“You Are What You Settle For”

February 20, 2014 • 2 minute read

I was just reading an article about Janis Joplin’s final interview, recorded four days before her death. In it she addressed how hard it is to create something you really believe in. She said simply, “You are what you settle for.”

Now say what you will about Janis. She was her own person … and she was definitely her own client. But it wasn’t all about her. The audience mattered. The message mattered. She wanted to create music people would love and remember – not unlike what we do in advertising every day.

How many times do we settle in the creative process? On the client side, by approving work you wish was just a little bit better. On the agency side, by taking safer routes that don’t always lead to effective results.

As a creative director and writer, I’m up for the challenge. That’s my job, and I love it. There’s never a magic formula for success on any creative project – but I’ve come to realize the importance of five things to help everyone on the team create the best work possible.

1. Teamwork

We’re all on the same team with the same goal, so it goes without saying that everyone needs to work together and pull his or her own weight. When teamwork falls apart, the domino effect can spell trouble for the task at hand. This doesn’t have to mean someone is slacking. It could also mean someone is trying to do too much! For example, I have a nasty habit of trying to do too much – causing unnecessary friction with others who have specific roles to play on my team. It’s something I continue to work on.

2. Strategy

Who says creatives don’t like to be put in a box? We do – just make sure that box has elastic sides! Strategy is incredibly important because it’s the yardstick against which the creative product will ultimately be measured. It answers questions like: What is the objective? What is the definition of success? What is the best way to get there? At Paulsen, we work hard to define strategy on every project, so we can (a) work as efficiently as possible, and (b) help eliminate most of the subjectivity that comes with a creative execution.

3. Time

This is a tough one, because deadlines are what they are – and it’s certainly important to be efficient with creative execution as well. Just remember that the tighter a deadline gets, the easier it is to settle for a quick solution. And speed is the enemy of truly great creative work. Remember the last time you tried to make something in a few hours? It probably could have been better. That said, no timeline is ever perfect. Do what you can on this one – knowing that the more time you give your creative team, the better your ultimate creative product will be for it.

4. Trust

When trust exists within a group of people, almost everything is easier and more comfortable to achieve. If you don’t trust your team to do their jobs, or feel they don’t trust you, it’s important to look at the situation objectively and take steps to fix the situation. Obviously, this is easier said than done! Nobody likes a hard conversation. But in the long run, addressing any trust issues head on can lead to greater teamwork and thoughtful risk-taking – both essential to quality creative work.

5. Friendship

This last one might sound silly, but it’s true. Creating truly memorable work can be scary. And whom do you feel safest telling your crazy ideas too? Friends, of course. True friendship within creative teams and agency/client relationships leads to wonderful things because suddenly, no one is afraid to fail. Office politics and power trips fall aside. Big ideas get discussed and tried. Everyone is supportive and encouraging of each other. I love working at Paulsen because that’s exactly what we strive for every day.

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