Advertising. And Howe
By Karen Howe
Your creative partner can make or break your career. So spend the time to find the right chemistry, with someone who has complementary skills, works well as a team player and shares your desire to produce great work
In advertising, we spend as much time with our creative partner as we do with our partners in our personal life. It’s a relationship that can make or break your career. As a result it’s utterly critical that you take the time and care to find the right partner. And it’s important to be a good partner, too.
Early in your career it’s great to explore working with a bunch of different partners to get a sense of what kind of creative collaboration works best for you. But there are some caveats to keep in mind.
You have to like each other as people. Being able to share a good laugh together is key because you will spend a lot of time with each other and you will often find yourselves dealing with sticky situations. So, how you both handle stress will be important, too. A minimum of drama is always preferable.
You and your partner need to be aligned, and loyal to each other – have each other’s back.
Sparks are good. Fireworks? Not so much
Being different enough from each other can actually provide the spark needed for creation. If your partner problem-solves from a different angle, it can bring a lot of richness and depth to the ideas. Writers and art directors, by the nature of their different disciplines, tackle creative issues from fundamentally different places. The complementary skill sets strengthen a team.
I had a partner who was great for idea generation but hated to present. I really enjoy presenting, so it worked really well for us. We were a good balancing act for each other.
However it’s a fine line. If partners are too different, a lot of time and energy gets wasted in conflict. A friend of mine likes to brainstorm the way I do: very collaboratively. It’s sort of a stream of unconsciousness, where you throw out ideas, some quite unformed, and try to build on them together. His motto is, “A good idea is always right around the corner from a bad one.” However, he briefly had a partner, very talented in his own right, who preferred that they completely develop fully formed concepts before coming together. He belittled the back-and-forthing as a process. So, it wasn’t a great partnership.
Chemistry is king
You have to like each other, but there also has to be respect. You have to be able to be brutally forthright with each other, too. A writer who works here observed that a seasoned team hammers out ideas fast by communicating honestly. They don’t hesitate to say when something isn’t funny enough or fresh enough. As a result it elevates the work.
We not me
Always use the word “we.” Live it as a credo. We don’t create ideas in a vacuum. Even if one person came up with the idea, together a team hones it, sells it and produces it. Know that some days you will be the conceptual hero, and other days your partner will be. So always share credit gracefully.
I knew an art director who would tell his CD on the sly that he generated all the team’s ideas. Don’t be that partner; don’t work with that partner.
More on parking the ego
This is a funny business. Large egos abound. So does insecurity. I think the two are connected. The greatest teams are symbiotic, and egoless. The AD sometimes comes up with the headline, the writer sometimes offers up the ideal visual solution. (In our shop we refer to a couple of our writers as “art di-writers.”) The lack of ego, the comfort with fluid territorial lines often provide more fertile ground for ideas. Unfettered collaboration is the backbone of a good team.
When is it time for a divorce?
Be mindful. There are signs. When one partner is truly, significantly more talented than the other, it can’t work.
If you are partnered with someone who doesn’t care as much as you do, that’s a problem.
If you’re spending more time knocking heads than coming up with ideas, it’s time to split. If you and your partner can’t enjoy a laugh together, it might be time for a rethink.
I once had a partner who came from a culture where women are not equals. Needless to say, divorce came quick.
If you both have fundamentally different ideas of what great creative is, that’s a deal-breaker.
It’s all a trapeze act
“You catch me, next time I’ll catch you.” that’s a perfect partnership distilled to its essence. If you find that person who delivers the goods in that high-wire act we call advertising, hang onto them. The legendary teams got where they did because they found the right partner and were smart enough to hang on to each other. Kinda like a great marriage.
Karen Howe is senior vice-president, creative director of Due North Communications in Toronto. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.