On the treadmill of routine, under the daily grind of deadlines and demands, it can be a challenge to come up with that incredible new idea or stunning creative direction. Tasked with thinking of something new, invariably you end up pondering the old.
It’s easy, for example, to begin to second guess long-term clients, to limit your own thinking, on the assumption that the client won’t buy the work. Or to experience project fatigue – delivering consistently innovative thinking, on a branding project that crawls from concept to implementation over two or three years, is a challenge.
At The Partners, part of global mega-corporation WPP, long-running, detailed branding projects are a staple diet and, according to its creative consultant Gillian Thomas, maintaining an environment that helps encourage a continuously fresh approach, over a long period, is something that is considered continually.
‘The main thing we do is to make sure everyone gets a varied diet of client projects. It makes a big difference to work on a mix of things and gives larger projects an energy boost,’ Thomas says.
It’s also important to give long-running projects ‘short term wins’, she says, as a way of inspiring both creative and client teams. The consultancy organises regular reviews with the aim of recognising progress and sometimes funds creatively interesting, unplanned additions to projects – it might involve revamping a reception space as part of a long running brand identity job, for example.
Thomas believes student placements are a useful tool too. ‘It’s a great way to get energy into the building,’ she says.
Of course, maintaining a creative edge is an issue, not only for design consultancies, but also for neighbouring marketing services sectors – such as marketing and advertising – and different approaches have been taken to resolve the problem. For designers struggling to find some fresh ideas, perhaps advertising agencies can help to lead the way.
In the 1990s, the advertising world experienced regular coup d’états – failure to deliver a successful campaign or generate a strong creative proposition led to a night of the long knives. The more intemperate world of advertising would see creative teams summarily dispatched and replaced by new people – particularly at senior levels – to deliver fresh thinking on an account and convince clients of their creative credentials.
While the need to deliver creative thinking is still a key priority, in what remains a competitive industry, this hire and fire mentality is beginning to be replaced with a more proactive approach, to help creative thinking.
According to Paula Carrahar, director of recruitment agency Major Players, advertising agencies of today are more committed to ‹ investing in staff, in the hunt for ongoing creativity. ‘Hiring and firing is definitely very rare – it hardly exists any more. It’s very difficult to find good creatives, and advertising agencies are much more focused on watering the people they’ve employed,’ she says.
Senior management is committed to taking responsibility for keeping staff fresh and motivated, Carrahar adds. ‘Ad agencies are prepared to throw money at it. I’ve seen agencies take staff on inspirational days out, do life drawing classes or even go trampolining [to refresh their teams],’ she explains.
Matt Mee, who goes by the admittedly dubious title of director of freshness at media-buying agency Mediacom, is an example of this approach. Mee has had this role, and the ‘very Southern Californian’ job title, for almost four years. He acknowledges that ‘everybody laughs at the title’, but jokes that he ‘isn’t sitting on a space hopper and [his] glasses even have frames’.
The role was created for serious reasons. Mediacom recognised that, while staff were trained in ‘craft skills’, there was ‘more and more pressure for them to be innovative, but little management time or thought as to how to stimulate that and make it work’, says Mee.
‘There’s a paradox,’ he adds, ‘in that organisations are asking people to think creatively, but the whole routine of work – nine to five, sitting at a desk – mitigates against [creativity].’
Mee has introduced a number of initiatives including an in-house events programme, creative thinking workshops and a programme that pays for ‘beneficial’ training for staff, unrelated to work. To date, that has involved funding acting classes, a diploma in tattooing and a climb of Mount Kilimanjaro.
The result? ‘It makes the place more interesting and the people more interested,’ says Mee. He believes it has also helped the organisation to broaden its thinking and its business offering. It now offers brand consultancy and culture change advice to its clients, on top of its core media-buying business.
Bristol design consultancy Taxi Studio has been working with shoe brand Clarks for eight years and supermarket Somerfield for four. Design director Alex Bane says the group aims to involve as many of its six designers as possible at the idea-generation stage of projects, to ensure that no one becomes stale.
And Bane agrees with Mee that ‘having fun and building a good atmosphere at work’ is vital. The group has a teamwork ethic, he says, and will buy toys – like its current favourite, a foam disc ray gun – to ensure the working environment ‘is enjoyable, even at midnight’.
It seems the old adage that ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ applies to creative thinking.
Perhaps the best thing you could do, if your team is feeling uninspired, is to give them the afternoon off, with strict instructions to enjoy themselves.