If I asked a group of ad planners what the one thing they most want from their creative partners, it’d be ‘collaboration.’
That's because, like it or not, there is a deep insecurity lurking that whatever brilliant brief we arrive at will be completely ripped apart — or worse, ignored — by the creative people it is intended to inspire. Maybe it’s the intangibility of strategy — its ambiguity in the creative process — that makes us seek any evidence of our value to others.
Planners like to be liked, respected and relied upon. We like to feel that what we’re doing actually influences the creative people and the work. We like to feel appreciated for our efforts.
Unfortunately, creative people don’t give a F about how strategists feel.
If I asked a group of creatives what the one thing they most want from their planning partners, it’d be ‘usefulness.’ It has nothing to do with the fluffy reassuring emotions planners desire.
Creative people seek advantage and edge — not someone who plays nice (i.e. is ‘collaborative’).
This fundamental misunderstanding between what planners and creatives seek from each other is what makes creatives skeptical of strategists (and vice versa). In our efforts to be collaborative and liked, we are not giving them the hard usefulness they actually value.
The truth is, our desire for collaboration comes off as being sticky, needy, obfuscating, unnecessary and even annoying for stressed and time-pressured creative people (e.g. “Can’t talk right now — I’m trying to meet a deadline!” or “No more strategy, no more talk.” or “Let’s just get on with it.”)
To be a good planner, you must embrace the fact that usefulness and collaboration are not the same thing. In fact, they are often opposite things.
Now, the next question is how to be consistently useful. Is it finding interesting insights? Is it writing clearer briefs? Is it finding a relevant emerging cultural trend?
Of course, it can be any or all of those things. But the most important shift is to change the way you talk about strategy to a creative person.
Most planners’ mindset around strategy is defined by words like ‘direction’ or ‘approach.’
Step back and visual this. This is a planner talking to a creative and pointing somewhere. Go there, instead of there. This way, not that way. You’re lost in the woods and I’m showing you the way out…because I know better than you.
Now, if the creative doesn’t like or believe where you’re pointing, they’re not going that way — no matter how smart you sound. Period.
In fact, if they start going where you’re pointing and nothing interesting comes out of it, they’ll hate you for wasting their time (i.e. not useful) and be less likely to listen next time (i.e. less collaborative).
The more useful mindset is defined by another word: ‘space.’
As in, play in this space. Here are its borders (constraints, principles) and its characteristics (insights, background) — now, go explore and build something interesting here.
The strategy isn’t one direction, per se, but a defined zip code.
The other meaning of ‘space’ is also relevant. As in, give creative people space. Know when to leave them alone. Know when to let them work. Know what is important to debate and what is not.
Be useful even when it means not being collaborative. That’s what creative people really want from you.