The most important job in advertising

From Scott Prindle's BDW talk on creative technologists and their role inside ad agencies

Some would say it’s the creative director. Others might argue the mantle belongs to the lead strategist. A few might even proffer we should give the label to the head of business development. No doubt those are all incredibly valuable roles, making the work, shaping the idea, attracting new clients.

I’m going out on a limb and suggesting we consider anointing a different role as the most important job in advertising. My nominee? The creative technologist.

A creative technologist can teach people about digital tools and platforms and how to create with them. Good ones can inspire writers, designers and even creative directors with possibilities they may never have imagined.  A few of the best might even be able to transform a company, affecting the work, the teams, and the processes necessary to keep up with all the change and the opportunities that technology constantly presents.

According to Scott Prindle of CP&B, considered among the best, here are the eight key contributions a creative technologist makes.

Creative technologists:

 

  • write code and make functional software
  • lead strategic thinking for utilities and platforms
  • bring new technology into the creative process
  • manage complexity and change
  • build prototypes
  • enable an agile workflow
  • manage relationships with client IT
  • spark experimentation

 

Go back a few years and few, if any, traditional advertising agencies would have this role front and center. But with the continued convergence of story telling, technology, APIs and new mobile platforms it’s now essential. In fact this month the 4A’s conducts a full day conference on the role and how to incorporate it. Some of the top creative technologists will be there, including Scott Prindle and Andy Hood. If you can’t make it, here’s a cheaper, less time consuming introduction to the role.

Scott Prindle’s recent talk, given at Boulder Digital Works Making Digital Work, in deck form, and an interview that we did together after his session a couple of weeks ago.

Enjoy

36 comments
ed_flynn_
ed_flynn_

Wow. I am sooo way late to this party. This is a great conversation, with a fantastic range of perspectives. A couple of things I thought about while reading all of these.

First. It's interesting that this role is still largely thought of in the singular. There wasn't real mention about the varying levels of Creative Technologists or the fact that you can have more than one of them at your agency.

As far as coding knowledge goes that has pro's and cons up and down the scale. Factoring items like level, responsibilities, team / agency structure and other realities of the working environment all effect the ratio. No matter what you have to know the basics such as variables, errors, functions, conditionals, loops, objects, arrays ect. Good languages all use these fundamentals and more importantly they set your foundation for how to solve problems. @robinow made mention of CT's sketching in code, which is cool but there are some of us that don't need to sketch in code because we can actually draw. It's one thing to "sketch out" an API mash-up of 2 random data sources. But it's another to draw out an idea's possible user flows, data relationships, experiential intersections, multi-screen strategy and how the brand/product flows through out it all before the client meeting is over. Again. It's all about the levels. Edward, knowing both Scott P. and Schatz you have seen the high levels of both sides of the creative and programming ratio.

BruceDeBoer
BruceDeBoer

Creative Tech? Well, maybe ... but as the ground is shifting the guy / gal taking the high creative view is the most important - all else is fleeting in my opinion.

jmacdonald
jmacdonald

I think there is a risk of having singular, silo-d roles, and to accept the point mentioned in this article, I'd have to assume that the skill-set is infused across the organisation rather than just within one or a few roles.

Even then, whilst I commend it, the skills of social science (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_sciences) may in fact be of more value.

In addition, the role of an agency in general, in serving client demand as best as possible, may well not be in the areas that lean toward technological production, which may (or may not) be marginalised in itself moving forward (http://mashable.com/2011/05/13/developer-platforms-jobs/)

spoppe
spoppe

Hey Edward. I love the promise of creative technologist but they are really hard to find. Some of the smartest technologists I've ever worked with, from start-ups to multinationals, have had a hard time removing themselves from the science and the rush of engineering. The ons and offs, the ones and zeros. They find it hard to allow an idea, especially a brand idea, to guide them. The wo/man in the middle (the creative technologist) almost has to speak in tongues to reach the creative on the one side and the technologist on the other. (And remember, it hasn't always been easy for the strategists to reach the creative people, in a way that create selling ideas.) I'm not sure I'm down with the creative technologist as a viable title, though I'd like to meet Mr. Prindle and have him prove me wrong.

MNPlanner
MNPlanner

When you "teach others to fish" you have a gift that you are willing to share.

