Partners’ Alexa Turnpenney: why clever curation is as important as the creative idea

This was my first Cannes trip. And amongst the sheer scale of it all and quality of rosé on offer, what’s impressed me most is the festival’s desire to learn from leading creative lights in other fields.

Although, that’s not to say these people necessarily believe they’re creative. Take Anna Wintour. The Condé Nast artistic director is a Tour De Force. A visionary. We can learn a hell of a lot from her. But rather than being a creative, she calls herself ‘a first responder to other people’s ideas.’

It was a fascinating address. To a packed out Lumiére theatre, Wintour (below) outlined her own lessons for success – but perhaps the most striking thing to come out of the session was her own humility. Despite her multiple successes, her famous friends, her fabled legacy and her no-nonsense opinion, Anna says very little about her own successes.

That makes her a curator in the truest sense of the word. Someone who puts the story first. Who is interested in the end product. Our industry can learn a lot from a journalistic curator like Anna – and I’m including everyone here, from content creators to account people, copywriters to art directors, the list really does go on.

Indeed one of the major talking points throughout Cannes has been the shifting role of the creative director from one who’s defining the big ideas to one who’s curating work and culture.

So what makes a great curator and why is their role becoming more important in the advertising industry? And how can that craft be used to take our industry’s best creative ideas and elevate them?

Hearing through the din of a thousand voices

Curators make sense of the most valuable nuggets in an arena that is saturated – and in our digital, instantaneous, self-publishing world, which industry isn’t? Those nuggets might well be what we call the creative idea – and the true curator can root them out and show them in their best light. They know what platform to use to showcase the long form version, which audiences might respond well to other platforms, how to distil when necessary. And how do they reach that intrinsic knowledge of the nugget? With good taste and confidence, with an understanding of the market and…

A finger on the pulse

After a career spanning decades and the kind of CV that anyone would kill for, Wintour has learned what people want. She didn’t get where she is today by living in an isolated bubble. Curators are people of the world. They know what other people want and how they want it. They know what’s hot and what’s not. Wintour acknowledges the importance of being in the right place at the right time and having your ear to the ground. After all, only a timely audience insight can transform a good creative idea into a great one. And increasingly, editing the wheat from the chaff is becoming the job of our curators.

There’s no prize for second place

Like journalists, our industry curators are different from the traditional advertising creatives. They are fast, they are agile and they are on top of current affairs. No one wants to read a story a day late and getting there second isn’t an option. Our world is built on the immediacy of social sharing, and that means curators need to be quick and accurate. This is as applicable in the marketing industry as it is in journalism. Long sign off processes and client rounds of amends need to be streamlined, so that we can newsjack and take advantage of those monumental, but often fleeting, moments.

Understanding the difference between evergreen and of-the-moment

Sometimes, a creative idea or piece of content has a short lifespan – it’s not ‘evergreen’. As long as that piece fits into the larger puzzle of what a brand is trying to do, a good curator knows that it still has a place in the story. However, for curators, the evergreen idea is the Holy Grail. It’s the piece of content that can be cut and recut, repurposed across channels, reskinned for different audiences. It takes the idea from a one-hit wonder to a fully fleshed out back catalogue.

Anna Wintour was right about being a first responder. Curators are the vital front line of the creative idea. They are its emergency helpline, its first-aider, its life support.

Without curators, the creative idea would die. Our world is too fragmented and unfocused. We need curators to shine a light on what’s important and know how to make it relevant. After all, distribution is everything – because what use is great creative if no one sees it?

That’s what made Anna Wintour’s confession of curatorship so interesting. For a woman who has been at the epicentre of culture for decades, she understands when times are changing. The hero-worship of the creative idea is over – and we’re entering a future that champions curation.

14bf896Alexa Turnpenney is content editor at Partners Andrews Aldridge.

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