Beyond 'Midwest nice': Creative bravery unleashed

For me, there is nothing like the initial viewing of a creative advertising campaign that our team created. I get goose bumps.

The ability of our staff to tap into core human truths and connect on a deeper level will never cease to amaze me.

A great marketing agency is one that has the ability to bring uniquely creative concepts to address a client's business problems. How that comes to life, although process-driven, can be nonlinear, sometimes a bit messy. And honestly, it is one of my favorite parts of our business. And like all key areas of healthy, growing businesses, processes like this sometimes need to be challenged and evolve.

The right process has a combination of a creative staff empowered to take risks and an account team ready to challenge them based on their knowledge of the industry and the client. Steel sharpens steel, so to speak.

Recently, I had an extended exchange on Slack with our creative director over the value and definition of "creative bravery" and how to achieve greatness in a creative capacity. We passionately discussed how true creativity must address our clients' core business challenges. Moreover, we recognized that each role in our agency must collaboratively mesh, ensuring that our solutions are not only innovative but also yield a tangible ROI. As I pondered this, there was a profound realization of how this conversation was reshaping our agency's approach to client success.

This brought me to an often-understated dynamic in our agency: the healthy tension between account managers and the creative team. Art directors and copywriters, ignited by their creative spirit, relentlessly push for disruption and innovation. On the flip side, account managers, with their finger on the pulse of client desires and organizational nuances, labor to ensure these innovative designs see the light of day, gaining both acclaim and client approval.

Balancing opposing needs within your team isn't unique to marketing. In tech, you see a similar dance between product developers and sales teams. In health care, it's the research scientists creatively pushing boundaries while regulatory affairs specialists ensure those breakthroughs adhere to industry standards. Everywhere you look, it's a harmonious interplay between the visionaries and the realists, both undeniably crucial for propelling companies forward.

Fostering an environment that encourages healthy conflict isn't easy. Push too far in one direction or the other and the work suffers. Be too harsh and it is impossible not to take things personally - and then the loudest voice in the room normally wins. Be too nice and soft work can be passed onto the client - we call this being "Midwest nice." That is why it is important to state your values and actively live into those values. For us, it is egoless collaboration, combined with an unrelenting drive for creative bravery.

Back to the digital debate with our creative director. The debate had gone deep into the nuances of "creative bravery" versus "creative excellence." Our CD proposed that great creative often, if not always, makes people uncomfortable. I countered that there are other avenues into creative solutions that may break rules but are more likely to make it through the corporate approval process and make it into the market.

Ironically, it wasn't until I was no longer in a creative role that I fully understood what part creative played in a client's decision process. Earlier in my career, while working as a designer, I believed that raw, unbridled creativity was the only true measure of success. However, as my responsibilities shifted toward strategy, a revelation dawned: The most impactful creations are those that don't just showcase brilliance but also align with the client's vision and the market's appetite.

In a landscape teeming with brands all jostling for the spotlight, it's the seamless union of creative excellence and real-world pragmatism that ensures a brand doesn't just stand out but truly shines.

• Lou Simon is the principal/founder of Simon/Myers, a marketing agency with offices in Wheaton and Chicago.

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