In times of challenge, creativity to the rescue

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There is something that's always been true about the advertising agency business that is its greatest asset today. It's that this business is not about making ads. They are just the outward manifestation of our endeavor. The essence of our business is developing ideas that create value propositions.

The former is executional; the latter is inspirational and emotional. It is why what we do, our potential for fearless creativity, is more important than ever, given the current economic and social environment globally.

Fear is more prevalent today and is the No. 1 factor that inhibits peace and prosperity, particularly during a recession. It suffocates the creativity that brings people together and that fuels economic optimism. It's what happens when we lose our sense of control. It grows when there is unpredictability, such as the terrorism we have now experienced, or the Enron-Arthur Andersen debacle.

Fear can devastate a business that depends on creativity and on having an ideas-oriented culture, such as the advertising business. It is hugely detrimental to the quality and inventiveness of our creative output.

being fearless

Our endeavor is more art than science. Science costs money. Art costs passion. Fear and creativity have always gone hand in hand. It's why many artists suffer demons, like those suffered by Jackson Pollock and Vincent van Gogh. The torment and tension that can occur when fear is present can greatly affect the visionary inventiveness and optimism in any business. The solution, these artists realized, was not to be paralyzed by fear. Maybe that's what it means to be truly fearless.

To foster creativity, agencies have tended to be optimistic, even fearless. We invent ideas that make it possible to change behaviors and beliefs. This is why clients seek our help. Being fearless becomes even more important when times are tough, when there is social uncertainty or when clients are less than optimistic. When clients run scared, they need creativity and innovation more than ever from an agency partnership.

During the depths of the Depression, General Motors Corp.'s Charles Kettering knew first-hand the tremendous potential for economic growth through new ideas. During a speech he gave to business leaders in 1938, he emphasized that the economy does not stimulate itself into a change of momentum. What is needed to jump-start the economy is creativity and new ideas. He would know. As the inventor of the electric starter for the automobile, Kettering revolutionized that industry and breathed fresh life into its economic spirit.

After all the cuts in ad spending and in resources, clients still need fresh ideas to fuel growth. You cannot cut your way to prosperity. A study by the American Association of Advertising Agencies on marketing and advertising during recession reveals that the brands and companies that held or increased their investments during recessionary times gained significant growth in share and sales long-term.

When everyone else is afraid to act, it is the fearless few who do that have everything to gain.

inspiration through recognition

One way to unleash the tremendous potential of the young rebels and experienced thinkers in an ideas culture is through recognition. Ideas flow better in an inspirational environment that celebrates individual achievement. Ideas come from people, not computers. To be at their personal best, people need to know that their efforts make a difference.

Two wonderful side effects of recognition are optimism and enthusiasm. These fuel creativity and innovation. They encourage people to fearlessly take risks and think differently. The best ideas companies foster this kind of environment. We strive for this at our place.

Clients can help eliminate fear by considering this from Albert Einstein: "You can't solve a problem on the same level as it was created. You have to rise above it to the next level." In other words, the client that demonstrates courage to look beyond the commonplace will get the most out of its ideas partner. When we see a client that is fearless, we respond in kind.

The advertising agency industry has never been more challenged than it is right now. And it has never been more needed. With the ramifications of global communication technologies, continued cultural protectionism and the need for economic stimulus, our inherent inventiveness and creativity are sorely required.

This is a time when we need fresh, wonderful, fearless ideas to help create, and perhaps restore, value. We need ideas that can stimulate momentum and steer consumers and the economy in a positive direction: to create more jobs, to improve the relationships between societies globally and to otherwise improve people's lives. Right now, I can think of no more important industry to do this than advertising.

Let's step up to our game.

Tim Love is managing partner, Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, New York.

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