Matt Williams: positivity, perspective and persistence – lessons from America’s best creative directors

Positivity, Persistence and Perspective – lessons from America’s best creative directors

If I wanted to be really on trend, this article would be titled something along the lines of ’10 things you can learn from Pokemon Go.’ Or perhaps even more poignantly ’10 things you can learn from the countless 10 things you can learn from Pokemon Go articles.’

There’s a lot of talk in the advertising industry. A lot of column inches to fill. A lot of industry bigwigs with a remit from their marketing teams to ‘write a blog once in a while.’

So you get these endless columns and conferences where people from the industry make lofty claims covering everything from the latest technology to the impact that advertising is having on the world.

Don’t get me wrong – a hell of a lot of what’s said can be hugely important. The current debate around diversity, for example. And I don’t want to pithily downplay marketing’s efforts for doing good.

But the incessant chatter you get so much made this article that I read on AdWeek recently all the more interesting. Here, AdWeek picked the 50 best creatives working in the US for its Creative 100 feature and asked each of them for their approach to creativity.


They didn’t look for carefully structured tomes – more disarmingly honest quotes about their success.

Naturally, this being bigwig creative directors, there was the inevitable odd wanky quote. Here are two particular favourites:

“It has always been vital to keep reinventing myself over and over and to never lose sight of the aesthetic/vocabulary that I have built.”

“I haven’t felt stronger, clearer and more creative in my entire career. My head literally explodes every day, thinking of what’s possible.”

But cut through the egos and you can find some genuinely insightful and inspirational nuggets.

And it’s especially interesting to see the themes that emerge when you end up asking 50 creative directors to describe their approach.

I was expecting a lot about ‘saving the world.’ About sticking it to the man. About taking this shit seriously and believing in yourself. Spending hours getting the aesthetics of the office just right so you can be truly creative. Not listening to anyone else…

What instead we got was positivity, persistence and perspective.

Let’s start with the final one of those three. And whether you believe them or not, I think it’s refreshing to hear so many top creatives reminding us that there’s a lot more to life than advertising.

“So often, advertising can get to you, but as long as we know we are making commercials and not trying to win a Nobel Prize, we can keep it all in perspective.”

“I just want to do something my Aunt Maria Lucia will understand and forward to her friends.”

“We aren’t making art. We are hired to create work that drives business, and that isn’t going to be a pure artistic process.”

“Don’t be precious about the work. Be willing to beat it up to get to a better place. Make something your mom, your dad, your kid, your dog likes. Make work that matters to real people.”

Far cries from what egos are usually preaching at festivals like Cannes, right? And leads us nicely on to a theme that I was pleased to see emerge often from the creative directors interviewed. Having fun.

All the best agencies do it. And it’s still the reason I see many friends get into this industry instead of venturing towards the cash on offer in the City. Hell, Wieden & Kennedy has built one of the best agencies in the world on being optimistic.

But we’ll all admit at times that things get a little too serious. Sometimes it’s for good reason, but sometimes we just let our odd sense of self-importance get the better of us. So let’s try and listen to those at the top…

“The more open and optimistic people you can bring into the process, the more new and exciting things you can discover.”

“Love people, love culture. Be fascinated by, curious about and obsessed with the ugly, embarrassing parts and the weird parts just as much as the fun, silly and pretty parts of people and society.”

“Make the creative process more fun. Having fun is something that’s crucial if you’re going to create something that’s worth anything.”

“This should be fun. We all just want to make good stuff, so we try to put our heads down, do that, and not be assholes about it.”

Which is all rather lovely. And again, whilst it all might sound a bit too idealistic on occasion, it’s nice to see a new set of creative leaders in the game for the right reasons.

But before we get too self congratulatory, let’s end with a characteristic that almost all the creatives interviewed highlighted in some capacity. What’s the one key trait that you need to make it in advertising? Persistence. We talk a lot about failing fast at the moment. We talk a lot about innovation and experimentation. So with that being the case, perseverance is key in an industry based so much on opinion.

And because you’ve persevered to the very end of this article, I’ll reward you with some final creative director quotes on why if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again. Or, as Avery Oldfield and Adam Wolinsky (below), two of the most awarded creatives at Cannes this year, put it: “We just throw stuff out until we hit a wall. Then we either go for a walk, or look at dogs on Instagram. Sometimes both.”


And from others:

“There is always a way. A way to pull it off, a way to make a brand fresh, a way to solve a problem. The best work is always the result of persistence.”

“Ask lots of questions. The more questions you ask, the more likely you are to discover something truly unexpected. People aren’t sitting around waiting for your next ad. Be surprising.”

“Creative endurance is what we preach. No matter what kind of obstacles get in the way, we’re all about finding new solves that we love just as much as the original idea. Or at least, almost as much.”

“Good things come to those who hustle. Great work rarely just falls out of an assignment. You have to keep finding little nuggets to turn into great ideas.”

Worth remembering the next time you hit a creative wall…

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About Matt Williams

Matt Williams is head of content at Partners Andrews Aldridge.