CIM Marketing Podcast - Episode 27: Mastering the craft of creativity

CIM Marketing Podcast - Episode 27: Mastering the craft of creativity

Inside marketing’s creative process

This podcast will:

  • Explore why risk is key to great creative
  • Ask whether companies are over-managing the creative process
  • Identify misalignments between creativity and strategy

This podcast also contains exclusive interview clips from Susan O'Brien, CMO at Just Eat, and Dino Myers-Lamptey, co-chair of The Alliance of Independent Agencies. 

Podcast transcript

Ally Cook 00:02

The contents and views expressed by individuals in this podcast are not necessarily those of the companies for which they work. Due to the Coronavirus lockdown, The CIM Podcast is currently being recorded via web conferencing. We apologise for any issues with the audio.

Ben Walker 00:17

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the CIM Podcast. And today we're talking about this ethereal thing called creativity. And they're are few more creative than the editor of Catalyst herself, Morag Cuddeford-Jones, who'll be known to many of you. Morag, welcome to you, good to have you back on the show.

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 00:35

Thank you, Ben. Nice to be back.

Ben Walker 00:37

What is creativity? It's this thing we talk about in this industry an awful lot, isn't it? Is it? Is it something tangible? is something we can actually get our hands on? And measure and manage? Or is it something a bit different to that?

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 00:51

I think you're right with the word "ethereal", or I think it's it's very hard to pin down exactly what it is. I don't think it is a thing for a start. It encompasses a whole bunch of stuff. But I think if you wanted its essence, I'd say creativity is what excites people. So that could be what a lot of us think creativity is in marketing terms, which is an advert that really piques your interest or gets you going, or makes you smile, makes you cry, makes you angry even. But Creativity to me... so for example, I'm a writer.

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 01:27

Yeah, some might laugh at that. But that's generally the profession. And I can get excited by a creative use of a word in a tweet. You know, something like that, to me is creativity. It makes me honk like a loon out loud. When I read it, I can't physically resist, you know, hooting or going "My God, that's a brilliant turn of phrase, I wish I'd come up with that turn of phrase". So that's something, that's something that excites me, it's something that creates this involuntary response of "That's just great".

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 02:00

Creativity is in food. You know, everyone can eat a croissant but a croissant all is not just a croissant the croissant, a beautifully executed, creatively made, creatively presented croissant, is a whole different experience to one packaged in plastic from the supermarket. I think that's the difference Creativity makes. It's flour, it's egg, it's laminated, and it's shaped like crescent. But the creative element is that the plus that you get out of it, it's what excites you about engaging with it, if you're going to engage with a croissant.

Ben Walker 02:32

You've got this article in the new edition of Catalyst Magazine, which I do recommend to our audience. I read it, and I came away a little bit worried, a little bit depressed, because it seemed to me that this most important thing, this thing that gives us the buzz that gives us the excitement, that is so important to marketers in the marketing industry, and to our audience, is being a little bit over-managed. And by that, being a bit of suppressed. Is that fair?

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 03:04

I think it's fair to say that it's, it's being suppressed in certain quarters. Sometimes, intentionally, because back to that ethereal thing, it's hard to pin down the slippery sucker. But also, I mean, it's being championed as well. And it's being fought for. I got the impression I wouldn't say I was depressed. This was a roundtable article where we got a whole bunch of senior executives together, from CMOs to agency leaders, together to talk this through. To talk about where are they was their creativity, suffering was it being squashed by the higher ups or by other business priorities.

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 03:45

And they agreed that they, they had to fight for it, and they wanted to fight for it. They acknowledged that it was hugely important. But it also raised a lot of the reasons why it is a struggle, and it's a fight. Because it's hard to measure. It's often hard to explain. It's hard to pin down, it's hard to find time for it. And it's hard to define how you go about putting it on your to do list. What are you going to have in the morning, going to get in and you're going to go "Right, we need the SEO metrics, we need to have the latest reports on our PPC. And then between 11 and 12. We're going to do us some creative."

Ben Walker 04:28

Well exactly. Is it, It's a bit like when though, you say 'the more you tighten your grip, the more it slips through your fingers'. I sometimes think it's something that just happens, isn't it? Creativity is not something that you can manage in that way. And in fact, when you try to manage it, maybe, do you think has the opposite effect?

