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Ask These 3 Questions to Decrease Tension Between Creatives and Marketers

Hal Conick

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Marketers and creatives are different people who grew up dreaming about different jobs, but they should get to know and trust each other

Rebecca Sears

There’s a lot of baggage and tension between marketers and creatives, says Rebecca Sears, CMO at Plantation Products.

Creatives can have messiah complexes and be drama queens, Sears says. Gaemer Gutierrez, vice president and creative director at Staples, says that marketers can be micromanagers or they try to cram everything into one design.

These are caricatures, but they’re real issues between creatives and marketers. How can the two sides reduce tension and better work together?

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At 2019 HOW Design Live, Sears and Gutierrez suggested asking three questions to diagnose problems and reduce tension.

Gaemer Gutierrez

1. Is Your Work Culture Positive?

Culture makes a big difference in relationships, Sears says. Sometimes culture feels big, ephemeral and unchanging. But Gutierrez says that creatives and marketers should look at culture as a “network of conversations” and change the culture, starting with their next conversation.

Everyone wants to go faster these days, Sears says, but if marketers and creatives slow down and get to know each other, they can build trust. Trust will have an immediate impact, as it builds psychological safety—Sears says that people feel more comfortable taking risks and saying what they believe.

Having conversations allows people to relate to each other and makes important conversations less stressful, Gutierrez says. “Today, words lost their value and lost their meaning in a way,” he says. “What comes out of your mouth every day? That’s something to start with.”

Sears references one situation where the power of conversation stuck with her: She had a great relationship with a creative team she was working with, but she had some critical feedback on the project’s signoff. She didn’t think that it would convert consumers, something they needed to build ROI and afford to do the campaign again next year.


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When Sears gave this feedback, the creative director thanked her, saying that few marketers gave the “why?” for changes they requested in feedback.

“That really stuck with me,” Sears says. By having conversations and getting to know one another, she says that people are setting the team up to succeed, not just one individual.

2. Are Your Organizational Goals Clear?

When Gutierrez started at Staples, he inherited a team that has experienced a lot of change. What was once a 200-person team was down to 60 people.

“One of the things I have to ask before I even start creating an organization is what is the organization aligned to?” he says. “How do people see the creative team and marketing team?”

He compared the situation at Staples to food service: The company had set up the team to work as a fast-food buffet, but the company reviewed the team’s output as though it was attempting to produce gourmet cuisine. The creative team was blamed for other incompetencies within the company because there were unclear goals and expectations.

“If you’re having challenges in your organization or in creative versus marketing, what are your organizations goals?” he says. “Start there. Ask those questions.”

3. Are Your Processes Effective?

There are two elephants in the room that cause friction between marketers and creatives, Sears says: the brief and the feedback.

Sears says that marketers should create an “inspirational brief,” one that will give creatives a vision and make them want to do the work. Give the creative team something to be excited about, she says; make the brief your opus.

“If you’re filling it out as if it’s your tax return, you’re not going to get great output,” she says.

Then there’s feedback: “As a marketer, I feel like I’m walking on eggshells,” she says. Creative work takes a lot of effort, and Sears hesitates to say anything less than 100% glowing. Sears says that marketers should take their personal preference out of the feedback and tie it back to objectives that both teams are working toward.

“You can really change the dynamic of the team if you think of each other as strategic partners,” she says.

Gutierrez says that creative output can feel like a creative’s identity. “But it’s business,” he says. Creatives must be less sensitive about feedback. “Creatives, talk about your mindset,” he says. “Have small one-on-ones before the big reveal.”

When Gutierrez presents a new project, he’ll leak it out slowly and ask people’s opinions in small, personal meetings. By the time he gets to the main presentation, 80% of the room has seen his work.

“If you have a good relationship with your marketing partners, if you have an idea, bring them in like, ‘Hey, this is what we’re thinking’,” he says. “Then you have a dialog. It’s not a presentation, it’s a dialog. It took me a long time to figure that out. Try it and see what happens.”

Hal Conick is a freelance writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at halconick@gmail.com or on Twitter at @HalConick.