Appropriate creativity. It’s a phrase I use a lot in my role as an Executive Creative Director.

It first came about when I kept hearing colleagues and clients who were pushing for ‘radical creativity’ or ‘cutting edge creativity’. These are easy terms to use, but I began to wonder what they actually meant, and it soon became obvious to me that they meant very different things to different people.

I’ve realised through experience that the same idea presented to two different clients would be greeted with wildly different reactions. One might find it exciting, scary, radical, whilst another might find it just a bit predictable and clichéd.

The point is that every client has their own perspective based on their brand positioning, their experience and their history, and that’s without getting into the relative seniority and experience of the individual client handling the pitch.

Our role as creative practitioners is to discover the appropriate level for each individual, and that’s why ‘Inquisitive’ is one of our brand values. Choosing a level of creativity in isolation leads to frustration and lost pitches, whereas time spent digging a little deeper, asking the right questions, doing the research and listening carefully to what is said and not said will result in a level of insight and understanding that enables us to pitch our creativity at just the right level.

It’s also important to remember that creativity is a way of thinking that can be applied to all aspects of a brief, and that the small idea is often as important as the big one.  I once won a pitch with the simplest of ideas – the brief was for a small gathering of customers who the client described as ‘partners’, and yet there was en expectation that there would be a stage, a set, and rows of chairs for the audience. My response was to suggest getting rid of the set entirely, and seating the clients and their customers around a large table, talking with them as partners rather than at them as customers.

A very simple idea based on listening to what they actually needed, as opposed to what they said they wanted, that resulted in a long-term relationship based on mutual trust and respect.

Given the opportunity to show that we ask questions for a reason, and that we listen carefully to the answers, the result can be work that goes beyond the expected. This in turn generates a degree of trust and loyalty that has immense value.

A colleague of mine once described the creative process as being like a game of catch with your client, in which you throw them the ball, but you deliberately throw it just a little bit short, so that they have to take a step forward to catch it. You then hope that they will throw it back and that the game will continue, with each player challenging the other to take another step forward. He then went on to describe a colleague who hadn’t grasped the concept of appropriate creativity as being one who turns away from the client and throws the ball in the opposite direction – fun for the creative, but not so rewarding for the client!

I believe that investing the time to understand more about our clients builds a stronger relationship based on trust and mutual respect. It helps us to focus on an appropriate level of creativity, and, ultimately, a longer game of ‘catch’.