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 04:45

It's interesting. Susan O'Brien, who is the CMO of Just Eat, tried to elucidate exactly this problem. She told us that she was very precise about how she and her organisation go about Creativity and that's clearly paying off. I probably don't need to start singing it in my most terrible tone of voice. But I think everybody now knows the Just Eat jingles from the earliest, you know, chicken tikka masala ones to the now famous Snoop Dogg versions.

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 05:15

They have really honed creativity, you know, you can just automatically see and feel and even taste the Just Eat brand through their creativity. And that is scientifically approached, you know, she's discussed with us, how much, how hard and how much time she spends going into the brief. But then she also said that COVID had stuck a spanner in the works, because it took away those moments of serendipity.

Ben Walker 05:46

Let's have a listen to that exclusive clip from Susan O'Brien at Just Eat:

Susan O'Brien 05:52

I'm one of those ones that spend ages writing a brief. And I'm so glad that it's not just kind of, you know, not just me that is taking time crafting briefs that take, I don't want to say months, but sometimes it can be months to get that brief right before you go, "Right. That's it". And it's always, you know, based on insight - it has to be - and what consumers are talking about, and going around the business and kind of going "What do you think?".

Susan O'Brien 06:18

And I really miss that actually, now that we're in COVID, that you can't have those corridor-type conversations, everything's got to be formalised, and you almost feel like you've you've got to have the answer. Because you're going into a meeting on Zoom or Hangout, where you missing that collaboration, even with your own teams and, you know, other stakeholders around the business before you even get into the conversation with with the agencies.

Ben Walker 06:42

It's quite interesting, isn't it, that she's saying the implicit formalisation that Zoom or Hangout meetings make means that you always have to have the answers there. And then and there's just not enough time for that iteration and throwing stuff up in the air. That really is a challenge, I think, for the industry. And how do you suggest we get over that?

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 07:02

It is a really difficult one, and I'm not entirely sure we can, until we can meet again in person. I think we can have a pretty good crack at it. And I think the losses from it from, from a lay-man or from a consumer's perspective, will be small to vanishing to not at all seen. But I think it will be felt by creatives that they are working doubly hard. And in a not, 'in a suboptimal' was a phrase I've heard a lot of recently, in a suboptimal way to get that creative out.

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 07:39

The process would be perhaps easier, more intuitive. It's that mixture of Arts and Science isn't it, the serendipity and the formalisation. So you can sciencify something to death. But there's always that moment of little spark of genius of coincidence that just adds that je ne sais quoi. If you want to look at it, a real scientific example, look at what happened with the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.

Ben Walker 08:07

Oh, yeah?

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 08:09

So it was a moment of serendipity that they accidentally gave half the dose to a small cohort.

Ben Walker 08:18


Morag Cuddeford-Jones 08:19

And discovered through a moment of serendipity this was not scientific planning. And people think that science means everything's planned. My husband's a scientist, I can tell you it very much is not. That the discovery by accident rather than by design, created a better product. It didn't create one that didn't work before. But it has revealed something new and we all need that little Revelation, the cherry on on the icing, as it were

Ben Walker 08:47

Even before COVID, though, I won't dwell too much on COVID because it does create limitations on our creativity. I think everybody accepts that. But I took from the piece from the article that even before we hit COVID, there was all, already too much over formalisation of creativity. There's this word or this compound verb in there, which is this over intellectualising activity, which goes back to proving ordering value which as marketers, we will know all about, and then actually to quantify it to boardroom and prove value and to over intellectualise it in that way. Is having, in some marketers view, the reverse effect.

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 09:34

I think so. I mean, it's it's trying to... during the conversation we heard a lot of when they were try, talking about trying to find the right idea and align it to all the business pressures. You know, we're about to spend a lot of money on a creative execution, whether that's an ad, whether that's a digital site, whether that's an event or a virtual event. These are all creative things and they all require investment: time, money, resources. And they want to know that they'll work. And the more 'creative' in inverted commas it is, the harder that is to prove before the fact.

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 10:11

And so of course, the more you try and make it provable, the blander it becomes because by definition, then it must become something that's a reflection of something that's gone before.

