Advertising:What Makes a Successful Creative Team?

by Sarandipity

Copywriters should think visually and Art Directors should think verbally. They should not compete with each other.

Gone are the days when a Copywriter would work alone at his desk without discussing his ideas with the visualizer. He would hand his copy to the Art Director who headed the art department and the copy would then be given to a visualizer who actually did what art directors do today. As Drayton Bird, former International Creative Director at Ogilvy & Mather Bird points out in his Commonsense Creative notes, the principle of a copy/art partnership was quite unknown.

According to Bird, it is generally believed that Bill Bernbach of Doyle Dane Bernbach introduced the idea of a copywriter and visualizer creative team in the late 50’s in New York. Says Bird: “The concept spread very quickly, and I recall in 1962 when I had my first Creative Director’s job I started working in partnership with our best visualizer. But the idea of working in that way was unusual at that time.

“Today most good creative work tends to be produced by Art Director and Copywriter working together. Good partnerships seem to produce outstanding results. Bad partnerships never do.”

In Advertising 2+2 = 5

The idea is that the two people working together will make each other better than they would be working individually, this creating synergy. Instead of working separately, each in his own specialty, the two complement each other. The person with the visual mind is able to see things in a way a person with a verbal mind cannot – and vice versa.

Bird suggests that one of the things that make a successful partnership is that each side is not afraid to enter into the other’s territory. Writers can and should think visually; Art Directors can and should think verbally. In fact, today writers are expected to have some idea about the visual that will go with their copy. After all, they should care about how to enhance the message they put into words. This skill is certainly essential if they want to be any good at writing for television, in particular.

How Successful Creative Partnerships Work

One of the problems with being creative is that one wants to have all the ideas – and claim credit for them. Bird says that successful teams don’t operate like that. They claim credit jointly for the ideas. This means that they’re not competing with each other. They are stimulating and complementing each other. Each is trying to add something to the other’s ideas.

When one partner asks for the other’s opinion, the reaction should be positive, not negative. This encourages further exploration of an idea, rather than squashing it. “Ideas are hard to come by, and too precious to kill without careful examination. In fact, such exploration often creates a better idea or the initial idea may be used as a catalyst for the creation of other ideas.

Bird adds: “Of course, uncritical acceptance of ideas is not enough – that means you are just stroking each other’s egos. Each person ha s to justify an idea to the other – sell it, so to speak – because unless you can explain why something is good, it probably isn’t any good. (Unless it’s an idea so dazzling that one can immediately appreciate its virtues.) And, in any case, every idea at some point has to be sold to the client.”


Explore all the Possibilities of the Idea

Good teams are determined to explore every possibility, not just settle for what comes easily. That means they have to spend time thinking up plenty of alternative ideas before finishing anything up. Otherwise they waste time polishing one indifferent idea, when they’d be better off looking in the first place for something different, and better.

“One thing that I recommend to you, if you’ve never tried it, “ says Bird, “is what I call ‘creative calisthenics.’ That is deliberately trying to see how many solutions you can come up with to a particular problem. This is rather like stretching the muscles of your creativity. One very important thing to remember is that creatives do not have a monopoly on ideas.

“In my experience, some of the very best ideas have come from Account Handlers, Planners – and especially the client, who knows his business better than you, and spends more time thinking about it than you do. By working closer with the account handler, you are adding an extra brain to the team. And, goodness knows, we need all the ideas we can get.”

How Copywriters and Art Directors Can Work Together

Copywriters should think visually and Art Directors should think verbally. They should not compete with each other and try to hog all credit for the idea. Instead, they should complement each other and work as a team. This is important because two heads are often better than one. Ideas, which are hard to come by, should not be discarded in a hurry before they have been explored for all possibilities.

The team (account handlers included) should come up with as many alternative ideas as possible before deciding on one, unless the initial idea is obviously brilliant. Whoever comes up with an idea should be able to sell it to his creative partner, since eventually, it has to be sold to the client.



Drayton Bird’s Commonsense Creative notes previously only accessible to employees of Ogilvy & Mather.

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Updated: 05/04/2015, Sarandipity
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Mira on 05/04/2015

I enjoyed this, but I would have liked some illustrations, both visual and textual, of this synergy between copywriter and art director.

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