How Not To and How To Think Creatively 

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By Harvey Mackay

They say you can’t teach creativity.

Maybe so, but it sure can be killed.

“It won’t work.”

“They tried something like that before, and it didn’t work.”

“The guy who thought of that before you did got canned.”

“The boss won’t like that.”

“It’s too late to try that.”

“It’s too early to try that.”

“Let someone else try that first.”

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

“It isn’t in the budget.”

“It isn’t company policy.”

“It isn’t in the standard contract.”

“That’s not my job.”

“We don’t do that here.” (Often called the “not invented here” syndrome.)

My favorite: “Not a bad idea at all! Let’s run it by legal.”

You won’t hear much of that at Fallon McElligott, the advertising outfit that was once again named Agency of the Year by Ad Age for 1995.

Creativity is the mother’s milk of advertising. Here’s what Bill Westbrook, president and creative director of Fallon McElligott, has to say about some of the ways they generate creativity at their shop.

“We’re in the communications business. We wouldn’t be very good at it if we didn’t know how to communicate with each other. We take a number of steps to accomplish that:

  1. “We always schedule meetings away from where people generally work. Why? So they’re forced to see what’s hanging on the walls outside their own area. That encourages feedback, comments, compliments, mixing with one another.
  2. “We hold quarterly meetings with the entire staff to show everyone the new work that is being done, including work in progress. At these meetings, we often have one department make a full-blown presentation on what they’re doing. We want everyone to have a handle on what’s going on throughout the shop.
  3. “Sometimes writers and art directors work in concert with designers so they have a design perspective as well as an advertising perspective. It’s very unusual in our business to do this.
  4. “If you work for an advertising agency, how can you know what they’re selling unless you’ve seen your agency try and sell it? 99.9 percent of our people had never seen a full scale presentation of an advertising pitch to a client. After we landed the McDonald’s account, we gave all of our people exactly the same presentation we gave to McDonald’s — just as though they were the voters/decision makers of the company.” (Westbrook didn’t tell me whether the agency’s employees voted to give themselves the account.)
  5. “We gave a lot of thought to what our common areas would be like. We made a full scale replica of a ‘diner,’ so that everyone would want to come to eat lunch there and goof off, take their coffee breaks, rub elbows. Too many company common areas feel like the design had been inspired by that scene in White Heat where Jimmy Cagney goes bezerko in the prison mess hall.”

Fallon has succeeded in creating an atmosphere where creativity can flourish. The agency has just launched the new $200 million “Arch Deluxe” campaign for McDonald’s. It is one of the largest marketing efforts in the history of the fast-food game.

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