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Managing creative team members

Matt Chittock

One blue fish swimming in the opposite direction to the others

Many managers will work with designers, copywriters and other ‘creative types’ who like to swim against the crowd – so how do you get the best out of them? Matt Chittock looks at how to tame the creative beast

It’s easy to spot an office creative. While the rest of the company are dressed in business casual and work on PCs, designers and copywriters are usually found wearing jeans and scowling into Macs.

They can sometimes seem like a breed apart – but learning how to manage them is essential if you want the kind of creative work that boosts your bottom line.

So where do you start? Experts agree that getting your working relationship right begins with the brief.

John Taylerson, head of marketing for specialist food company Malmesbury Syrups, says making sure the brief is nailed is crucial to get the best from creatives.

Having a clear process is essential. It means both the client and the creative know where they stand so there’s no room for costly mistakes and misunderstandings can be sorted out quickly.

“We have to create everything from pack designs and websites through to marketing literature – so that’s a lot of briefing,” he says. “I’ve had agencies say to me, ‘The brief doesn’t give us enough scope because it’s too tight.’ But a tight brief, with just the 10 different elements you need in the finished product, allows designers to achieve great design by focusing on what they’ve got to work with.”

Barney Jefferies, a freelance copywriter specialising in third sector clients, agrees. “It’s vital that you’re clear about why you’re commissioning the project in the first place, who it’s for and what the key messages are,” he says.

Show them what you like

As well as supplying specifics, it can also help to provide examples of creative output from other companies that you think works well.

“It’s always useful to see examples of what the client already likes,” says Roger Denyer, head of design at events company Diversified Business Communications. “That way the creative can take elements from each example – though if you just say ‘copy this’ you’re missing out on their input, so you won’t get anything new or fresh.”

Whether you have in-house creatives or use freelancers, good designers and copywriters should be passionate about what they do. However, this can sometimes mean they get so involved in the words and images that the function of the end product is forgotten. When it’s time to review the project it’s always worth bringing the end user back into focus.

“It’s not about how fabulous the design is – it’s whether it will work in practice,” says Taylerson.

Providing multiple stages where you can give feedback will help keep the project on track, and stop costly mistakes.

“Try and avoid vague comments like ‘the copy needs to be more passionate’ in your feedback” advises Jefferies. “Specific comments are much more effective because it’s clearer what needs to be done.”

Five practical ways to connect with creatives

Seek out inspiring people

A creative’s passion for what they do should shine through from the first meeting.

“When you discuss an idea good creatives should immediately be able to say ‘have you thought of this?’ and inspire you to think differently,” says Denyer.

If that spark is missing from the relationship then it won’t show up in the finished work.

Never accept an ‘artistic temperament’

“Sometimes it’s frustrating if a client rewrites all your work without telling you,” says Jefferies. “But it’s deeply unprofessional to have a hissy fit and vent your frustration at the client.”??You wouldn’t take the same behaviour from your sales team – and you shouldn’t accept it from a creative.

Keep the end user in focus

Creative types love to draw inspiration from what’s currently cool in popular culture. However, just because you’re enthused about a retro Mad Men-style sales brochure doesn’t mean your customers will be.

As Taylerson points out, any kind of pop culture references can be problematic. “The days when the public all used to watch the same TV shows and chat about them the next day are over,” he says. “Today different audiences have a wide variety of cultural references and it’s important not to forget that.”

Trust the process

When ideas are flowing thick and fast, project management can take a back seat. And yet a clear process is the backbone of any good creative project.

“Having a clear process is essential,” says Denyer. “It means both the client and the creative know where they stand, so there’s no room for costly mistakes and misunderstandings can be sorted out quickly.”

Acknowledge their efforts

Good creatives put a lot of time and effort into a project – and they’ll be keen to hear what you think of the finished work.

“There’s nothing worse than putting a great deal of work into a project and just getting a one-word email back saying ‘thanks’,” says Jefferies.

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