Media Types: Occasionally prone to work: The creative

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The Independent Online
CREATIVE n. (in advertising agencies) generic term for copywriters, who write the words (occasionally with joined-up letters), art directors, who draw the pictures, and creative directors, who oversee the lot, writes Rhys Williams.

'How many creatives does it take to change a light bulb?' you ask. 'Get lost, you're not changing anything.' An advertising agency creative, you see, is about as accommodating as a cardboard box. Securing a ceasefire in Bosnia is a far more realistic proposition than persuading one (two actually, as they work in teams) to produce the ad you require, within budget and on time. They are unpredictable, temperamental and occasionally prone to fits of work.

Despite signs to the contrary, such as telling you to 'bugger off' when you walk into their offices, or chucking plants out of windows, creatives are delicate flowers with fragile egos. When briefing them on a campaign, try not to alarm them with such words as 'client' or 'logo size'. 'Deadline' and 'budget' when used in conjunction with 'tight' should be strenuously avoided.

Getting work out of a creative department would be easier if people said what they meant, but it would not be nearly so much fun. Part of the challenge of advertising is understanding that when a creative team says 'We went for a radical approach' it probably means 'You're not going to like this'. 'We tried it, but it didn't work' translates as 'That's a stupid suggestion, why don't you take what we've done and sell it to the client?' And if an art director tells you: 'The brand is integral to the idea,' he's trying to say: 'I'm not spoiling my tasteful layout with that dog's breakfast of a pack design.'

The only gambit which you do not require a degree in behavioural psychology to understand is: 'We simply have to shoot in the Bahamas' ('We need a holiday'). To be fair, all these lines will be recycled by account handlers when they come to sell the work to the client.

The direct approach, as in 'Tell me why you think the idea works', may be an interesting departure from the routine, but it is deeply unproductive. Invariably, all a creative can manage is: 'Er . . . well, because, um . . . can we discuss this over lunch?'

This lack of verbal dexterity, and the fact that they tend not to wear suits, explain why creatives are used sparingly in client meetings. It frightens some clients to think that their multi- million-pound accounts are in the hands of apparently lobotomised layabouts. That said, at least one pan-European campaign was rescued by the incoherent ramblings of a creative director as he explained to clients why they should approve a film, despite the fact that it bore no relation whatsoever to the original storyboard: 'I know you're scared. It's because it's so new. But it works, because . . . well, I don't know why, but it just does. Trust me.'

Should a piece of work be rejected by a client (be sure to say 'The client loved it, but. . .'), ensure there are no scalpels in the vicinity when you tell the creative, as much for your own safety as for the layouts - the only thing a creative hates more than rejection is account people.

On the other hand, the only thing creatives love more than lunch is awards. And few come higher than a mounted pencil from the Designers' and Art Directors' Association. It is rumoured that acceptance speeches at the navel gaze that is the annual D & A D A awards ceremony were dispensed with some years ago, not because the winners banged on too long but because no one could string a sentence together.

One should never be sniffy about advertising's artistic pretensions. Alan Parker, Ridley Scott and Woody Allen have all turned their hand to directing TV commercials, while countless press advertisements feature the world's best photographers (the late Norman Parkinson for Silk Cut, Sebastio Salgado for Le Creuset). And copywriting has, of course, launched more than one glittering literary career - Salman 'Irresist-a-bubble' Rushdie, Fay 'Go to work on an egg' Weldon and even Peter 'Nice one, Cyril' Mayle.

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