How Do You Keep Your Creative Edge?

Agency Pros Tell Me How They Do It

By Published on .

It's a great feeling to be wanted, isn't it? Especially when clients hire us for the work we've done. One of the great challenges in our business is keeping quality high over a sustained period of time. Most who gain notoriety in this business find it a fleeting experience.

I asked several people who have demonstrated innovation as a career trait what they think makes it possible. Here are some answers that I found most helpful. Of course, your thoughts on the matter would be most welcome.

DJ Stout, partner, Pentagram: "Do self-assigned or 'not-for-pay' projects. Anything that doesn't involve a 'real' paying client who will most likely reject or rip the heart out of a truly original or innovative idea. For instance, I've been doing silk-screened posters for a creative speaking event called Pecha Kucha and I've been doing little self-published books on things that interest me."

Loni Peristere, founding partner, Zoic Studios: "Replace yourself. The intern program at Zoic is loaded with young super creatives. Their inexperience with production and process often opens the doors for huge ideas. We also hired a number of industry veterans of 30 years or more across the art and production divisions. These legends also bring amazing solutions. How do you keep sharp? Surround yourself with people who will call you out when you are dull."

Ernie Schenck, creative director and author of The Houdini Solution: "You've got to be in a perpetual state of reinvention. You've got this ability to come up with ideas that younger people are just never going to see because they haven't been exposed to enough life yet. But you can't accept the idea of a comfort zone. You let yourself do that and you can become stale and irrelevant in a heartbeat."

Doug Pedersen, freelance creative director and art director, formerly with agencies Loeffler Ketchum Mountjoy, CP&B and Carmichael Lynch: "Be aware that patterns may be occurring in your work. Take your portfolio and post it along a wall. It shouldn't look like the same creative person did everything. If it does, you have a problem. Also, doing my own art and side projects keeps me excited as a creative person and it forces me to think differently."

Julie Bowman, freelance writer and founder of Giant Noodle: "You have to be a student of the industry. You have to research what's making it into the award shows; you have to pay attention to the industry pubs. And you have to look at places like to stay abreast of what's happening in the digital realm. It takes a lot of effort because everything moves so quickly these days."

David Baldwin, Baldwin&: "This is one of those really tough questions because I don't do anything intentionally to stay sharp. That said, as the chairman of the One Club, I was able to go to see almost every piece of relevant communication in our industry over the last five years. The interesting thing now is that everything is at everyone's fingertips. We can find how well our work stands up in a few seconds."

Bart Cleveland is partner, creative director, McKee Wallwork Cleveland, Albuquerque, N.M.
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