Great creative does not come about from consensus. It is not the result of core group meetings. It is not the outcome of committeedom. It is rarely the brainchild of research. It doesn’t stick as well as red tape to an organizational matrix. And it’s certainly not the route to take if cultivating client business scores higher than cultivating great creative on your advertising agenda.
Achieving great creative means being ruthlessly undemocratic. Around the world, the best creative men and women in advertising are recognized by their distinctive ability to run their departments and agencies like creative dictatorships. It is perhaps the most unpopular way of getting popular acclaim — both from within the industry and from the prescribed audience. Look at any great piece of advertising (original, memorable, entertaining, persuasive etc.) and its creators are likely to possess the same ingredients of personality that help make their advertising as individual as they are. Consider modern greats such as Jay Chiat, Fallon McElligot, Steve Hayden, Charles Saatchi, Ed McCabe (individuals responsible for billions worth of media-spend) to observe their duality of spine & sponge, wit & grit, insight & foresight; but above all, their singular, indefatigable and obsessive control of the creative process from conception to execution. Over and over again.
Achieving great creative means running your turf like a creative dictatorship. It doesn’t mean running down your colleagues and peers; but rather, running them up. While there are many creatives who have the talent to reach that pinnacle, few possess the energy. They would rather be home by five and do the real thing like any one of hundreds of hucksters who are swayed by the glamour but crack under the hammer of advertising. Creative dictators will drive 25 miles out-of-town to find that perfect prop. They will do 100 layouts, write 100 headlines and do 100 more. They will have the audacity to re-present rejected but powerful concepts until they’re published. They will decipher fact from fiction in client argument and they will — at all costs — never become slaves to the tyranny of reason. While they’re very aware that the world around them would like it to be otherwise, creative dictators, like political ones, have the insane courage to stand their ground regardless of mounting ridicule.
And why not? Creativity is the pendulum that keeps this business alive and ticking. Creative dictators recognize that without guarding the last of the Citadel of Ideas in modern industry, this business of poets and artists would also fall prey to the dry convenience of commerce. Nobody ever looked at an ad and exclaimed, ‘Wow, what a great media buy!’ or worse, ‘ … that’s well-researched’. As an industry, advertising is worse than hated. It’s ignored. To win the hearts and minds of people, we need to move them by ideas. Nothing more. Nothing less. And in the daily rut of professional practice, the value, exercise and execution of the food of advertising is often left to rot — leaving less than 2% of advertising actually worth digesting.
Creative dictatorship is not about martyrdom or any of the stereotypical attributes young professionals adopt to define their roles as creatives. Rather, it’s about using professional, business tactics to service the craft alongside the regular services of account management. Those who have achieved this balance know that great advertising is easier to produce. In turn, it also attracts great business. This will be a welcomed relief for agencies addicted to pitching for business (‘beauty contests’ as some would say) or even relying on the CEO’s PR abilities (whatever that is) to win business. The difference would be a business portfolio that respects the craft of advertising. And a clientele that’s composed of thoroughbred brand managers and not bland managers. A combination like this would result in the kind of returns that dream merchants dream of. After all, it’s the sort of luxury all dictators have lavishly been accustomed to. Why should our agencies benefit from anything less? All it means is doing what we came here to do in the first place.