Why does TV appreciate our creativity more than advertisers?
Ian Greenhill, co-founder of Studio Something, has spent much time working between broadcast and advertising. One industry values his expertise more than the other...
Next year, my co-founder Jordan and I will have been running our creative agency Studio Something for 10 years. Bananas. Crazytown. Unthinkable. A lot has changed, but we’ve always had a consistent term thrown at us from the ad industry as a bit of a diss – ‘creative.’
Oh yeah, you are creative guys.
That idea is too creative.
It’s creative for creativity’s sake.
Maybe it’s because I set the company up when I was a 24-year-old junior creative.
Or maybe there’s something a bit deeper to it?
Nils Leonard, founder of Uncommon, commented on the fact the ad industry no longer sells creativity but sells client services, and I agree. Most agencies I see are fulfillment agencies, not creative ones. That’s not to nothing or belittle the other parts of an agency, but I find it a bit of a con for clients. Just call it something different if you aren’t selling creative. We have one designer, but I’m not rushing to call us a design agency.
We like to think we come up with (and make) ideas our clients couldn’t do themselves. If we don’t, in a few years, we will be irrelevant. But most industry events I go to don’t even speak about the creative process or the creative at all. On my bad days, it spirals me into existential dread, and on my good days, I laugh at the absurdity of it all. An industry is selling the stuff around the stuff while not prizing the stuff. It’s like a tile salesman punting grout.
But since I’ve been working in the broadcast industry making telly – the bit people tune in for – I’ve noticed the polar opposite happening there–a visceral positive reaction to how I am and how I see the world. There, creativity is welcomed, prized, and coveted. People see how rare it is and pay for it. They sit up in meetings when you talk about ideas. People like me are welcome. The creative guys.
Earlier this year, I gave a talk to the BBC Board about our company and how a couple of gadgies ended up creating a space to work on brands, broadcast, and everything in between. More importantly, I told them how, for us, ideas will always be prized over the medium.
After the talk, many board members said, ‘We need more creative people like you.’ One approached me to produce a report on the future of sport and fandom, which became a large project spanning many months. At the start of it, I asked, ‘Oh, do you want me to do lots of strategy and research?’ ‘No thanks, we have plenty of that; I just want your ideas. Creative ideas. You’re the creative guy; I’m not.
Wow. Juice me!
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It struck me that in 10 years, I’d never been asked that by a brand. And the sad thing is – creativity genuinely works. I believe it can be every company’s unfair advantage, and great creativity brings huge business benefits. That’s why scale-ups focus on brand. It’s why the biggest disruptors have a unique tone of voice. It’s how what we do doesn’t get ignored. And how we don’t become wallpaper salesmen pushing paste.
So why are people scared of it? Because creativity takes guts, you have to be willing to look silly in the pursuit of being smart.
We recently won a pitch for a huge sports brand–a basketball one. So I’ve been learning a lot about basketball. I happened across an anecdote that reminds me of the reaction and view to bold, creative ideas.
It concerns a chap called Rick Barry, an eight-time NBA All-Star who has one of the highest free throw percentages in the history of the league. His percentage is around 90%, which is crazy. The thing is, Barry, an NBA hall of famer, was so successful because he chose to free throw the ball ‘granny style’ – aka underarm. He wasn’t scared to look a bit daft or do something that wasn’t the norm because it worked. And do you know how many people since he set the record have adopted his technique? None, because people would rather not look silly than do something different that works.
Sometimes, I think our company is at a crossroads. Do we go all in making telly? How do we make brands broadcasters? I can get tied in knots thinking about this stuff when, in reality, we’ve always sold the same thing from day one: creative. The creative guys. Too creative? Who cares? I don’t.
We are ‘doing creative’ because we’d get sad if we didn’t, and we genuinely believe it works. Bending our knees, putting the ball between our legs and attempting to throw the ball like a granny.