The Creative Department – What’s in a Name?

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I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked in ad agencies for over 30 years now, some belonging to other people and even one with my own name over the door. During that time, I’ve somehow managed to pick up a few awards and worked with some of the finest creative minds around.

I’ve always considered working in a creative department a privilege and a pleasure. Helping and nurturing a creative idea to come alive is both a rewarding and exhilarating process. All this time later, it’s lost nothing and, in truth, become even more of a thrilling experience, as creativity in the industry has taken a bit of a downturn over the last few years.

However, my enthusiasm for the challenge remains completely undiminished.

One serious thing troubles me though. Since working at Havas helia Cirencester for the last year and a bit, I’ve seen and witnessed the death of the ‘creative department’.

Oh no, I hear you say, it must be time for the old codger to puts his pens away for good. That may be true, but let me explain further…

It’s the actual name, ‘creative department’ that I’ve a problem with – here, it really is a misnomer. Since working in Cirencester, I’ve discovered and I see every day that creativity is not the sole property of the ‘creative department’.

That’s an old-fashioned concept that harks back to the time when a copywriter would pen a piece of compulsive and persuasive copy and then send it, goodness knows how, to the art department where it would be ‘drawn up’ and then shown to the client by a rather nervous account handler who would be told not to come back unless the idea was sold. The modern ad agency is built on a totally different model, and is evolving constantly. People are now recruited for their range of skills, rather than just for one specialism – and that range has to include a generous dose of the creative stuff.

To demonstrate this, here creativity is literally everywhere you care to look, and is not just the exclusive domain of the creative department. Let me explain more. The planners, who own the creative brief are undoubtedly the creative powerhouse that conceives and pushes forward the brief. It’ll not only contain a unique creative insight, but also a powerful proposition that acts as a sublime springboard towards the final result. Their thinking is absolutely bursting with creativity.

Then, whether it’s being briefed on the move in a Volvo car or in the centre of a medieval castle (I’ve experienced them both recently), the client services team are masters at devising creatively inspiring and imaginative scenarios by which to brief the next link in the chain: the creative department itself.

Add in the most innovative and creative use of data from our operations department, unusual and mesmerising DM formats, for example, from our production people and brilliance of build from our studio. And you only have to realise that simply everyone in the business is supremely creative in one way or another.

I’ve heard the creative departments in other agencies now being called ‘storytellers’, but that’s far too whimsical for me. Maybe this transformation is happening to every agency in town? I severely doubt it, but the word is many agencies are at last taking a long hard look at themselves and recognising it’s about time they evolved to be more creative throughout.

Perhaps our next creative brief here at Cirencester should be: what should our creative department now be called?

All I know is that everyone here is capable of an excellent, rational and imaginative answer to that brief. After all, we’re as of one – a creative agency, not just a department.

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