I like this story because: a) I like gratuitous Keith Richards stories; and b) it forces us to think about where ideas come from. And it is a curious thing that we work in an industry where we question not only where ideas come from, but where ideas should come from: anywhere, or specialist creatives?
I’ve worked in agencies with and without creative functions, and there is unquestionably an important role for dedicated creatives – by which I don’t just mean people with a specific craft.
Not everyone is imaginative, playful, or a problem-solver. Which is fine. Not everyone can make small talk or a six-month Gantt chart. Organisations need people with the headspace and permission to fight for the right ideas for a brief, without pressures on them to acquiesce to what will get signed off easily or be quick to get out the door.
But despite having the c-word in my job title, ideas can’t, and shouldn’t, come only from those with ‘creative' roles. We can’t lock out others from contributing creatively.
If we do, most obviously, we miss out on a source of fresh, diverse thinking. But we also cut off an important source of job satisfaction for many bright minds, and block potential career paths for people with less typically ‘creative’ backgrounds.
Moreover, being across the news agenda and dealing with clients, media and influencers every day is a source of invaluable insight, intelligence and inspiration that pure-play creatives, moved from brief to brief, don't always have.
We can be dismissive of ‘news sense’ as a quality, compared to ‘creativity’. But someone using their experience to judge whether something is a story or not is a sophisticated assessment of an idea’s originality, cultural and audience relevance, and authenticity and credibility.
And being able to take an idea, look at it from an external perspective, and distil it into a 20-second pitch for the world’s most sceptical audience is an excellent creative grounding. The true proving ground for ideas, where creativity meets reality, is where PR plays out.
But most of all, in separating creative (a name I don’t really like) from account management (a name I really don’t like) we risk breaking up what should be the holistic, effective work of an agency into a production line, with people invested only in their part and not the total impact.
Agencies do the best work where specialist creatives act as champions, catalysts and coaches for contributions from everyone.
Which brings us back to Keef. The Satisfaction riff was his, but he wanted it played by horns – it was the rest of the band who kept it on guitar, which went on to define the song.
As Keith said: “Good music comes out of people playing together – knowing what they want to do, and going for it.”
Michael Sheen is creative director at 3 Monkeys Zeno
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