CREATIVE IS DEAD...
... if you’re still doing it the old fashioned way
IT’S APOCALYPSE NOW...
...for the mediocre minds unable to embrace change
RUN FOR YOUR LIVES...
...if you like to “play it safe!”
A few years ago, I woke up to a depressing thought. I believed, the final frontier of “radio creative” had been reached. After two decades of doing this, I thought, whatever could have been done was done. All envelopes were pushed beyond limit. All creative barriers were broken. Digital technology combined with cutting edge thinking had given birth to a style of writing and production which could not be topped. I thought, where do you go from the Eric Chases of the world? What else is left to scale when you are on top of the creative mountain? Where else do you turn when your new method is to recycle your old ideas? How do you shock an audience who is comfortably numb? How do you help a client who wants to talk to intellectually deaf ears?
Before you are accidentally dragged into believing this false and morbid piece of fiction, let me tell you, I was staring at my imaginary dead end. I had forgotten, momentarily, that great creative, like great humans, is born every day. New great songs are being recorded as we speak, soon to become our very own time capsules. New great movies are being shot right now soon to become Hollywood classics. New great paintings are uniting with their new great frames like soul mates soon to become part of a room’s character. I was wrong and quickly made a turn in the direction of the truth.
Creative is not a mountain we scale. Nor is it an exploration of a world with barriers and limitations. Creativity can not be exhausted. It is like love. An endless resource where the production never stops no matter how many people you have to share it with. It is an amazing balancing act between reality and fantasy. A collaboration of the heart and the mind. There is no end to creating, to the evolution of styles, to the configuration of words, the emotions, to the messages we design. That is why creativity and innovation have been given the center stage to improve business and radio commercials by global media leaders like Clear Channel Radio. That is why agencies, media buyers, clients, salespeople are finally beginning to “get” what we, on the creative side, have been screaming for decades. “Get the hell out of our ways!”
As a relieving consequence to this discovery, I embraced my passion as a writer and a producer with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. I recognize that I work in an industry advocating to reduce the clutter while creating it. An industry serving its audience expired milk (programming content) and wondering why we are covered with vomit (I-pod receipts). Our content is stale, our audience is receding, and most of our industry leaders are still doing business as usual. The junkyard of today’s business world is filled with debris from the explosion of “oblivious to change” companies which have self-destructed. More to come, unfortunately. In my pursuit of personal accountability, I decided I was all to blame for everything. Yes, it was me. My crappy attitude was causing the creative cancer and it was about to kill everyone on earth starting with Radio, then the domestic auto industry, the airline business, Medicare and my neighbor’s dog Boo-Boo. It was time to establish (dramatic sting here) “A Creative Discipline!” In the process, I discovered the 12P grade fuel for the creative tank. Now, I use it regularly for optimum performance, regularity, low cholesterol, hair loss prevention and world peace.
The ingredients of 12P, a formula for a high-octane creative fuel, are: Passion, Purity, Permission, Perfection, Perseverance, Professionalism, Psychology, Presentation, Praise, Power, Practice and Preach.
As you can see, I conducted years of research leading me to 12 critical words all starting with the letter “P” connected to “effective creative.” (Fine, I spent a weekend.) Furthermore, when harmoniously listed, they actually create entertainment for the reader while educating the curious. (They work.) I hope this pathetic attempt to get you to read the rest of this article will not actually backfire on me as you flip quickly to something more engaging like “Equipment Wanted!”
The truth is, our creative tank, filled up with this type of fuel, is sure to give us the most CMPG, Creative Miles Per Gallon. And, unlike the one controlled by OPEC, this one will not make us curse every time we fill up. Applied with discipline and supported by natural talent, this is a good formula for healthy creative performance in today’s radio where it is no longer them against us. I am tempted to begin a new paragraph here subtitled “Sales People are from Saturn and Creative People are from Pluto.” But, lucky for both of us, I control the temptation and acknowledge that is a whole other article.
The Ingredients of 12P
1) Passion: It is the very foundation of “creative.” Without emotional involvement we are extinct. If we are not crazy about what we do, if we are “over it,” if we are not willing to vigorously defend what we believe in, well, we are in the wrong line of business. How can we evoke passion in our target’s heart (which we have to if we want results) if we don’t have it to begin with? The harder you laugh, the harder you cry, the more passionately you love, the more passionately you hate, the better you are in creating compelling messages.
