Small Agencies Should Nurture the Artists Within

We Are in the Perfect Position to Break Advertising Rules

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Bart Cleveland
Bart Cleveland
My kid brother, Tom Cleveland, owns an art school in Houston called, The Artist Within. He recently had a news team from a Houston TV station come out and talk to him about his school and his work.

In the interview, Tom talks about his philosophy of how there is an artist that lies within every person. He believes that everyone has a creative nature. It is just hidden away, discouraged by a world that pressures people to conform and not express themselves as individuals. Tom's mission is to release the artist within children, as well as adults. It's a noble cause and one I think we ad agencies should adopt in a way.

It seems that we get into ruts very easily. Media is a TV spot, a web banner or a print ad. Great creative has to be shocking. Brands always need a tagline. These are conforming rules that never should have been uttered. Agencies have broken those rules from time to time. When BMW Films were launched we all were filled with envy. When Burger King's subservient chicken was launched we wondered why something so incredibly obvious had never been done in such a way. It will happen again and probably from the same agencies that seem to be committed to changing the rules.

Small agencies can lead in changing the rules. Small agencies have clients that are small. We work with the owners of companies much of the time. We can go to the top with something that is unconventional, something that no one has done before, something that will give their brand a huge advantage over their competition. So, why don't we? I believe it's because we discourage the artist within our employees. The risk of being audacious is too great because too many times we agency owners don't encourage it, reward it or accept it as a possibility.

When was the last time someone in your agency came up with a truly unique, audacious idea? If you remember, you probably also remember that it was obvious that it would take some tearing down and rebuilding to make it a possibility. An agency needs to have the attitude of "we will" rather than "no one does it that way."

My best example of this is when my partner, Pat Wallwork, came to me with the idea of doing a five-second commercial two years before Miller beer did. She went to the TV stations and got them excited about it by showing them how they could increase their revenue by doing it. I thought the idea was a brilliant way to introduce a new branding campaign in a very provocative manner. When it launched, no one had ever run a five-second commercial before. It didn't make headlines because it was a local account here in New Mexico, but it wasn't long before the media companies that agreed to do it for us began offering it across the country.

Pat used the artist that is within herself. I can promise you that she doesn't consider herself to be creative, but the proof is in the pudding. We would do well to not only encourage this kind of thinking in our employees, but also require it and reward it.

I'm incredibly proud of my brother because he teaches something he believes with all his heart. He probably won't build a business empire from it, but he will leave behind hundreds perhaps thousands of people who have an enriched life because they keep the artist within themselves free to roam about.

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