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November 11, 2010 / davebirss

I hate the word ‘creative’

Carrying on from my rant yesterday, I now want to be a bit more controversial. I’d like to challenge the very idea of creative departments. Because maybe the word ‘creative’ is a legacy title that’s lost it’s meaning and could even be holding back the industry.

My first problem with the word ‘creative’ is that it’s elitist. By calling a department ‘creative’ it sends a message that other departments aren’t. In the same way as referring to someone as ‘the girl with the massive rack’ would infer that the people she’s with aren’t blessed in quite the same way. And many ‘creatives’ have fallen for this elitism. They only see value in ideas that come from within the department. But I believe that the future of the industry needs a far more collaborative attitude with creative thinking across the whole business. So this elitism is potentially preventing bigger ideas and fresher thinking.

Another unfortunate truth is that the majority of people who are given the title ‘creative’ just aren’t. As Dave Trott says – they’re stylists. And the Creative Department should really be called the Art and Copy Department. Some of the most creative people I’ve come across in the industry haven’t worked in the creative department. They’ve been techies, planners, account people and even clients.

Having the title ‘creative’ does not make you creative. A truly creative person is someone who’s so passionate about creating stuff that they just can’t stop doing it. They’re constantly looking for things to put their mind to. And the ones that I’ve found most inspirational over the years have amazing creative things happening outside the office. That was the case at Poke – Nik Roope had his amazing Hulger products and ran the Webby awards in the UK, Simon Waterfall had his Social Suicide fashion label, Iain Tait had a hugely successful blog and I had plenty of my own stuff going on. Creative people just have to be creative. You have to get it out. If you don’t, it drives you crazy.

When I’ve been looking at restructuring departments in agencies, there is an issue where lots of people want the word ‘creative’ in their title. I think they think it’s glamorous. Even when in reality many of them spend their days chained to their Mac wrestling with Adobe products in the same way as people in the finance department spend their days chained to their PC wrestling with Excel. What’s creative about that? I would rather people were more interested in being creative than calling themselves creative.

The role of the Creative Department has changed over the years as well. When I started out in the industry there was very little planning. The creatives dealt directly with the account handlers and therefore had far more strategic input. These days that magical, fascinating part of the process has been taken away and turned into just that – a process. Audiences are tightly defined and messages are thoroughly researched. That in itself isn’t a bad thing. But the way it’s implemented often muffles creativity rather than acts as an inspirational springboard.

The long and short of it is that the role of the Creative has changed. And maybe to spark more creative work we need to let go of the ‘creative’ word. It’s far more powerful as an adjective than a noun.

What do you think?


Leave a Comment
  1. domudall / Nov 11 2010 12:47 pm

    I think you could apply the same logic to many departments; you can get people who are very technically minded when it comes to producing artwork, but aren’t part of the ‘technical team’ that manage servers or what have you. Going on the David Trott example, why can’t I say I’m a stylist for being able to pick clothes out of my wardrobe that don’t clash? Going along the “creative is anyone who is passionate and innovative”, surely “stylist is anyone who can make good decisions on how certain people look in certain clothes”. It’s a toughy..

    I’m sure I’ve contradicted myself in there somewhere, but it’s another viewpoint =)

  2. Andy Tyne / Nov 11 2010 11:38 pm

    Absolutely spot on (as usual) Mr Birss.

    In my ‘suit’ days there was nothing more frustrating that a creative who presumed (because of their job title) that they were the only person in the building capable of thinking – and that the rest of us (the ‘apparatus’ of the agency if you will) were there as some sort of unnecessary decoration, that we were mere hangers-on to their immense talent (or should that be ego?).

    Like a centre-forward who thinks they are the only important person in the team because they score the goals. Utter codswallop!

  3. Dean Turney / Nov 11 2010 11:39 pm

    Well put, Dave. I’ve met account service people and secretaries who are more creative than many “Creatives”. But I’ve also met “Creatives” who are better strategic thinkers than many so-called “Planners”. I think the name planner can be just as elitist as the job title creative, don’t you?

  4. davebirss / Nov 12 2010 1:38 pm

    Absolutely with you Andy. I think ego is the enemy of great work. It stops collaboration. And it usually puts the creative’s interests before that of the paying client. And – of course – it leads to a pretty unhappy workplace.

    And I totally agree Dean. I’ve also felt that I could do a better job of cleaning the office than the so-called cleaners employed by the agency. However, that’s fortunately not convinced me to switch career. I think any creative who’s truly after the best idea will be happy to consider ideas from anywhere – even if it’s not their own. In the same way that a great planner should be willing to have their strategy challenged. I’m think I’m getting back to my idea of Smudginess™ and collaboration.


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