On the Comeback Trail With the New Kids on the Block

Creativity is making a comeback. After “tech-ing” up the past few years, agencies are beginning to remember what they actually get paid to do: create communications. The axis is shifting back to content from context. And that’s a good thing.

Last week, Google paid $23 million for Frommer’s, a relatively stuffy travel site. True, Google can pull $23 million out of the petty cash drawer, not a significant financial investment. But, it’s the gesture that is symbolic. They paid for content (however pedestrian). The world’s technology king, with all it’s crawlers and spiders, is buying creative content.

Through the growing pains of tech-ing up these past few years, agencies have lost their creative luster. The new breed: creativus millennial doesn’t regard advertising as the creative cauldron of tomorrow. They’re creating new forms of communication and it’s not about sales — it’s about engagement, it’s experiential. They would rather work in Silicon Valley than Madison Avenue. Shoot, are there even any agencies left on Madison Avenue?

I see signs of things coming back full circle, however. Fifteen years ago, you could go into a new business presentation and simply tell the client, “we’re gonna make your brand cool.” If you had the work to back that claim — both in your portfolio and for them in spec — you had a chance of winning the account. Then came the triple-whammy recessions (dotcom bust, 9/11, mortgage crisis: bang, bang, bang) and the bean counters took over. ROI and compliance ruled the road. If you told a client 5 years ago that you were “gonna make their brand cool”, they called security to escort you out of the building.

Well, I’m glad to report that it’s kinda cool to be cool again. Which, in itself, is kinda cool. Clients and therefore agencies are recognizing that the channels are cool, the technology is cool, the new toys/devices are cool. So, the content needs to be cool, too. But the rules of engagement have changed. We’re not selling anymore. We’re telling. We’re conversing.

So, who’s this new creative person today? Nobody asked me, but here are some thoughts:

  • Seeks of the Absolute Truth About Everything — This trait is often referred to by agencies as “curiosity.” Creativity requires a lot of curiosity, for sure. But curiosity should lead to a great deal more — it should lead to an insatiable hunger for the absolute truth. The great creative work and solutions require you to seek the absolute truth about everything.
  • Has an Acute Sensitivity to the Human Condition — You are engaging real people, not consumers. You’re conversing with the man on the street. If you blow off panhandlers and mock the poor, you’re not a creative person. Stop pretending you are. The triple-whammy recession fractured the national and global psyche. Just because you took your IPO money and bought a Dorkmobile (BMW) doesn’t mean you can be shallow or condescending in your communications.
  • Makes Language New — Here we go again with W.H. Auden quotes. Today’s creative person takes the familiar and creates a new vernacular. They translate the anachronistic into the acronistic (acronyms abound!). They are the Kerouacs that write the new Beat Poetry. They blog to change the world (
  • Holds a Mirror up to Mankind — They are the Modern Shakespeares and Eugene O’Neills. They chronicle everyday life and make it seem fascinating. They make the humdrum drum. They show us ourselves for the very first time. They reveal our flaws in a way that they allow us to forgive ourselves.
  • Shows You the World as You Dream It — Only dreamers can do this. Anyone can learn (understand stuff). Some folks can speak well (talk about stuff). But the rare creative person dreams — they dream up stuff. They turn reality into a dream.


About the author: Mike Palma

Mike Palma

In 2006, Mike launched The Palma Group as a hybrid ad agency headhunting/rainmaking firm which made for big news: He has helped deliver hundreds of accounts and talented people to clients since.

This article was first published by Mike Palma

2 replies
  1. Gary J
    Gary J says:

    Sadly, though many of us have been chugging away with this philosophy for over thirty years we aren’t possibly relevant anymore. You have to be a millennial to be considered having any of these “creative traits” of today. Even though I would consider myself, now over 60, to have all of them.

  2. Stephen Teeuwen
    Stephen Teeuwen says:

    I like your list of creative qualities, Mike, and I totally agree. I would add perhaps that the new creative – or should we say the newly rediscovered creative, as it seems these traits are not really that new – is also A BOUNDARY CROSSERr. While not a techie, he appreciates the value of tech and can incorporate it in his dream; while not a bean counter, he understands beans, even the ones without magic powers; while not a time manager, he redeems the time by allowing the creative process to transcend time. And so on. He is also A CONNECTOR, not so much of products to customers or businesses to businesses, but of people to people to dreams to people…
    I would be interested in hearing whether there are more key qualities that need mentioning…

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