What happens when a creative goes undercover as a businessperson

What happens when a creative goes undercover as a businessperson

One year ago, I took on the role of North America president and chief creative officer at Ogilvy Advertising. 

I wanted to see if the person most connected to the product could also drive the business forward. I didn’t truly understand the opportunity until I stopped thinking about my reasons for taking the role and started thinking about why Ogilvy chose someone like me.  

As a creative you know the work. You are obsessed with getting ideas in front of consumers. It’s literally the only thing that matters to you. So naturally, bringing that mindset to the business turns the increasing pressure our industry is under into a driver of the work. It also casts all the new tools and innovations at our disposal, which can often be confused with the end-product, as enablers to brilliant consumer connections and creative outcomes. 

Advertising is still a creative industry; we just have to keep our narrative straight.   

Here are three ways your team can recenter, from the perspective of a businessperson who is really a creative: 

I sat with David Droga before I started this role, and he offered a thoughtful perspective. He said something to the effect of, “The majority of people coming from the traditional business track look at the client and think, ‘what can I get out of them?’ As a creative, it’s not about that, it’s about what you can give to them.”  

That’s a little generous, but he’s right. Creative people are obsessed with the work, they dream of making it, and fantasize about birthing it into the world and getting their ideas into consumers’ minds and hearts. That work also happens to be a real, tangible driver of our clients’ business results, as well as our reputation as an agency. The same cannot be said for solid decks, or positive meetings.  

Everyone’s eyes must be on the prize. Whether you are driving a car or throwing a ball, they both go where you are looking. Instead of focusing only on the section of work that pertains to your craft—whether comms, strategy, or account management—try and approach everything by connecting it, and yourself, to the eventual output. When everyone does that, we exit the spin and silo, and a unified team starts to drive the work forward.    

When asked about what a world-class agency partner does, Apple CMO Tor Myhren said “reduce things.” Unfortunately, that thing we are experts in for clients, we are often not great at inside our own walls. 

How many of us have stared at an overly complex slide in an internal meeting, until someone bravely asks, “What are we really trying to say here?” That is the question everyone should be asking all the time. If it’s not clear, it’s a big problem. The answer will always be something simple, and that answer is what goes on the slide.  

We connect with other human beings for a living, don’t let it get too complicated. Be wary of anyone in your organization who makes things so complex only they understand them—it’s a big distraction.  

To me, creativity is making unexpected connections in order to do something differently, and everyone at the company should approach their work creatively. 

Some of us write ads, but all of us can play a vital role bringing the work to life. Because the truth is that the more bold or ambitious the idea, the more acts of creativity it takes to bring it to life.  

The client can’t afford the idea? Figure out how to bundle it with another project. The CEO won’t read a deck? Make her a podcast. The work didn’t test well? Proactively test with another methodology. If everyone is thinking creatively, then everyone knows there is always another path to yes.  

With all that said, you may ask, what happens to me now that I have sufficiently blown my cover? It’s simple. I’m a creative person, so I found another way to do the gig.  

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