2) Purity: We must be honest. We must be real. We must know that unlike our parents’ and grandparents’ era, “truth in advertising” means something entirely new today. If our message is diluted with hype, disembodied production and unsubstantiated claims, no matter how creative we are, the end product will still be full of bull to today’s smart consumer. People know when we lie. They always have. Except now, they do not have to tolerate us. They can just put on their I-Pod and shut us off. If we insult their intelligence they will do something worse than “hate” us. They will “ignore” us. We have to keep it pure. We have to drill deep and find that one true value in our client’s business and design a campaign only around that. Nothing else!
3) Permission: If we don’t seek client’s permission right from the beginning we are setting ourselves up, and our organization, to fail. Before selling our ideas we must first sell ourselves — to the salesperson then to the client. It is only then our client will permit us to be the creative authority. It is the only way we can perform effectively and get results for our client. Managing expectations right from the beginning is critical. We must get full permission in the same way a hospital does before operating on us. Nothing is worse than a patient who interferes during surgery.
4) Perfection: No creative process is complete unless it is perfect according to its author. If you compromise, it is not perfect. If you settle, it is not perfect. If you rush the process, it is not perfect. “Total Perfection” and “Effective Creative” are happily married. If we let some home wreckin’ client or salesperson break up the marriage we will end up with a dysfunctional message. People who expect results must understand and respect our desire for perfection. The reason why it takes so long to come up with a great idea is the amount of crappy ideas we come up with first. Good creative takes good time. The words “rush” and “perfection” are allergic to one another.
5) Perseverance: This is the result of all of the above. How can a passionate person with a pure and perfect message, permitted by the client, not persevere? We must defend the strategy of our message. We are not writing to impress the account manager, the agency or the client, We are writing to impress the consumer. Because we need to think on behalf of the consumer. Then, when attacked by a no-control-releasin’, revision-crazed, micro-managin’, my-money-my-commercial-maniac, we must express our defense strategy diplomatically, respectfully and competently — because, that maniac is still our client. We cannot ignore that fine line between “perseverance” and “pushy.” A quick but unpleasant chat with our boss about our creative tyranny costing a sale can leave us with one “P” we do not need in this fuel tank: Poop! Believe in the idea. Back it up with facts. Make the recommendation. Know that the client has the final word. (Unless it is a client who completely surrenders creative authority to you. That is a client who “gets it!” Currently, a rare breed. Please guard with your life when you find one.)
6) Professionalism: “The creative types are wild and crazy” is as cliché as “Great Prices and Great Selection!” Today’s true creative minds must also be professionals. (Reality check! Today’s Creative Talent in Radio no longer lives in a Creative Palace by himself. He co-exists with Salespeople. Say hello to your new roommate for the next few decades and go brush your teeth.) How can we claim to be experts in “selling” if we are unable to” sell” ourselves? Would you go to a dermatologist who happens to be the Elephant Man? We must have emotional discipline, effective communication skills, adhere to deadlines, under-promise and over deliver. If a great creative is presented poorly, will anyone know it was a great creative? Yes, just the presenter! Our content is only as good as its package. We have to respect ourselves, our health and our appearance in order to be considered a “credible authority.”
7) Psychology: We are creative persuaders. Everyday we explore engaging methods to get into the human mind. We can always read up on the latest plug-in that can make us sound like Don LaFontaine later. First, we have to learn the human psychology. Take a course. Read a book. Master the territory we work in every single day. Contrary to Pat Benatar (‘80s music reference — disregard if you are under 25), it is not “love” that is a battlefield. It is the “Mind.” The more we understand the mind the better equipped we become to claim victories for our clients.
8) Presentation: Presentation, connected to “number 6: Professionalism,” can make or break our idea. Radio creative is the most sensitive to present. If we don’t bring it to life the way we envision it, a great idea can go belly up fast. We cannot let the salesperson present our idea to the client. It is not fair to the salesperson, to the client and certainly to the idea. With all due respect to our sales teams, it is no different than crafting a beautiful, valuable crystal vase and handing it over to a two year old to run across a five-lane highway to deliver to the client. It puts everybody in jeopardy and has the potential for tragedy. There is only one person in the world qualified to present the idea: its author. Set up your idea with strategy. Present your idea with passion. Backup your idea with research. If your idea is audio-dependent do not read it. Play it! At the end, never ask the client for their reaction by using self-destructive questions like, “So, whadayathink?” Instead, stand firm behind your prescription, just like a doctor does with a patient. Remember, you know what is good for your client’s business. Now, make sure your client knows it too.
