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February 11, 2009
Insecurity In the Creative Department. It Happens To the Best of Us.
 
Busy time at the agency. Lots of pitches. Lots of production. Always plenty of meetings. Factor in the brutal economy and you’ve got pressure. Being both player and coach in the creative department, I feel this pressure like a barometer. Fair to say, I am an accurate measure of my department’s zeitgeist. And I’m not the only one. We are legion. Sensitivity is in a creative person’s DNA.
 
Fact is creative people are an insecure lot to begin with. I’m not ashamed to admit it. We crave validation from our peers, bosses, clients and everyone else (also known as consumers). There are so many masters to please, so little time. Then, sadly, if you’re like me (having worked obsessively to please these masters), you end up spending what little downtime you have at home in the doghouse.
 
Yikes, no wonder we covet awards! As “commercial artists,” we are forever at someone’s beck and call. And our patrons are seldom benevolent. So, we bust our butts at work while mortgaging our lives at home, in both cases craving adulation and respect that we’re likely not going to receive.
 
Am I being melodramatic?
 
That’s because insecurity and drama -toward our position in the creative department, the agency, even the world- are part of a creative person’s everyday reality.
 
We are paid to solve problems with conceptual thinking. Our most important creations are ideas. And, by habit, these ideas are subject to criticism. It’s heaped upon them and us.
 
We become insecure. From day one, before even meeting a client, we want desperately to please our new partner and boss; show him or her what we’re made of. In our twilight years, we grimly realize that our next idea may be the last. In between, we have fought tooth and nail to make a career, a portfolio and a legacy. Yet we are only as good as our last idea, or so say the voices in our head. No wonder, too, we are so defensive. You might be killing the last good idea we ever have!
 
One can be taught how to better write or render. Copy can be rewritten. There is always another typeface. But ideas are a pure measure of their creator. It’s scary putting so much weight on an intangible.
 
As a creative director, I take pride in being able to find a good idea in a mess of bad ones. That’s part of my job, though not necessarily my favorite part. (I don’t want to be the maker of messes or the guy who sorts through them. Not really.) We want our inspiration and magic divinely served. A lightning bolt from above! Yet, creation is often messy, hard work. For every brilliant bolt, there is deluge, a great deal of noise.
 
Under these conditions, it’s hard letting go of insecurities. Our egos won’t let us. Yet, we must try. This job is too much fun to be encumbered by fear. Hopefully, the first step towards letting go comes with understanding, hence this discussion. But even so, it’s like undoing knots in a wet shoelace.
 
Speaking of conditions, not since after 9/11 have we seen such trying times as we are entering now. People aren’t buying which means clients aren’t selling. Foreclosure, liquidation and layoffs are happening daily. In this harsh environment, the creative process will need to adapt in order to survive.
 
Mercifully, I know it will. Necessity is the mother of invention and “invention” is creativity. When money is tight and everyone is nervous, big ideas are all an agency has. As insecure as the creative person is, he or she is also the agency’s best hope for surviving.

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Chairman of Euro RSCG Worldwide Chicago, Steffan Postaer is responsible for its overall creative leadership and quality of the creative product. He’s received several prestigious awards, including a Kelly Award, Best of Show, Gold and Silver awards at the One Show, the Addys and a Cannes Gold Lion. Steffan has a novel about god and advertising and posts regularly on his blog, Gods of Advertising. Follow him on Twitter.

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