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Compromising on creativity in the creative industry: A dilemma

Advertising is an industry driven by creativity; and therefore the central point of each and every advertising campaign, as well as the client – agency relationship, is creativity (Sullivan 1998). Communications professionals are often called shortly as “creatives”. Creativity, in a sense, is not simply a tool to serve the clients’ needs but also a construct of the creatives’ identities. Ironically, more than often, clients are afraid to take risks in truly creative ideas and urge the agency to safer and more conventional alternatives. This dilemma easily discourages the young and enthusiastic new comers of the communications industry.

In a recent interview, Hung Goon, who currently works as the Business Director of Account Management of OgilvyOne Vietnam, had kindly shared his thoughts on the issue to dear readers of Client Management VN Magazine.

Figure 1.

Differences in perceptions about creativity

The reason that many agencies have to compromise their creative ideas roots in the clients’ and agencies’ different perspectives on creativity.

As a senior account manager elegantly remarks, ‘advertising is that lovely area where art and business rub up against each other’ (Hackley 2000), there are fundamentally different streams of thoughts regarding creativity coming from two sides. Whereas creatives usually think of creativity as a spontaneous process with intuitive thinking and its originality value, clients think of it as a more structured process with analytical thinking and its effectiveness value (Mitchell 1984). As a result, while the creatives hope to achieve originality with the works and thus tend to be more willing to take risks, clients hope to gain effectiveness and thus are in favor of safe and conventional choices. Goon indicated that there is no right and wrong in such thoughts and whether spending the time to argue with the client and possibly damage the relationship or to cooperate and seek for the common solution for those different thoughts is entirely our choice.

Figure 2. Adapted from n.d., 2012

It is a cliché in client – agency relationships that while clients usually regard the creatives as too “artsy-fartsy” and knowing nothing about business, the creatives believe that a business could never understand creativity and advertising. Goon, however, disagreed with this idea and stated that: 1/ “creatives are expected to know business to do their best” and 2/ “everybody is creative at something and at certain levels”. According to Goon, whereas business may not be the creatives’ expertise, account managers, who stand between the client and the agency, have the responsibility to inform and encourage creatives to learn about business. Furthermore, he explained that while some people are creative in communications, others are creative with numbers and money and business models. Thus, account managers’ job is to educate both parties about each other, and be a bridge to connect what the creatives know about advertising with what clients know about business to work out the best solutions to a common goal.

Creativity in spite of the clients, or because of them?

According to a study of senior copywriters working in New York City with at least 17 years of experience in the industry, most of the creatives think that they achieved creative excellence despite the clients, rather than because of them (Hackley & Kover 2007). Goon appeared to be very surprised of this information and how much he hoped for a change in such perspective in the creative industry. As stated above, Goon believed the cooperation between clients and agencies to be extremely significant not only for the relationship of two sides but also for professional communicators to achieve their goals of creativity.

“Feedbacks are good, and don’t let them be the obstacles in your way to be creative, let them be the ladder […] let them be the wings”, Goon said. He indicated that agencies’ level of creative freedom and autonomy is totally a negotiable factor if creatives know how to listen and understand the ideas of clients. Instead of stating their creative ideas are good, agencies should actively ask the clients why they shy away from unconventional ideas. The revelation of the clients’ reasons in such situation can be tremendously helpful insights for further improvement of the campaign. Clients disapprove creative ideas for a reason; the job of the agency is to know that reason and work on it, instead of thinking negatively about the clients.

Figure 3. Adapted from Discover Education n.d.; Personal Trainers n.d.

Further engaging the clients into agencies’ creative process does not necessarily mean further compromising the creativity. Instead, Goon suggested agencies use the creative working process as an opportunity to educate clients to take reasonable risks in communications campaigns and to not judge them through traditional measures such as sales figures or audience reach.

A walk-away level of creative freedom, should we or should we not?

Despite many advices above, one can raise the question that whether they are all too good a scenario as clients are not always willing to cooperate. What would happen then, and should agencies set a walk-away line to protect their creative integrity, like they do with the budget to ensure profit?

Goon seemed suspicious with the idea, stating that ‘creativity is a too vague field to easily put a straight line on like we do with money’. An agency can know with what amount of money they can make make profit, whereas to satisfy the level of creative freedom for the entire agency’s creatives is a much harder task. Therefore, Goon suggested to not having a fixed line, as creative projects are not always available in the industry.


Compromising on creativity is not unavoidable as agencies can work their way to achieve their goals of creativity while still satisfying the clients’ needs. Account managers, as the liaisons in the relationship, play a very significant role. They need to inform creatives the business side of advertising and inform clients the trustworthy expertise of creatives, and act as a bridge to connect these parties. Furthermore, they need to perceive feedbacks from clients as guidance instead of obstacles, and educate clients how to take risks in creative campaigns. In other words, good account managers guide the agency to achieve creative goals thanks to the clients, not in spite of them.

However, in the worst cases where clients are not willing to cooperate, whether a walk-away line of creative freedom should be drawn is debatable, although Goon stated that we shouldn’t. I believe it is a professional ethic for creatives to produce creative and original works and it is arguable whether an agency should work in restricted creative frame because of the lack of other works.

HO HUU HUY – s3324401

Word Count: 1094 words


DaveCharest n.d., ‘Creativity’, image,, viewed 03 September 2012, <>

Discovery Education n.d., ‘Stop sign’, Discovery Education, viewed 03 September 2012, <;

Forbes 2012, ‘Money Bag’, image, Forbes, 11 July, viewed 03 September 2012, <;

Hackley, C 2000, ‘Silent running: tacit, discursive and psychological aspects of management in a top UK advertising agency’, British Journal of Management, vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 239–254

Hackley, C and Kover, A 2007, ‘The Trouble With Creatives: Negotiating Creative Identity in Advertising Agencies’, International Journal of Advertising, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 63-78

Michell, P 1984, ‘Accord and Discord in Agency – Client Perceptions of Creativity’, Journal of Advertising Research, Vol. 24, Issue 5, pp. 9-24

Personal Trainers n.d., ‘Ladder climbing’, Personal Trainers websites, viewed 03 September 2012, <;

Sullivan, L 1998, Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This! A Guide to Creating Great Ads, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons


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2 thoughts on “Compromising on creativity in the creative industry: A dilemma

  1. What made this article so delightful to read is that you have taken the idea of monetary based ‘negotiation’ into a totally new perspective. Creative freedom does come with a cost, and you have managed to extract some very insightful advices from Goon to help answer your dilemma.

    As a postscript though… I am not quite clear as to the stand you’ve decided to take… so you believe there are two options right? Compromise creativity when your agency needs the work, and do not compromise when you feel strongly about your ideas. Is that correct?

    Great narrative flow, easy to read, good weaving of academic sources, interview quotes and your personal view. Despite the limitations of the blog template you have also managed to come up with some interesting layout. Thanks for the contribution! ~Mel C


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