We don’t need ‘creatives’, we need copywriters & art directors

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PARIS, Monday: US copywriter Dave Trott has caught the attention of the global ad business with a call to drop the noun “creative” and replace it with the more accurate “copywriter” or “art director”.

M+AD doesn’t see this happening anytime soon – but France-based Epica Awards director Mark Tungate, an internationally respected comms columnist, offers a provocative take on the debate – direct from the pen of Dave Trott …

“I’m sad to see planners calling themselves strategists,” Trott wrote. “Just the way I’m sad to see copywriters and art directors calling themselves creatives.

“So let’s look at why people calling themselves ‘creative’ has led to their work being anything but.

‘I’m a creative’
“I hope nobody reading this has ever uttered those words without the saving smirk of irony.

“Yes, you are a ‘creative’. So is everyone else. Under-fives whose scribblings are exhibited with fridge magnets are “creatives”. And I know brickies and chippies whose work makes them more creative than I’ll ever be.

“Besides, the word ‘creative’ is an adjective, not a noun. So describing yourself as ‘a creative’ is like calling yourself a handsome’ or ‘a sexy.

Reclaim your roles
Creative teams always comprised a copywriter and an art director, each fulfilling different but complementary roles. The idea was to combine excellence in two disciplines.

“However, since copywriters and art directors demoted themselves to ‘creatives’, it’s become normal for neither to excel at either.

“Apologies if you’re new to our industry. You may find words like ‘copywriter’ and ‘art director as unfamiliar as ‘blacksmith or ‘rag-and-bone man’. So let’s examine those first two roles and the importance of reclaiming them.

“I know brickies and chippies whose work makes them more creative than I’ll ever be.”

“Your first love should be the written word – just as it would be if you were a journalist, author or playwright. As a copywriter, you’ll also need more specialist skills. A talent for catching and retaining consumers’ attention with a style that’s succinct, engaging, relevant and persuasive.

“Writing skills are honed by reading. It doesn’t have to be Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. For simplicity of style and concision of thought, you’re better off with Bill Bryson or (I’m serious) Roald Dahl. Though even closer to the skills you’ll require are those displayed by the sharpest columnists in The Guardian, The Spectator or The Sunday Times.

Art director
“You need to be obsessed with all visual arts: with their past, present and future. You should always be looking at different things in different ways. Literally. Good art direction, for me, is like good football. I know it when I see it, but I’m incapable of doing it myself. Which is why I’d highly recommend Paul Belford’s wonderful and illuminating blog.

“In it, he explains the skills and intricacies of the craft. And, in so doing, highlights the difference between a proper art director and a mere ‘creative’.

But we live in a digital world
“We do indeed. Which is why it’s more vital than ever to distinguish yourself as a copywriter or art director.

“The world of tweeting, texting and blogging is the world of the written word. Digital media demands you use words skilfully and sparingly. Similarly, an increasingly fragmented media landscape demands you arrange images brilliantly and powerfully.

Titles we need to lose
If ever a title has lost all meaning and prestige, it’s ‘creative director’. Until recently, it meant the person who was in sole charge of the creative department and was wholly responsible for the work it produced.

“Now, mediocre ‘creatives’ who’ve spent a couple of years looking after one piece of business are calling themselves ‘creative directors’. Ooh, they love a title.

“Next rung up is ‘executive creative director’. I have no idea what this means, because sitting just above the ‘ECD’ is the ‘CCO’.”

“Next rung up is ‘executive creative director’. I have no idea what this means, because sitting just above the ‘ECD’ is the ‘CCO’ – the chief creative officer. Who on earth would want to be called ‘chief creative officer’? Unless, of course, the job really did entail organising weaving and pottery classes for the Metropolitan Police.

Titles we need to revive
Head of art and head of copy. In larger agencies, the former would be responsible for the visual side of all the agency’s work, while the latter would be responsible for all the agency’s words.

“And not just in the ads. Look at most agencies’ websites and there’s your evidence. They need to draft in skilled writers and art directors who will oversee their output. Rather than unskilled ‘creatives’ who will overlook it.

Because if they don’t…
“Clients will become even more disaffected. They were happy to pay handsomely for the writing and art directional skills they knew they didn’t have. But if they feel – and they often do – that they could write better copy than the drivel that’s just been presented to them, they may decide to review their arrangements.

“And advertising agencies, I’m afraid, could soon go the way of blacksmiths and rag-and-bone men.”

Mark Tungate comments: “Back to Dave Trott. So why did he feel so strongly about the difference between ‘strategists’ and ‘planners’? Why are words and their meanings so important to him?

“I’d suggest it’s because he’s never been a ‘creative. He’s always been a copywriter.

About Dave Trott
Dave Trott is a creative director, copywriter, and author who, in 2004, won the D&AD President’s Award for lifetime achievement in advertising.

He trained in New York at Carl Ally Inc, then moved back to London in 1971 as a trainee copywriter at Boase Massimi Pollitt where his campaigns included Pepsi’s Lipsmackinthirstquenchin and Courage’s Gercha.

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