Don’t get lost in the gadgets of the moment

Technology is a tool that helps us be creative. But some of the best ideas in the world start with a pencil and a well-trained ear, says Tracy Wong

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Think about the hammer. If you can’t hit straight, or don’t know which end to use, it doesn’t matter how great your hammer is, it’s not going to knock in your nail. It’s only of any use to you if you know what to do with it. It’s the same with tech. One of the consequences of digital is that people see it as an end in itself, rather than a tool. In advertising terms, technology is not innovation – innovation is what you do with it, or, rather, what you should do with it.

Sure, we can work faster on a Mac Pro than with pen and ink. We have many more channels to engage customers through technology. We can adapt and change our ideas more quickly than before. Our clients like the fact that we can share projects instantly.

But some have become so bogged down in the momentary joy of the latest device that they forget that some of the best campaigns in the world began with a pencil and a great idea.

The tech ‘geeks’ need to sit down with the creative ‘freaks’ and collaborate. Use the tools of technology in innovative ways. Just pushing your campaign out through every device under the sun isn’t innovation, it’s just distribution. Here are my five tips for making your creative process work better.

1. Remember that marketing goes straight to the top

You want to be innovative right? Recognize that C-Suite always has its hand in marketing, and if you want to deliver creativity for your clients you need to convince the person at the very top. Try not to see client companies as faceless corporations, in reality they are oftentimes manifestations of the C-Suite’s personality – and those people are human beings. At the start of a marketing project, I always make it my business to get to know the woman or man who heads up the client organization. Then I have a much better idea of how much innovation they are going to stomach.

2. Know that the really big guys don’t need creativity

If you are a clear market leader with a budget that completely outweighs the competition, you don’t have to be creative, you just throw your weight at it. It’s like a fighter who is really large – he doesn’t have to be cunning or fast, he just sits on somebody and it’s over. But if you are a challenger brand, or want to have an edge in an even market, creativity is your secret weapon. It’s like jiu jitsu – can you gain leverage through a special skill that gives you an advantage over your opponent? As the product differences whittle down to nothing, that’s when creative marketing will make a difference.

3. Learn how to spot innovative people

You don’t have to live a creative, innovative life to be an innovator. I know plenty of C-Suite people who are incredibly courageous in their professional lives, but are fairly conservative family men and women at home. But people who live edgy innovative lives are more likely to be super-creative in their professional life. There is a correlation.

4. Recognize that advertising is not art

Advertising is commerce artfully told – but it is not art. You can meet very talented people who just don’t understand that this business is about selling products. You need artistically gifted people, yes, but you also need commercial nous – and people who are brilliant at both are hard to find. You get people who are incredibly talented artists but cannot grasp the principles of strategy or business objectives. Artistic people often have a clear vision in their head and don’t want to hear others passing judgement on their art. But guess what? In advertising, those people are the consumers who are going to buy your product.

5. Listen with an empty mind, not an open mind

This is a Buddhist teaching that I advocate in my agency! If you listen with an empty mind, or ‘beginner’s mind’, feedback is new information to comprehend, with which you can engage. If you have an open mind, yes, the door might be open, but your brain is still full of your own preconceptions, ego, opinions and loads of other garbage. That makes it very difficult for you to deliver for your client. When many creatives are ‘listening’ to feedback from clients, they are in fact completely shut down – they are not really listening to a word the client is saying. They are just thinking about defending their work.


Tracy Wong is chairman of WongDoody