Tuesday 2¢ – Get a Creative Buddy

In this weeks Tuesday 2 cents, it’s not so much of rant as I share some great advice that was given to me, as a marketing creative; to do your best work, you need a buddy, a creative foil or sparring partner.

A CEO, my boss, once suggested to me that I hire a creative agency, not because he didn’t like my ideas, but he thought I needed someone creative to talk to, a foil or a buddy.

He was right, the refreshing perspective of a creative outsider changed my game. And today, I find myself on the other side of the creative buddy system, as I am working working closely with clients, supporting their marketing leaders launch their creative ideas. Why does this work and how does having a creative buddy help?

You get institutionalized

One thing I always take into a new CMO/VP gig, is to draw on my experience as an industry analyst / consultant and apply an “outside-in” approach to the first 90 days. However it is incredibly hard to maintain that beyond the first 6 weeks, as you move beyond discovery and planning, you become part of the fabric of the organization.

As a marketing leader you have to be evangelist-in-chief for this organization and that requires you to wrap yourself in a cloak of the culture, habits, processes, approach and personality of this new tribe and, of course, this “outside-in” view begins to fade.

This is a positive experience, however there is always a bit of “we’ve always done it this way”, habits that get adopted, perspectives that don’t get challenged and your external sparring partner will help call that out.

You are too close to the solution

Of course we would all love to take to market a unique and differentiated solution that solves an existing problem, but, as a B2B marketer, you are often looking for a market to an existing solution, or to expand within the market or define the precise category you are in.

This is especially true when working with bright folks in a tech company where often the idea comes first, then let’s figure out who might find this useful afterwards.

Again, a broader, outsiders perspective, from someone with a view across your category and market helps, to broaden the horizon on what the solution could do and maybe call bullshit on the bad idea that CMO’s of fortune 500 companies must LOVE this.

You lack headspace

This is just a fact of being a grown up an executive.

The meetings, the operational stuff you need to take care of, the people you need to recruit, the team you need to mentor, the agency contracts to manage, the reports you need to provide (etc etc) all chip away at your time to nurture a creative idea.

Your creative sparring partner, on the other hand, will have one job; to focus on the idea, research it, grow it and test it. Then once it’s a bit more formed, you can focus on refining, knocking the edges off you don’t like in a creative collaboration.

You need to be bold

It’s hard to be bold alone, even the most single minded superhero needs a buddy (sometimes more than one if you an Avenger).

Over on my company blog, I argued that as a B2B marketer you need to feel the fear and be different anyway there is no commercial advantage to being like everyone else.

Your empathy with the internal friction, the immune system that is trying to suppress ideas, could restrict your creativity. Everyone in the business is going to be very happy with a small iteration of the message, a website that is slightly fresher, but is all reassuringly familiar – a project that’s shiny new, but still painted in your fathers magnolia emulsion. But you know this is not going to be good enough in the longer term.

The boldest ideas will come from sparring with your creative buddy, outside this internal goldfish bowl, they live “out of the box” and can help you dial it up.

You will meet resistance

I like the expression “organization immune system” to describe what you will run into when you try and bring change to the way things have always been done. This immune system is often deep rooted and the conversations can be emotional on both sides.

Your creative buddy, with their lack of emotional attachment and an “outside-in” view can keep things level. Both supporting you in the those moments that the resistance becomes hard with a reminder of the intended outcomes, but also provide a view across both sides, with experience and research that will help you overcome the resistance.

You know that moment when a consultant says something and someone internal says “I’ve been saying that for years” – THAT! Sometimes it takes an outsider to become a lightening rod for a change many people could see needed to happen.

You will need specific skills and experience

Choosing the right creative collaborator is key here, so before choosing a partner, be really clear about where the gaps are in your team and what you want to get from the relationship.

Using me as an example, today folks work with me because of my decades B2B software experience, creating the strategy, words and teams. I am not the right guy to suggest the right shade of pink for their branding or font to use – although I will have an opinion. (For that kind of thing, my creative buddies are the lovely fellas at Douglass/Day).

A buddy, not a boss..

While I feel strongly abut creative collaboration, it’s important that external agencies need to be seen as collaborators and part of the team, used for for scale and skills, not for marketers to be outsourcing their creative brains. You are a marketer, not just a contract manager, budget holder and project plate spinner – creative leadership needs to be in-house – you need a creative buddy, not a creative boss.

So, go get a buddy…

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