16 Oct Bananas

That’s what my accountant says about creative people as opposed to the people in her office.  “Creative people are just bananas when it comes to numbers.”

Maybe she is right.  There are levels of “bananas,” however.  I’m not that bad with the numbers (the finances of our business), but I do hope that her expertise by comparison makes me look bananas.

On the other hand, at DBD we like to extend “numbers” to represent a lot of analytical thinking beyond just the accounting of revenue and expense. The numbers for us mean the measurement of several things.

The measurement of a market size, the value of potential share gain, how sustainable is a market, is there a better market with better numbers in which to spend a client’s time and resources? We love the numbers.

And we love creative.

Sometimes “bananas,” (as in being bananas) goes a long way toward achieving good creative. We do have to let ourselves go there to get things done. And, we know how to come back.

We learned something recently about ourselves.  And, we’re not sure exactly what it means, or if it is true about us because of the new economy (an economy which we think has actually been around for the last 20 years), but we’ll tell you what it is.

I’ll try to explain what we learned with an example of how we hire creatives:

When we hire production artists or graphic designers we tell them that their job performance will be reviewed in three months. And part of what we tell them is that they will need to set type with the eye of a designer (in the case of a production artist), and will be expected to layout a page with the eye of an art director (in the case of the graphic designer). We don’t hire persons to do a particular job within our process unless we think they have the potential to move up in our organization.  A graphic designer, for instance, must be able to take a communications challenge and layout a page. But we want every graphic designer to become an art director. The role of the art director is to understand the complete communications challenge (from the marketing perspective even) and layout several pages (several pieces, and in effect, much of the campaign). And we want some of our art directors to become creative directors someday.  That is, understand the global, market, and client ramifications of certain actions that are taken by our clients or competitors. Understand the impact of new mediums, and how to make a connection with target consumers in the many places they live, work and play.  We’ve come a long way in this paragraph from the simple line of type. But, the “simple line of type” is no less beautiful when it is understood by the creative director, as well as the production artist. In fact, it is more beautiful.

The purpose of that simple line of type is to be a part of the largest communications goals in the project or marketing plan. Not every member of the organization knows exactly why it is produced in the final form that it is –– but the creative team as a whole knows why it is there. One may get the wrong impression of our meaning here, and think that we’re expressing that the creative director knows more about why the type is the way it is than anyone else in the process.  But, that is not our meaning at all.  The creative director knows a portion of the reason of why the type looks like it does, and why it says what it says, but the good production artist, for instance, has a better understanding of the type for reasons that the creative director no longer considers, or perhaps has never learned (things change).

So, “get to it.” you say, “what was it that you learned about yourselves?”
Just as we ask our production artists to become graphic designers, and graphic designers to become art directors, and some of the art directors to become creative directors, we ask our whole business to know why it does what it does. And, we want every member of the creative team to have some ownership in the outcome. We haven’t hired a stable of creative people to live “over there” in another room and be tapped when necessary for an idea.  We’re not asking them to go bananas for us, and then have a marketing person walk in and pick up the pieces to look for a great idea.

We’re asking all members of the team to understand the objectives of a project. Sometimes we have to lose ourselves, lose our pre-conceived notions, to even get at the core of what the objective is, or what it ought to be. We always have to lose ourselves and walk on the side of suspended disbelief for a while to get to the creative options. We didn’t know it, but the fact that we’re also asking all of our staff to know why we’re doing what we’re doing is different than other creative agencies. We’re not a divided house with creatives on one side and account people and marketing staff on the opposite side, and with information technology people on yet another side.

We thought every communications business that had a chance to do meaningful work and serve clients was operating this way, especially in the last two decades. In today’s efficiency-demanding world, there’s not much room for members of the team that don’t know why we’re doing what we’re doing (or at least understand there is something to understand — even if they don’t comprehend every part of the plan). None of this is to say that creative is lost, nor that creative is controlled — because creative that is controlled is lost, and is only production. It’s still true that we don’t know where some creative comes from when we look back. And, we do not know where it will come from tomorrow when it is called upon. We still have the fear of clumsy inadequacy when we go into something new. That’s how we know we are even approaching creative. We are not afraid of looking ignorant (temporarily). In fact, we say our process is built to fail along the way — and that’s why it will succeed creatively at some point (at the end, if there is an end in today’s quick-change media).

To operate this way is to work in a fashion wherein the whole team knows that there is something to understand (even if it is not totally clear to each of us in every part). In effect, we build a model to understand the environment we’re operating in. As long as the model is predictive for us, we understand enough of what is happening to communicate effectively and creatively.

What does it mean to NOT function this way? It means to let the creatives go bananas, and never ask them to come back. To set them aside, therefore, and only go to them for insanity. This kind of team is divided and has distinct parts that can only do one part of the advertising process.  Today’s creative communications are both creative and analytical, and require communication at all times. The first communication required is with the client.

We learned that a lot of creative groups are divided houses.
We learned that our process is not divided (we didn’t know there was any other way).
We also learned that the best creative houses are not divided.

We were just doing what we thought was right for our clients.
We found out that we were also doing what was right for creative.
I love it when one slips into the correct mode by simply being true. Is that bananas?