I just watched the movie Pirate Radio, with Philip Seymour Hoffman et. al. Clients, if you want to understand the commitment of creatives to great work on your behalf, watch this movie.
In it, the disc jockeys are willing to go down with the ship to keep playing rock and roll on behalf of the audience. This is a direct metaphor for how creatives feel about the work they do on your behalf.
They, like the djs in the movie, are professionals. They have devoted their lives to understanding what your audience really wants from your brand. They are the very select number of people who get it at a cellular level. They have spent their careers understanding the nuances of what is great and what is crap — just like the djs in the movie. They have gone through hell to get the training and then to work at the agencies that will allow them to hone their skills, their instincts, and their insights. They have done what doctors or lawyers or mergers and acquisition experts do to learn their craft and to become experts. They have made immense sacrifices, often in terms of significant dollars, to work at places that value their contribution, rather than work at places that just care about placating the client.
Yet so often, because what they know is not something you too can know, their expertise is dismissed. Dismissed because you, the client, don’t understand what they understand. And you shouldn’t. Because we are all called to play different roles based on our different capabilities. We cannot play each other’s roles. Because we are not all the same people.
We need each other. And we need these differences.
But no role in the branding game is more easily dismissed and belittled than the creative’s role. Because it is not a quantifiable, measureable, linear, or scientifically provable role. It is a role whose value can only be recognized through faith.
Faith that someone is really good at something we don’t understand. And faith that they are sincere, as well as skilled.
I have, in twenty years in this business, really never worked with a creative who was cynical and jaded and manipulative. I have worked almost exclusively with people who deeply cared about creating something great on behalf of the client and their brand. Why? Why have I not seen the very thing that so many clients fear — the self-serving, award-seeking, career-improving creative?
Because the truth is, creatives are the same rare creatures you see in Pirate Radio — people of immense integrity and of silly, ridiculous idealism. These are people who are willing to spin their own intestines into something meaningful and delightful. People who might, in a wartime situation, be considered ideal canon fodder because they are so idealistically committed to what they’re doing.
And so they march bravely forward, as if bullets or the north sea could not cut them down. As if what they do is important, and valuable, and really necessary. They pour their very essences into what they do. Because they know, and they are right, that this is what your audiences hope they will do.
Your audiences are dying for wonderful things from your brand. These creatives are willing to make it. And so often they are met with a cynical doubt. A cynical dismissal. A cynicism that projects itself upon these people as if they, too, must be just as cynical as you are.
Will these creatives always be right. No, not always. Will they be right more often then they’re wrong? Absolutely, especially if they’ve been informed by strong strategic insights. Will they ever be intentionally leading you down the wrong path? They’d rather die.
So, you might not go along with everything these creatives show you. But by God you’d better not doubt that they totally and completely believe in what they’re showing you. And you’d better not delude yourself that you know better what your audience wants than they do. Not if the strategic insights were strong. Not if the brief was right.
This is the one thing that, in my experience, clients do not understand. Except the good ones. And God bless the good ones. Because you’ve got a creative department that will die on your behalf. I will die on your behalf.
(There’s a literal as well as an emotional truth to this. A recent study shows that working the kind of hours creatives work leads to a 60% greater risk of heart attack.)
I hope you can start to understand this, and possibly appreciate it.