It doesn't matter if that gift is technological know-how, or simply the ability to play guitar better than the rest of the building. If you are willing to share your expertise instead of bottling it up for your own glory, you'll be the person that @edwardboches describes in this line: "A few of the best might even be able to transform a company, affecting the work, the teams, and the processes necessary to keep up with all the change and the opportunities that XXXXX constantly presents." Try inserting "The client," "The weather," "Bio-molecular adaptation," or any other variable for XXXXX.

Good ideas are still good ideas, whether they involve crayons & yarn or CSS & Jquery. A brilliant person can transform an agency no matter their technical proficiency.

What matters most to me is their ability to 1. build & nurture relationships 2. identify & activate skill sets 3. connect the dots 4. activate and inspire 5. do some cool shit with a team

I believe that person is the most valuable person in advertising. That's who I'd hire.

Thanks for championing the Creative Technologist, @edwardboches It's a subject that I will continue to be interested in as long as it is the brightest and shiniest bauble to hold advertising's attention. Someday, it could be hostile space aliens, and then I will have to stop reading your blog, because I would hope to be teaching people how to shoot a plasma rifle.

let5ch
let5ch

While I agree with almost everything in Scott's presentation (thanks for sharing!), my role as Creative Technologist at my employer appears as if it has a gaping hole, taking the form of writing code and making functional software. My path to this position has primarily been in agency settings and my education is in fine arts and design. I'm already deeply immersed in the culture of "ideas" vs. "utility" and the programming knowledge I possess doesn't stack up to what Scott brings to the table. While being able to bang out raw code is a plus, I don't think it's a requirement. However, a working knowledge of the possibilities is a must. Knowing what's achievable, especially in the early stages of concepting, is crucial. That's where the marriage of Ideas and Tech happens. Give me Keynote or Prezi and I can make you think you've got a working prototype, or at least a version to sell in something similar to the Domino's example shown in the presentation.

I'll be yet another person in the comment section to cite the @lenkendall fish reference. I bring much more value to the Creative Department with knowing what's possible and what is just around the corner than if I could code AJAX in my sleep. On more than a few occasions I've seen ideas die in one project only to be introduced a couple months later in something completely different. That tells me I'm doing my job as a proponent of Tech.

Thanks for the post, Edward and thanks to all of the commenters for the thoughtful reflection.

Michael Monello
Michael Monello

Why do we have to anoint a "most important job in advertising?" Scott's presentation rightly focusses on the role and value a creative technologist brings to an agency, but framing it as "the most important role in advertising" only sets up creative technologists for political ego battles inside the agency rather than the collaborative environment necessary for the role to be effective.

That being said, it's a great presentation, thanks for sharing!

mikescheiner
mikescheiner

Edward, I agree with you about the importance of this and @lenkendall view that this position is about leading and inspiring others to see what's possible and the idea / executional boundaries we can now cross. I'm wondering if the main objective of this person is really a "Creative Facilitator?" Who can see what’s coming down the road in technology, and emerging media, multiscreen integration and platforms. Most people, while they may not want to admit, usually have their head down and only seeing what concerns them directly and not seeing beyond what they may hear or see as the latest shiny new object. The Creative Technologist is someone who can open the door wider to continue to shape the experience and perspective to be more relevant and at times simply reel people back in.

robinow
robinow

for me, as a creative technologist, I believe that we are the people who actually make ideas happen in this day and age, it's all good and well coming up with a big idea (don't get me wrong, that's very important), but unless you can bring that idea to market (and there's a lot of markets and platforms as this article points out), then that idea is effectively worthless. Creative Techies are the ones who can explain that idea through a sketch made in code, thorugh an interactive prototype hacked together in the same time it takes to write a boring doc, and can then bring that idea to life and transform it into something totally unexpected, and (if you'll forgive the buzzword) something magical.

@snorrem, these people come from often the most unlikely backgrounds. The best ones I know are respectively from design, aeronautical engineering and swimming backgrounds! Practically none are the traditional computer science geeks of days of yore. Agencies have made a song and dance about where to find these people, but in my experience, they do little to actually make connections with further education establishments, especially in subject areas that you might not expect to go to. This is something I'm trying to correct through my CeeTee group in London in the UK, where we're starting to reach out and tell the upcoming geniuses in further education and let them know that there's a job where you can bring together people, their ideas, and technology to do something really cool (like the latest thing from Google Datalab, http://www.ro.me/).

blunt_
blunt_

Thanks for the post; and there I was thinking that creative technologists were yesterday’s men (and women) already :)

What really resonated with me about what Scott had to say in the video was the idea of CTs and “traditional” creatives building a successful relationship based on mutual respect: it absolutely needs to be a two-way street. Great work will only emerge out of a partnership of equals, and we all need to get past the “they just don’t get it…”/ “…but there’s no idea” attitude that typically characterizes that first encounter.

