The best creative work comes from listening
A view from Jose Miguel Sokoloff

The best creative work comes from listening

Listening allows you to learn from others and ultimately results in better work.

"I remind myself every morning: nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening." – Larry King

I am a newcomer to the London ad industry. I come from Colombia, a country at the tip of South America that has a thriving ad industry and is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. 

I have enormous respect for the British ad industry and for the work it has produced, and I intend to do my best to contribute to make it even greater. I believe the best and most relevant work is the result of a lot of listening to those you agree with and those you don’t.

Here in London, I have found that, like everywhere else in our advertising world, there is no shortage of great talkers who rule the judging room, who finish other people’s thoughts, who basically love sharing their own points of view a lot more than when other people try to share theirs. These are the advertising stars who seem to know most of the answers, whose mastery of language or knowledge is stupefying to most of us – the ones who want to talk first so there’s no need for others to.

We are all like that to a greater or lesser degree. 

If you are still reading and willing to listen to what I have to say, I’ll tell you what I think the industry needs to become more relevant and maybe offer some advice.

I often wonder what our clients say about us after a tough meeting. But I don’t think it is very different, tonally, to what we say about them. "They just don’t get it" and "We’ll just have to tell them exactly what we need" are things I imagine are repeated often after the agency leaves. 

The agency tries its best to sell by finding reasons to disregard all concerns, and the client automatically dismisses the answers as emotional attachment to the work. Sometimes we think it was a great meeting… until the written feedback comes and the reality looks at us starkly in the face.

All of this could have been easily avoided if we had listened. Yes, it’s that simple. 

When you listen, you establish better connections and build better relationships.

I never take notes because I get distracted. I listen. Usually, the most important things said have a tendency to stick – I think it is because of subtle differences in how they are said but, whatever the reason, they stick.

When I’m reviewing work, I speak last. It lets me learn from the people in the room. The more I listen, the better the work becomes.

When I’m with the client, I listen. Particularly because all businesses seem easy if you don’t know about them (that’s why there are so many unsuccessful start-ups). I want to know where the difficulties are, what dead ends lie ahead. I want to know what we can do to help and how. I want to make sure our work helps solve the real problems.

The subtle power of understanding what other people mean is priceless. It says you respect them (which will usually result in you gaining their respect) but it also lets you organise your thoughts to respond intelligently.

When you have listened, the work will be easier to sell simply because it is what the client needs. When you have listened, you will know how to construct more convincing arguments. 

The best work I’ve ever done is the result of a lot of listening, a lot of smart people communicating and a little luck. The best meetings are those in which everyone brings everything they know to the table and leaves every assumption outside, so conclusions are drawn after listening, not before entering the room.

Our job is ultimately to talk to people. But let’s listen before we do that.

Jose Miguel Sokoloff is the chief creative officer of MullenLowe Group UK and president, creative council of MullenLowe Group