnùt have been as good. So I assigned it to two of the younger, hipper members of my group. Their campaign -- "Liquid Technology" has now been rolled out to television, point of sale, and it's even on the Gatorade bottle.
My contribution? -- I got out of their way, and I let them do their best. I was terrific. Let's go back to Kindergarten for lesson number four.
Lesson #4. Hold hands and stick together
David Ogilvy had a great quote "Search the parks in all your cities. You'll find no statues of committees." I don't disagree -- but life and direct marketing are a lot more complicated than that.
So many people are involved in the process of creating, producing and mailing a package that it is absolutely imperative to "hold hands and stick together". But just like in dancing, holding hands is not enough. You have to move. And one person usually has to lead. That's the job of the Creative Director.
One of the best account people I know gave me a terrific analogy about teamwork. He said "Account people are like golf caddies. Some of them just haul the bags back and forth. But some are real professionals. "Now even a great golfer like Jack Nicklaus depends on his caddie. The caddie will look over the green, walk the distance, and say "It's about 50 yards, Jack, and my experience on this hole tells me you should be pulling a bit to the right." "Then he goes over to the hole, removes the flag, and waits for the shot. That's the caddie's job. It's Jack's job to swing the club. But they're both working together on the same objective -- to put the ball in the hole. "But how many account people simply stand by the side, watch the shot -- or the presentation -- and then say "You missed!"?
Lesson #5. Be aware of wonder
Edward deBono has written several books on how the mind works. He coined the phrase "lateral thinking". Scientists now know that the left half of the brain is the creative part. The right side helps you do your taxes. But nobody has ever been able to answer the very simple question "Where do ideas come from?". And with all the technical advances in desktops, laptops, macs and mice -- we still haven't been able to come up with a machine that can create.
Most of us never stop and fully appreciate the creative process. After all, "All advertising starts out exactly even, just a blank sheet of paper. Every ad maker has only 26 letters of the alphabet, a handful of punctuation marks, and 3 primary colors. "Yet some advertising sings...or soars...or makes you cry...or makes you buy. And some never gets off the ground at all." Recognize these creative types? O.K, by now, I hope you've learned how to take care of and feed most creative people.
But some creative people are on special diets. Now what I've done is make a scientific analysis of certain creative types. I'll tell you a little about them, and how to best handle them.
First, we have the Design-o-Saur.
The Designosaur starts each project by picking a color and a paper stock. She doesn't have an idea. She doesn't even have a concept. But she just knows it's going to be positively the most beautiful, most gorgeous, most artful piece the agency has ever produced. In fact, it's a shame we have to hide it in an envelope.
What do you feed these pretty little creatures?
Small amounts of copy, and just slip it under their door.
You can sense my sarcasm. I'm not saying that good design isn't an important part of direct marketing. Good design is like the icing on the cake. But first, you need a cake. With a center, a filling, and something to bite into.
The next beast in our menagerie is the Letter-O-Saurus.
The Letter-O-Saurus comes from the "old school" of direct marketing -- back when first class postage was a nickel. She knows all the tried and true methods -- or should I say tired and true?
But not much else.
The Letter-O-Saurus lives in...a Johnson Box, of course. All you'll ever get from these creatures is a letter. And sometimes a letter just isn't the best solution. Someone once said, "If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." The Letter-O-Saurus only has a letter.
The third creature is the Pop-Up-a-Miss.
They thrive on pop-ups, snap packs, scratch n' sniffs, music chips, and virtually any gimmick you can think of. Now gimmicks, or involvement devices, are a great way to break through the clutter and create a powerful advertising message. But they can be expensive. And they can also get in the way of a strong and powerful selling idea.
You feed these creatures new business presentations and big, big budgets.
Just be careful that they can actually produce the comp they've shown you. And you don't need a million of them hand-assembled by next week.
The last creature I'd like to introduce you to is the most dangerous of all. And fortunately, they seem to be dying out. It's the dread GeneralSaurus Rex.
This angry beast never wanted to be in direct marketing at all. He wanted to be in general advertising. He roars when you want to clutter up his advertisement with a coupon. He snarls when you insist that a brochure should have more than just a snappy headline and one poignant paragraph of copy. And he'll jump -- at the chance to do anything other than direct mail.
What do you feed him? Nothing.
Let him jump, or even help him right out the door. And find someone who loves Direct Marketing, it's unique challenges and opportunities, as much as you do.
I have three additional suggestions -- mostly for creative directors.
First, set high personal standards. It's like drawing a chalk mark on a wall. You stand on your tippytoes and reach as high as you can. And then everyone tries to reach your mark, or higher. Setting high standards isn't a lofty thing to do. It's not about keeping your hands clean and sending out inspirational memos. It's about rolling up your sleeves and getting involved with the work.
In many countries, agencies are required to sign their work. To put their name and their reputation on every piece they do. Sounds pretty daunting, right? Well, it's something clients always have to do. If you don't feel proud enough of a job that you would put your name on it, you probably haven't done your best.
Two, defend your people and their work. If they're not good enough, that's your fault -- not theirs. Bear Bryant, the great football coach, had a little plaque on his wall. It said, "If something goes wrong, I did it. If something goes right, we did it. If something goes terrific, you did it." When he retired, he won more games than any other coach in college history.
Three, Make them do their best, don't do it for them. Recently, a copywriter threw her shoes at me. I had rejected a piece of copy she had written several times. She threw her shoes at me, quit, and stormed back to her office. I waited a few minutes and brought her back her shoes. "This can be an award-winning piece" I said, "I can write it for you, if you want. But I think you should take one more crack at it, so it can be all yours." She did. The client loved it. And it may win an award. It would have been far easier for me to do myself. But the easy thing to do is seldom the right thing to do.
My final point is simply this: Go for it. George Bernard Shaw said "Most people hardly think at all. I've made an international reputation for myself by thinking once a week." If you consistently try to get the best work, from your agency, from your creative people, and from yourself, you will be soon be extremely famous and very rich.
© Alan Rosenspan & Associates