I was also really happy to see you call out the need for “strategic technology” within agencies. This is a far less acknowledged - and harder to find - role, but one that will only become more important as we continue to evolve brand communications beyond a relatively hand-to-mouth, campaign-burst lifecycle and towards a truly “always on” existence.

More to the point: marrying the two is key, particularly when working in an integrated context. Here, the role of creative/strategic technology needs to become less about prototyping digital “things”, and much more about helping “traditional” creative think of itself as just one piece of a larger whole - and about how that might change its essential nature – becoming more immediate, maybe, more responsive, and more porous. @faris thoughts on Reversing the Polarity (http://goo.gl/E6Ti4) do a far better job of summarizing this idea than I can :)

chickfoxgrover
chickfoxgrover

Beyond hoping you could all come to the conference, we hope to be carrying the conversation about creative technologists forward at the 4A's, about the present characteristics and the future possibilities of the role (and more) in creative agencies. http://createtech.aaaa.org

lenkendall
lenkendall

You'll probably get some flack on this one, specifically from folks in the industry who claim that a "creative technologist" can't be considered the most important job because they don't see the "big picture" and don't have the holistic creative thinking to drive an integrated marketing campaign (not just one focused on digital).

But I'll be on your side for this argument. To your point, the creative technologist is the modern version of the "man who teaches others to fish" vs. just giving them the fish. And because digital touches everything, and it truly does touch everything, the technologist can enhance the ideas and work of those who are more creative in specific ways, and those who are big picture thinkers who don't have the time or background to exploit the potential (efficiency and novelty) of digital.

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@BruceDeBoer Do you know of Tauntr? You should check them out. Founder/creator Marc Galucci has same philosophy. We have lots of tech. Shortage of content and creativity. He is living it and creating it (and distributing it) in a new model of creative content for the social/digital age.

robinow
robinow

@BruceDeBoer the point here is that it's about shifting opinions away from the idea that just coming up with a concept is the most important thing in this business.

Thomas Edison said that Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration, and for any idea to happen in this day and age, you need to have a very talented team of people to make that idea happen, all of whom are probably creative with technology of some sort, but a few of whom are actually able to manipulate and subvert technologies in new ways at a base level.

Technology is now much more fragmented than before, but if it's digital, it's built on some underlying principles, that only creative technologists understand in a way that's useful and scalable for business without the need to refer to anyone else, and so their role is unique in making ideas actually happen, and not end up consigned to the great high creative dustbin of history.

To illustrate Edison's point, the Winklevoss brothers who came up with the idea of facebook, are now worth $65m. Zuckerberg, the creative technologist who took that simple idea, built an incredibly successful prototype in 1 night, and then rolled it out to every university and then the world, is now worth $13.5b. I actually make that around 0.5% inspiration and 99.5% perspiration.

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@spoppe No doubt he would. Started writing code, no inspires creative. Gets both sides. Rare breed.

blunt_
blunt_

@spoppe In my experience, about the only thing about the role that creative technologists themselves actually agree on is that the title sucks big time :)

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@let5ch @lenkendall Agree that you don't have to know how to write a line of code. More important that you know what's possible with tech, APIs, platforms, etc. and how to excite people about the possibilities. Lots of developers are best at just developing. The CT is a different breed, able to boundary span, teach, encourage, enable.

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@Michael Monello You must be on the tech side if you take it so literally. :-) I'm a big believer that if you want people to move from a 1 to a 4 you have to push for an 8 or a 9. That way they'll move to a 3. If we claim it's the most important, perhaps some, a few, will agree that it's among the important.

