Looking Cool…

I was told this morning by one of the professors at my University that she’d used me as an example in a seminar…as ‘an organisational ethnographer who dressed appropriately to study advertising agencies and creative businesses’…and told me ‘not to be offended’. I don’t think I was; it’s a compliment in a way I suppose (although I was ripped by @pace and @HayleyS simultaneously upon notifying them of this fact: (HayleyS @joeadamfry you and your ‘media glasses’); (pace @joeadamfry I always thought your dress sense was painfully, painfully cool. You weren’t even out of place sitting next to me!)).

Moreover, it illustrates an important point about impression management in the creative industries. I didn’t have to worry too much about adapting what I wore or how I spoke etc as it pretty much corresponds to the industry I research. But the point goes beyond the perspective of the organizational ethnographer. Remember those videos you watched in PSE or whatever at school telling you ‘how to dress for an interview’, ‘what to say and what not to say’, how to conduct yourself and so on…these are in many ways obsolete in the media/advertising industry – and in a wider post-modern, post-industrial context, for several reasons.

Firstly, I am not advocating the extremely self-conscious and almost pretentiously ‘creative’/’laissez-faire’ ‘dress-down’ places that seem to proliferate (where essentially, the uniform just moves from shirt and tie to designer brand polo-shirt, jeans and loafers, and management styles barely change at all: only in how they represent themselves), but am rather making the point that in my experience, creative people, or people who perceive themselves to be creative, in an organisational setting, tend to dress in a way that expresses this: that tangibilizes it and externalizes it.

Mothers offices

Mother's offices

Above: The offices at Mother

What is interesting for me is how creative agencies use this device. It is necessary in a lot of ways: creativity is a relatively slippy, abstract and intangible concept, and is essentially the core offering of many of the creative, digital and advertising shops around – particularly the majority of smaller agencies that have been springing up. They are on the periphery of the ‘core-peripheral’ networked industry (imagine this as a diagram if you can) and hence position themselves as flexible, innovative and creative etc….but how can they communicate this. Obviously in their work, in their tone of voice and so on – but mostly through their most valuable asset: their people. Their culture. Their location; their premises. How their employees and subsequently the organisation looks, acts and talks, all aid the communication of what the agency ‘is’ and ‘does’.

Secondly, when the agency goes to the client, they have a responsibility to their perceived cultural capital, and are seen to present themselves, act and talk as such. This in turn allows them to talk and act in certain ways (a ‘facilitative’ boundary between the local worlds of ‘the client’ and ‘the creative agency’) but simultaneously restricts them from behaving in others. It preserves the mystique of the creative genius (eg the black-boxing of processes – which if you remember we are trying to avoid) but more importantly facilitates a mutual understanding of what each organisation ‘is’.

Thirdly, when the client comes to the agency, they see a ‘funky, creative’ etc environment, more relaxed than the culture at their place of work perhaps, maybe with beanbags or whatever and music playing, people with their shoes off – and this serves to reinforce and confirm their choice of ‘creative’ people – or should do at least. They have an opportunity to relax and dress down themselves, and potentially become immersed in and part of this part of the creative process.

This is perhaps the most important point, as paradoxically whilst ‘creative people’ may express themselves in certain ways in an attempt to tangibilze their cultural capital in the form of creativity, they simultaneously must represent themselves as both credible and also manageable, in an organisational sense; again my argument reverts to the integration of management AND creativity – a combination of divergent AND convergent thinking, and the representation of such an integration through appearance, manner and discourse.


My Key Themes: Bounded Creativity?

Note: This really is first draft stuff. It’s just a bunch of notes.

So, the title of the thesis as it stands now is something like “Exploring Creative Processes in the [Digital?] Advertising Agency – Client Relationship: Insights from an Ethnographic Perspective”, but this changes most days, normally several times before breakfast (Or as Tony Jordan was saying the other day on Screenwipe (S4 E3), as a writer he tries to have a regular 9-5 day: you wake up, have 14 cups of tea, play solitaire, have another cup of tea, bit more solitaire, then its 1 o’clock and you break for lunch, then you play a bit more solitaire, another cup of tea, maybe a game of hearts…another cup of tea, and then it’s 4 o’clock and you think fuck I better get some work done….etc etc etc)….

And anyway, the main themes within it at the moment are:

Something to do with creative boundaries, and Margaret Boden’s idea of bounded creativity


New [and old] creative boundaries in the dACR (Digital Agency-Client Relationship) eg the role of technology in bounding creativity; Facilitative and Restrictive creative boundaries; Multi-constructed layers and processes in the ACR as multi-constructed boundaries.

The general idea that creative processes (from a sociological perspective) are bounded in various ways. These boundaries can be considered as both facilitative and restrictive, in different circumstances.

The creative process in advertising is bounded initially in the sense that it is commercially oriented and inherently designed to fulfill a specific purpose eg to increase sales of x, to drive traffic to website x, to encourage browsers of a website to order a brochure; rather than being purely artistic. This initial bounding sets the scope of the creative process to take place – as opposed to unbounded ‘blank canvas’ creativity – which is however in some way still bounded eg in fine art by culture, history etc – usually in the form of budgets, deadlines, and the client requirements (eg client brief, matching ATL creative).

Thus the context for the relationship, and the work to be completed, is defined, at least loosely (‘Define the Space’).

So a creative boundary might be Time (Rapid turnaround in digital?), Technology (Is it possible? Or eg A Minimum File Size?), Client (Closeness, honesty, interpersonal chemistry), Budget (Does a smaller budget constrain or encourage creative thinking?), Resource (Projectization, Recruitment), Concurrent/prospective projects, Knowledge, Network (eg client, media agency, partners?), understanding (mutuality of experience, sympathy?)…

…And then the idea of Exploring ideas of boundary ‘objects’ as mediators between bounded contexts (eg in developing mutual understanding) – may be gatekeepers, documents eg creative brief bridging planning/concepting/strategy and design….as well as linking in deliverables…

The General Idea

OK, so just to give you the general idea: My name is Joe, and I’m currently in the 2nd year of my PhD at Lancaster University, UK, studying creative processes and how they are managed in the advertising agency – client relationship (eg A B2B context). Whether its design, strategy, an idea, a communication I try to look at how these creative processes actually take place, using an ethnographic methodology (eg participant-observation in ad agencies, clients etc). My recent focus has been on digital ad agencies (eg digital creative agencies – think agency.com, glue, AKQA etc).

The general idea for this wordpress is going to be for me to start getting my thoughts and ideas for my thesis write up etc written down somewhere they can live and breathe and perhaps receive some feedback, or something, hopefully.

This is also my first blog, I’ve started bout 9 previously under various guises but never really knew what to talk about other than the normal general tat that seems to litter the web in a <a href=”http://scampblog.blogspot.com/2008/10/digital-ghost-towns.html”ghost town of dead blogs, microsites etc…

So, yes. If my thesis or anything I write is of interest or anything to you, please get in touch or leave a comment (I guess you can do that?)