Ad Exec: Avoiding a creative dead end
by Tom Fels (@thomasfels) Exercising one’s creativity is among the most-rewarding pleasures in the world. In this respect, any industry where dreamers and makers are free to push the boundaries of what is imaginable, and to see these dreams realised, is truly a gift.
In juxtaposition, these environments are not without their pressures. The constant need to create against set deadlines, often with strict parameters, may generate creative fatigue and, ultimately, burnout. Authors refer to this loss of creative energy as writer’s block. Avoiding it is the key to a long and prosperous career.
Creativity as a process
When young creatives start their careers, raw talent and a haphazard approach to their craft may often generate inconsistent results — sometimes remarkable, sometimes pedestrian. It is with experience and, often, time spent in an environment among teams with a few more years under their belts that settles them into refining their creative process.
As the years pass, not only does each creative identify their own focus area, but also the tools and systems that help them get to results faster, building iteratively through different idea territories.
Watch freelance creative, Aaron Draplin, work through his creative process as he tackles a logo design challenge in 15 mins. It’s impressive to see his purposeful approach yield results so quickly (you may want to skip to 1:30 to get to the start of the challenge).
You’ll see figurines, pictures, stickers and knick-knacks around many creatives’ desks. These forms of memorabilia serve to act as reminders to the artists that inspiration is most often ‘out there’ and seldom ‘in here’ — in their offices, at their workstations. Getting the mind into different spaces is the key to generating surprising ideas that are unconventional and, in the clichéd advertising term, cut through the clutter.
Often, getting right out of town is what is most needed. Local agency, FoxP2, a couple of years ago took a sabbatical from award shows one year and reinvested its budget on sending their staff upon inspirational journeys, providing them with a chance to interact with people, ideas and places that exposed them to a wider range of thought.
Work that works
Not every campaign is going to have an iconic, ground-breaking idea at its core; some don’t even need it. Yet creatives find themselves expending endless energy trying to generate a Cannes Lions winning idea against every brief. Often this is where business reality and creativity collide. What clients really want is work that works, before it wins awards. Practical thinking is a vital part of filtering one’s process to generate commercially sound ideas.
Stick to what is real
When writer’s block does hit, the best place to return to is to bed down what is real. Decipher the truth of the brand and the product; understand what the audience really thinks about it.
If you go back and look at some of the most iconic advertising of our time, you’ll see that is it born out of simple truths, well-executed. Talent, imagination and the ability to avoid a dead end through your creative process are what help get you there.
With a decade of local and international experience in leading brand consulting, design, shopper marketing and integrated advertising roles, Tom Fels (@thomasfels) has gained a deeply relevant understanding of the dynamics of agencies. His skills are put to work daily as group managing director of Publicis Machine. He contributes the monthly “Ad Exec” column to MarkLives.