Creative Teams Receive Some 'Marriage' Guidance
For their guest edited issue, JWT put two creative teams into analysis to discover what makes a team tick...
Ever wondered what makes a creative team tick? Us too. So, we engaged the help of a marriage guidance counsellor to give us psychodynamic analyses of two of our longest serving creative teams.
How does the relationship survive? How do they handle creative conflict? Do they share power? Do they argue about which side of the desk they sit?
For better or for worse, creative people in advertising team up and spend more time in each other’s company than most married couples. Long days, late nights and working weekends on pitches. Creative teams are the beating heart of our industry. Of course, creatives haven’t always worked together.
This first happened when Bill Bernbach figured two heads were better than one, so he put writers and art directors together in the same room back in the 1950s. That was in the Mad Men era, before women’s lib, equal opportunities and paternity leave. So, how does the role of creative teams hold up in 2017?
To start answering this we went straight to the source and surveyed 100 creative teams to find out what it was that drew them together. Did their marriage happen freely or was it arranged? How does the relationship survive? How do they handle creative conflict? Do they share power? Do they argue about which side of the desk they sit? And how much of their relationship is built on trust?
But this still didn’t seem enough. So we went a stage further and brought in a marriage guidance counsellor. We took one team from JWT London and one from JWT New York and put both through the full marriage guidance consultation process. First, we needed to secure the services of a professional. One who was as interested as us in demystifying the relationships behind the creative teams. Thankfully Raymond Francis, a consultant psychotherapist at The Apex Practice, London said, “I do”.
Raymond’s client list includes the odd celebrity, and unknown to us until our first meeting, a one-time account man at ad agencies Mather & Crowther and Benton & Bowles. His first task was to warn us that anything he might discover would come under doctor-patient confidentiality. And that we’d need the team’s permission to review and write about any insights unearthed. Something both our brave, guinea pig teams agreed to.
From JWT London up stepped Bill Hartley and Giles Hepworth. They met at Watford College. It was Giles who asked Bill if he’d team up. But Bill was interested in working with someone else. However, when Bill found out that someone else was already teamed up, he gave in to Giles.
Their ‘marriage’ has gone from strength to strength over 19 years. BTA, Creative Circle and Kinsale Shark awards followed. And this year they’ve produced the wonderful Ash to Art project raising £706,000 to help rebuild The Glasgow School of Art, and winning Cannes gold and bronze Lions in the process.
Bill and Giles were joined from the Big Apple by Mary Warner and Larry Silberfein. This pair started working together eight years ago. One’s from Texas. The other, New York. One loves tuna fish. The other, olives. One loves to socialise. The other prefers to nap. But there’re two things they always agree on: the prosciutto tower with melon from Cipriani New York and their work, which has taken them everywhere from Moscow to the emergency room. Their most recent project is a narrative short film called Thump based on one of Larry’s short stories. How did the sessions go? This is where Raymond takes up the story.
A psychodynamic analysis of what makes a successful creative partnership, by consultant psychotherapist, Raymond Francis
When I was first approached by J. Walter Thompson to compare and contrast the dynamics of successful creative partnerships, I was intrigued to pursue this study in relation to my conventional analytical practice of helping couples to resolve conflict either in marriage or long term relationships.
Bill adopted an ‘all or nothing’ approach; in other words, he felt that if he was not perfect in executing a piece of work then in some way he had failed.
I was eager to discover what primary psychological factors influenced long-term, healthy alliances between creative people working together in partnership, often in intense demanding situations, over long periods of time. I was also interested in discovering whether there were any negative psychological influences that might have had a detrimental effect in preventing a harmonious and creative productive output.
Bill and Giles
The first couple I assessed were Bill Hartley (copywriter) and Giles Hepworth (art director) from the JWT London office. Bill and Giles had worked together for some 19 years. Bill is single and Giles is married. In terms of thinking styles
Bill adopted an ‘all or nothing’ approach; in other words, he felt that if he was not perfect in executing a piece of work then in some way he had failed. He also recognised that he tended to be catastrophic in his thinking – occasionally blowing things out of all proportion.
The strongest personality belief they shared was that of histrionics – a pattern of excessive attention seeking emotions including a high demand for approval.