Ben Walker 10:23


Morag Cuddeford-Jones 10:23

And Dino Myers-Lamptey was very keen on saying, you know, you've got to be braver. Creativity requires bravery. It requires the 'out there' idea. Because if the idea isn't out there, it's been done before.

Ben Walker 10:39

Let's have a listen to another exclusive excerpt from that roundtable, this time from Dino Myers-Lamptey at The Barber Shop:

Dino Myers-Lamptey 10:48

You know, I think there's a traditional agency problem. So I don't think that, you know, I think I think clients are, you know, kind of outsourcing creativity to, to big agencies that say they've got it, and they've got the magic potion in buckets in the office. And I don't think a lot of them have got the process, or the people, or the culture, to produce truly creative, standout work.

Dino Myers-Lamptey 11:10

You know, I think that there's a detachment between strategy and creative a lot of the time. That means that strategy, a lot of the time, is backward-engineered into the solution and the best idea on the table, determined by that creative director. Rather than it answering the actual strategy and the brief in the problem at hand. And also, it's got to be deliberate creativity that is not just to win awards, but is to, you know, to solve problems and, and answer the brief and I think that's, that's a classic problem.

Ben Walker 11:41

The thing that really struck me in that was that he said that, when there is a really zingy creative idea, what actually happens is that suddenly the strategy is reverse-engineered to fit the idea rather than the idea meeting the strategy. And I've wondered if there's a problem with that at all. I mean, if something's really creative, and it excites, and it entertains, and it compels people to buy your product, why not let that lead the strategy?

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 12:08

Well, it's funny, isn't it? Because it goes back to the idea of, creative can excite you, but is it serving the purpose? So it's really interesting. I was, I've been following Burger King for some time. Because well, most of

Ben Walker 12:27

Do you eat Burger King, or you

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 12:29

Oh I love Burger King. I love I love all fast food equally. I've been following its marketing for

Ben Walker 12:36

Other brands are available of course

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 12:38

Yeah other brands are available, we're not the BBC so it's ok. But yes, I've been following, I've been following their marketing for a while, because Fernando Machado the global CMO for a start is incredibly vocal on marketing and creativity. And Burger King does all sorts of different executions, whether it's fantastic ads, or being incredibly cheeky to its competitors. McDonald's, you know, it's done AR things where you can hold your phone up and set fire to a McDonald's ad with a flame flame grilled Burger King. You know, they spend a lot of time and energy, taking the mickey out of McDonald's and basically trying to subvert all the McDonald's ads.

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 13:22

But, so they put a very great store on exciting, engaging, attention-grabbing, creative. But they're still the number two burger brand.

Ben Walker 13:34


Morag Cuddeford-Jones 13:36

So creativity that grabs everyone's attention. You know, we've all been in that room, where they've seen, you've seen something fantastic. It's either a great piece of art or a fantastically rousing piece of music, a fantastic turn of phrase, and gone. That's it, that's great. But at that point, have you thought will that do what we want it to do? And so I think that's what Dino is saying is that the problem is you can have great creativity that excites. And this is where I've got to stick up a bit for the, for the business and for the strategy. And say, creative ideas, excite, but they do also have to do the job.

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 14:15

And when you're reverse-engineering something to fit creative. It's not because you've suddenly chanced upon the best idea in the room, and all your problems are solved. I take from that, that they've been struggling to find the best idea in the room. And they find a great idea. And they're so desperate to have a great idea doesn't matter if it doesn't fit.

Ben Walker 14:38

That's interesting, isn't it? I mean, is that, just that come back to this issue, that sort of there's a there's this passage in the in the article about this sort of, doesn't use this term, but it talked to me about the siloing of creativity is that actually, there are a named bunch of people whose job it is to be creative. You are of course one of said people Morag, whose job it is to be creative and the creativity rests with them, which means that the other people who are very, very important in the marketing process - the strategists and the finance people and the business guys, and so on and so forth - are some people who creativity is done to. If we could have a more holistic, collaborative creative process, where everybody was part of the process from the off and creative ideas could come from all parts of the business, would we end up with better products?

