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Author's profile photo Ginger Shimp

The proper care and maintenance of creatives

He sits there with his opaque black Oakley Pit Boss sunglasses perched atop his head, his tweed jacket tossed over worn jeans and T-shirt. Lacing his fingers together and laughing affably with you, he seems polite on the surface. But he looks a little tense, and you don’t want to make any sudden moves in case he’s had too much caffeine.

You’ve just met your first Creative.

Ordinarily, you wouldn’t notice him much by his insouciant demeanor; but you’ve been assured that he’s the very best at what he does.

As soon as possible, without seeming rude, he suckers you in with a glib, “So what can I do for you?”

What indeed. You’ve poured your fair share of sweat and tears into your plan. Target audience? Check. Finely honed message? Check. Stunning creative? …

Not so much.

That’s why he is here.

But how do you get him to do that thing he does? You don’t speak creativeese. They never taught you that in graduate school.

Pay attention, my fellow marketeers, because if you get this wrong at the outset, the whole thing could spin out of control. It turns out that the worst two things you can do with Creatives are giving too much latitude or not enough.

Not giving enough latitude? That may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s not. Doing this means you’ve over-prepared. You signal that you don’t have confidence he can do the job. You’ve designed the brochure, written the script, chosen the clip art, the font, the colors. You’re dictating the creative.

Stop! You’re doing his job. Mr. Creative will give you exactly what you ask for, but you won’t be happy. I promise you.

But even worse than dictating the creative is to give him free rein. Many Creatives are without a firm grip on reality. They can blow the budget on whimsy before the first bathroom break.

I recall trying to market high-tech software to small manufacturers. My Creative decided we should send them a roll of duct tape. Duct tape? Yeah. See, that had nothing to do with my product. Mr. Creative, however, was convinced that manufacturing guys like duct tape, so this would get their attention. “True,” I said, “but in addition to being heavy, awkward to mail, and having nothing whatsoever to do with our product, the subliminal message it sends is that our product needs to be patched together in order for it to work.”


What you should do is clearly articulate what you want to accomplish. Explain the problem, not the solution. Write it in big block letters on the white board at the first meeting and routinely measure your progress by that one standard.

Paint a Creative into a corner and—if the goal is focused and specific—he will find a multitude of marvelously inventive ways to find creative solutions. That’s what he does. That’s why you pay him.

Finally, when you’re measuring the creative against that initial goal, provide constructive, actionable criticism. “I don’t like it” is not helpful. Treat your Creative kindly, but firmly tell him how he missed the mark. Ask for suggestions and alternatives. Have a sense of humor, respect his talents, and you will build a relationship that will make future projects even more successful.

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