Last month we hosted an APG event for young strategists titled “How to speak to Creatives”. As diligent planners we thought it best to speak to the subjects in question and so got BBH Associate Creative Director Fred Rodwell to speak. We warn you, we specifically briefed him to be provocative, to antagonise the audience so as they could identify themselves in the process, elevate themselves out of a pool of reflection and into the muddy and murky world of creative / planner relationships. What follows is Fred’s wonderful transcript from the talk…

Hello, My name’s Fred, and I am a creative here at BBH. Ben has asked me, briefed me if you will, to be the aggy one… to play the role of the cantankerous creative. I’m going to huff and puff, shrug my shoulders like a disaffected teen, stare at you blankly like a dog that’s dropped its guts and starts every sentence with “The problem with planners is…”

Some might say he’s cast me in this role very, very well. Ben knows what he’s doing. While Fred looks young-ish, he is cantankerous beyond his years… But contrary to popular belief, I like planners. They’ve very bright, they’re very nice and can be unbelievably useful to any creative.

HOWEVER, it’s when they’re not useful that any creatives’ toys will quickly escape their pram. I don’t want that, you don’t want that, no one wants that. BECAUSE, speaking from experience, a creative sulk is one of, if not the most volatile, pathetic sulks known to man.

So, I’m going to try not to get booed or hissed and most of all… hopefully be helpful.

I’ve got a few ideas and a few gripes that I’ve garnered from my own experience. BUT first, given my audience, I thought… why not conduct some market research…? So, I sent an email around the department, asked a few friends, “what are things that planners say or do that really, really annoy you?” I don’t know if it’s “qual” or “quant”…but these are a selection of popular phrases that get some of the creatives in the building hopping with rage.

“I’ve deliberately tried to keep this as broad as possible. It could be anything.”

This can be a real stinger…I get that not every task is simple and every now and again, it is good to be broad and to keep things open. No one knows what the right answer is…etc etc, but when you have literally spent two weeks of time that could be creative development or production time and have come to the conclusion that someone else will work it out…it can be a tad annoying… So how do we avoid that? I would find an angle, make sure it makes sense and make that a starting point. Most creatives would rather you did something as opposed to nothing. Being wrong is better than nothing at all, at least everyone can learn from it and get to what’s right.

“So here’s the brief…” cut to a 30 slide deck.

“The single thing to communicate is…. *insert adjective-addled Greek saga*

So, as you can see, the creative that wrote this one, was being facetious…the very thought of reading something that says it’s the single thing to communicate and is actually either multiple things or something that’s so convoluted no human being could even attempt to communicate it… has already brought the sarcy creative bastard out of them. Cleary, this really must be one thing to avoid.

All I would say, is that the clue is in the name – brief. I know sometimes it is hard, but try to keep it brief. Extrapolating is the enemy. The strategic process should be reductive. Reduce the brand sludge into a fine, sharp jus…

And again, unlike that sentence, try and keep it simple. Just think about the task in hand. We have 10 seconds, if that, to grab the attention of someone, let’s call them Barry, that isn’t bothered about us or listening to us. Keep that thought in your head, then read out your proposition again and think have I got hold of Barry? Does Barry get it? If it’s a no. Start again and make it Barry-proof.

“When they try and write an end line instead of a proposition”

Again, this was a popular one. And weirdly, I think it’s becoming more and more common…so this is desperate plea to make it stop. The creatives were talking about propositions that sound like…

“Together we’re stronger.”

Or “Keep your optimism bubbling”

Or “Strive for better”

Or “The moment is yours, seize it.

The thing with these is, they may sound good, grand or important in your head or when you say them to your strategy superior. But, what you’re actually doing is making whatever you’re trying to say a lot less clear and making it sound more generic. Anyone of the above could be for a car, deodorant, booze, a soft drink or moisturizer. If that’s our starting point, we’ve got a big job ahead of us. First, we’ve got to decode what these phrases actually mean, or they were intended to mean. Then we’ve got to put it into a sentence that makes sense. Then we’ve got to think is that different? Then we’ve got to start working on the brief. So, it’s adding at least three more stages of thinking. And when we’ve got clients breathing down your neck and everything needs to be a work of art to avoid public shaming, it simply causes creatives to disengage with the brief altogether.

It doesn’t need to be a pretty sentence or even an important-sounding one. It just needs to be a bog-standard sentence that makes sense. Put in simple terms, we’d rather you wrote a proposition like a plasterer than a poet laureate.