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 15:32

Well, I think this is, this is certainly what each and every one of the attendees of that roundtable was saying at one point, or the other is that collaboration is vital. And that in a lot of companies, the culture is not there to foster that collaboration, because as you rightly pointed out: creativity is seen as the marketing department's job or even worse, still, the advertising or communications department within the marketing departments job. And I mean, Susan talked about that bumping into people in the corridor: she's not talking about bumping into other people from the marketing department, talking about bumping into somebody from operations, perhaps, and they've seen the first bit of the ad and perhaps gone "Oh, but you know, I'm a working mum, that would be completely irrelevant to me".

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 16:19

These are insights that you're not going to get from somebody who's all sitting around a table, eating biscuits, and drinking soy milk lattes. Not that I've got anything against the soya milk latte. But if you're in the bubble, you're only going to get the ideas that are relevant to the people in that bubble. And you're only going to churn out the same stuff over and over again. And it's important to know where the business is going. It's important to know what the people within that business think. And it's important to know what their priorities are. Remember, marketing can't go around writing checks, the rest of the business can't cash.

Ben Walker 16:54


Morag Cuddeford-Jones 16:55

So you know, if you're, if you're over promising something, or stating that the business is one thing, when half of the company is pulling in the opposite direction, creativity isn't worth a damn, then. The collaboration is absolutely key and they've got to have a culture of collaboration, and Dino in particular. And Will also from Snap. We're both huge advocates of the fact that it's got to be collaborative internally, you've got to collaborate with your agencies. Dino also said there that too many people try and buy it in, they go out to the agencies thinking they're buying the buckets of creativity, magic potion.

Ben Walker 17:33


Morag Cuddeford-Jones 17:33

And that doesn't work.

Ben Walker 17:35

Well, that's counter collaborative, isn't it? If you go out and buy creativity, you know, you have to work as a partnership. But my concern is that when that partnership breaks down, and the whole thing ends up just becoming transactional, instead of collaborative, then all that happens is that the importance of creativity is suppressed. That people think well, actually, we can start creativity is a bit of a pain, it doesn't always work for us, it becomes less important. In fact, the agencies and marketers can concentrate purely on churning stuff out through social, you know, hammering large volumes of digital, and actually, we will, will put less investment and less time and less importance on creativity itself,

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 18:17

it goes back to the culture idea doesn't it. If you're going to outsource something, it's not important to you. Right? This is simply how I feel. If you're, if you're going to outsource the whole thing. It's one thing to buy in experience, expertise and assistance. It's another thing to hand it over. Now, it could be important to you but it's too difficult. But then you can argue, if it's that important to you, it shouldn't be too difficult, you should be blooming well figuring out how to make it less difficult. Agencies are there to learn lend their expertise to lend volume of people where you don't have people to learn new voices where you need new voices. But I think the the impression I got from that roundtable is as partners, they're there to help you forward your business, they're not there to supplement it

Ben Walker 19:10

They're definitely part of the team.. become part of your team, aren't they, rather than to be sort of arm's length operation that you send a brief to and then pick up you know, weeks or months later and deliver. They have to be used as an integral part of your creative team, your creative process, if they're to be used correctly, is that right?

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 19:29

Exactly. And I think one of the important points that was made about the agency relationship is that they also need to understand, and to an extent love, your business. Because for the time they are working on your your project or your your creative or your brand over a long period of time. Remember there are long standing agency relationships, that they become part of your business and passion. Even for a toothbrush or a piece of or a loo roll. There's still passion in there, there's still a purpose. And as an agency provider, how are they getting behind that passion and purpose to help you build that creativity, they're not doing it for the check.

Ben Walker 20:14

These two things aren't mutually exclusive, but they can be used to lighten the load. You know, there's a lot of volume. Now we're talking about a lot of volume, there's a lot of conversation in the piece about the sheer volume that marketing departments are having to deal with now, as we've moved from beautiful pieces of art, one-offs that take months to develop, and it's ideas and then one piece of absolutely perfect creative at the end to daily, hourly, minute-ly outputs. But there's also a concern in there that actually this volume is leading to a reduction in, if not quality, but a reduction in overall creativity.

