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Creative Differences

Posted on January 10, 2012 and read 2,424 times

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pierno Creative DifferencesAdam Pierno
Creative Director
Partners + Napier, Atlanta
Hunting the Spark

When I am fortunate enough to work on the business of a new client, I always start out with the belief that I can make an impact on that client’s business. Ask my former bosses and co-workers. I swear to you. All I want to do is create things that help my clients, make their customers excited and make their competitors jealous.

For whatever reason, the marketing professionals working for a brand have been conditioned to believe that creative people are trying to do something that will get them in trouble. That we are trying to slip one past the goalie. On more than one occasion, I’ve actually had to explain to a client that I was not trying to trick them. I was not trying to show them an idea because I wanted them to look bad. Or to fail. Or to lose share. Or money. I’ve only worked really hard to bring them ideas that I thought would make a difference in the marketplace and get them the attention or results that were laid out for me in the brief.

Some of those ideas that I’ve presented have definitely been scary. Or out there. Or “funky” (God, do I hate that fucking word). But I had carefully considered reasons in mind. But when I recommend using the entire marketing budget to shoot and promote a documentary, I really believe it is a solution that will achieve the goals of the brand, or else I wouldn’t be sitting at the table telling you I did.

Sometimes I admit, we do things on instinct. Based on our gut. Don’t tell anyone. Sometimes an Art Director gets a feeling about colors, based on their experience, and doesn’t test it but just thinks it looks cool and seems to work. They may tell the client they know it is the right answer, but what they mean is, “Hey, this is good and I’m basing that on years of solving problems like this.” What they probably don’t mean is, “Shit, I haven’t done a double-stamped, matte tinted metallic in a while. Let me sell this thing.”

And sometimes an assignment comes into the agency from the client asking us to investigate something that we suspect might not be the perfect vehicle for them. Most of the time, the cooler that thing is, the less we protest that it isn’t a fit for the brand. If it’s an FSI they want to test, you can bet your ass the creative team would be putting together a rationale for why the FSI experience cheapens the brand esteem, and doing media research with a planner to pull data to support that the demo is off. But if it was an immersive AR experience, the creatives might just pipe down and focus on how to dominate that assignment.

Clients frequently seem to behave like people who have just come from terrible divorces. They lack trust. Confidence. Faith. They think you’re trying to trick them into spending half their budget just to have something that will end up on your Cargo link. It’s sick, actually. For some, it is almost as if they have never worked with a creative person who wasn’t trying to get over on them.

But they’re not entirely wrong. We’ve been trained to do that for years. Pushing our clients to do things just because we do think they are cool, or groundbreaking, or interesting. Or things I don’t yet have in my portfolio. Anyone trying to sell an iPad app this week? And we’re not exactly doctors. We don’t take an oath. We don’t swear to be looking after the best interests of our clients. And at some shops, that isn’t part of the conversation. When recruiters are looking at portfolios, the work is first. And second. The results are somewhere after that depending on how good the work is.

I hire that person with the book full of breakthrough ideas. Then I give them an assignment. And I push them for great ideas, great design, great writing. As a CD, I owe it to them to sell those ideas I pushed them to deliver. So we put together a fantastic presentation showcasing psychographics that prove that their audience would absolutely adore this idea. We know the questions the client will have, because we understand their business so well. And the politics of their organization. And their personal tastes. So we build the answers to those objections into our Keynote, along with some kickass transition animations.

But then the client interrupts us on slide 4. Because their boss wants to know where we are with that FSI?

  • Thomas Smith

    This feels like an unfinished version of a very good meditation on the subject. You end off right before you get somewhere. You’ve identified a very fundamental contradiction inherent to the industry, and laid out some of the consequences. Irritation and mistrust between clients and creatives, etc. 

    But then you just stop at the FSI line. 

    But I can see that you’ve got more on your mind, and I’m hooked. Seal the deal. Tell us what you think is the solution. Are you advocating for more marketing savvy on the part of creatives? A new vision of the hiring process? Are you saying clients need to be more brand oriented and less sales oriented? Should agencies be doing more, or less daring things with briefs? 

  • adam pierno

    @twitter-16166295:disqus Thanks for the feedback. I do have tons more on my mind on the subject, but I don’t have any concrete answers. I don’t think anyone does. The agency I am working with now, I believe has a good balance and it comes from being honest with their clients and themselves about what we are and how we think about things. And I mean that in the best possible way. That’s the first step, being up front with what you offer to clients and how you intend to approach their business. As far as the hiring process, that will likely be the subject of my next post. Hiring an entire department now, and have some insights into all sides of recruiting, applying, interviewing and getting jobs.

  • Thomas Smith

    Cool. I’ve only recently-ish (almost 2 years) made the switch to advertising from writing for a newspaper and magazines, so my perspective is limited. But I do have a little outside insight. A big concern I’ve noticed is that great creative work takes blood, sweat, tears and a lot of disagreement. Working in journalism accustomizes you to that tension and teaches you to stand your ground on important decisions. But of course ad agencies have no such independence, and must suck diarrhea out of the ass of all clients at all times. Hence the bigger money to be made.

    I certainly think clients are well within their rights to desire cordial and differential treatment from agencies – but if that’s what they want that’s what they’ll get. And it’s mutually exclusive to good creative work.

    I certainly don’t have the diplomacy skills to smooth over such differences, and in my small amount of experience, neither do any account people I’ve met. Maybe it’s not possible. So what you end up with is Frankenstein creative designed by committee and sewn together on a dirty operating table. All in the interests of happy clients.

    That’s fine, but it’s also the reason 99.99999999% (100%?) of advertising is awful, idiotic, irritating, or otherwise intrusive to the public at large.

    Because ads seem to be made with clients in mind, whereas other “industrial” creative work (e.g. journalism, film, literature) is made with readers/viewers in mind.

  • adam pierno

    Realy? I think we disagree that great work and courtesy are mutually exclusive. 

    But you make a great point and i do agree that great work takes the commitment and disagreement that you’ve referenced. That’s where open communication between team members and between the agency and the client keeps great work alive. When we view a situation as a fight, it becomes a fight. When we view it as a collaboration, it is less likely to turn into a fight (but still can.)




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