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Creating a climate for success

New Media Creative - 25th June 1999

Creativity is a confusing subject, especially now that we have interactive media to contend with. Most client companies are still in the process of finding out that creativity comes somewhere in the business cycle after the transition from sales-led company to marketing-led company and before the establishment of a world-beating brand.

In new media terms, the process goes something like this; an in-house IT person builds it, the MD subcontracts it to a friend's son, the IT department puts in an integrated network, the marketing director commissions a new media communications agency. Which is where, for me, it gets interesting. This last step is where most agencies find themselves today, pitching for work that essentially is about brand marketing (even if it's business-to-business web sites) and trying to provide creative solutions in territory with few precedents. The precedents that do exist get repeated mercilessly, and solutions seem quickly to become clichéed.

But creativity is about new directions. In traditional media we are used to creativity as being the reapplication of old solutions to slightly different situations - money for old rope, or the use of the features of a particular piece of software - "Photoshoptastic". In new media too, the same shopping baskets, annual reports and page curls on every other site. Surely these things belong to those companies who are at the 'IT department doing its stuff' stage - hmmm.

Most large new media agencies provide tried and tested solutions - safe, well-precedented and competent, for most clients who want just that. It's probably comfortable being a graphic designer in such an agency - the days are spent making things look pleasing and fit within the corporate design guidelines, taking their lead from the client's print media.

But that's not enough to make what agencies do compelling. It doesn't get the creatives working weekends because they desperately want to see it come to fruition. And it doesn't make the client's brand stand out.

And that's part of the point. They haven't realised that the web and interactive TV are whole new relationship marketing opportunities that can impact and influence traditional market share. Being in new media, agencies have the opportunity to be the vehicle that gives a brand influence and real-world growth. It is our responsibility not to disillusion our clients about the new media. We function as an interface between reality and potential, and we can help fashion a more responsive, consumer-focused relationship between businesses and people. It is our job to allow our clients to feel secure, so that they can realise their brand's potential to communicate with its customers. And it seems to me that offering safe solutions is not enough. The restriction of having to stick to what the client understands already means that many web sites are a waste of money, placeholders for a later, maybe never-to-arrive, stage in the client's evolution.

Creativity seems to be an under-appreciated commodity, but perhaps because the majority of clients seem not to be secure in their brand's online values. Maybe it's a self-supporting cycle - the client does not inspire the agency's vision because it does not have an inspiring vision of its own brand proposition. When the client does, what is needed is an approach to the solution that is truly creative.

In advertising, the creative team washes its shirt with the client's brand for weeks, focusing on coming up with the big idea that will wash. In packaging design the designers sit there with apple purée and cardboard and work it out over weeks. In new media, some agencies will take the client's logo and put navigation on the left and take some interesting product shots...

Breaking new ground means acknowledging what has gone before and ignoring it. It means applying the rules and restrictions after the creative process in the knowledge that they were part of the ingredients from which the solution was synthesised. The process dictates that the designers get to understand the brand, what it stands for, what its personality is and so on, so that the idea will turn up at 3am and have them at work the next day bubbling with enthusiasm. By combining enthusiasm with expertise, the creative solution can be exceptional.

And ultimately, the customer wants to have relationships with brands that are reassuringly confident, she wants to have relationships with brands that have something to say, and she wants to have relationships with brands that are happy to stand out from the crowd.

Felix Velarde

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