clean thinking

The Importance of Having a Creative Outlet

In March 2018, Marc Pritchard, CMO of P&G and my former client at Publicis, was quoted as saying, “It’s time to disrupt the archaic ‘Mad Men’ model, … stripping away anything that doesn’t add to the creative output.” He went on to say that, moving forward, P&G was going to pay agencies only for creative personnel hours, which certainly raised some eyebrows in the advertising industry.

But who are these creative people Pritchard was referring too? Are they just those in the traditional “creative department” with titles like copywriter, art director, and designer? Did he mean to include creative and digital strategists and production artists? And what exactly is the modern-day definition of who is a “creative” in the new model agency?

At Clean, our co-creative directors—Bob Ranew and Glen Fellman—have been known to say that 70 percent of the people at the agency are creative and able to contribute ideas but that that doesn’t mean everyone’s ideas will be adopted. I believe that is a reasonable expanded definition of today’s creative personnel, but I’d also suggest another standard that agency people should consider.

If we want to work in a creative environment, and especially have our ideas be adopted and shared with clients, then shouldn’t we each pursue a creative outlet ourselves, both to practice our ability to ideate and to demonstrate that we are creative by nature? Said another way, why should a creative director be open to your ideas if you don’t display a personal passion for creativity?

That pursuit of creativity can come in many forms. You may have an interest in fashion, interior design, or developing games. You may like to paint, or take photographs, or enjoy food preparation. In my case, it’s writing, as I’m a published novelist several times over.

When I contribute my ideas to any concepting meeting, I don’t feel confident in doing so simply because I have years of experience in the industry or because I possess an important-sounding title. My assumptiveness in sharing my thoughts comes from the knowledge that I have a creative mind, which I demonstrably keep in tune through my writing.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t work in our industry if you don’t have a creative outlet, but I do believe that you’ll be better equipped to contribute ideas beyond your specific role if you have creative pursuits in your personal life. I also think that agencies, ours included, can do a better job of celebrating the personal creativity of their employees.

For me, there is an added benefit to having a creative outlet beyond the agency. In essence, our business is about creative collaboration, which is highly rewarding and yet at times can feel constraining. There are moments when, candidly, you don’t want to ideate a combined solution; you simply want the freedom to be creative on your own, without comment or restriction.

My writing provides that solo creative pursuit and outlet, and I believe is one of the reasons I’ve been able to experience a 30-year career in our business, remain a contributor, and not lose it!