How to be a Great Client—Part 3: Creative Literacy

We’d like to introduce a new term into business vernacular: Creative Literacy. It’s a term whose time has come, as it represents an idea that affects every advertiser and agency on the planet. Without creative literacy, one cannot reliably produce good work. Without it, one can neither be a great client nor a great agency.

What is Creative Literacy? We define it as being composed primarily of 4 things:

1) Knowing how to brief well

2) Knowing enough about the creative process to not get in the way of it

3) Knowing how to recognize good creative when you see it

4) Knowing how to successfully fight for good work, and get it approved

We’ve written the above deliberately to apply equally well to an agency account team as it would to a client. Which reveals a key insight: that the skills for being a great client and those that pertain to being a great account person—are strikingly parallel.

I have always been surrounded by creative people, since childhood. My parents were friends with numerous painters and musicians. I worked in the performing arts as a kid. I worked on student magazines in school, ran arts organizations and theatre companies after I graduated —all before entering into advertising, which itself is filled with creative people of all stripes. And yet I’m still learning more about the creative process and how to choose the great ideas from the good ones and completely bad ones.

I can say, with certitude, that every one of us could do better when it comes to enhancing our Creative Literacy Quotient. Let’s refer to it as our “CQ”. We could get our heads out of our daily work more often and look at art, journalism, and the work of other agencies and regions of the world, to inform and inspire us. We could look at creative work and creativity with more attention and a more ruthless lens when it comes to insight and underlying strategy. And we could actively develop a creative vocabulary by speaking with illustrators, photographers, writers, directors, editors, artists, inventors, and innovators of all kinds.

Ideas that move the human heart do not come from algorithms and computing machines. They come from humans with active imaginations. So as clients, and as agencies, how are we to properly judge the work of creative people when we’re not attending to our own creativity?

In future posts, we’ll go through the four dimensions of Creative Literacy one by one. And in the process, perhaps our collective CQ, including my own, will palpably increase.