CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/TEACHING CREATIVITY - Adland divided over plans to set up a school for creativity. Patrick Collister hopes to show creatives can learn, Francesca Newland writes

The amiable Patrick Collister has chucked in his executive creative directorship and vice-chairmanship of Ogilvy & Mather to set up a creativity training school from his home in Kent. But he may face an uphill struggle convincing creatives that training rather than divine inspiration has brought ads of the calibre of Guinness’s ’surfer’ and Blackcurrant Tango’s ’St George’ to our screens.

The amiable Patrick Collister has chucked in his executive creative

directorship and vice-chairmanship of Ogilvy & Mather to set up a

creativity training school from his home in Kent. But he may face an

uphill struggle convincing creatives that training rather than divine

inspiration has brought ads of the calibre of Guinness’s ’surfer’ and

Blackcurrant Tango’s ’St George’ to our screens.



Gerry Moira, creative director of Publicis, believes there is an

inherent reluctance among creatives to accept training: ’There’s a macho

thing. You’re either a creative guy or you’re not. It’s a different

story with clients, they’re always off on a jaunt at some country house

hotel to improve their skills, while for creatives it’s down the

pub.’



His view is supported by Tim Mellors, executive creative director of

Grey Advertising, who says creatives have to be taken to courses at

’gunpoint’.



He adds: ’Creatives don’t like courses. But you can never find a

planner, they’re always on a course.’



Collister’s courses, which last two or three days, will offer three

areas of training. One is for creatives, who he feels lack confidence in

their ideas and for whom he will offer a kind of step-by-step guide to

coming up with ideas. He says: ’I want to encourage their creativity.

Show them that there is always more than one idea. Often people have one

idea and spend all their time defending it. There are some simple

techniques for helping crack creative problems.’



The second is for clients, planners and account people. He aims to imbue

these groups with the ability to judge creativity and to understand the

way creatives think. One of the exercises involves getting the student

to build and paint a kit aeroplane and just as all his or her creative

pride has been unleashed, Collister will smash the plane with a

mallet.



His point: that they understand what they are dealing with when they are

presented with creative work. And how it feels to have your work

demolished.



The third area of training is for big businesses. Collister will teach

executives how to think laterally about their business. ’I’ve developed

exercises to take the blinkers off,’ he explains.



Despite creatives’ inherent reluctance to learn from formal training,

Collister expects to receive a lot of students from the Continent, many

of them from O&M. Over the years, he says, he has come across a lot of

European creatives who look to London for leadership. He says: ’It may

be that a lot of UK agencies think they don’t need it, but in

continental Europe they’re crying out for it.’



But even if his classrooms are full, some doubt that creativity is

something you can teach. Al Young, creative director at HHCL & Partners,

is unconvinced by what Collister will be offering. He says: ’The only

golden rule in advertising is that there is no golden rule,’ a belief

which makes Young conclude that there is little to teach. He fears that

such a course ’can be very conservative and reinforce tradition’. He

says creative work is an attitude rather than a learned skill and that

the advertising industry already suffers from a ’culture of

competence’.



But others are more positive. Moira says: ’You can do stretching

exercises, lateral thinking exercises. There are ways to get creativity

into focus.’ Mellors adds: ’You can encourage people to open up their

minds.’



Mellors is also convinced that Collister is the right man for the job:

’He’s a good writer and creative director so he knows how to lead ideas

out of people. He’s not egomaniacal - he can put himself in other

people’s boots.’



Most agree that there is a need for training. Mellors says he sees

Collister in ’the mould of John Gillard’. Gillard ran the highly

regarded School of Communication Arts, which trained art directors until

it closed in 1995. Its closure left a training gap, which many believe

is still unfilled.



Adam Kean, creative director of Wieden & Kennedy, says: ’Everyone’s

crying out for training. There seems to be a desire for this sort of

thing. You can help people find it in themselves. It may not be a

revelation but it is worth stating some basic truths every now and

again.’ Moira adds: ’There is a need and Patrick is well qualified to

fulfil it.’



Almost everyone believes that training clients to understand the

creative process - another of Collister’s courses - is a good idea.



It is a subject at the centre of Winston Fletcher’s book, Tantrums and

Talent, which aims to teach businessmen how to work with creatives.



The book opens with a quote from Sir Denis Forman, former chairman of

Granada Television: ’There is an unbridgeable gap between the logic of

business management and the laws of the creative world.’



Fletcher says: ’There needs to be more understanding. Clients would say

it’s the job of the creatives to understand them. But clients want

effective advertising, so it’s in their interest to understand creatives

and maximise their creativity.’



The advertising industry is still in the relatively early stages of

evolution; it wasn’t that long ago that poets were shipped in to write

copy. As the industry becomes increasingly corporate the role of the

tantrum-prone creative is likely to diminish and practical courses such

as Collister’s should have more of a role to play.



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