Bauhaus to Google: Starting a Creative Movement

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Earlier this year I was approached by Sarah Hill to write a piece on creativity in our agency, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, for a new book called #FuturePRoof and some of the things that we have learnt after launching our first *Global Center of Creative Strategy* in our London agency.

For the past 18 months we have been working to instigate change in our London agency and share these learning across our network. Culturally we have seen the real change which is now being reflected in the work and relationships we have with clients and ultimately our commercial success. Attached is the article Richard Millar and I wrote.

*You can download the full book at


The communications landscape has changed. Change is good. Change creates new challenges and new opportunities to explore. Change gives us the chance to reinvent, to rediscover and to reimagine our future.

History tells us that out of moments of change come disruptive Creative Movements, all with their own strong, unique beliefs and culture.

They are of their time and are super-relevant in that time. Great political change created the Constructivists, industrial change the Bauhaus and technological change created Google. What they all have in common is they all became magnets for like-minded people, all have creativity at their core and all are interested in embracing and exploring change and disrupting the status quo.

An insightful client said to me that their industry was coming out of the ‘fat, lazy and happy’ period. In communications we too have perhaps enjoyed the same. With recession still fresh in our minds and a ‘feeling’ things are getting better, now is one of the hardest times to innovate and change.

But change we must. By changing we will attract new clients, new talent and new opportunities that will provide the foundations for our business in the future.

From agency to a Creative Movement
The time is right to embrace change and develop our own Creative Movements. This is a process that we have started at H+K and we are already seeing the dividends in the creative culture of the agency, a new type of client work and through new talent attracted to the agency. These are some of the principles that we have been considering.

Redefining value
Agencies think of themselves as belonging to the service industry; we are happy to develop a list of services and sell our time by the hour. This leaves us open to the commoditization of both. Creative Movements attract clients because of their outcomes and not because of their list of services; unique and ownable outputs and outcomes that have a value not based in time but in their return against business objectives. With the right talent, a culture of openness and collaboration, what we deliver becomes more unexpected and unique to our Creative Movement. Our work is valued differently.

Beliefs around an organizing purpose​
Another characteristic of a Creative Movement is that each one has its own unique culture, one that attracts new talent because of a set of beliefs and an organizing purpose. As a Creative Movement we can become a magnet for like-minded people if we are able to articulate our beliefs and purpose. These define our culture and drive the skills agenda, putting collaboration and diversity at its core.

We have to consider what we stand for, why we exist and how we go about business – what it is we believe. Only by articulating this does the agency stop being just a place to work and becomes the place you want to spend time, create and innovate with people with similar beliefs. It becomes a place to explore your own thinking as well as that of the movements adding greater value to the whole.

“Google have over 2m applications a year, that makes it 10x harder to get into than Harvard.” [1] Google has always pursued a noble cause. The company conducts business with a simple motto, ‘Don’t be evil.’ Its mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible. “We have somewhat of a social mission, and most other companies do not. I think that’s why people like working for us, and using our services… Companies’ goals should be to make their employees so wealthy that they do not need to work, but choose to because they believe in the company … Hopefully, I believe in a world of abundance, and in that world, many of our employees don’t have to work, they’re pretty wealthy, they could probably go years without working. Why are they working? They’re working because they like doing something, they believe in what they’re doing.”
Google founder, Larry Page.​

Plan for collaboration​
A Creative Movement is a collective of like-minded people, with different skills who collaborate to approach old problems with new eyes. This demands new flexible structures to encourage collaboration to flourish, new flexible working patterns and environments where your collective want to hang out.

We need to allow our collective to not only explore the challenges of the Creative Movement but also explore personal agendas and develop personal brands. Structures have to be put in place to facilitate and celebrate this.

An acceptance that the collective works as much for the individual as the individual does for the collective breaks down the traditional barriers between employer and employee.

Disrupt your own model
Historically our agencies have been made up of generalists, turning our hands to many things in pursuit of the best outcomes for our clients. We have traditionally told our stories through the lens of the media. Now we talk directly to our clients’ audiences, from stakeholders and politicians, to mums and teenagers.

Today the lines between communications have merged and there is less differentiation between B2B and B2C communications. We are in a media agnostic world of Business to Human (B2H) communications. This means that some of the skills we have in the agency need to be re-defined and re-deployed. We need to disrupt our old skills model to pro-actively kick-start our Creative Movement.

We need new talent in the agency: creative strategists, planners, content and publishing strategists, creative directors, micro-media buyers, designers, sector influencers, brand journalists and data scientists. Through disrupting the traditional skill base of our agency we begin the process of reappraisal and change.

Maintaining the momentum of change
Sometimes change feels like sand running through your fingers. While we instigate change in one part of the business, another part reverts to type. To maintain the momentum of change we need to identify the characteristics of our Creative Movement, celebrate and feed these wherever we find them.

At H+K we have identified five unique characteristics that we believe define our creative Movement. Wherever we find these we celebrate them. Practically, we have written new job descriptions and KPI’s to reflect the value we place in each one.
Our five characteristics are:
+ Idea Catchers
+ Technology Speculators
+ Campaign Architects
+ Culture Creators
+ Master Storytellers

Find the tipping point
Making change in any business is not easy. However the distinct advantage of a movement or agency started today is that everyone is like-minded and embraces and epitomizes the Creative Movement that they start. For an existing business we need to look for the tipping point of change.
For many agencies the ‘fat, lazy and happy’ period represents safety, not only corporate safety but in many cases personal safety. Change begins with an acceptance of risk. This risk needs to be embraced at the highest levels in the business in order make change acceptable and the failures along the way just part of the process.
We need to sets the signposts of change and develop a network of activists to drive it. Only when those who hold onto the ‘fat, lazy and happy’ period become the minority does change truly take hold. Choose your activist carefully; they should be both influential in the business and aligned to the movement.

The principles of the Creative Movement
+ Move from a culture of service industry selling a set of services to one of a Creative Movement exploring change and valuing outcomes
+ Consider why you exist and define your purpose and belief system
+ Plan for collaboration, celebrate and empower the personal brand
+ Proactively disrupt your business and skills model to kickstart your own Creative Movement
+ Identify and celebrate the characteristics of your Creative Movement
+ Empower activists to reach a tipping point and change the culture of the business.

Finally, perhaps a sobering thought is that Creative Movements exist in their time so how to create a movement with longevity becomes the next challenge. _____________________________________

H+K Center of Creative Strategy
Richard Millar and Simon Shaw lead H+K’s Global Center of Creative Strategy. The ‘Center of Creative Strategy’ is a global initiative to embrace change, and equip the network for the challenges the agency and clients face, now and in the future. Our purpose is to unify the offices and skills within our network by inspiring more open, creative and curious conversations for the benefit of our clients, our people and the communities where we work.
Sources [1]



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