Many years ago, I worked with a young man who said that his father had been a “creative” in an advertising agency. And that he had invented the slogan – and ubiquitous strap line – for a well known chocolate snack bar. And that this five minutes (or so he claimed) of reasonably lateral and possibly creative thought had kept the client in the agency, the agency in the money, him in a job, his family in annual foreign holidays and my colleague in private school until he himself, the creative, retired early from the agency aged 55.
This week, I attended a talk, at my children’s school, given by a UK board director of a global technology group. He gave a rundown of all the new and developing technologies that were – or would soon – change the way we live and work. Asked by an anxious parent what that might mean for his child, the speaker said to be sure to teach the child to be a creative thinker. Because technology could and would be copied, commoditised and cast aside but creativity would always be unique and irreplaceable.
We know now that the creative industries are growing twice as fast as the rest of the economy with a gross value added of £91.8 billion – a trend that is set to continue. And if this take on creativity is true, opportunities for agencies across the live disciplines will abound.
But let me sound a note of caution. If, as an agency, your clients know you and rate you for your skills in logistics or project management or production, they may look elsewhere for their creativity. Slice off pieces of your brief, your once creative brief, and pass out to a smaller, more nimble or more shocking still, “more hip” agency. Therefore, the real challenge is how to make sure that your existing clients see you as a creative partner of choice.
In the dawning of this new age of the “blended” agency, client expectations of UK-based agencies are, quite rightly, sky high. Whilst, for most agencies, day-to-day reality can be a steady reckoner. With that in mind, how do successful agencies maintain the sprint-like pace of innovation and up-skilling required to continually surprise and delight their clients and retain market share?
And, surely, creativity can be copied?
A board director of an AV provider recently told me that he and his colleagues are often sent the same creative idea to be costed but by different agencies. Sometimes because the same freelancer is working for more than one agency on a pitch. Or, far worse, a client has decided to go it alone with a creative idea they liked the look of. And believed that through the pitch process they had somehow come to “own” the idea.
Now, I am not one of those people who believes that we are all creative. For some, creative thinking sits close to the surface; for others, like me, it is buried a little deeper and lies dormant. I do believe that, in agencies, there are usually one or two people who can be relied upon, in brainstorming sessions, to produce the one big idea that will impress an existing client or win a new pitch.
My advice. Keep those people close. In fact, treasure them. Give them status and profile and publicity. Because, in this age of unrelenting technological innovation, creativity could well be the only enduring attribute that makes your agency stand out from the crowd.