Creatives Should Diagnose & Prescribe
Updated: Sep 17
I recently listened to a good, short book about effectively running a creative agency, The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns. (Yes, I consider listening to audio books the same as reading, and am willing to take this controversial stance herein.) It aims to lay down core principles to help build constructive relationships, and it was written by someone who has been there and done that.
The principle that resonated the most with me and that I feel I have practiced (to varying degrees) for years, is the idea that creative work should proceed with the agency having the ability to diagnose and prescribe before “applying” the creative solution. Yes, just like we expect in the medical profession where so much is on the line. That is not to say that the self-diagnosis from the client – the reason they need the creative project or campaign – is faulty but it can almost always be improved or recalibrated by a good, experienced agency or creative individual. Of course, like all prescribed solutions, they must be collaborations, including with our doctors, since we understand our bodies more deeply than they do. That said, a constructive diagnosis and prescription phase is crucial to getting things right.
I am sure that many of us will often “apply/execute” creative projects for our current clients without much explicit diagnosis and prescription but that’s because we already understand the patient, aka the brand, and have a relationship built on mutual trust. And, by shaping the creative – scripting, storyboarding, casting, etc. – we keep all that in mind and continually aim to align the creative application with the core business issue at hand.
This ability to explicitly and/or intuitively diagnose and prescribe is something that all clients should seek from their creative partners. This could include a set of strategic conversations, or it might just be a slight recalibration, one that’s approved by the client of course. It is similar to the script note or feedback on a rough cut that is so obviously right, that you just know it when you hear it. Well, this type of interaction should also happen at the strategic stage before the costly creative development and lift-off stage. This is all about ensuring that the work has the necessary impact and reaches the intended audience. And this upfront work is also better for the creative process for many reasons.
This typically means that your creative collaborators should have big league brand experience. I know, from years of experience, that leading and launching projects or campaigns that will sometimes be seen by hundreds of thousands of consumers and/or costs six- or seven-figures, focuses your actions. There is always a bit of fear at launch, but it should mostly be about the excitement of sharing the work with the world. Yes, it is the moment when your theories are verified, or not. It is exhilarating. Be sure to choose creative teams that have had this front-end strategic experience and where success, from the creative launch, is the norm. Your creative partners must love artistry as much as the business goals you need to meet. And, yes, their body of work should be able to prove this success.
The reward for diagnosing correctly, prescribing boldly, and creatively applying with grace is to be hired to re-apply more creative solutions to keep the momentum going for the brand. This is only done, consistently, by never losing sight of the first two vital steps of diagnosing and prescribing, no matter how non-creative it sounds. Embracing this crucial practice from the medical profession is central to success in creative endeavors. Brands should choose their creative partners carefully and allow them to engage early in the process. Be well.