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@mikescheiner @lenkendall Now we're arguing semantics, which is fine. Important point is that there are people who inherently think creatively, but aren't always aware of what's possible and vice versa. Key is to get tech people to imagine the creative possibilities and creatives to understand what tech enables.

blunt_
blunt_

@lenkendall

If haters have flak to bring, I say: let them bring it! If CTs don’t see the big picture, that can only be the industry’s problem: if we’re given access to the whole, if we’re invited to the discussion in the first place, there’s absolutely no reason on Earth why we can’t understand it. I find the idea that “techies” have a kind of innate, autistic inability to grasp creative or strategic thinking of any real depth or scale to be an insufferable and outdated cliché. This being me absolutely and in no way shooting the messenger; just taking the opportunity to vent some spleen ;)

PS. Love love LOVE your expression about “teaching others to fish” – permission to quote freely, please :)

snorrem
snorrem

@lenkendall Of course there is a point people would argue, that every person in an agency/team structure is equally important. But for driving creativity and directing creatives (and indeed whole agencies) towards new possibilities, the analogy 'The man who teaches others to fish' has rarely been more fitting. An interesting and immensely useful (I'd wager) follow up on this great post @edwardboches - would be where to find them. I've heard of many a flustered agency leader trying to figure that one out

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@lenkendall Like the fact that not only are you smart, you make me sound smart. Obviously this is intended to make an arguable point. We all know the value of those other positions and roles. And yes, we could instead suggest it's the "new" important job. But want to make a point that every agency needs this person in a big way.

BruceDeBoer
BruceDeBoer

Wow Edward, thanks for bringing his name back to me. I worked with Marc on Eastpak ads back when he was with ClarkGowardFitts (not sure if Fitts was still there but you get the idea - long time age). I had long since lost track.

@edwardboches

blunt_
blunt_

@BruceDeBoer @edwardboches The key difference between concepting for traditional channels versus digital is that creative already have a good idea of what they’re being asked to produce before they start thinking about the idea: they know if it’s a TV spot or a print ad, and within that the duration or dimensions, so they can concentrate solely on the story or message.

By contrast, digital is about platforms: it is - by definition - whatever you want it to be. So the challenge now is to think as much about what form the story takes as the story itself. Strategy should certainly go some way to helping define the kinds of executions that might resonate with the target audience(s) – are they app savvy? do they over-index for photosharing? do they actively update their status, or are they more of a passive “liker” of things? A good creative technologist should be pushing strategists to ask - and provide answers to - these questions and more. We all need to know what size and shape the canvas is.

But even then, we’re left with a broad range of interactive or participatory possibilities, and there may be very many ways in which one might be able to execute or express a single creative “idea.” The same thought could live equally well as an installation as it might a Facebook app (and it could just as easily exist as a combination of the two). The question is: which is “right”? In my experience, interaction design (in the broadest possible sense) is at its most successful when form, function and idea all work in harmony: when the thought is expressed as an action, and the two are indivisible.

So to build on @robinow ’s point: a good creative technologist should also be helping creative arrive at the best possible execution, by balancing what’s likely (behaviourally), what’s possible (technologically) and what’s achievable (everybody’s favourite elephant in the room: time and money).

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@robinow @BruceDeBoer Ale Lariu has a great line: "It's only a really good idea if it gets made." Lots of good ideas that people go around saying they had. Good for them. Why didn't they make it. Still think that the CT is the new creative whisperer. Need them to do that.

BruceDeBoer
BruceDeBoer

Of course I agree with you, but what I resist is when any suggestion is made that tactics are more important than strategy. Both need to work in harmony but good strategy helps avoid spinning wheels true? That feels most important to me. @robinow

BruceDeBoer
BruceDeBoer

Right on. So ... back to the post. Is the creative technologist the most important position at the agency? Very short answer: not unless every idea is a technological nail.

Longer answer: While we may be wow'ed by the talent of a techno creative genius, I propose that the most important position - if one MUST make that statement - is the creative lead who motivates creative genius in every dept., recognizes the greatest insights, and keeps everyone on strategy. It may be possible to find that in one person but that hasn't been my experience at all. I don't see that changing any time soon; to the contrary, it becomes MORE important as the need for integration becomes greater.

Just my humble opinion: our industry tends to LOVE shiny objects and trends. We often forget that humans are humans and that we are here to have conversations with culture.

@blunt_ @BruceDeBoer @edwardboches @robinow

BruceDeBoer
BruceDeBoer

The mechanic is the most important guy who fixes your car unless he replaces the radiator when the car really needed a new starter. Just sayin' .... don't lose sight if the importance of strategy. @edwardboches @robinow

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