Creatives Sharpen Skills Via Outside Projects

Keep Juices Flowing By Using Them in and out of the Office

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Bill Cochran, brand-creative-group head at the Richards Group, said he's "known for being very goofy and very lighthearted and very silly." So when he wrote a tear-jerker for children, he said, it "caught some people off-guard." He's referring to "Forever Dog," to be released by HarperCollins this spring, in which the dog doesn't make it past page 15.
Richards Group staffer Bill Cochran wrote a children's book in his spare time.
Richards Group staffer Bill Cochran wrote a children's book in his spare time.

After 14 years of copywriting and creativity on demand, Mr. Cochran has found time to create outside of work because he thinks it's absolutely vital -- and it has nothing to do with money or fame.

"My target when I'm doing advertising is very specific [and] defined by someone else," he said. "When I am writing children's stories, I am writing children's stories for me when I was a kid. ... I ultimately wrote ["Forever Dog"] because I was having a hard time. Now I get e-mails from people I don't know who want to tell me how much my book made them feel better. It's wild and it's something I haven't ever experienced through advertising."

It can be tough to get artistic juices flowing under the demanding conditions of advertising. So how are some advertising professionals handling this dilemma? By carving out a little space to blow off creative steam. And while Mr. Cochran took matters into his own hands, other professionals are benefiting from creativity-inspiring programs instituted by their agencies.

Anyone who has ever visited Rapp-Collins' New York offices likely has noticed a wall-size photograph of a Central Park scene on display between the elevators and the reception area. A closer look reveals the image features King Kong on a skyscraper, Superman flying overhead, Kermit sitting on a log with his banjo and "The Warriors" walking down a path.

David Michaels, art director, Rapp-Collins, is the unofficial groundskeeper of the third-floor park mural. For him and his co-workers, creativity is something they just can't stop. They have to play.

"As a 'creative' person, I find myself trying to be 'creative' all the time -- even when I don't have to. It ranges from reading up on design publications to positioning action figures around my cube," he said. And now it includes keeping an eye on the mural for non-New York figures that may need to be removed.

Treating themselves
The creative minds at Mother's downtown New York offices similarly have made creative play part of their everyday work. Mother, in effect, designs the crazy packaging for several candies from novelty company Blue Q. The shop licenses the designs to Blue Q and gets royalties -- and according to Partner Andrew Deitchman, some of the candies Mother has worked on are some of Blue Q's best-sellers.

"Blue Q to me is something where we get to flex our creative muscle in a different way, and we get compensated for it in a different way," said Mr. Deitchman.

Ultimately, the key to keeping the creative juices flowing is using them -- in and out of the office.

"I feel like I'm a better writer and a better advertising creative than when I started," said Mr. Cochran. "I go through periods of less self-doubt. By letting myself have these other outlets, I do explore these other sides that aren't getting used in my assignments, and they free me up to think of whatever."
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