The Almost Creative is a curious thing.
Tasked with managing, directing and handling ‘creative’ work and ‘creative’ people, the Almost Creative must deliver value to the market using artillery they are not allowed to take credit for creating.
Instead, the credit must inadvertently go to the real ‘creative.’
And I use the quotation marks around the word creative because I can never really say it without being sardonic. As far as I’m concerned, ‘creative’ work is actually just the process of synthesising existing ideas and concepts into something seemingly original. It’s the synthesis, the joining of dots that’s supposedly ‘creative’.
Which is funny because, to me, nothing is as functional as writing. The choices I make as a writer feel as obvious and ‘logical’ to me, as I imagine they would have had I been a planner setting a strategy. And because they do, I’m a writer, not a planner.
Which is why it’s hard for me to consider the planners, accounts people and clients we work with as being non-‘creative’. What they do and how they do it is every bit as ‘creative’ as the things I do. What defines whether working with them is fun or not is inevitably a question of whether or not we respect each other. And ‘creativity’ has very little to do with it.
So even though their proximity to my role as a ‘creative’ has a whole lot to do with the quality of my work, they’ll honorably accept the under-appreciated role they play in the paradoxical flux between supposedly ‘creative’ and ‘non-creative’ – the land of the Almost Creative.
When Almost Creatives create
Some time ago I had the terrifying privilege of witnessing our very own Accountess von Rzeppenstein, Martha handling a client’s feedback to some work we’d done. For context: on behalf of her clients, Martha rides our design team harder than anyone else. It’s what she’s loved and feared for. And in this case, her clients were people we unanimously adore.
So in the middle of the ring lay a piece of design that one of our ridiculously talented designers had slaved over for a couple of weeks. In the red corner, was an account director fighting for the work she’d managed. In the blue corner, were people reconciling the work with the vision they’d had when they’d briefed us.
The meeting that unfolded was one of the tensest struggles I’ve ever seen. Three people with little to no design experience between them sat around a piece of design and dissected every curve and colour till they felt it was just right. This was a negotiation. Except the person who’d made the object of value at the center of it was nowhere to be seen.
Instead it was the people charged with making ‘creative’ decisions even though (and probably even because) they don’t actually make the ‘creative’ work itself. They represent the paradox this whole industry is based on.
Now, all three of them would be the first to admit they aren’t designers. And even though I sat there playing a soundtrack of slowly beating drums in my head while they discussed the ‘balance of the page’, I have to admit I was relieved to see how much respect all three showed to the designer.
Yeah, turns out all the tension and anguish were just a figment of my ‘creative’ imagination. The three of them had actually had a pretty straightforward meeting that eventually made the piece a whole lot better. The only reason I perceived any of it as being particularly dramatic was because my instinct is to get precious about ‘creative’ work.
See I’d never seen this side of things. And the result is that when ‘creatives’ like me get feedback from the Almost Creative, we think they’re stupid and wrong and hateful. We presume their disagreement is ignorant disrespect and we deride them for it.
Which means that if there’s any disrespect in the relationship at all, it’s actually stemming from us, the precious ‘creatives’.
“Everyone’s a fucking writer.”
When I first started out as a copywriter, a frequent complaint from my more experienced teammates was that everyone thinks they can write. They won’t tell a cameraman how to set up a master shot, but they’ll sure as shit tell us how to write a strapline.
Funnily enough, a couple of years ago when I erroneously tried to become a designer, I realised that it’s just as easy for the ‘almost creative’ to comment about the balance of a page. Because just like the ‘creative’ knows how logical their decisions were, the Almost Creative knows how logical their criticism of the work is.
But because they weren’t explicitly hired to make the work, and therefore hadn’t considered the hundreds of permutations and possibilities we, the ‘creative’ did, we think their criticism is short sighted.
And because the choices we make aren’t actually logical, but in fact impulsive swings and misses in a general direction, we struggle to articulate the rationale behind them. Which makes our decisions sound short sighted.
So what do we do? How do we navigate this annoying little paradox at the base of our discipline?
Content marketing and the daisy chain of faith
When we’re making content, we like to think it’s a sure bet. We like to think that this issue is super important and this solution is super valuable and everything is going to work out exactly the way we hope.
But the inescapable reality of content marketing is that sometimes thing’s just don’t do as well as we thought they could. For my money, Der Kessler’s piece about the Search for Meaning in B2B Marketing is the best he’s written.
But did it do as well as the Crap deck? No. Is there an obvious reason why? Not really. We can’t even go through the analytics to find out which parts of the story resonated most or which illustrations evoked the best responses.
All we can do is swing like we’re winning and aim for the fences. Because that brief instant when we close our eyes and hit ‘publish’ is always going to be a leap of faith. And it takes a daisy chain of confidence to make sure the motley crew of Almost Creatives and ‘creatives’ can aim for a home run.
Because the client’s vision is inherently shrouded in subjective mystery, the second they outsource that vision they’re empowering someone else to fill in the blanks. Which makes the first leap of faith an Almost Creative one.
After which the ‘creative’ has to trust their accounts person and client won’t take Almost Creative liberties. That means trusting they’ll resist the urge to make the ‘logical’ decisions we were hired to make*. Until again, the Almost Creatives have to trust that the ‘creative’ will give them something they can proudly take to market. That means not letting the brief down.
Without mutual respect and the consequent willingness to trust each other’s judgment and opinions, the relationship between the ‘creative’ and the Almost Creative would evaporate into a poof or subjective squabbling.
In that meeting, I got to see why I could trust the Rzeppmeister to have my back. (Turns out she’s as tough with clients as she is with creatives.) But I also realised that her clients could trust her to have their back. And while the designer whose work she was fighting for didn’t get to see it in action, that little daisy chain of trust she’s built is what’s keeping this industry from imploding.
*A note to the Almost Creative
For what it’s worth, I think the difference between a good Almost Creative and a bad Almost Creative lies somewhere in their answers to the following three questions (that were unashamedly ripped off from ever wise Craig Ferguson):
- Does this need to be said?
- Does this need to be said by me?
- Does this need to be said by me now?
Image source: Dan Porges
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