Creativity is a tool for change

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Bigger can be best… for creativity

To be honest, I’ve never been sure why people worry so much about the size of agencies.

‘What’ we do is fundamentally the same. We all try our best to solve our client’s problems. ‘How’ we do it varies a little, but the real variable is the ‘Why’ and that has nothing at all to do with size, more to do with attitude and ambition.

As a control freak (all creative directors are!) I do really understand the attraction of small scale. I’ve worked in a number of differently sized studios and if I was a purist graphic designer I’d enjoy the level of detail. But I’m not the usual graphic designer anymore.

What excites me now is all to do with scale. You get involved in the business at the core and help with the fundamentals. Working higher with the most senior staff, directly affecting change that goes wider. Creativity is the tool for change and it goes from the big idea at the top to the tiniest of details at the bottom. Designing change at those two extremes is really rewarding. The details are even more important.

Does that mean the diet of work is all the same? Absolutely not. We simply apply the same approach to clients of all sizes. Seeing the effect on clients when you solve their problems is so rewarding. You can see it in their eyes, their smiles widen and you can almost see the clouds lift from their shoulders. Those are the moments we do this for and whoever we do it for. Global, national, local, big business, arts or charity. The scale gives us the ability and credibility to help them all. Not every project goes perfectly, but when it does, the emotional reward is the same. We are making a real and positive difference through something we love - creativity.
Sure, bigger does attract big brands as they obviously need the reassurance of working with people who understand the implications of scale, geography, and localisms. However, client confidence is growing and it’s wonderful to see braver creativity being demanded.

The challenge

Is focus on the solution (BTW the answer is always in the problem!) and remember that our clients (brands) are people and that they need to communicate with other people (the audience) do that right and the work feels empathic, personal. Truly great work touches the soul and drives interest in the brands (and consequently onto the agency that creates the work – great work truly is the best new business tool there is.

Our new company is incredibly exciting. A network of 750 people in 20 offices around the world – appealing to more clients because they’ll be able to engage with a wider array of specialists and a more connected set of services.

If you look at the repercussions of Brexit and the threat of another recession, you need to be a flexible agency to change and adapt to clients’ needs more easily, and being bigger means you can do this without impacting the quality of work or designers’ time. 

The designers

Designers like to see the direct consequence of their work. Early days is the pride of first print, first award and first happy client. As that becomes routine, most designers like doing more, affecting more and helping more. (Though this is obviously down to personal ambition and confidence) It’s important that designers honestly examine their strengths and weaknesses. Not just what they’d like to think they are good at! I realised early in my career, that I was pretty crap technically, however, I could improve work from a few feet behind another’s shoulder!

There is nothing worse than a bored designer, but if you’re an agency of scale, the number of projects and teams that talented people can move between is greater. That’s what you want to facilitate – the flow of ideas across a wide range of work, it keeps things exciting and it keeps people motivated.

The industry

The creative industry as a whole is growing in the UK, which is a great sign for small and large agencies alike – it means more clients are looking to solve business challenges with creative solutions.  But it’s important to look beyond that and work out how an agency can harness current momentum and carry it into other markets.

If you create an environment for designers in which they are working with people from all corners of the globe, you’re going to create more interesting and relevant work as a result.  We’re designing for clients that have consumers around the world, it’s important therefore that we embed ourselves in those locations – big agencies must have a global perspective with a local understanding.

The other element that comes with being bigger is the opportunity to not only work on projects you want as a designer, but also the opportunity to say no. It’s really important that the design industry makes a conscious effort to always create work that is line with the principles we value and believe can improve people’s lives.

Don’t get me wrong, crafting to a consistently high standard at scale is not a walk in the park – it takes a lot of effort and creative management of individuals and teams to make sure your output is always ambitious and ground-breaking, while also doing the seemingly impossible of remaining personal and relevant to the client. 

But if it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.

Fancy being part of it?

Originally published in Computer Arts Issue #273