Friday, 26 April 2013

Everybody’s an expert – ‘til there’s work to be done

What springs to mind when you think of a ‘creative type’?

A chain-smoking renegade (at least in their own little universe) who refuses to play by the rules and flaunts their tardiness for carefully-planned meetings (‘cos they were ‘caught up in the muse, man’)?

A fluffy-haired purple-clad mystic dripping with paganistic pendants and Tarot cards?

A coked-up ad exec talking Blue Sky bollocks at a thousand words a minute without pausing for breath or to listen to anything anyone else has to say?

Or some frazzled fiend sitting in the corner of an office trying to juggle projects, massage egos, read minds, keep within the lines of corporate compliance, beg and bully those who fail to deliver on promises, chase approvals and meet deadlines from another dimension, whilst all the time keeping a fixed corporate grin on their face and wracking their brains for a ‘creative’ way to deliver the same tired old message time and time again?

In case you haven’t already guessed, I am not entirely unbiased. Some people might classify as me as one of those ‘creative type’ (though other might just say ‘word drudge’ or even ‘glorified typist’). Yes, dear reader, I work in corporate communications, PR, or whatever you like to call it.

Creativity is like a sense of humour, love of music, or affection for cute baby animals. No-one likes to admit that they don’t have it.

Unfortunately, few are prepared to do the legwork required to transform a spark of inspiration into a comprehensive, coherent and effective advertising campaign. The minute the process gets boring, they toss it back. And, more often than not, our best efforts get knocked back in the end, because “none of our competitors are doing it that way” (surely, that’s the whole point?). But, on the other hand, we do serve as a convenient whipping boy (or girl) when an ill-advised campaign we’ve argued against from the start falls flat on its face.
This week, a colleague was asked to create a generic ad for services the company provides to a very heavy industry sector. Fair enough, you might say. But she was told to make the ad ‘at least humourous’ (as we all know, heavy industry is an untapped barrel of laughs, isn’t it?) because some other suppliers’ ads that make ours look ‘dull’.
He also wanted to list all the relevant points, add a map or two and “make it look professional”.

Just the kind of dream brief you could wait a lifetime for. (Good thing he mentioned the professional thing – we had been considering sending him a picture a clown done in crayons by a friend’s cute six-year-old.)

Ok, we thought, we’re up to the challenge. Could he give us an idea of the sort of humour he had in mind? The response: “Don’t really know – I leave that up to you ‘creative types’.” [Note: the inverted commas were his, not ours]

Heavy sigh. Deep breath. Count to ten. Try again.
Maybe they could send us some examples of the ads from competitors that he felt showed the spark or humour that he felt ours lack? Silence was the loud reply. Nada. Not a dicky bird.

We’re now putting our poor brains through the creative mangle to come up with a new angle that will avoid the standard approach this manager deems dull, whilst keeping it professional and within the guidelines set for the company’s publicity materials.
Despite our resolve not to let it spill into our weekend, we know we’ll be stressing over it as we plod away on the gym treadmill, rinse the working week off us in the shower, sit down to our evening meal and battle to get some sleep. And there’s a good chance that it will invade our dreams and have us waking in a sweat of panic in the small hours.

Why? Because someone who's an undoubted expert in his own field thinks he can come into OUR field, armed with a mental monster truck and race around in circles for a while turning it into a muddy mess, then toddle off and leave us ‘creative types’ to clean up the debris.

We would never assume to tell a pilot, a mechanic, an architect, a brain surgeon or even an accountant how to do their jobs. They’re the experts. We let them get on with it. So why, oh why, does everybody think they can do our jobs better than we can?


  1. The creatives in MadMen were the writers and artists, weren't they? Not sure what the others did. Market Research, I suppose, and getting the clients, and taking them out to lunch. Account Executives, were they called. Not sure if I have that right. Oh,and PR people PRing Things, in AbFab

    My only experience of such things is in large scale amaateur classical music events, choirs, orchestras, operas, etc. Where the organisation was all my idea in the first place so I did everyhtiung until I attracted people around me whom I could trust to take on some roles and do the job properly.

    Nowadays I am retired (I used to teach English and Drama) and describe myself as The Ideas Person in the outfit. I have the idea (such as It's dry, we should mow the lawn...), and then I ensure that someone does it. But not me, myself, you understand. If I can do it, I just do it. If I can't I have A Good Idea...

    Poeple tell Teachers how to teach ALL the time, BTW. Everyone went to school and everyone thinks they know what makes a good teacher, and how modern ones can't maintain discipline, etc. I used to smile fondly at them and remind them that corporal punishment was outlawed in the late 1980s, and then they go very quiet...

  2. Good point about teachers! It must drive them nuts!!

    I suppose the closest you can come to what I do in the world of MadMen would be a copywriter. Sadly, my side of PR is a long way from the Bolly and Botox of Ab Fab!

  3. I haven't seen MM but I imagine a client who won't let you do your job must drive you crazy in any environment. Rather worryingly my daughter (who is just about to graduate) wants to move to London and work in Advertising....and she hasn't seen MM either....I do wish though she had chosen something a little less .....creative.

  4. Found myself nodding throughout this piece, Ms SMW. I've been a government hack, a corporate hack and now a freelancer and the 'creative type' in inverted commas is often just a thinly-veiled insult. How I'd love to say, "Oh I'll leave the technical specs up you, seeing as you're the ...." (pause to get my fingers into exaggerated quotation marks)"self-absorbed mental pgymy with the personality of a bathroom tile type."