Creative vs. Media: Looking Beyond Two Roles

I used to work at a creative shop and, therefore, understand that creative people and media people are wired somewhat differently. However, if you’re planning digital media, it’s almost impossible to not think creatively. After all, you’re dealing with a medium where you can buy a placement that doesn’t even exist today. As one of a handful of media people that worked at this creative shop, I was often asked to simply introduce myself as the creative director. Not only did our CEO feel that it created less confusion, but that it also described what I did more appropriately. It wasn’t that I — or he — didn’t value reach, frequency, and CPM (define). But we also cared about other things that typically were reserved for the creative folks, like if a site placement aesthetically fit our client’s message. And interestingly, I found that the “creative people” cared much more about “media issues” than I gave them credit for, often asking me if it made more sense to buy on a CPM or a CPA (define).

The line between media and creative in the digital world is a fine one. We coexist, but, in order to thrive in our positions, need to be interchangeable at times. I need to review proposals with the mindset of a creative person and ask myself, does a rich media ad make sense here? Does this placement deserve a dynamic ad that can change based on the site copy? And a creative person needs to weigh the premium to do a page takeover before recommending it to a client. They need to understand what the impact of behavioral targeting is on a consumer and, of course, to do this, they need to understand what behavioral targeting means.

For the sake of transparency, I’m a strong advocate for media and creative working for the same company and being in the same company (literally, like sitting together). I now work in a large media shop and, being separated from the creative people, and they being separated from us, definitely creates a chasm in knowledge. Misperceptions breed in situations like this, similar to the traditional versus digital battle. Each ones feels they know everything and nothing at the same time.

A few years ago, I wrote a column called “Creative Behavior,” and stated that the surefire way to know if you’re doing a decent job with behavioral targeting is by asking someone in your creative department if she knows what it is. I still believe that this is valid and I still believe that most creative people don’t know what behavioral targeting is (ok, maybe, they’ve heard of it by this time). However, media people think that the responsibility for creative people to stay up to date is on them, while creative people think it’s up to the media people to let them know what’s important. My response: we’re all responsible with understanding how we’re investing advertising dollars and how it impacts a potential customer. Therefore, we have to wear a lot of hats in our role and understand how our decisions and recommendations impact various elements of the puzzle. The Mad Men days are over — titles and responsibilities are superfluous and/or interchangeable these days.

Digital communication is still in its infancy. And the overload of data has, if anything, caused more confusion and contradiction than anything else. I have yet to see a solid creative recommendation that addresses strategies such as behavioral targeting. At best, I’ve seen it applied to awareness campaigns where it’s all about simple messaging at a high frequency. However, is this really the best use of this communication for this type of targeting? If digital advertising and behavioral targeting are more personal and relationship centered, is frequency of the same message effective? I haven’t seen evidence that this is the case in digital or in life.

My recommendation for digital media professionals: think of your role as a specialist working as a general practitioner. You will need to know how everything operates together, while being able to work within your specialty. If you’re in media, evaluate a program as if you’re the creative lead and vice versa. Ultimately, the success of a program will lie in the ability for all the people who put it together to see beyond their area of specialization.

Related reading