How do you get 7,000 people to be creative?

Around 30 top execs from Starcom MediaVest arrived in Manila this week to hold the Global Product Committee Meeting (GPC) for the first time in the Philippines.

One can imagine the jury buried in papers, reviewing thousands of case studies across the Starcom network to separate good work from remarkable examples.

But John Sintras, chairman of Starcom MediaVest Australia and the GPC chairman, says it will be anything but.

“It’s challenging, really. How can you stand out from 7,000 people?” he says. “But it is far more challenging to inspire all 7,000 to do great work consistently.”

From just an internal award, the GPC has evolved into a center of excellence that rewards its employees, boost morale, and more importantly, replicate what is exemplary across the agency. Winners don’t take just trophies but invaluable knowledge drawn from training programs alongside the GPC.

Is creativity the sole dominion of painters and creative agencies? Speaking with Marketing, Sintras explains that the largest media planning agency in the world, an industry most associated with rate on investment, metrics and hard numbers, creates nothing short of works of art.

How important is the GPC to Starcom?

It’s like asking how critical is it to have a center of excellence around what you do, why you do it, how you do it and how important it is to inspire your people to be the best in the world. If you think these are important, the GPC is important. If you don’t do it, who will? There are pockets of brilliance that need to be rewarded, learned and spread.

How do you cultivate brilliance?

It is human nature to go back to something you are comfortable in doing. We need to be deliberately disruptive from our day to day to be creative.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the receptionist, a trader a writer or an IT guy. Anyone can be creative. Everyone can see something new through a human lens no matter what you do in our organization – that’s what I preach.

Everyday you have a choice. You could either do what you have always been doing and 90% of the day you end up doing that. The most powerful question anyone can ask is why. Why is that the brief? Why am I asked to do this? Is there another way? Why are these people the only ones doing this project? Why is this great? Asking that unleashes the beast within.

What is creativity in a media planner’s point of view?

It’s hardly the traditional artist that can draw an impeccable drawing. It’s people that look at the world and come up with a new way of saying something – not different, but better. It can be a new algorithm, a new poem or a modeling technique. A work of art can definitely take many forms.

Tell us how Starcomm embraced creativity. 

We used to be a planning organization. Planning is very linear and that is important.  But we need to be designers as well as planners. Designing is when you synthesize things that haven’t been combined in that way before. So its how you pivot from planning to designing and back again and end up with innovative work that can still deliver the sales and results for clients. It’s not about fluffy creativity. It’s all about innovation and commercial impact.

There are jobs like flying a plane or being architect that requires absolutely that. But in our space? We are about humanity, about understanding culture and people and that’s dynamic and fluid. So there is no one way to answer in marketing. That’s why some engineers and schoolteachers end up in the industry because it values diversity – you just don’t know who will be your next client.

Creative work involves making mistakes. Can agencies afford failure when it comes to commercial creativity?

Making mistakes is natural and even productive in some cases but it’s a kind of failure that cripples you. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel or bust 100% of your budget but taking risks are game-changing. Not innovating is a much bigger risk so be brave with at least 10%.

Can you separate creativity and effectivity?

I don’t think you can and should. You need both because effective is ultimately creative and creative is essentially effective. Rather than just look at return on investment, the industry should also think in terms of return on emotion.

Ninety percent of everything we do is an emotional decision. ROI may not be a perfect fit because it is linear but people do need numbers and that everything boils down to a number. ROE is not accepted at all or even talked about but we need to learn it to supplement traditional models because it doesn’t show the whole picture.

We have just buried our head in data and metrics that we missed the richness of the world around us. Just sit in a shopping mall, park or a store. You have a set of questions in your head that you may want to ask but just watch how people react and respond in a natural environment. It’s not just the researchers that can do it. Anyone can pay attention and the results and invaluable.

What is consistent in great work in the GPC? 

Some of them are obvious. It always must make sense for the brand. For us, human understanding is a given. You need human inspiration and insight. It’s the spark that hooks people and your client. People also want to be in communities and talk about stuff that they love.

We take all these ingredients that people want, not marketers or companies, and think about them whenever we do our work. That alone is powerful. But the challenge is how not to do it sometimes but how to do it often, even always.

What are things the GPC is looking forward in Manila?

We didn’t fly 30 people to Manila and sit in a hotel room with no windows and do nothing. A lot of people around the world are guilty in doing that. If you are in Manila, learn something from Manila, get inspired by its people, its culture, our people here and what they did. How did they become  (the 4A’s) Agency of the Year? That’s what we want to hear about.  How did they take our global positioning and bring it to a whole new level?

We will be visiting city in the following days and immerse, observe and learn whatever we can from this amazing country. Our office here has some of the highest culture scores across our network. What is it about the spirit of this people and their attitude that enabled them to do that and what can we learn and distribute to our network?