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Give Creative Personalities a Chance

  |  May 26, 2004   |  Comments

How to find, nurture, work with, and retain top creative talent.

The other day, I heard a TV network executive discuss the content of his network's fall line-up. I'll reserve judgment on the programs that made the cut, but in introducing the new schedule, the executive said something intriguing.

He said the first step in ensuring good content is to establish a relationship with what he calls "the creative community." He's right, of course. The best content always comes from creative souls. We've always known this when creating Web content. The problem is sometimes, we veer from what we instinctively know.

Consider your Web site. Where do you go when you need to fill it with content? Are you more inclined to take a chance with a few creative types or with packaged content providers who are efficient and quick and who, unfortunately, consider you no different from their other clients?

So if you want real creativity, where do you turn?

According to Richard Florida, author of "The Rise of the Creative Class," creative types prefer San Francisco, San Diego, and Austin, TX. The author ranked America's major cities by number of creative workers, innovation, diversity, and several other factors. At the bottom of his list are Las Vegas, Norfolk, VA, and Memphis, TN.

More important than city rankings (especially if you're in Memphis) are the author's observations on identifying creative individuals. He contends they're not always the obvious picks, such as artists and poets. Instead, they're free-thinkers who "acquire their own arcane bodies of knowledge and develop their own unique ways of doing the job." A creative type could be the secretary who organizes the office in a new -- and brilliant -- manner. It may be the manager who organizes the most outrageous team-building activities. Creativity is often found where you don't really expect it.

I couldn't agree more. I'm often asked about finding the best writers. That's a tough one because good, even passable, writing is only part of the package. You also want team members who can give your communications that hard-to-find "Why didn't I think of that?" creative sparkle. I've known legions of writers who are technically proficient but conceptually void (yes, and some even live in San Francisco!). Unfortunately, we don't often recognize the creatively stilted until they're days or weeks on the job.

My insights into tapping into the truly creative among us:

  • Consider creative teams. Some of us love to take a creative thought and pound out copy on the computer keyboard. Others get their jollies conceptualizing but can't abide committing it to text. And of course, the graphically inclined find words completely ineffective.

  • Creativity often resides under your nose. It's perfectly acceptable to outsource creative thinking to advertising agencies or freelancers. (I prefer freelancers. They're usually less encumbered by billable hours and other large agency trappings.) Most often there are creative people inside your organization.

    Take a cue from Taco Bell's public relations department. It has a "buzz team" composed of several organization members who are knowledgeable of all things topical (several years ago, a buzz team conceptualized offering free tacos for everyone if pieces of the Mir spacecraft landed on a raft in the Pacific). Together, they devise their latest, and most creative, public relations activities.

  • Don't stereotype creativity. Creative people aren't necessarily young, gay, or attired in black from head to toe. I recognize this isn't exactly a news flash, but often an older person is pegged as "unhip" and therefore incapable of creative thought.

Also important for manager-types is the art of cultivating and retaining good creative people. Some good general rules of thumb:

  • Creative work requires time. Impossible deadlines often yield impossibly stunted work. Give your creatives some time to ruminate the matter. Even if the work is completed moments before the deadline, chances are your creative team has spent considerable time thinking about the job long before it's completed.

  • Creative people are their own worst critics. Don't be surprised if your creative team submits something, then asks for it back so it can be tweaked one more time. Many creative people are only satisfied with their work if it meets their own high standards and vision.

  • Creative people bend the rules. Yes, managing creatives often tests an administrator's patience. However, if you enforce a 9-to-5 attitude on creative people, you risk getting a 9-to-5 product in return.

Finding and working with creative people takes time and energy. Yet, creativity is what sparks the world's great art, inventions, and theories. It makes for some pretty amazing Web content, too.

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Susan Solomon

Susan Solomon is the executive director of marketing and public relations for Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital health system in Southern California. In this capacity, she manages promotional activities for both traditional and new media. Susan is also a marketing communications instructor at the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California, Los Angeles.

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