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An open letter to Grey and to putting 100% into the creative process

Jeff Shill applauds Grey for a recent 75% investment pledge to creativity, but pushes for raising the bar. / Ricardo Viana

Earlier this year, Grey New York announced they’re dedicating 75% of their resources to creative. As a creative, I applaud that decision. It’s about time we all did something like that. But to me it also begs the question, why stop at 75%?

Just the other day my account team pulled me aside after an internal review of some B2B print work. It was a trade magazine insert. They weren’t completely happy with the quality of the work. They felt like it could be better. Then they said something that absolutely shocked me.

It was their fault.

They felt they didn’t set the briefing up right. The meeting didn’t get the creatives excited and it didn’t get them into the mindset of our target audience. They didn’t do anything special to elevate the briefing so that the strategy came to life. They felt like the kick off meeting itself should match or at least set up the same kind of creative expectations they had for the work.

So we re-briefed. They not only fought to keep the work on the highest possible level, but they also backed it up by getting the extra time the team needed to go back to the drawing board. The account team owned the creative as a collective. I couldn’t love those guys more. And, no, you can’t have their names.

AEs, UX designers, strategists, analysts, art directors - we’re never going to sit around the campfire, holding hands and singing kumbaya. Beer can only go so far. We’re all just wired a little too differently. But that doesn’t mean we all aren’t responsible for the end output – whatever it is we’re doing.

When was the last time you saw a CD and an AE discuss an idea for a briefing? Ever see UX designers sit down with an art director and a blank sheet of paper? How about creatives running a concept by PR to gauge its newsworthiness?

Let me put it another way. When was the last time everyone in the agency got excited about the same damn project?

I suspect that is the crux of the problem. Those moments of all-agency excitement are very few and far between. The mentality of being all in and celebrating creativity as something more than an assembly line output of a specific department is becoming more and more rare.

Notice how many of the agencies leading the charge right now are the same ones who have been leading the charge for years and years? They’re the same ones who are known for having a culture of creativity across all departments.

If the whole damn agency isn’t excited about a project, I would argue that the lack of excitement is more of a cultural problem than a creative one. Blame apathy all you want. But it would seem myopathy is much more destructive to the creative process. Myopathy is what leads to assembly line thinking. Apathy leads to lazy workers on the line.

(And stop blaming the next generation of thinkers. They’re not all perfect, but a lot of them work their asses off. They’re not spoiled and entitled. The ones I like working with all share another trait – they see the bigger picture. They get that creative is a cultural mindset, not a department silo.)

If the agency truly has a creative vision, then we should all be excited about stuff that solves problems in new and unexpected ways. That includes everything from applying the latest technology to a predictive behavioral model to a completely different take on a traditional approach. It doesn’t matter what it is. What matters is that someone took the time to look at it from a different point of view and we all are excited they did that.

Besides, it’s much easier to work on ideas everyone is excited about. The energy is natural and sincere. Collaboration is easier. Even the presentation doesn’t feel like a sales pitch. Don’t believe me? I’ve got some dead trade ads I’d like you to present to our account folk on my behalf.

So I humbly submit that 75% of an agency resource committed to creative is a nice step forward, but it’s just not enough. And given I currently have expense reports now four months overdue to the finance department, I’m all in for 100%.

Jeff Shill is creative director at Pittsburgh-based Brunner.