Stop banging on about the good old days
A view from Matt Lever

Stop banging on about the good old days

Creative leaders need to develop creative people for the world now, not for the world they started out in.

I've been feeling a little nostalgic lately. Now, that might be the initial rumblings of early onset midlife crisis (I’m thinking about my children’s initials on the inside of each wrist or one of those giant-stars-on-the-elbow tattoos that people with the big holey earrings used to favour, if you’re wondering) or it could be the glut of excellent, informative, halcyon-days-of-advertising-referencing podcasts that have been wanging their way into my little brainbox. 

From Ben Kay’s chats with seminal craftsmen such as Sean Doyle and Dave Dye on his If This is a Podcast Then What’s Christmas? series to the aforementioned (and peerless) Dye’s brilliantly informative conversations with TOM FUCKING McELLIGOTT (if you don’t know who he is and you’re a creative, shame on you), Chris Palmer and Peter Souter, they’ve been engaging and educational listens for anyone in the industry. There does seem to be a bit of a recurring theme, though: that being a creative is not like it used to be.

The bugbears are familiar. To paraphrase the kind of things you hear from these legends (albeit with less wit or elan but, on the plus side, in snazzy italicised type): Creative departments aren’t valued any more. No time. No money. No craft. No respect for the work. Pile it high and chuck it at the client (it’s billable, right?). Route upon route upon route (I hate the "route" thing, by the way – it’s an idea, not the satnav results for a trip to a plumbing convention in Nantwich). Build a deck. Build two decks. Build a deck about the deck. Build a deck about the deck’s sister’s cousin, twice removed. Then print it 15 times (A3) and throw it straight into a recycling bin because: "I’m sorry guys, but I think we’re going to have to ‘go again’." Go again? We’re not going anywhere, mate – we’re here till ten o’clock most nights…

And so it goes. You can see why they’re a bit grumpy when they put it like that. Doesn’t paint a great picture for the future of creativity, does it?

But here’s the thing: harking back doesn’t help anyone.

We have to embrace the realities of the industry now.

We could whinge about clients expecting more and more creative options. Or we could try to find more efficient ways of managing them without compromising the quality of the creative work or destroying the morale of our creative teams.

Fragmented media landscape? Or more channels than ever before for talented people to do brilliant work in? 

Hit with a tiny production budget? Find a way around it or shoot it yourself (as evidenced by my fellow deputy executive creative director, Jim Thornton, who’s directing the latest raft of Nationwide commercials with agility and aplomb – and he’s 54, so this is definitely an attitude, not an age, thing).

As creative leaders, we have to do everything in our power to arm the people in our departments who are just starting out with the skills and inspiration they need to produce the best work in the industry of tomorrow, not the industry circa 1995.

Stop with the egos.

Start a mentoring programme.

Teach them how to present themselves and their work.

Fund their spec ideas.

Plough agency resource into their personal projects.  

Insist on great craft and invest the time and money required into helping them improve theirs across everything they do – whether it’s a full-page press ad (remember those?) or a three-second flam on Whimberwhap.

Enter their work for awards because you believe it to be brilliant, not just because you’re bonused on Gunn Report points.

Praise them.

Pay them.

Give them permission to fail (and pick them up and dust them off when they do – Christ, that sounds a bit "instrumental Coldplay", doesn’t it?).

But, above all, turn your gripes into their opportunities. 

Because, one day, they’ll probably be leading you.

Matt Lever is deputy executive creative director of VCCP
@Matt_Lever