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 20:53

It's interesting, it's, I'm going to circle right back to what does it mean to be creative. We're now talking about the difference, I feel, between creativity as a strategic tool. And as the foundation the secret sauce behind the brand, and creative execution. So the churning out of the volume, TikTok, I will take my teenagers as my focus group of two, you know, they're on Snap and TikTok all the time hungry, ravenous for fresh content. You know, if you haven't given me fresh content in the last day, you're irrelevant.

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 21:32

But that isn't repeating or generating brand new creative every day, that's taking the creative foundation of 'what is our brand'. So Just Eat would be Snoop, perhaps, and executing that in different ways, providing different snippets. We do have another article in Catalyst talking about the importance of TikTok and what people are expecting from it. They expect irreverence and things to be fun, they don't mind the things are borrowed, as long as those things relate to the creative heart of that brand. So you, you establish the creative heart. That's the long, the long piece of work. That's Susan O'Brien's month-long briefing process.

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 22:17

Then you hand it over to the agencies and go, this has to inform a daily 15-second Tiktok entertainment update. You take it to your social media team, who you would hope have absorbed your corporate culture and therefore understand your creative direction. And say, "imbue the way we respond to people who interact with us on Twitter, with those words with the way we talk". Which is why I'm so currently so obsessed with Yorkshire tea, and the way that they respond to everything serious and flippant. They have this very central Yorkshire tea creative backbone, whether they are standing up against racism, or suggesting you have a nice cup of tea. So, you know?

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 23:09

So I think it's it's very much that the hard yards are done in that central creative foundation of "what is our creative beating heart? What does it look like? What does it feel like?" Now, yes, the volume, there's a huge pressure with the volume. But if that creative heart is true, then to my mind, it feels like it should be easier to then say yes, let go. You agencies, you do your jobs, you manage the volume for us, you keep up with that demand. And then it should all be ticking along nicely. It's when it's when you have to be micromanaging everything because you're not convinced that creative thread is true throughout the organisation, that's when it becomes exhausting and impossible to keep up with.

Ben Walker 23:58

Which brings us back to a very old but still true piece of advice to marketers, which is with an underline under the C, 'C.O.P.E: create once, publish everywhere'. Concentrate on the C, the 'create', do it once, and then use the rest to distribute it. So it's not about having to ask for excessive levels of creative. It's about making one great idea - Snoop Dogg or Yorkshire teas or whoever it may be - and then using that creative piece, if you like, pushing it out through your through your channels. It doesn't mean that we've got high volumes, we're going to kill it, which is probably a bit more of a positive take than I took originally.

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 24:40

That's the thing. I mean, you don't want nobody wants overkill, do they? They don't want to, you know, be bombarded and that's that's a different question of marketing altogether. But it is certainly there is you're absolutely right. There's a huge demand for communication, for brands to step up, particularly in our current environment, even COVID excepted, brands are expected to be responsive, agile, clever, and creative. And if they've got already got that creative collateral within themselves, then that responsiveness is going to be faster.

Ben Walker 25:14

Yeah, yeah. So not the death of creativity, but just some warning signs Morag that we have to be aware of and deal with, correct?

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 25:22

To be able to deal with, to acknowledge that creativity is not just some mad spark of imagination as you're walking the dog around the park. It is the hard yards. It is weeks and months of work and development and understanding and collaboration. But once that has been put in, you can see the benefits in responsiveness and brand appropriateness, brand voice, customer excitement, all that good stuff.

Ben Walker 25:52

Well there you go, there's your call to arms, your call to action, Morag Cuddeford-Jones, thank you very much indeed. And to our audience, do get your copy - If you're a CIM member - of catalyst. It's fantastic, not just this piece, but there's loads of great stuff in there. And I do commend it to you. Morag, thanks for your time today. It's been great to have you on the show again.

Morag Cuddeford-Jones 26:10

Thanks very much Ben.

Ally Cook 26:13

If you've enjoyed this episode, be sure to subscribe to the CIM Marketing Podcast on your platform of choice. If you're listening on Apple podcasts, please leave us a rating and review. We'd love to hear your feedback. You can also join the conversation on Twitter at CIM_exchange where we'll keep you updated about the latest episodes. See you next time.


Ben Walker Host CIM Marketing Podcast
Morag Cuddeford-Jones Editor, Catalyst magazine CIM
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