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Real creative culture

By Johnny Pitt, Founder, Launch

A regular question seems to crop up a fair bit at the moment. Maybe it’s because we’ve celebrated an agency birthday, or we’ve streamlined Launch PR to simply ‘Launch’ – or just because there’s really eye catching work coming from Launch Towers. But it’s this;

“How do you keep an agency creative for so long?”

In my case, 16 years.

Wowsers. If I think from 0 to 16 in my own life, with 16 nearly the end of my errant schooling, that’s a big shift: through newborn, infant, toddler, child, youth and teenager!

So, in response, I usually say something around constant evolution, never standing still – and always delivering. Something like that, anyway.

But the truth is a tougher one. That’s because while it’s easy to talk creative, it’s much harder to actually deliver it, year in year out. And to do this either for established clients or for new ones, to meet challenging briefs or (much worse) to deliver on no brief at all. The expectation is you always will, though.

I think Launch has achieved it because we’re very good at nurturing and maintaining a genuinely creative culture.

There’s something at the heart of the agency that is driven, but also free and playful. That is focused, but daring. That is commercial but also a bit bonkers. That is friendly, but quite serious. That is caring, but also fiercely ambitious. That doesn’t accept second best and never, ever thinks poor work has a place at the table. That knows that one bit of un-creative work will lead to another – and then you’re doomed. Maybe that’s what drives us. But it’s a culture for sure.

This nourishes us today, and did so when we were an agency of just one. That’s been a consistent. And, come to think of it, it makes me proud. The Launchers that have done brilliantly here (you know who you are) have quickly understood the creative cultural blend – and the ever-constant ambition.

Our refreshed approach (see?) centres around what we call real ideas™, meaning sky high ambition of thinking, exacting delivery and brilliant people. Real ideas are insightful, brave, progressive and defining. And most importantly, they deliver game changing results.

But if you’re interested, here are the five things that I think drive this creative culture;

First, define your agency values, very clearly.

Make them as broad and lateral and liberating as you can. But be clear, let everyone know the space, the expectation – what the business values – and doesn’t. Celebrate the successes within that, as well as the failures – and NEVER be afraid to fail. I know it’s become something of a cliché these days and everyone says it – but it’s true. Some of our best creative work happens when we have no fear of failure. Zip. And in many ways, the more established you get, the harder that can be. So, giving something a go, if it’s aligned to commercial goals, is key.

Second, pay attention to the spaces in between – and be happy with silence.

Of course, you have to set clear goals, lead by example, be ethical, have good processes in place and find 100s of ways of encouraging, motivating, and developing people. But most of all watch carefully how everyone interacts with each other creatively. Listen and listen – and then leave room for silence. I’ve always said silence is a critical part of any creative culture – and very often, the people I think best with, have been those who are happy with silence. Silence can be golden in the creative process. That way you develop your antenna and teach others how to develop theirs for that most under-valued element in any office or team: the spirit and culture of mutual interest, support – and creative spark.

Third, be consistent. Always.

One of the key qualities of leadership is resilience and the example you set in stormy times that, in effect, tells your team that storms are a great thing to enjoy and a chance to practise higher-level sailing skills. But you need to be creatively consistent too. And show by example that getting ‘negative’ feedback is welcome – and vital – if we’re going to do really excellent work. Avoid perfectionism, for although you can certainly get from ‘good enough’ to ‘great’ via some mistakes and wrong turnings, you can never get there via ‘perfect’. The team needs to be like a great basketball team, always in motion, always taking the shot. Not hanging around in their own half worrying about exposing themselves if they go for it.

Fourth, constantly nurture.

A creative heartbeat is something that needs attending to with real love and lots of care – always. Let it out in the sun for too long without any water and you’ll have a genuine problem. Encourage it, motivate it, change it, think about it obsessively, never let it wilt. Because once it starts, it’s quite hard to stop. We’ve all seen that.

And finally, celebrate success.

I admit, one of the things I found personally difficult in the first few years or so was celebrating success. And I regret that (not that we should have regrets etc, but I do with that one.) I am much better at it now, but in the earlier years I used to be pretty terrible, because I was always impatient for the next big thing, the next win, the next client, the next idea. Maybe that’s what drives me. But I have mellowed with age and understand that celebrating success is a critical part of the creative process – and the creative culture. It needs to be shared around with love and generosity, when it’s deserved. And when it’s not deserved, don’t.

I’m excited about our real ideas™ positioning as it’s consistent (there you go) with the creative journey we’ve been on.

And as anyone will tell you after 16 years, I love a bit of consistency – as well as a bit more play these days.

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