So, to coin a phrase…what are our market research findings?… Well, I think we have a few key themes to take away…keep it simple…keep it concise and make it sharp. I’m usually not the biggest fan of research, but hopefully that was quite useful. HOWEVER, there were a few glaring omissions that I will attempt to fill.

Firstly… charts…

I once saw a chart, a hand drawn chart, it was pinned to a wall and it was comprised of two BIG, BIG circles and the circles overlapped in the middle – as they tend to do – the middle being the sweet spot that we should all aim for…In one big circle it said “Smell”. In the other big circle, it said “youth”. And then in the bit that overlapped in the middle it said.. “possibility”.

I’m not saying that any of you have done this or would do this, but guys…. No one likes this. Just by putting words in circles it does not legitimize the words. If you then go and put arrows next to the circles and then put the arrows AND the circles in a graph axis, that will not legitimize the words either.

I get that this is a practice that can be very effective with clients – and by all means do that. If it works with them, do it. But with creatives and most other human beings, I would minimize the charts.

N.T.T.T.A… or Next thing to talk about…ACRONYMS…these are another little creeper. They just seem to sneak in and send shivers down most spines.

I reckon that 90% of the time after any acronym is said it is followed by the question, “what does that mean?”. Anything in a briefing that needs to be explained unnecessarily, probably shouldn’t be there. Again, I get that this is clienty/marketing-speak language, but just like you do with any product launch… know your audience. No creative in their right mind will latch on, get inspired by, or want to even listen to the answer you give once you have to explain what the acronym means. Acronyms solely exist to either make something that isn’t important sound important. Or, even worse, make their author feel important. It might just be me that they annoy, in which case I’m the weirdo, but if you wouldn’t speak like that to a mate or a stranger I wouldn’t speak like that to a creative.

Now I’m going to finish on my biggest personal bug bare, one that somehow turned into a passion project…

Roughly two years ago, without telling anyone (including my then creative partner) I started a little social experiment purely for my own amusement. We all work in agencies and we all see dust-addled copies of these books lying around…

I’m sure they’re great, I’m sure you’ve all read them, I mean no offence if they are dear to your heart and I’ve never written a book, so who am I to criticize? I am just using them as examples. But, we see these books lying around.

We also all see all staff emails from planners requesting if anyone has a copy. The titles of these books always got to me. They were so lofty, so ridiculous. And the person asking for them was probably putting a deck together about selling ketchup. How could the two possibly work together?

So, I started sending emails asking for books. Books that sounded like strategy or marketing books, but weren’t actually books at all, they were fake books. Figments of my imagination.

I would ask…

Does anyone have a copy of “Irrational makes sense?” thanks in advance.

Does anyone have a copy of “Be the child in the room: a guide to thinking freely” thanks in advance

Does anyone have a copy of “culturally sandbagged: how to make the levee break” thanks in advance.

They became more and more ridiculous…

Does anyone have a copy of “The Falconry glove: how to land killer insights”? thanks in advance.

Does anyone have a copy of “Intellectual lycra: a guide to streamlining thought”?

And finally, does anyone have a copy of “The Bay leaf that binds the stew: A guide to strategy’s integral role in creativity”?

After a while Tom Roach, a very senior planner here, probed into my sudden voracious appetite for business acumen whilst trying to contain his laugher. But, the fact that for months, and I’m not exaggerating it was a long, long time, no one batted an eyelid or even knew this was a gag was alarming. And here in lies the problem. There is too much lofty, wafty, pretentious, guff around planning.  

Being lofty is genuinely my kryptonite. I know you’re bright, I know you probably went to a very good university and got a very good degree, I know you can read, but the reality is we don’t have much time, we need this client to stay in the building, and I’m not sure how relevant any longwinded quote is to selling wifi.

I don’t really know why it happens, but it does. Maybe it’s intellectual peer pressure? I don’t really know. But all I’ll say is that treat being with a creative or briefing a creative as your safe space. Your place where you can be as basic as you like and you will never be judged. We don’t need quotes or intellectualization, we just need an angle or even a business problem that could be interesting. We’re simple folk, with simple pleasures, so make your job easy.

We’re all bullshitters and the thing about bullshitters is that you can’t bullshit a bullshitter. So, let’s not bullshit before we’ve even begun bullshitting.

So that’s me. Rant over. Hopefully you don’t think I’m a dick. But most of all, I hope the venom-free sections were U.I.S.W.S.O.F useful in some way shape or form.

Thank you very much.