I keep hearing and reading about agencies/groups etc that are "putting creativity at the heart" of what they do. But in most cases, it’s not really true, is it? In fact, it appears to be in almost inverse proportion to the amount that is claimed.
You only have to look at how a business is structured to see that. Look at what percentage of the headcount is creative. Ask the chief executive of your agency.
If it really does have creativity at the heart, they will give you a direct answer. Because they’ll be proud of the fact. It should be around 30% at a minimum, by the way. Ideally 40%.
If they start talking about creativity in the abstract and use vague terms such as "creative problem-solvers" or "creative is a collective responsibility", they’re fudging. Take this as confirmation that creativity isn’t really at the heart of their business. And if that matters to you –and it really should – then you know the question to ask at your next interview.
It has become one of those lazy things to say, such as "content solutions" and "agile working". Our industry loves a good buzz phrase, doesn’t it? Everyone repeats it so they look like they’re in the know. Even if they don’t really know what it means. Assuming it actually means anything at all.
Great creative work is what makes a difference to clients’ businesses. The stats are endless that prove the case. But it’s hard to do. Really hard. And it can cause friction. It’s much easier to be a pleaser. To hide beyond lots of excuses. Time. Budget. Research. Difficult client. And bill for all the things that are more tangible, such as bodies in a meeting and photocopying decks. But great work finds ways through this. Great creative agencies find ways through this.
Agencies that truly have creativity at the heart build the structure of their business to deliver great work. They don’t have a "pleaser" structure and then make unreasonable demands on the creative department, like most agencies. You know exactly which ones they are too. If I asked you to name them, chances are 99% of you would say the same ones.
We are in an industry that needs to adapt to thrive. It’s currently on its uppers. Everyone can clearly see that the entire industry needs to find new and innovative ways to restate its creative agenda. We are finished without it. If we make it all about things such as efficiencies, then management consultants have won. And they’d be welcome to the miserable and joyless nonsense that would emanate.
But shouting and posturing about it all "being shit nowadays" creatively isn’t helping either. All the creative commentators who bemoan the good old days really irritate me, to be honest. Silent films became talking films. Film became digital files. Records became streaming. Things change. Get over it. Lean in and help the industry find new paths that put creativity at the heart. Or be quiet.
And creatives, don’t sit there and allow it to happen around you. It’s your business too. You need to engage with the business side of the business you are in. Do you understand how an agency is structured? Do you know what a client is charged for? Do you understand how a project is scoped? Well, you should. It’s why the creative department you are in isn’t big enough to service all the briefs. It’s why you didn’t have enough time on that brief. It’s why you’re working at the weekend again.
Don’t allow others to worry about that stuff. You worry about it. You change the business. You ask the chief executive about headcount. It’s time to roll up your sleeves, creatives. Take control of your businesses, influence their structures, involve yourself in every aspect of what we do. And if you don’t, don’t be surprised if you don’t get what you want and the industry doesn’t get what it needs.
And, yes. It is your responsibility. It might not interest you or play to your skillset, but it will create the environment that does.
Creatives, your industry needs you.
Mick Mahoney is creative partner at Harbour