How to Make a Creative Partnership Flourish

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By Matthew Pullen, Senior Art Director, RPA

Working as a creative (art director) for almost a decade, it is evident that advertising is more of a people’s game than anything else. No matter how skilled you might be, your skill is always secondary to how you relate to people.

I’ve also come to realize that a creative partnership (usually between a writer and an art director) can make or break your career, so nurturing a quality relationship is probably one of the most important things you have to do to protect it. After all, you are going to be creating (hopefully) weird, wonderful and meaningful work with this person, which will inevitably mean spending a lot of time together.

A creative partnership is similar to being in a full-time relationship. In most cases you spend more time with your creative partner than your significant other. You don’t just have to work with this person on a professional level, you must work with them on a human level as well and that comes with a range of complex emotions. There will inevitably be some ups and downs, just like any relationship.

Some things to keep in mind when entering a creative partnership:

Be fair. Treat your partner and those around you with respect and in the way you’d like to be treated.

Be truthful. Considering the amount of time you spend with your partner, it doesn’t benefit you to be any other way. Being upfront and truthful invites the feeling of trust and the ability to focus on the work.

Share and connect. Being able to share and, most important, create is an integral part of what makes us human. Having deep connections with people, especially with your partner, will allow you to share more meaningful and truthful insights, ideas and work. The importance of human connection in relation to advertising is inseparable.

Push for the work. By doing that, any relationship issues will be easier to tackle. Progress together means cohesion, and any success you have together becomes a building block for future successes.

Know when to speak up (and when not to). In a partnership, you are batting for the both of you, so make sure your partner has bought into what you have to say when you are stepping up to the plate. You are often seen in unison, and not as separate people, especially when it comes to large groups. Make sure you represent each other and the partnership fairly.

Learn to take criticism and listen. Chances are your ideas or executions aren’t perfect right out of the gate, and a little criticism goes a long way in shaping them into something better. Remove the ego and don’t be too attached.

Work outside your habits. Do things that make you uncomfortable, both alone and together. A lot of innovation happens at the edge of comfort zones or at the intersection of different fields of expertise. Seeing things from different perspectives unlocks worlds of new thoughts and angles. Experience as many different things as you can. Relationships are built around experiences, so do things inside and outside the office together. At the very least you’ll have something interesting and new to share when throwing ideas around. It makes life better and it makes relating easier.

Trust your gut. This is advertising, not accounting, so you have a duty as a team to bring the brave work and defend it together. If you are honest and truthful with yourself, each other and the idea, you have nothing to worry about when you trust your gut – just do it in a nice way.

Foster a sense of togetherness. Dividing and conquering can become far more effective if the responsibility is shared from the get-go. Solving things together leads to a cohesive relationship with shared success. This is one of the most collaborative industries out there. Including people, even if it is in the form of simple statements: from “I” to “we” encourages contribution. This creates a sense of purpose and taking on a common goal.

Trust your partner and the people around. In an industry where people are often expected to work far beyond their job description to get the job done, specialists still beat generalists. They have been employed for a specific skill set, so speak to them, and use their expertise to your advantage.

In conclusion:

It’s a people’s game, so be nice, work hard, collaborate and good things will happen.

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