Creativity versus craft: what you need to know

We love creativity. We cherish creativity. Ask us about what we do and chances are we will tell you about all the creative things we do. Ask anybody who wants to get into communications what excites them, and chances are they will say creativity. What we don’t mention so much is craft. Creativity is the big showy cousin to craft, it gets all the glory and all the attention, but the fact is that we need them both everyday. If anybody tells you that one is more important than the other, don’t believe them!

There’s no battle between creativity and craft, there should be no need to fight the corner of one or the other. Instead we should all be making a case for the convergence (we like our ‘c’ words) of the two.

Why isn’t creativity superior? Not every communications tactic an organisation uses needs to have people stop dead in amazement at its ingenuity. There are tried, tested and trusted communications tricks just as there are well-trodden paths in every industry, and organisations need the knowledge and expertise to work out which strategy will unlock results in any given scenario.

What about craft? Why then doesn’t that come out on top? Well the well worked idea, with small steps, marginal gains, perfect choreography is all well and good but there are times when you need your comms team to come up with the show-stopper of the idea, the creative whizz-bang that will blow the minds of your target audience. Whether your need is to surprise your audience, delight them, or articulate something perfectly for the first time, a creative idea can really deliver.

So of course there are situations where one push or the other is dominant. But the reality is, no matter whether you have a creative campaign, or a finely crafted, highly strategic campaign, on your hands, you should end up with a refined balance of the two skill sets.
Think of it like architecture (and let’s face it communications is about building things), and visualise your favourite building. Many of the most fabulous, exciting buildings started with a grand creative vision, but craftsmanship got them built. Others, like eco-houses, start with a goal and a function in mind, but creativity comes into play to give the functional a bit of a soul. Buildings that don’t have a combination and a balance of both either fall down, or fall flat. And you don’t want your campaign to do either.

So how do you bring creative flair into a traditional idea? There should always be a time during idea development when you think about whether you need to ‘disrupt’ it a little. More often than not you won’t end up disrupting but instead ‘layering’ your tactic with creative touches. Not so important in the old days pre-social maybe, but now you need depth and longevity with message penetration, so bring your creativity to task there.

And what of craft when you are dealing with a big creative idea? In the ideation phase your communications team needs freedom to explore, ‘no idea is a bad idea’, ‘don’t throw out the meerkat’ and all that. But in reality, no communications team worth their salt is going to leave the brainstorm room without the silent checks and balances on the craziest ideas put forward, ‘it’s not 100% on strategy’, ‘it could pay off big time but it could backfire’ etc. Nobody needs a creative team that falls in love with its’ own concept and can’t accept it’s missing the mark. And it’s the same for the winning idea, the crafting kicks in early and that includes a willingness to test and tweak until its right. This is where you need patience, a painstaking approach to detail, an alertness to nuance, commitment to task, tenacity, flexibility and adaptability.
And what about the people? Many believe that not everyone is a natural creative, or a natural crafter. Of course people have their strengths and their preferences, but that’s where a balanced team comes in. You need that mix of people and perspectives to guard against misguided follies and wonky foundations.

In a nutshell, creative inspiration is no good without application and care, and crafted meticulousness is not much cop without a little soul. So channel your inner Sir Christopher Wren or Norman Foster or whoever floats your boat, and design and build campaigns on the foundations of happy harmony between the two.