Creative Strategist: Role of the Future

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Alex Kniess Alex Kniess
Arguably the most frustrating part of my internship at BBH was the completion of our "intern project." More specifically, the frustration came mostly from debating the level of creativity that may or may not exist among account people. I've watched plenty of "Mad Men," and I've studied the history of advertising in textbooks, so I'm clearly an expert on the tension that exists between account people and creative people. However, I've also heard plenty on the convergence of the two, the literal creation of the creative strategist.

It is this title, this type of strategic thinker, that is the cornerstone of the advertising program at the University of Oregon. The creative strategist comes from the realization that everybody is creative. Sure, that may sound like something your middle-school art teacher would say, but the realization is more liberating than finger painting. It turns out that when you break down the barriers between the account and creative sides of things, you allow the possibility of smarter thinking altogether.

It's been said, and it has been generally accepted, that good ideas can come from anywhere. However, in the real setting of a creative consultancy, this norm seems to be forgotten -- or at least ignored. Specifically with regard to my experience with our intern project at BBH, this reality became glaring and very frustrating.

Working in a tight-knit group of 10 smart people, we the interns at BBH were tasked to create a campaign for one of their clients. Because everyone also had plenty of time commitments within their normal roles, patience and time quickly ran thin. Your typical creative strategist would approach all aspects of the problem -- research, brief, budgeting, brainstorming, creative development and presentation -- from a unified strategic front. They would use the resources of all 10 together. Unfortunately in the real world it doesn't always work out like that.

As the oft-heard phrase "leave the creative to the creatives" echoed off the walls of our intern conference room, the door was slammed shut between the creative interns and the account interns. I realized quickly that the creative-strategist protocol has a lot of hurdles yet ahead of it.

The assertion that "everyone is creative" was driven home by "education guru" Sir Ken Robinson, who spoke at the 2006 TED Conference about how schools today kill creativity. He believes, and has written about in his book "Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative," that when the silos are broken down, and both sides truly collaborate, the possibilities are endless.

As we at Oregon attempt to cultivate the next generation of creative strategists, we realize that this ideal role is wrought with hurdles and even some impossibilities. However, I am learning from an increasing amount of experience that this role is the future. I'm not pretending that it will replace account managers or art directors. But I am suggesting that a creative-strategist point of view will open the floodgates of creativity and strategic thought. In the future, an account person won't be hired if they say, "I'm not creative," and a creative person will have trouble finding a job if they think they are the only ones with great ideas.
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