Sir John Hegarty talks a lot of sense, which is probably why he is where he is today, so it was good to hear his views on the state of creativity and the role of advertising. He’s never been one for dressing things up, which is probably why he’s such a good communicator, so when he says that the standard of creativity in the UK is “shit”, you tend to listen.

He’s right of course. We used to say that the best stuff on TV was the commercials, but you don’t hear that said these days. I know people who would question whether it matters as long as you get a sales uplift, but of course it does. Getting a short-term benefit isn’t what shareholders are looking for. They want something more sustainable. People love great stuff whether a good book, a TV production or a theatre play and if that great stuff is yours they’ll love you for it. Its all part of building powerful brand communities. Who ever earned friends by being adequate?

Besides, what’s the point in setting out to produce anything that isn’t the best in its class? Usain Bolt didn’t earn our respect by doing “just enough”. He made it by setting out to be not just the best, but the best by as big a margin as he could possibly make it. People like “great” but they love “spectacularly great”. Don’t you want your brand to feel that kind of love?

So, why is British creativity falling off? I guess it’s a combination of things. Pressure on client budgets, the need to move increasingly fast to maximise the opportunity and the diversity of media routes, as John says, have all played their part. I also think that there has been a general dumbing-down of marketers, again probably also in the pursuit of savings.

Good ideas take time and money to put together, but settling for what you can do in a limited tame scale or budget is a false economy. The diversity of media routes is also a pet subject of mine. I’ve always firmly believed that creative people have particular strengths. A guy who creates great TV commercials isn’t likely to be as good at point-of-sale material – it takes a different eye. How then can we expect the same creative to stretch to all the newly emerging channels? The short answer is we can’t. As long as your creative resource is a one-man-band that person is always going to produce one great element and the others will be less good. This is the kind of compromise that is driving down the quality of the product. Hegarty is also on the button when he pointed out that the idea doesn’t always, as seems to be the view these days, have to start with digital media. Why can’t it start with a great TV commercial or press ad. and the other media follow? Digital might be important, but its not the centre of the universe and it certainly doesn’t have to be the nucleus of your creativity.

His point about the advertising agency model is also one that I’ve been banging on about for years. If its true that we can’t expect our creatives to be flexible enough to deliver all media equally well and on the other hand there are pressures on the price of creativity, we have to find an affordable way to have all the creative specialities on tap whenever a client needs them. Hegarty talks about free-lancers and retainers, which can work and there have been many other approaches tried with varying degrees of success. That’s why The Full Effect Company is structured the way it is, with a choice of experts in a wide range of specialities signing up to an agreed philosophy and business model and making themselves available as members of project teams assembled for individual clients or projects. It works for us.

Phil Darby
March 18, 2014

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