A blog of advertising, interviews and creative musings.

  • Matt Walker

What is creativity? Well, as a creative director, I ought to know, right? Right. Unfortunately, there’s nothing set in stone regarding the act of being creative. I’d hazard a guess that most people think of “creative types” as being artistic in some way, shape, or form. A painter. A performer. A designer, writer, photographer, editor, film/video director, and so forth and so on.

Was the final painting creative? Or did Jackson's creativity reside in discovering a new solution to a blank canvas?

Well, I disagree. That’s not to say that these individuals aren’t creative. More than likely, they have an overabundance of creative juices coursing through their veins. But the output of that creativity, the final product that so many view as the creative product, is, in fact, not a creative product at all. It’s craft. It’s years and years of honing said craft. That craft facilitates a creative desire. And that desire is always … ALWAYS … to solve a specific and nagging problem.

There you have it. Creativity is problem solving. Well, ok, that’s too homogeneous. Solving the equation 2+2 is by no means a creative endeavor. Why? That answer has already been discovered. Creativity is uncovering a solution that has never seen the light of day. Better yet, creativity is uncovering a problem that no one knew was a problem to begin with and then presenting a solution that’s equally unheard of.

"Creativity is the brain having fun." - Albert Einstein

In my line of work, both craft and creativity are fantastically important. Without impeccable craft, the work (the external expression of a creative solution) will fall flat and lifeless. It will fall on deaf ears, slip past watchful eyes, and fail to entice a single neuron. It won’t tickle the funny bone nor will it tug at the heart strings. And it will never ever inspire a modicum of action. Whatever the desired action may be.

Craft is the beautiful and painstaking work that ultimately stops people in their tracks, encourages their eyes to linger, chokes them up with a swell of emotion, and has people laughing when they least expected to be doing so. Which, by the way, is always the best time.

Creativity is the relentless pursuit of asking why. Again, and again, and again. Why? Why? Why? The more you ask, the closer you’ll get to a very real and very powerful human truth. And once uncovered, that truth will lead you to a very real solution. Something that makes a real difference – for you, your client, and most importantly for the people you seek to entice.

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Ad agencies are in a unique and inspiring position to help their clients create a culture of purpose. And in the process, deepen the meaning of the agency/client relationship.

Matt Walker | ADWEEK | August 30, 2016

A large, cross-generational majority of consumers expect companies to display a level of corporate social responsibility. Last year, Havas Worldwide’s Project: Superbrand report, which surveyed 10,131 people ages 18 and over in 28 markets around the world, revealed that 73 percent said companies have a responsibility to do more than just generate profit, while 75 percent believed companies have an ethical obligation to operate in ways that do not harm the environment. Respondents included a cross section of consumers representing millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers.

It’s clear companies have a unique opportunity to do the right thing and reap the rewards. And their ad agencies have new opportunities to deepen their meaning and importance as they assist clients down a path of purpose.

However, agencies have traditionally had little involvement in helping their clients develop corporate social responsibility programs, and that needs to change.  CSR programs are becoming an integral manifestation of a client’s brand, and building brands is what agencies do best.

Here are four ways advertisers and their agencies can refresh and refocus their CSR programs:

Put your brand at the center

Experts say CSR efforts must be aligned with overall business goals. While this is vital, equally important (if not more so) is to ensure your brand is at the nucleus of your CSR efforts. Your brand is your ethos, what you stand for. It has more to do with meaning than marketing. Bring that to life in how you decide to execute your CSR efforts for greater impact. Take Tide’s Loads of Hope program as a prime example. P&Gs commitment to restoring the lives of disaster victims takes many forms, one of which is “Loads of Hope.” Massive mobile cleaning facilities roll into towns after disasters, helping nearly 45,000 families restore a sense of normalcy and garnering tremendous media coverage along the way—all by turning a cleaning product into a support vehicle and living their brand, touching lives and improving life.

Put leadership in the spotlight

Your top executives are the most highly visible folks in your company. They appear on CNBC, speak at key conferences and talk to the press. Clearly, they will need to articulate the vision behind all CSR initiatives. More importantly, they should be directly and visibly involved. Agency folks are in the creative, strategy and media business. We’re also in the relationship-building business. So use the relationships you’ve built over the years to encourage client leadership to engage deeply in CSR efforts. While not all consumers know who the CEO of a favored company is, their employees do. And studies indicate that when leadership, specifically that of the CEO, is involved in societal issues, employee advocacy and engagement, motivation to perform, and desire to stay at the company all increase.

Empower your consumers to take action

Engaging, entertaining, inspiring and motivating consumers to take action are all part of an agency’s raison d'être. So why not help your clients by applying these same talents to their CSR efforts? Consider engaging ways not only to share CSR initiatives with consumers but to directly involve them. It could be as simple as providing consumers with a vehicle to make donations. You could empower them to make suggestions for new initiatives. Perhaps you could even send a core group of brand advocates on a charity mission with company employees and members of your client’s leadership team. Truly bring the consumer in, and then bring the experience to life.

Don’t build a program, create a culture

A CSR program will be nothing more than a program when it’s administered by a select few. Open it up to every employee, make it easy for them to participate, recognize their contributions, and something phenomenal will happen: The uplifting power of purpose will seep into every aspect of the organization. Agencies have embraced the potency of rapid collaboration and are adept at cross-pollinating ideas among departments and teams to produce more resonant and meaningful campaigns.

Agencies should encourage their clients to apply the same mentality to their CSR initiatives. Open the input, action and satisfaction of social responsibility to everyone at every level. Do that, and watch your CSR programs create a culture of purpose and prosperity.

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  • Matt Walker

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

VCU Brandcenter Friday Forum with Matt Walker

Finding comfort in the uncomfortable: A behind the scenes journey of the Adobe+FEED Make It Challenge

Brandcenter Friday Forums

Last summer, I had the opportunity to corrupt young minds at the VCU Brandcenter. In all sincerity, it is quite an honor to speak at their Friday Forums. I elected to take these brilliant young minds through the Adobe FEED MakeIt Challenge. Thought it would (A) provide insight into the client/creative relationship. The highs and lows. The back and forth. The fostering of trust. Fighting for the right work to win out. And (B) drive home the notion that, especially for creatives, we constantly have to push ourselves out of our comfort zones.

There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty is our profession. We take massive leaps from insight to creative inspiration and execution. Naturally, an element of fear can accompany that leap. For me, the more you get comfortable with doing the uncomfortable, the easier it will be to turn fear into fearlessness.

Also, my presentation totally ran long. What can I say? I like so soak up the spotlight. And I need to buy a stopwatch. Many thanks to the VCU Brandcenter for allowing me to share with their phenomenal students.

The Friday Forum Presentation

The 5 Questions

Question 1

Question 2

Question 3

Question 4

Question 5

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