Sophie Johnson writes:

As time goes by, it strikes me as stranger and stranger the way that advertising agencies keep creatives cooped up.

In the classic arrangement of a Creative Department, with its obligatory pool table, beer fridge and wacky decor you’ll often find astroturf underfoot in places and random objects such as phone boxes or deck chairs dotted about. Perhaps a ball pool, since creativity is akin to thinking like a child. Therefore, creatives are often encouraged to play like children, but they are kept under supervision, just like children.

Account handlers are out and about all day long, meeting and greeting, presenting ideas, talking to clients… so why should creatives be kept under lock and key?

However, even offices where childish creative environments have been built are still offices at the end of the day. There’s still an account team and an MD potentially breathing down the creatives’ necks, tutting if there’s too much fun being had and muttering about timelines, budgets and deadlines.

The account team and the creative team are co-dependents. Most creatives would rather be watching a Tom and Jerry cartoon than scrutinising a spreadsheet. The account team sometimes perceive the creatives as ‘other’, ‘alien’ and ‘a bit strange’, but the client-facing team still need the ‘stuff’ to be produced by someone.

I have always found that the most productive way to crack a brief is to leave the office. I am sorry to say that not every company is in favour of this: ‘But we gave you astro-turf, a pool table and a beer fridge! How could you possibly need more in order to create?’ they cry.

One thing about a creative duo – the art director and copywriter – is that they develop a relationship of absolute trust. They reach a point where they can say anything to each other. No idea is too stupid or absurd. But this trust does not extend beyond the creative team. Each of the pair needs the other as a sounding board, someone who won’t point and laugh but will gently or not so gently correct an idea that veers off brief or rule it out before it is presented back to the creative director and the account team. So being in an office where they can easily be overheard is anathema to the creative process.

There is also the danger of getting stale if you look at the same four walls, day in, day out. Even if they are covered in pink flowers and zebra print.

Creatives need to roam freely during the thinking phase of their job. And they should go wherever they need to in order to get the desired results. This could be an art gallery, a quiet-ish cafe (but not so quiet that they draw attention to themselves), a park – the location should be left entirely up to them.

In many cases it may be better for them not to work for a company at all, but be completely free-range. Artists, writers and other creative types generally aren’t expected to sit in an office from 9-5 every day, so why should this be the case in advertising? Fresh work and fresh ideas come from moving about from place to place, travelling, having different experiences, meeting new people, hearing different life experiences… not sitting at the same desk day after day, month after month, year after year.


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