The Makings of a Perfect (or Not-So-Perfect) Creative Team

How Savvy Professional Partnerships Make Things Work

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At a time when ads are aflutter with gift-wrapped cars and diamond rings, and our thoughts turn to forced romantic gestures, marked-up bouquets and evaluating whether this person is even worth all the trouble, I want to take a moment to celebrate a relationship not so sanctified but no less intimate than the ones snagging all the good restaurant reservations.

I'm talking about the marriage of writer and art director -- invented half a century ago by a young Bill Bernbach -- a partnership that's charmed and tormented agency counterparts ever since.

For those who find yourselves negotiating with these lovebirds day after day, you may find them stubborn, temperamental, even enigmatic. They defend each other's every word, cover their respective backs in times of hangover-induced absence, and have their own jokes and rituals.

In reality, creative teams aren't so mysterious. In fact, they might be similar to other couples you hang out with.

You have:

The Power Couple. Like the best-looking pair at the party, they strut confidently into a room, as you hang on their every award-winning word. Their charisma is impossible to resist until you find they've sold you something you didn't really want.

The Fun Bunch. Jokey, smarmy personalities kept around as much for entertainment value as their actual ideas. Perennially "on," these two secretly hope to become the Power Couple by sheer force of personality.

The Newlyweds. Aka, the junior team. Eager, naively optimistic, accommodating (unless they were really hot in ad school). To these young lovers, every meeting is a fresh new opportunity brimming with possibilities. Please treat them with care.

The Johnsons. The hyper-competitive team, innocently nosing around to find out how other couples are doing while conveniently failing to divulge anything valuable about their own projects.

The Swingers. Also known as the freelancers. Breezy, relaxed, unburdened by commitment even to each other. It's no wonder these people seem so happy.

Each has found that special someone who completes them, with whom they can conceive. Some partners even mate for life, continuing the partnership as co-CDs rather than face the windy upper climes of the business alone. But before you get too jealous, it might help to know that the dating pool is fraught with danger, and finding a mate isn't always easy.

Partners can be really annoying and frustrating too.

You have:

The partner who ignores your idea, suggests, "What if we do something with a hammerhead shark?" and turns it back to you.

Or the one that's too much into advertising, already at his desk before you've had your morning coffee asking if you can believe BBDO, Istanbul, just did an ad so much like Y&R, Detroit, made in 2002.

Then there's "The Cheater" -- the partner who eventually presents work to the creative director without getting clearance from her better half (grounds for divorce in all states).

But just as marriage isn't always perfect, the good outweighs the bad. And when Cupid's arrow is true, the results are nothing short of alchemy. Producing synergistic reactions one mind (or the inefficient three-way) could never have imagined. Forging unique offspring from the creative DNA of each half, in need of nurturing and protection from the whims and politics of the outside world.

And in spite of its pitfalls, it's surprising how often it works. In fact, given how it's shaped our industry, it's a wonder we don't see the concept pop up in more fields. A U.S. president team? Co-education secretaries, perhaps?

Overly-sappy thinking, maybe. But given all that's supposedly changing, the institution still remains of our industry's greatest innovations, and one we should hope is held sacred for some time to come. For digital or for traditional, in social media and in outdoor.

Happy St. Bernbach's Day.

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