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Big Orange Slide

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

Viva la revolución creativa

September 4, 2012 by Eric Neal

Illustration by Eric Neal

The “creative team” was the brainchild of DDB icon Bill Bernbach, who thought it logical to pair the previously isolated creatives given the nature of the business. Cue game-changing campaigns and the so-called “creative revolution.” Within a few short years, the new creative model was more or less pervasive. And so it went for decades. Until, perhaps, now.

With the age of social/digital, it’s feasible that another creative revolution could be in the cards. That’s not to say the classic team is no longer relevant. Stellar work is still created under this model, and will continue to do so. A partnership isn’t merely a device for accessing a complimentary skill set. There’s a neatness to an established team’s work, a voice that is honed under the pressure cooker of years of creative collaboration. A team has a chemistry that comes from an innate understanding of how to work together. There’s no time wasted getting to know each other. Cohesion has its trademark.

But roles are shifting, as roles will. While the titles Art Director and Copywriter have remained constant, their roles have changed dramatically. An AD is no longer solely concerned with laying out long copy, and a CW’s job isn’t done once said body copy is perfected. And while agencies have experimented with the model to elevate it further, it seems that no one has managed to create a new standard. Perhaps it’s time to widen the net, and introduce new team members. Could you pair a writer with a creative technologist? An AD with a UX expert? Perhaps all four in a room, learning each other’s expertise and style? Is there room for improvement, or was Bernbach’s recipe perfected over 50 years ago.

As an aspiring Art Director, I have a personal stake in imagining how the classic creative team might evolve. So to get a more robust perspective on the topic, I asked around the office for some opinions.

More people are fine for brainstorming, but when it comes down to it three’s a crowd, and somebody will always be on the out. But you’ll never hear a creative team say “we need to bring in a radio specialist.” So why do it for digital?
- Jon Finkelstein, Partner, Creative

The two-person team is the most effortless dynamic, when you add more it becomes a democratic exercise. At the end of the day someone has to take care of words and someone has to take care of pictures. When there’s a natural chemistry between two people it can be very effective, especially when selling work, the part people tend to forget about.
- Bob Goulart, Partner, Creative

It can be difficult to be honest in bigger groups. The dynamic changes and when people start to agree on different things, sides are taken and people are less willing to share ideas. That being said, there will always be a pressure to reinvent the ‘creative team’ model, and creatives will just have to keep learning new disciplines.
- Dave Hamilton, Partner, Creative

There’s definitely value in having other contributors at play in the creative process — developers, designers, accounts, anybody — but I believe there is a very pure and simple accountability with the number two. The greater the size of the group, the greater the diffusion of responsibility. “I think he’s doing that, and him and her are working on this while I do that”. It’s broken telephone, it’s too many chefs, and to quote a much smarter man than me (George Lois) “it’s group grope.” Two works for a reason — plus it’s harder to remember more than one coffee order the morning after a company party.
- Julia Morra, Art Director & Trevor Gourley, Copywriter

I don’t think two is necessarily the perfect number for creative teams. As a partnership, sure, you probably don’t want a set team of five people, but I think working in groups larger than three can definitely benefit the creative process. One of the most creative projects I’ve worked on at Grip was in a team of three, and supported by two more (only one of which was a CD). Seems like more people = more ideas = better ideas.
- Warren Haas, Copywriter

What do you think?

Is the old model outdated? Or is it a case of “if it ain’t broke…”?

5 Comments on "Viva la revolución creativa"

  • Jesse
    September 5, 2012 @ 10:12 am

    Pure ideation begs for the 2-person model. That model, however doesn’t have to be AD & copywriter. It can be AD & AD, copywriter & IA, CD & designer etc…

  • Leilah Ambrose
    September 5, 2012 @ 10:47 am

    I agree. While I like brainstorms to machine gun a million “directions,” I think that the honing part needs to come in a group of two. Any fewer and you have less peer review. Any more and you spin wheels.

    But two CW’s or two AD’s or two account people or two producers or two creative technologists are equally as capable of dreaming up ideas. It’s just a question of execution.

  • Tracey
    September 5, 2012 @ 10:06 pm

    I love this line of inquiry! As a former digital project/account manager I struggled with this question as well: How come our social processes of working together routinely fell short of what was infinitely possible with creativity and new technology?

    So I went and earned my Master’s degree and now I facilitate teams within creative agencies in social processes that tease out the best from diversity, and clarify where accountability lies. I help creative yet pragmatic conversations to take place, among people with very different views and interests in a project.

    Interesting and exhilarating conversations make for interesting and exhilarating outcomes. So that’s what I’m committed to creating in the world.

  • Viva la revolución creativa | Eric Neal - Art Director
    September 6, 2012 @ 5:37 pm

    [...] This is part a post I wrote for Grip’s Big Orange Slide, which you can view the rest of here. [...]

  • Zack
    September 19, 2012 @ 9:58 am

    While I fully agree that brainstorms are best suited for smaller groups, I do strongly believe that the original model of AD+CW needs to change.

    What Bob says is true, traditionally, we need someone to take care of pictures and someone to take care of words. However, that’s only true if the problem we are trying to solve actually requires words and pictures. What if the solution to the problem isn’t a new TV or radio spot, but a new online experience? This is where I strongly feel a team made of user experience, creative technology and art direction would excel.

    How the landscape has changed forces us to change as well. We need to re-evaluate how things work, because things really are completely different than they were 10 years go (hell, even 5 years ago). If we fail to adapt, it quickly becomes more and more apparent in the work we do.

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