Understanding the creative

As a manager, you probably spend at least 80% of your time communicating. You’ll be reading, writing, listening, talking, taking meetings and making presentations. You might, if you’re lucky, spend the rest of your time thinking and creating something yourself. For creatives it’s the other way around. Sometimes you might feel that all you have time to do is communicate and likewise creative people sometimes feel that all they have time to do is create. It’s a situation that’s almost certain to lead to major frustration if it’s not understood and managed.

The ideal job for most creative people is one where they get a well-conceived brief, have harmonious conversations, negotiate terms easily and have the space and time to make the work without interruptions or client interventions. The ideal job from a client management point of view is where the creatives clearly show they ‘get’ the brief, agree to deliver on budget and on time and consistently build confidence throughout the project by showing work-in-progress and responding to your feedback with enthusiasm, eventually delivering the excellent work you were hoping for (even if you didn’t know exactly what you were hoping for when the project started).

Instead, what often happens is: the brief is poorly articulated or misunderstood, there are acrimonious negotiations and grudging acceptance of terms, the managers make suggestions the creatives’ three-year-old kids would know were bad; the creatives argue about concepts the managers don’t see as relevant. Communication is non-existent. And even then, great work can be produced.

“Creative companies should be difficult to work with.”

A good creative company will make creativity its highest priority. If it’s well run, it won’t have excessive support staff because they’re the overheads that restrict creative options. So you probably won’t find it easy to communicate with them. If they are protective of their portfolio (their main asset), they have to fight for what they believe is creatively right. You might find yourself in arguments about something they care deeply about but you simply don’t understand. If they take their responsibility to you seriously, they will have to tell you when they think you’re making a mistake, even though you’re the client and you’re paying them. And if they are really talented people who create challenging or ground-breaking work, they probably struggle to pay their bills and have to manage their cashflow like hawks.

Dealing with the difficult, however, is just a part of a manager’s job. If you can’t do that, you need mediocre creatives working in big companies who do as you say because you’re the boss. You’ll get what you expect from them, and nothing more.

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