Ask Bullmore: Should we stop labelling only certain people creative?
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

Ask Bullmore: Should we stop labelling only certain people creative?

How to replace a marketing "superstar", and should we stop labelling only certain people creative? Agony uncle Jeremy Bullmore has some advice.

Dear Jeremy, Sir Ken Robinson says the ad industry should stop labelling only certain people creative because it "colonises creativity" and locks people into their job descriptions. Do you agree?

Whenever Stephen King was asked if he agreed with some complex proposition, he would say, decisively: "Yes and no, with reservations." That’s precisely how I feel about Sir Ken’s views on creativity.

Sir Ken believes that everyone is (potentially) creative. Maybe – but only if you stretch the definition of creativity wafer-thin. Yet his own definition seems to me to be curiously restrictive: "Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value."

Beethoven’s Fifth and Send in the Clowns are both products of creativity and both undoubtedly have value – but are they ideas?

And many forms of creativity are innate, inborn, congenital – and forever denied to most of us. I will never be able to draw, yet I fathered a child who irritatingly, from the earliest age, could.

I’m not sure if Sir Ken wants everybody in advertising to be called creative or nobody. But either way, if nobody was called creative or everybody was called creative, there’s a real chance that no actual creative work would ever get produced.

Everybody who’s ever been called creative knows what it means.

The client has identified a problem and briefed the agency account executive. The account executive has made a few cosmetic changes and briefed the account planner.

The account planner has conducted a few focus groups, filleted the trend data and briefed the creative group. And that’s when "pass the parcel" stops.

Savouring the problem before handing it on is no longer an option. A solution is now demanded. Not a notional solution, not a theoretical solution, not a hand-me-down solution – but an original artefact, unlike anything seen before, and on which the client is confidently expected to spend millions of pounds.

Here the word "creative" serves the same purpose as the word "deadline". It forbids any further procrastination. If creative people weren’t called creative, they’d find endless good reasons for further research, discussion, perhaps a product modification…?

But creative is where the buck stops and creatives know they have to create. And because they know they have to create, they do – not always, I grant you, objects of elegance and faultless function but objects nonetheless.

It’s possible, as Sir Ken may believe, that more or less anyone confronted with such an inexorable expectation would somehow manage to create something. What seems certain is that, if everybody in advertising were to be called creative, the buck would have nowhere to stop.

Dear Jeremy,  I’ve just replaced a marketing superstar who has left for bigger and better things. They were very good at raising the profile of our marketing and issues such as leadership and diversity. I’d rather just keep my head down and get on with the not inconsiderable job in hand but I’m worried about what my bosses and team will think of this.

As you certainly know, but are too well-mannered to say, your predecessor, the marketing superstar, wasn’t a marketing superstar at all. He was a PR superstar, helping his chief executive attract favourable media coverage for visionary leadership qualities and a commitment to diversity in the workforce.

Such coverage has a value to the company, not least in recruitment, but is of far greater value to the CEO and the marketing superstar. And it seems to have worked.

The superstar is off for bigger and better things and the CEO may confidently expect a significant gong in the New Year’s honours list. (You’ll have noticed that I assume the superstar to be male. That’s partly because I find the "his or her" construction painfully creaky and partly because I bet he is.)

If you choose to keep your head down and just get on with your job as a marketing director, you’re concerned about the reaction of your bosses and your team. Well, they’ll be different.

Your team – unless they’ve been corrupted by your predecessor – will be delighted to have a leader who leads rather than poncing about on conference platforms. And your bosses will start by missing the PR effect of the superstar but will soon be silenced by the magnificence of your marketing achievements. So all you have to do is achieve them.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or by tweeting @Campaignmag with the hashtag #AskBullmore.