5 Ways To Make Creative Great

Following last week’s blog on the four principles of agency briefing, I have extreme empathy with any agency specialising in media or creativity. Why? Well first of all I have been around them for many years, as clients in previous jobs. Secondly, I have worked with a number of top agencies to help build a robust creative capability and so have learned from their people.

The reason for the empathy?  Well, creativity is almost a thankless task. It is expected, it’s a hygiene factor and is the lifeblood of the agency. However, pretty much every agency suffers from the need for ridiculously fast turn-around, clients with a lack of clarity and having to deal with constraints galore. Therefore creativity isn’t quite as easy as you may think.

There is hope! Here are a 5 ways, which can help a culture buzz more with creativity and make this manic world more manageable!


There is an age-old etiquette, which hugely impedes great creative work. It is when the client is distant or even non-existent throughout the creative process. Often at the behest of the Agency.  “We will see you in 2 weeks” really won’t cut it.  That’s the stuff of Mad Men!  Written briefs, often constructed following a stuffy template are potentially lethal.  They are either too woolly or too detailed and the written word (as we know from email culture) can be interpreted in so many different ways.  We are not saying here that clients aren’t clever and concise. What we know is that the real essence of a brief needs properly unlocking, through asking big questions and provocation.  When you allow this to happen agencies do great work and clients become famous. What is there to lose? Demand face-to-face time. It works wonders.


Agencies are full of bright people with a certain image to maintain. These people are sometimes a little bit fearful of trying stuff and failing. However, more creative genius is generated from quick and dirty experiments than sitting round in endless meandering debates.  Creative leaders try things out, making them tangible so that others can have an emotional reaction.  When you do this, you have real stories to tell and you can spot improvements much earlier. Doing things is fabulous for energy and momentum.


We think the single most powerful way to establish a sustainable creative culture is through everyday feedback. You will not make anything better about you or your work, unless you ask 2 important questions. What is working well? What could be even better?  Experimentation is useless unless you can learn brilliantly. We hear time and time again that feedback is trapped in annual reviews, only administered by seniors and often badly delivered. What you need is a shift to where everybody demands feedback on a day-today basis, on every brief and every interaction. It takes a couple of minutes to do but raises everyone’s game and standards quicker than anything.


We often hear that creative people in agencies can suffer from burnout. This is because they have been tarnished with a brand, which is ‘the chosen one’, ‘the golden balls of creativity’. Although this can be ego boosting for a while, over time it leads to others being lazy and relying on constant creativity from the few rather than the many. Everybody has creative genius within them and has a different perspective to offer. The moment you start inviting the same people to the same type of creative meetings is the moment you get trapped into average ways of thinking.  Instead label everyone, as having something to offer to the party, make sure it’s a diverse bunch of people in the room, from introvert to extrovert, commercial to creative and encourage collaboration.  This keeps the creative leaders fresh, shares out responsibility and delivers you better ideas.


Too many people obsess with the design and delivery of creative sessions. They have become like a theatrical production with meticulous planning of bean-baggy environments, clever stimulus techniques and excursions for people. Yes, it is important to have well planned sessions but the real creative genius happens around them.  How clients are interrogated to articulate their issue, how 50 topline ideas are turned into something concrete and useful and of course how we sell ideas in a punchy pithy way is the stuff of creative genius and where the importance should be placed.

Last but not least, train your team in Creative Leadership. This is where FAME comes into play.

CMO’s Perspective – Linda Boff (General Electric)

I have been really privileged to take over Beth Comstock who is one of the great CMO’s period. Beth gave both GE and the industry a real lens on what it is to be a modern marketer, to drive innovation and to collaboratively build great creative with our agency partners. My main focus is how to build on these building blocks that have been put in place especially the emphasis on agency relationships.

There are some similar principles. What I mean by that is we have several agencies – more than several actually. We try to find ways to come together.

Once a month, we do an all agency all hands meeting, so there is a sense as to what everybody’s working on. We put agencies in groups. On any given project, there’s a lead agency that is likely to be working with two or three other partners to support these efforts. We believe in not just single marketing efforts but the overall amp that you might get. It is never about an individual television ad. It is rather about the social media that surrounds that, the PR amplification that comes from it. We will frequently have several agencies working together.

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