The product has been tested, helmed and perfected for the launch, the media placements secured and outflow scheduling approved. You are just about to sign-off on the landing page creative, but exhale slowly as you take it all in. It seems...lacking…
Redundant and uninspired marketing campaigns created by normally talented creatives are rarely happenstance.
George Gribbin, a revered advertising creative and chairman of Young and Rubicam until his death in 1981, astutely touched on the makeup of successful creatives,
“They read broadly…they should participate in life broadly…they are better off to travel than to stay at home…they tend to violate a considerable number of conventions rather than to subscribe to them.”
So, what are companies doing to encourage a broad existence for their creatives?
In my experience, most companies (whether agency or brand) not much. The same idiosyncrasies that made these employees sharp, innovative and desirable to employ are often dulled and pushed toward convention. Perpetual brainstorm sessions, decisions by committee, open offices, and aesthetically driven workplaces all contribute to this. The team is pushed toward sameness and the resulting work is almost always stale.
The fiery and unabashed Basecamp founder David Heinemeier Hansson articulated this well in an interview on Chase Jarvis. Historically, company policies and work cultures have been dictated by the people that are not actually doing the creative heavy lifting. Extroverted executives in sales or management have trumpeted the collaborative value of the Foosball table or brainstorm sessions with no end time in sight. This is in direct contrast to how creatives usually get their best work done.
As managers, we have the ability to encourage and retain creative work. In the field of marketing and advertising, market research and strategy will only get you so far. You need the uncanny ideas of the people designing the landings pages, writing your newsletter copy, and crafting your packaging.
Below is a list of policies and systems that I have seen revitalize talented (and burned out) creatives in marketing teams. They can easily be incorporated into your workday piecemeal or all together for a nice creative shakedown.
Reliable and consistent chunks of uninterrupted time 3-5 hours each day. I’ve found this works best if it becomes a company-wide policy, as the manager of the department then becomes the despised bouncer in the eyes of the rest of the office. You can easily start by incorporating it into your department first and then tracking the results of increased productivity or any other relevant KPI to present at the next department meeting. No matter how adamentally another manager may want their department’s time to be unstructured, it is hard to argue with increased and better output.
Minimalist meetings of 3+ people. Only when absolutely necessary, best when kept to 30 minutes, or some tangible and timely limit to encourage conversational resourcefulness.
Remote work built into weekly schedule. Perhaps half days in the office or 1-2 days a week OOO. This can also facilitate deep, uninterrupted work.
Getting outside. Going to your local Creative Mornings, other local talks, galleries, pop-ups, etc. This keeps your team engaged in what other industries are doing, participating in a larger conversation and also provides them some monthly respite from the grind.
Developing some sort of reward or bonus system for the team. This can be tricky and nuanced to set-up, but when done correctly, your team is incentivized for better performance. These bonus systems are typically reserved for sales teams, and can just as easily discourage marketing and design creatives, who see their hours of overtime and inspiration that went into the sales collateral, only contributing to that sales person’s disposable income. What can you base such a system off of? Depending on the deliverables of your team, most marketing efforts contribute to traffic, click-through, and conversions. Creating a monthly goal for a metric and then attaching a reward for the team (either experiential or monetary) can help fuel the long hours spent in the office during Black Friday.
Here is the aforementioned interview, where Basecamp founder David Heinemeier Hansson delineates more attributes of successful work teams.
If we want audacious thinkers, we need to create intentional environments that embrace policies and systems that push us beyond the status quo.