It’s a Creative Process.

by Holland-Mark | September 16, 2009

I appreciate that my mother is able to watch Mel Gibson in What Women Want or a random episode of Mad Men and feel as though she has an insider look at what us “creative types” do day in and day out. Out of respect for her joy, I’ve refrained from mentioning to her that the world of advertising is pretty much nothing like that. (With minor exceptions.)

Time and time again the portrayal of advertising creatives is one of thin men in skinny jeans with chic glasses, or high-strung, high-powered creative types who wear suits and throw a Hail Mary at the end of an otherwise disastrous meeting, or edgy, tattooed “thinkers” who use Macs and number two pencils (for effect). These movies and shows portray a glamour and selectivity that does exist somewhere in the industry, but doesn’t really touch on the reality of the process. (Leaning back in my chair, kicking a Converse All Star-clad foot up on the desk and throwing a Koosh® ball into the air isn’t, despite popular belief, the catalyst for all creative thought.)

When I came to Holland-Mark I was thrilled to discover that office hours really didn’t exist. We’re all adults here, capable of playing in the sandbox together and using truth and trust to guide us where we need to go. I remember thinking how perfect that was; I would finally be free to create in my own time, using my own process.

What I didn’t fully understand then is that the process is not a process at all. It’s a life that a few of us are incredibly lucky to have been given the opportunity to live. However, the trade-off is that work/life balance doesn’t mean getting home at 5PM to have dinner with the family. It’s more about finding a way to harness the constant swirl of wonder and creativity that already exists and chew it, stretch it, and learn to apply it in new and (capitalistic) ways. More appropriately it’s a life/life balance.

It’s not uncommon for Chris Colbert to find the answer to a burning question while swimming laps at the University Club. If I had a dollar for every time Jon (my creative partner) concepted ads while on a treadmill or taking a smoke break I probably wouldn’t need this job anymore. I’m humored on the inside every time one of us comes into the office from our “personal time” with an idea. An idea born because for 20, 50, 70, 120 hours we’ve been thinking without thinking, imagining without realizing it, creating client work while we eat dinner with our friends or watch a $12 movie. For many agencies it’s taboo to reveal The Process to clients, but for me, and for Holland-Mark, it’s more about helping our clients understand the value of the work. In addition to hours logged, it’s the walks to work, the time spent observing people on the train, absorbing ads on TV, or finally having the peace and release that comes while jogging… or swimming. There are no office hours at Holland-Mark because the right side of the brain doesn’t keep time. It refuses.

The creative process is about learning to live in a way that encourages each of us to be seeking always, asking questions constantly, and trying, when it’s absolutely necessary, to get to work for a 9AM meeting. (We do, after all, need to throw the account team a bone every now and then.) I can sit for hours thinking intensely, Googling the calories in the sixteen candies I’ve eaten, drinking my eight glasses of water, reading Bernbach quotes, and inevitably the answer will not be there. It will be in the place I left it, somewhere on the walk home or in that very creative space between almost asleep and very, very asleep.

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