Rob Morrison: Gulp. The dirty little secret in every creative department

It’s supposed to be a secret. Something creatives only ever whisper to ourselves. When we do admit it, it’s in “door closed” performance reviews. And only ever in our weakest moments.

Creatives are terrified of briefs.

Now, half of you are probably shaking your head right now. The half who work outside the creative department; ready to send stories of endless meetings filled with swagger and swearing. Creatives who make you feel guilty. The props are not right. The deadline’s too soon. The amends are idea killers. The client has no idea.

How could anyone in this department ever be insecure?

Truth is, creativity is not a bottomless swimming pool. You can’t simply dive in and come to the surface with fresh, clean and compelling thinking. You can’t take a dip whenever you like, knowing ideas never run out.

Creativity is more like a squirrel crossing a road. Sometimes you catch the little bastard on your first attempt. Sometimes you catch him in the last hour before the presentation. And sometimes you’re led on a merry dance and end up back where you started.

And that thought haunts us.

What if I can’t do it again? What if this brief is simply beyond me? What if my last good idea is the last one I’ll ever have? Is it any wonder creatives burn out?

Experience helps.

The more you live through those moments the easier they get. You learn to quieten that annoying voice in the back of your head – although you can never silence it completely.

But I also had a secret weapon and it started with a disaster. Just three months after being promoted to my first ever creative director job a client fired me. Not the agency, just me. They requested I never work on their business again. We eventually got to the bottom of why (a story for another time) but something happened which I will never, ever forgot.

Marty Kellard, the extraordinary ECD of the agency, wrote me a note. A handwritten card where he simply said he had my back. For me not to feel this was a reflection of the job I was doing.

I still have the card.

I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. So, I found a manila folder and wrote “Reassurance” on the cover. Then, every time I received a note or a letter or an email supporting my work, a copy went in the folder. I had notes about pitches, big campaigns, small pieces of copy, presentations, training sessions I’d run. Any time someone was thoughtful enough to acknowledge the job I’d done, I kept it.

But what was most important was not what was said. It was who said it.

I had notes from industry legends like Ian Kennedy and Douglas Nicol. From future stars like Victoria Curro and Stacy Beckley. From creatives, suits, clients and production people. People I respected. People whose opinions mattered to me.

Whenever I started to doubt myself, I’d re-read their feedback. Their reassurance. I knew by doubting myself I was actually doubting them. Their opinion. Their knowledge. Their experience.

And that’s something I’d never do.

So, next time a creative does a great job for you, let them know. In writing. You never know when they’ll really need it.

Rob Morrison was creative director at Ogilvy Australia for seven years and before that milestone, creative director at BWM (now BWM Dentsu), George Patterson Y&R (now VMLY&R), The Campaign Palace and Wunderman. He is now freelance at morrison.creative.

[Cover image: Bermix Studio]

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