June 7, 2021 / CPOVs
How spending a year in client service has shaped me as a creative
Donal Gaughran, Copywriter
As I sit here at my beautiful wooden desk in my home office (bedroom) on a sunny day in Dublin city, I can’t help but think of the desk’s origins.
When I was 7 I lit a box of matches, stuck them in the microwave, slammed the door shut, and ran. I’d been watching a show called Brainiac: Science Abuse on TV where they would ‘do’ science. Science like placing sticks of dynamite in microwaves… The kitchen was obviously destroyed, completely scorched, but hey… 15 years later and I have a beautiful desk, so not a total disaster.
Like my kitchen’s pathway to becoming a desk, my pathway to becoming a creative is a rather unique one, given I spent the first year of my young career as a suit.
I had always wanted to work in a creative department, but I studied a broad business degree, so figured I wasn’t really qualified for that kind of role. After college, I managed to get my foot in the door at one of Ireland’s most creative and well respected agencies, Chemistry.
I found a home in their client service department, working with really talented, fun and sound people, and was happy doing it. I also wasn’t totally useless at it, which helps. But as the weeks and months went on, I knew I wanted to be a creative.
Connelly Partners gave me an opportunity to prove myself as a copywriter. 12 months later and I’m still doing it. I do suffer from the occasional bout of imposter syndrome, and feel about as useful as a chocolate teapot. But generally speaking, I’m doing alright.
There’s 3 things in particular I’d say I’ve learned having spent time on either side of an agency, and it’s definitely made me a slightly ‘different’ creative for it.
1. We’re on the same team
Being told your totally perfect, amazing idea that you put your heart and soul into isn’t being chosen for a campaign sucks. Having to tell someone that their idea, that they put their heart and soul into, also sucks.
There are of course situations when as a creative you’ve got to push back, but sometimes you’ve just got to move on. Having been on the client-facing side, and understanding that sometimes no matter what you say the idea is doomed. Knowing what fights to pick certainly does make tantrums a little less likely.
That’s not to say I haven’t had any (I have), but I try and make sure not to shoot the messenger in the process.
2. We ALL crave flow
Whether you’re a copywriter, an art director, an account manager, or Barry, our Finance Manager in CP Dublin, we all perform at our best when we’re in the zone.
Flow state is a “focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other; you get immediate feedback,” Csikszentmihalyi said in a 2004 TED Talk.
As an account executive, organisation was key to finding flow. I’d block off hours and do all of my billing, becoming one with my computer. As a copywriter, it’s a little different. As well-respected adman Sir John Hegarty’s book, “Creativity: There Are No Rules” has already told you, there are no rules.
I now find flow scribbling in a notebook or talking into a voice recorder, at times of pure chaotic thinking and at times of organised thinking. There is rhythm, but there is no rhyme.
Having found flow in both sides of agency life, the big takeaway for me is that flow looks, and is, very different for different roles. The sooner we recognise that we both need it, and the sooner we help each other find it, the easier our lives will be.
3. We can disagree, we can’t be disagreeable
When everyone is invested in a project and trying to make the best work possible, disagreements are inevitable. We all might have different ideas for a campaign but we can’t run them all. As an account executive I always feared giving the ‘wrong’ feedback when it was my turn to speak.
I now realise that every voice, opinion and perspective is valuable, even if it disagrees completely with the creative’s idea.
If the idea is good, it’ll be able to stand up to inspection and there will be a strong rationale for it. Pushing back should be easy. As a creative, it can feel like you and your idea are under attack when an account manager is feeding back, asking questions, and being what feels like a little too pedantic. They’re doing it for the right reasons. Trust me, and them.
I firmly believe that the ability to disagree is integral in making interesting and impactful work. Although, if you’re being disagreeable, to quote Walter White from Breaking Bad, “I am the danger”.
Just kidding, but do be pleasant… please.
While you obviously don’t need to work in client service to be a great creative, it definitely has made me a better creative than I would have been otherwise. I’m more patient than I might have been, I’m more critical with my thinking and I’m comfortable presenting to clients. I wouldn’t swap that experience for anything.
That said, I’m not sure I could raise a purchase order without bankrupting the entire company…. so probably best I stick with the writing.
And as the sun continues to shine through on me and my kitchen countertop desk on what is now a sunny summer’s evening in Dublin city, I shall bid you farewell.