How to not kill the creativity

A slightly grumpy rant from our Founder, Keeva Stratton

There’s an old saying, ‘too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the broth’. While my culinary skills are somewhat lacking, my experience as a creative strategist and writer tells me the same is certainly true when it comes to developing and executing a successful campaign.

Like the broth, great creative has several key ingredients.

A clear brief: one that includes all the details necessary, and a concise context on the purpose, key elements, execution deliverables, key measures, the tone of voice, language and required inclusions or rules. 

If you can’t tell your story simply, how on earth do you expect them to?

Understanding of the audience: if it’s not clear who you are talking to, what they like and dislike, why they should be interested, what they need from you, and what you want them to do, you’re talking to yourself.

While good creatives will generally know a lot about different audience types, giving them insights into your specific audience will only strengthen their work.

A story: your creative team are not your business strategists. If you don’t have a great idea, a story, a hook, a relatable purpose, or just a bloody good offer, then you probably shouldn’t bother. 

If you’re not sure how to tell your story, that’s ok, most creatives know how to get to the heart of a story. Give them your time and encourage their questions until they have what they need to get started.

Belief: if your creative team does not believe in the campaign, feel it, want it, love it, are excited by it, or empathise with it, either you haven’t sold them the vision, or they are the wrong creative team. Likewise, you need to believe in them. Give them the trust that they can explore their ideas and present them to you in their fullness, without fear of constraint, or harsh critique. 

It’s amazing how much more creative energy you feel, when you feel supported.

Talent: just as there are many who are thankful I didn’t pursue a cooking career, despite my love of food, there are sadly many creatives who simply lack talent, despite their passion for it. 

It’s harsh, it’s not in vogue with aspirational millennial speak, but creativity is a talent—one that can be developed and improved—but if it’s not there to begin with, it’s not going to magically appear at the printers.

So, do I not have any input?

Absolutely you do. Nobody is suggesting you should just give your creative team free rein to express your brand however their hearts desire—in fact, brand consistency should be non-negotiable—but if you want to get great work, you must resist the temptation to trample all over theirs. 

What if I hate it?

If you do not like a concept or an idea, simply say no, reiterate the key elements of the brief, and allow them to come back to you with another. Do not say yes, and then through several revision rounds and five varying opinions from your team, slowly kill it by a thousand cuts.

Worse still, don’t try to merge their ideas—there’s a reason why they presented separate concepts as being different, and just because you like a sentence here or a colour there, does not mean you should just splice and merge at will. It’s not a patchwork quilt.

And never, ever, ever be rude. 

Most creatives put their heart and soul into their work. And while as a general rule, you would think polite feedback is a given, far too often it isn’t. I recently had a client write ‘red pen’ before adding their comment. Apart from being condescending, this style of feedback says more to me about a lack of quality briefing, than the inability of the creative to deliver.

We all make mistakes. Even the pedants (like me) will occasionally misplace an apostrophe. Stop with the schadenfreude. Be kind when this happens, because no doubt one day it will happen to you.

Like great creative work, giving constructive feedback is an artform. Master it, and your campaigns will be greatly improved.

The best feedback is well thought-out. It’s concise and clear, and highlights the strengths of the concept, as much as the elements you’d like improved. 

It seems quite simple, but it often takes time, thought and care. By telling a creative what you like, they will do more of that. If you just provide negativity, it’s easy to murder their passion and have them doubt their vision.

Be careful, too, about your chain of approval. If they’ve not been part of the original pitch—if they do not have a full understanding of how and why the concept was developed—leave them aside. How can they provide any feedback of value, when they are stripped of the context? 

If they are a compliance team, set clear boundaries, such as, ‘please only highlight areas of risk, or language that you view as inaccurate.’ 

Remember, creative brains are typically wired differently. We see the world through a unique lens that doesn’t always share the same logic, rhyme or reason as others. We can be a little sensitive because when you put your ideas—the things you care about—out into the world, we want others to love them just as much as we do.

They were, after all, crafted with a lot of care.

How can you avoid the need to step in?

The key to a great creative flow, and result, is allowing the creative to work to their strengths. This keeps their energy high, their ideas firing, and reinforces their confidence to deliver their very best work.

The first step to getting the creativity you’re after, is in the selection process. Ask yourself: how much time are you spending with your creative team before you brief them? Have you got a sense of their style and what they do best?

Spend your time selecting the best creatives to bring your vision to life, then give them the tools, the trust and support to bring together their best work. 

Much like chefs, creatives are often perfectionists.

We can be a bit moody and sensitive, too. In fact, we have to be, otherwise we’d never be able to get inside the emotion needed to be great creatives.

It’s why we need to be handled with care—and clarity. 

So, just to recap, the key ingredients to achieving great creative outcomes for your project are selecting the right creative team, giving them a clear and comprehensive brief so they know what you want them to deliver and how, and giving them the support to see their vision through.

Just because you love eating, doesn’t mean you know better than the chef. And likewise, while creatives won’t ever spit in your food, they won’t do their best work if they feel constricted. Remember, they wouldn’t have lasted long in their field if they didn’t have a track record of success.

I promise you, there’s no greater joy than delivering a killer headline, making your audience cry with your words, seeing funds raised, businesses succeed, and people engaged, thanks to projects you’ve been a part of. 

Most creatives do their work because they absolutely love it—they strive for that next moment when it just sings. Our success is your success, after all.

So please, respect the creativity, nurture the process and resist the need to change things for the sake of personal preference. Or, just rehire—because there is nothing worse than seeing your work bent and battered by a thousand opinions, sucking every ounce of strength from it, and leaving the miserable shell of a once promising idea empty and ineffective.

Please, put down the knife and stop killing the creativity!

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