Interestingly, Giles also displayed the same cognitive characteristics as Bill, and as I explored these traits with them further, it became apparent that the baseline for this was built upon their unconscious desire to impose demands on themselves and each other. I explained that all ‘demands’ are inconsistent with reality and letting go of using critical words like ‘should’ and ‘must’ would create a healthier and less frustrating workplace dynamic for them. When I asked Bill and Giles what they felt kept them together in terms of maintaining a healthy and creative partnership, they summarised their feelings as follows:
1. Be loyal – stand and fall as a team
2. Learn to accept criticism from each other
3. Always back each other up – agree on a team position
4. Argue your point strongly
5. Find a workable compromise if you differ
6. Shared career goals are beneficial to a lasting partnership
7. Extend natural interests outside of the workplace
8. Cover paper, don’t dwell on an idea
Larry and Mary
The second creative team I interviewed was Larry Silberfein (copywriter) and Mary Warner (art director) both working in the JWT New York office. Larry (married with two children) and Mary (single) had worked together for some nine years, but had also known each other prior to forming their current creative partnership. Larry and Mary share near identical cognitive traits with Bill and Giles. They also have a tendency for ‘all or nothing’ thinking (either do it right or not at all) together with an inclination towards catastrophic thinking (blowing things out of proportion). I also discovered that both Mary and Larry leaned towards ‘personalisation’, in other words blaming themselves or taking responsibility for something that was not completely their fault.
On asking Larry and Mary what they believe helped them achieve a long-lasting workable relationship, they expressed it through a series of ‘rights’ which I have outlined as follows:
1. I have the right to come in early and leave early
2. I have the right not to feel like coming up with something knowing full well that Mary will
3. I have the right to expect Mary to drop everything should I ask her if I needed a haircut
4. I have the right for Mary to know when to lie to me because she knows this is not the time to tell me the truth, but I know eventually she will always tell me the truth
1. I have the right to come in late and stay late
2. I have the right to ask Larry to re-read his copy again when he asks me my opinion
3. I have the right to let Larry know when I am about to have an anxiety attack
4. I have the right to ask Larry if he is wearing a new shirt
5. I have the right to say ‘I like it’ and the right to say ‘I don’t like it’
During the course of the assessments, I also asked Bill and Giles and Mary and Larry to complete a personality belief questionnaire and as a result I discovered that they all shared, superficially at least, three particular personality traits.
They all had, to a degree, tendencies to be passive-aggressive, which is a type of behaviour or personality that is characterised by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation.
It became very clear to me that the fundamental basis of their successful creative partnerships were based upon: Trust, mutual respect, taking responsibility, welcoming diversity, open communication, being positive and managing boundaries.
They also shared similar obsessive-compulsive tendencies which is a common psychological condition in which a person can have obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. Interestingly, though, the strongest personality belief they shared was that of histrionics – a pattern of excessive attention seeking emotions including a high demand for approval.
Histrionic people tend to be lively, dramatic, vivacious and enthusiastic. Maybe it is these common traits that provide the fundamental framework for a positive, long-lasting, creative, dynamic partnership – something worth exploring further.
We are all naturally social creatures, we desire close friendships and positive interactions which are just as essential as food and water. It therefore follows that the better our relationships are at work, the happier and more productive we will be. But most importantly, good work relations give us freedom.
Instead of spending time and energy overcoming problems associated with negative relationships, we can instead focus on opportunities that will drive creativity. In spending time with Bill and Giles and Larry and Mary it became very clear to me that the fundamental basis of their successful creative partnerships were based upon: Trust, mutual respect, taking responsibility, welcoming diversity, open communication, being positive and managing boundaries.
Of course, as well as Raymond’s analysis, we shouldn’t forget the findings from our survey. Trust was a big issue for teams. Creative people liked working with someone who had their back. Having someone at their side who believes in everything they do as a team. 53% would trust their partner with their life. One creative said “they liked meeting someone who is brilliant at the things I’m not great at, the perfect complement”. Another team member “liked coming to work and feeling comfortable, hanging out with a friend that I can trust”. 60% hit it off with their partners straight away.
An amazing 91% feel more comfortable defending creative ideas when their partner is there. 92% feel more creative when their partner is around, and 81% miss their partner when they are not around, with 26% accidentally making two cups of tea even when their partner isn’t in the office.
However, it’s not all a bed of roses. 43% have dreamt of working with someone else. With 34% actively wishing they had a different creative partner. And when asked about their partner’s worst qualities, amongst the bugbears cited were “terrible at computers”, “can’t spell”, “opinionated” and “supports Chelsea”– enough to give anyone the blues. The creative team is still as powerful a
creative force today as it ever was, often worth its weight in Cannes Lions gold. But teams can also be sensitive and at odds
underneath the surface, questioning themselves and their work as often as they question every brief. So, agencies should treat their teams with care if they want to get the most out of them creatively. Because the best stuff rarely happens on its own, it happens when great creative talent is drawn together.
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