9) Praise: This is not something we need to develop and posses. Rather, it is something we need to receive from those whom we work with or work for (and please… don’t tell me you do not “need” it; that would be dishonest). Unlike other professions, for the creative types, “praise” does not translate to “ego boost.” Rather, it sustains the morale. Creative performance is contingent on morale. (If you manage creative talent, for God’s sake, learn how to productively praise creative performance.) Awards are nice but do not mean a thing to our clients. The client’s award is ROI, return on investment. There are two types of praises we need as part of the nurturing. First, from the client who says, “Wow! My business is up dramatically since we hit the air with your campaign!” Second, from our peers who say “Wow, I heard that spot. It was amazing.” Although both praises come with different motives from different sources, their destiny is the same: our self-esteem. We are artists (specializing in creative selling). We need the applause. Absence of praise is no different than a silent audience at the end of a performance. The actor still gets paid, but the ability to perform again is in question.
10) Power: The power to perform professionally comes from our tools (this is not a subliminal promotion for Pro-Tools). Our computer, our digital workstation, our office location all contribute to our power to perform. Tools which do not function, engineers who do not care, environment that does not inspire and resources which do not exist will leave us powerless when it comes to effective creative performance. No one will know you are a world class equestrian when you are riding a donkey. (Sorry…I am a metaphor junkie!)
11) Practice: Tiger Woods is not lucky. He practices to death. If we want a hole-in-one each time we present an idea, we have to practice every single day. We must read and write as if we are getting ready for the Creative Olympics. In fact, every morning we wake up we are getting ready to compete in The Creative Olympics where the Gold Medal comes from our “happy clients” in the form of repeat-business! Remember how critical “Perfection” is to the credibility of our creative? Practice indeed makes perfect!
12) Preach: Remember number 3, Permission? To receive the permission we must help them “understand.” Sales, clients and everybody in between must understand the importance of the creative and the process itself. When we train our sales staff and our direct clients to become creative centric, we are paving the way for easier access to “permission.” Hold workshops. Show your goods. Demonstrate, teach and empower those with the very same passion that drives you. Speak to your management in their language by explaining that good creative can bring in good revenue. Preach the power of good creative and its benefits to sales and to clients consistently. The truth shall set us free. And freedom is what we require to create!
Let’s face it. This is among the most subjective industries we work in. Opinions, experts, expert-wanna-bes, right people in wrong positions, wrong people in right positions, old school fundamentals, new school techniques, politics, insanity and hypocrisy are abound. The “I am right and you all suck” attitude is a sad byproduct of doing “it” for a long time, making some in our biz blind, deaf and paralyzed as they quietly drown in their own pool of ego and ignorance. Blessed are those who greet change with a smile and those who emerge from the sidelines with fresh ideas and humble attitudes. Although our industry will always remain subjective and full of “truths lost in translation,” luckily, for the emerging young Turks, there are a few unbendable facts not subject to interpretation:
1) Creativity is the most expensive service we provide. Ideas are worth a million.
2) The happy marriage between Radio and Production will never stop evolving. As in life, radio will always survive, reinvent and remain as the most effective medium advertisers can utilize.
3) As long as a creative talent designs “A Great Radio Spot” there will always be a client, a salesperson or a committee of idiots who will eventually bastardize it. Those great spots which make it to air without getting assassinated are the ones that rock.
4) Those of us who get chills down our spines when we hear an awesome piece of creative on the air, whether it is ours or not, will always be around to embrace the next best thing regardless of our age. (In other words we’ll always have a gig.)
5) Everything changes. Yet, human emotions remain the same. The ever changing landscape of technology cannot make timeless values extinct. Creativity is one of them.
Creative is Dead if you’re still doing it the old fashioned way.
It’s Apocalypse Now only for the mediocre minds unable to embrace change.
Run For Your Lives if you like to “play it safe!”
Otherwise, please pull up to the pump and fill her up with 12P. Now, excuse me while I squeegee your windows for better visibility.