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For creativity’s sake: how ad agencies can keep their creatives creative

Andrew Boulton is a senior lecturer on copywriting and creative advertising at the University of Lincoln. He’s also a copywriter with over a decade of scribbling experience at top creative agencies in the Midlands and once for a man who carved dolphins out of cheese.

He was nominated for the Professional Publishers Association Award for Business Media Columnist of the Year despite having little or no grasp of the semi colon. You can follow him on Twitter @Boultini.

For reasons that are perfectly understandable, creatives in our business are asked to put the needs of the brief first. Building a raft when someone has asked for a bridge may satisfy your yearning for raft-design, but your client remains bridgeless.

It has always been this way, always will and always should. In a way.

After all, if you want your creativity to serve and delight only you then the door is open, of sorts, to professions that ask nothing of your imagination other than its breadth and depth.

But we, in advertising and marketing, are servants to the brief, the client, the audience, the reputation of the agency and the very bottom of the bottom line.

However, this arrangement is self-deteriorating in a very real and simple way.

Creative people are battery operated creatures. Our tanks are not infinite, nor can they be expected to operate at full throttle whenever the key is turned.

We need fuel.

That fuel, unsurprisingly, is more creativity. (It turns out we are cannibalistic as well as battery powered.)

Mostly, creatives take responsibility for their own resuscitation. We seek out creative nutrition, harvesting it away in our bulging cheeks through the things we read, the things we watch, the things we notice – and, of course, the ever-satisfying ‘sideys’ we pursue in our spare time.

What is missing in this equation is, in many cases, the role of creative businesses in refuelling their precious creative equipment.

In some agencies, the office radiator receives more maintenance than the creatives.

When was the last time you were told, in work time, to put down the paid job and simply lose yourself in your head?

The argument that a creative business cannot afford to take their writers and designers out of the sacred billable cloisters is facile. It’s like telling a helicopter that its journey is too long and too important to necessitate any petrol.

Also, the idea that this is somehow an indulgence – a concession to softness similar to letting a restless toddler crayon on the wipe-clean walls – is unfathomable.

Allocating regular, substantial time for your creatives to do the thing that makes them so valuable to you, can only ever make your business stronger – even if accommodating it can make some days a little busier.

A creative encouraged to be creative on their own terms is happier. A creative whose creativity is actively stimulated by their agency is more devoted to that agency. And a creative who is given the chance to show what they’re capable of will never squander such a rare opportunity.

Who knows, the one day a week you give your creatives to pursue their own appetites could easily produce an astonishing idea you can sell to a client.

At the very least you’ll have demonstrated you are a place that values, nurtures and understands creatives – three qualities that are not always present in businesses who are happy to talk about (and profit from) their hired creativity.

It is, of course, a choice for agency owners and leaders to make. But it seems to me that the choice is simply between a creative team at full power, and one whose batteries are fading a little more every day.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @Boultini

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