Why a Creative Philosophy Can Drive Your Agency’s Work and Level of Success

Surreal book concept pages flying out of book

By Hamish McCollester, SVP, Group Creative Director, RAPP LA

There’s no shortage of directional constructs that might help position agencies for success. Each one offers a roadmap of sorts for how to best shape, challenge, inspire, and support team members to reach their fullest potential and achieve the balance necessary to produce great work. A creative philosophy in particular is, competitively speaking, one of the most important focuses for an agency. It’s not only an outlook but offers a set of flexible tenets that people might use to guide how they ultimately approach often subjective goals.


Also, a creative philosophy doesn’t simply help guide work. It puts a stake in the ground and can define what an agency stands for with clients, prospects, and even employees. One shop, for example, may become the go-to agency for irresistibly shareable content, while another will garner most (if not all) of their business for producing Super Bowl-worthy spots. Then, there will be those that use their creative chops to drive maximum engagement and help build measurably stronger customer relationships. It’s all about locking into a realistic niche.


Beyond that, a creative philosophy — when applied with intent and purpose — can define the culture of an agency. It creates a level of consistency in how things get done, serving as the sum of your formal and informal practices. It guides behaviors and creates an experience for employees and clients alike. With time, it can help bring a new level of desirable notoriety to your agency, supporting everything from business growth to talent acquisition efforts.


The Long-Held Discipline for Market Response


A creative philosophy isn’t new — far from it. It’s been a core discipline for creatives to elicit the desired market response for decades. In his classic book, “Ogilvy on Advertising,” David Ogilvy spells out a litany of commandments that cover everything from selling to strategic insights and research. Taken as a whole, the book forms a complete philosophy on what advertising creative is and what it should do. It’s still a must-read in the industry.


Charles and Maurice Saatchi (of Saatchi & Saatchi) were also led by a creative philosophy, just in a different way. While the two were initially all about the work and on a trajectory to establish a “creatives-only” agency, they were smart enough to know that they needed to sell the work, as well as create it. So, they helped their creatives think like salespeople, too. Now, the agency has 152 offices worldwide and counts many of the biggest brands as its clients.


Deutsch NY, formerly Deutsch Inc., famously trademarked its creative philosophy, “Human Spoken Here.” With those three words, the agency defined what kind of work it wanted to do and made it clear to clients what its work would feel like.


For all these businesses and many others, a creative philosophy was their foundation for success. It helped shape their cultures and informed the conversations about their agencies in the greater marketplace. And one could argue, without a creative philosophy, people may not have ever heard about these agencies.


Building a Creative Philosophy from the Ground Up


For our agency, we worked hard to build a creative philosophy that establishes a set of guideposts to help clearly guide the work we create. Think of it as a measurable, relatively objective scorecard that we can always turn to. By striving to create work that is singular, modular, actionable, relevant, and truthful (or what we term SMART), the bar is set for our team in what we’re trying to do for clients.


It can be difficult to maintain, but in some ways, that’s what makes it an inspiring philosophy. In practice, it’s defined by constantly asking ourselves five questions throughout the creative development process:


• Is it an exceptional idea?

• Can it be used and come to life across an ecosystem?

• Does it inspire people to do something, to take a measurable action?

• Does it resonate with them and meet them where they are in that moment?

• Is it sincere and believable, rather than “empty marketing?”


It’s not easy to be able to check each box on every project, but that’s what helps drive progressively better work.


A word of warning, however, for those looking to integrate a creative philosophy into an agency: It will be worthless if only respected or practiced by the creative department. The entire agency needs to be on board with the philosophy. All team members need to know it and respect what the philosophy can do for operations as a whole. Hopefully, they’ll be inspired by it and know how each individual can help contribute to its realization — no matter their position in the organization.

If you choose to go through the exercise of forming a creative philosophy, it pays to remember that the principles set must align with the agency itself. The last thing you need is to turn your entire business on its head. But as the philosophy takes shape and ingrains itself into the core of your organization, the drive felt throughout the team can help ensure even greater success.

About the Author

Hamish McCollester, SVP, Group Creative Director, RAPP LA, is best known for solving creative problems… and creatively solving problems.