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Creatives in the Boardroom

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A version of this post initially appeared on SixtySecondView.

A couple of weeks ago in our London office, I was shown a creative campaign about to be pitched to a client. It was perfect in that annoying “I wish I had been part of that” sort of way. Simple. Bold. Purpose at the heart. Beautifully art directed and inherently newsworthy. Transforming for the client and challenging for the sector to respond to. Hours after seeing it, my mind kept wandering back to turn it over again, re-testing and just savouring it.

It was the work of our London-based Executive Creative Director and planning team, a brilliant client and it had been nurtured and shepherded by Global Creative Director Jackie Cooper, a veritable she-wolf in protection of this young and fragile cub of an idea.

It gave me pause for thought.

For two years I worked as a planner at an ad agency called Batey, now sadly subsumed into Grey, but still acknowledged as one of Asia’s most creative firms in its day and inventor of the Singapore Girl amongst other things. Whilst there, I was lucky enough to attend creative review panels in the shadow of the brooding presence of the eponymous Ian Batey. Think of Marlon Brando’s personification of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, sitting in the half dark, muttering his terrifying philosophical concepts, and you have the idea.

Every couple of weeks the creative teams shuffled in to pitch their work to Ian and the panel, but really only to Ian, and he would judge. He would push and probe, express disappointment and occasionally offer a laconic back-handed compliment. He would educate and test us panelists too by forcing us to judge and explain the work and by doing so, he honed creative sensibilities and he raised creative standards to a wider group and thereby to the agency.

I believe even Ian would have approved of the idea by our London team. But I am confident he would have approved of the client management and planning that opened up the opportunity to create and present it, as well as the fierce protective eloquence that kept it intact through internal and client reviews.

Which brings me to my point. Even for the more progressive agencies that have their origins in the task formally known as PR, this is a new frontier. Many of us have planning, creative, media buying, production and studios as well as media relations and stakeholder engagement teams, but fewer have a company-wide culture that reveres creativity sufficiently to represent it at the highest level of the firm or its constituent businesses.

And that’s important because great Creatives want to know they are joining and working in a place where what they do is valued at the highest levels because occasionally, when you have nailed a big idea, dilution and compromise are best faced down by experience, seniority and a bit of pigheadedness. It sounds counter-intuitive but we need more Creatives on our boards and management teams if our industry is to grasp the opportunity with CMOs and brands that are in front of us. At Edelman, we are lucky to have Jackie leading the charge, but we need to do much more too.

David Brain is president and CEO of Edelman Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa.

Image by Tambako.
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