Creative teams or collaborative teams? 

The second instalment in our "what I didn't learn in ad school" series. Check out the first here


Loving Creative Teams

Teaming up is a big deal to Creatives from UK ad schools. The classic Creative Team has one Art Director and one Copywriter. These duos promote each other's side hustles, moustaches and bold fashion choices. They'll cover each other's backs, hangovers, maternity/paternity leave and bizarre creative decisions. Loyalty. Comradeship. Artistic respect. That's kind of the deal. For decades.

Much like romantic couples, great Creative Teams are a mutually supportive unit. The AD and CD have unexplained chemistry. They love each other's ideas. Then, they decide it's time to move agency together. Get a promotion together. Get a raise together. Get a better desk together. But these tight Creative Teams can have their problems. They can have creative debts. Rows. Biases. These all need working through. But with a little trust, everything'll be fine.

An insightful Strategist once told me, “two Creatives working together create a third personality: the work.” Think of the razzle-dazzle performer Elton John and his shy lyricist Bernie Taupin collaborating as a partnership. Both claim they couldn't have created those famous songs alone. In other words, it takes two to tango and win Strictly.

So if being in a Creative Team is so amazing, what are the benefits to not being in one? Can solo Creatives survive out there? Are large Creative Collabing Teams any good? And can clients genuinely contribute creatively in Collab Teams? Yes. Yes. Yes.


Loving Collab Teams

Collab Teams have the flex to bring in specialist knowledge that Creative Teams can't access. Editors, Model Makers, Photographers, Animators. Brand Managers, Brand Guardians, Product Designers, PR Wizards. Ultimately this reduces the chance that niche craftspeople are handed a scamp (that's a thin piece of paper with a felt tip scribbles to you and me) and told “make it orange, make it award-winning” by a famous Creative Team rushing to Cannes. 

By loosening the Creative Team bonds, many more points of view can wriggle into the creative space. What's the good in that? Well, ideally you'll create more campaigns that Creatives and clients both love for more reasons.

Integrating clients into the creative process also reduces games of client-agency ping pong. This phenomenon occurs when campaigns alternate between 'what the client wants' and 'one for the agency'. Or the segmentation system where award-winning Creative Teams get to dominate the TV/Cinema briefs, leaving clients and interns to salvage the OOH/Digital/DM briefs. This approach often feels like it's segregating creativity from client need. 

Fully integrated campaigns, a thing of beauty in my opinion, become easier to create when everyone involved is allowed to be creative. This is why we need to integrate everyone's thoughts every moment along the creative process; clients, Creatives, makers and audiences alike. Flexibility and openness are what make open Collab Teams so refreshing and ultimately motivating. 


Five important things to remember when doing a Collab Team:

Firstly, remember to throw a few trained Creatives in the mix. Just one or two will help. Or it can feel like a rudderless ship with no sail or oars. What's the difference between a Creative Art Director and Copywriter against a painter or an author? Artists are expressing their own ideas, whereas ad Creatives are helping clients express theirs. Plus, ad Creatives are taught to collaborate whilst also harnessing creative strategy. This skillset makes a hugely positive impact on tone of voice in final campaigns.

Secondly, flex those 'Yes and….' skills. Regardless of anyone's creative ability this is key to making great work. George Harrison was my fav member of The Beatles. Not because he wrote amazing songs. But because he didn't tear down John and Paul's ideas. Ad schools really promote the 'Yes and…' mentality. If you don't like an idea that's on the table don't just tear into it. Why? Because then you're left with naff all to work with. (Crushing people's imaginations is never nice, despite it being easy). If you don't like an idea, first of all work out 'what don't I like about it?'. Before you speak, work out 'how could I help the idea progress forwards?'. The ideal situation is one where you can improve an idea without jumping up and down on it like a triumphant orangutan (we've all been there).

Third. Notice the power bias. Big collab groups sometimes have one big problem. VIPs (or Better Paid People, as I tend to call them). People with important titles, big paychecks and permanent contracts have more power than people with junior titles, smaller paychecks and no sick pay/maternity/pensions. Let's add in all of the social constructs too: race, gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, class, age, religion. Ideas tend to slide in favour of the most powerful people in a collab group. If you are a BPP in a team collab, do be aware people might be afraid to tell you your idea needs developing. So always ask everybody in the team; what do you actually think? (And then don't sack them when they do).

Fourth. Collaboration, Compromise and Conflict are different things. Collaboration is about building things together. It's a mutual appreciation society. It's a wonderful thing when work is woven by a meeting of minds. Compromise occurs when a dispute is settled by making concessions. It can feel like collaboration, but it's got a very different mood. It involves subtracting rather than adding. Then finally there's good old fashion Conflict. Ideas become incompatible, and there's a shift into opposing points of view. This usually happens when people aren't actually listening to each other. It can be really hard to deal with. My advice? Call out 'No because...' behaviour and gently bring people back to 'Yes and…'. 

Five. It’s supposed to be fun. Sometimes doing creative projects can feel pressurised. One of the things Creative Teams are really good at is calling time. Time for a cupcake. Time for a pint. Time for an episode of Bridgerton. Whatever floats your subconscious boats. My old Creative Art Director and I used to go for a manicure when a brief got too stressful. We always had great ideas afterwards (and glorious nails). Creative Teams have a playfulness that Collab Teams can def learn from. So if you're in a Collab Team you must try really, really, really hard….not to take the whole creative thing too seriously :)


So Creative Teams or Collab Teams? My view is they're both great. Go for it. Just give each other space and share the glorious limelight. Otherwise your team might not want to play with you next time.


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