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Why creatives and business types MUST mix

By on August 31, 2010
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I was inspired to write this post by Jimmy Mulville’s Richard Dunn memorial lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival.

Jimmy runs HatTrick, one of the most successful UK independent production companies that makes some great comedy shows like Have I Got News for You, Whose Line is it Anyway?, Outnumbered, Father Ted and The Kumars at No. 42. He is a very successful businessman and a very successful comedy writer. I have enormous respect for him.

Hat Trick logo

Which is why I found the lecture so disappointing.

It was funny, well-structured and well-presented. Jimmy put the boot into “strategists” and “management” and “accountants”, making the point that creative people can’t be incentivised by targets and spreadsheets and rules. They’re creative; creatives break rules, that’s their job.

All true. But overall, I’m not sure it’s the most helpful way of thinking about running creative businesses.

At one point, Jimmy said coming up with the creative idea is difficult; exploiting it is easy.

That’s so not true.

And that’s what really got me cross (and tweeting in a passive-aggressive heckling way).

We’re all in this together

Creatives need managers, and financiers, and distributors, and marketers. Marketers and managers and financiers and distributors need creatives.

We may not understand each very well, but we are all trying to achieve the same thing: getting good quality content out to audiences and making money from it. Sure, we may have different motivations – some creatives might just want to get money so they can make more content; some business types might see creative content as a route to profits – but we are symbiotic.

The same is true in Health and Education and any organisation with expert practitioners that are separate from management.

What Gerry saw

Three years ago, I watched a TV series where Gerry Robinson tried to improve the operation of an NHS hospital (Can Gerry Robinson fix the NHS?).

Of course it was biased and trying to create conflict, but I was gobsmacked – genuinely jaw-droppingly gobsmacked – by the hostility and antagonism between the administrators and the medical staff.

The doctors were unmanageable, self-opinionated and shockingly arrogant individuals with no team spirit; the administrators were spineless worryworts who were more focused on spreadsheets than people.

And here’s the thing: doctors don’t want to manage; managers can’t doctor. So why can’t they both see that they need each other.

Gerry said that when he was CEO, he viewed his job as trying to find out what resources his frontline people needed in order to deliver what he wanted them to deliver, and give it to them. The NHS was totally dysfunctional about achieving this simple objective.

What leaders do

I’ve been a CEO (admittedly of a tiny and not massively successful company). What I realised very quickly is that you had to make sure that everyone knew that everyone else was critical to the success of the whole company.

The product guys had to realise that without marketing, no-one would buy their product. Sales had to realise their job was to sell the great stuff that development had created, not rashly agree to random improvements to close a deal; finance had to realise that they had to find the cash to make everything work and *everyone* had to realise that the bean counters were totally critical to everyone getting paid this month.

That’s what leaders should do. Help everyone understand that everyone else is valuable.

And what if everyone isn’t valuable?

Well, that’s simple.

Fire them.

Why so cross with Jimmy?

Jimmy set out his stall with a number of cheap (but funny) shots at management.Along the way, he acknowledged (albeit in a pretty sotto voce way) that he ran a creative company that has business processes and management, but he tried to keep them out of the way of the creative process.

I agree wholeheartedly. But many listeners would have been forgiven for hearing Jimmy calling for the end of management. Not a partnership with management.

So I urge anyone reading this, and anyone who listened to Jimmy’s talk, to reflect on this:

  • if creatives can build a working relationship built on trust and respect for the people who finance, distribute, market and sell their product AND
  • if those people can find a constructive way of respecting creatives for their disorganised, unstructured way of having brilliant ideas

we’ll get more great content, we’ll get more money to make great content and we’ll all be richer.

Can’t we all just get along?

(Oh, and in case you didn’t get the point, I think that this applies to developers and publishers of games as well. If you don’t respect your publisher, don’t work with them. Try to learn the value of what all your partners do – if they’re not adding value, don’t work with them. But realise that usually they are doing a job that someone needs to do – and if they aren’t doing it well, find someone else that will.)

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com
  • I think that largely you can blame management (on both sides) for not stamping on this tendency (and the media for exacerbating it).

    Small multidisciplinary teams definitely work through it better. Just make sure the ethos sticks as you grow.

  • Agreed. Sadly this is the rule and not the exception from my 15 year experience of being a software developer. As an economically empathetic developer I’ve usually been the lead on projects which means being the tech voice at strategy meetings, funding pitches etc and have seen the “Them and us” problem from both sides.

    The average Sales&Marketing people tend to see the tech/creatives as some sort of necessary evil RainMan types and the tech/creatives see them as Gordon Gecko types. Both largely seeing each other as some sort of road block to Utopia – whilst in fact they are both stopping each other from being on the dole queue if they can do their jobs properly. Sorry for the 80s movie cliches, showing my era there a little 😉

    But as cliches go they exist largely because they are true but I think (hope) there is a new sort of company structure emerging; a more evolved one. More agile and smaller in size, with a radically smaller financial requirement for it’s running and where the team are, if not multi-disciplined, able to see Sales, Marketing, PR, Development, Finance and Design as equals and as vital to success as each other.

    Well, that’s the plan anyway!

  • I guess I hear it more often from the other side. I heard a guy who dresses shops for a living laying into the CFO “I mean, does he even know what we do? Does he care about windows? He’s such a douchebag”. That’s a man who managed a multi-billion dollar property portfolio but “dressed like a douche”.

    I see it in development teams who loathe marketers, in coders who think business models are irrelevant.

    Personally, i see it more often from creatives tyowards business people than the other way round. But then, I spend most of my time on the business side, so it’s possible I’m just blinkered.

  • Anonymous

    The sad fact is that people in management (and more often sales/marketing) seem to consider their role as far more important than the people creating content. They view it as a commodity to be traded. That is mostly where the animosity comes from. Nobody would feel bad if it were a partnership, but it hardly ever feels that way. Listen to the likes of Activision’s head honcho to get a feel for how much he “values” his creative partners.

    I don’t disagree that it should be a partnership, but I think it rarely ends up being that way.

  • Creatives writing about creatives not working with the money guys. I wonder if the production company behind Mad Men follows its own advice.

  • Marie F

    Seems fitting to refer back to another TV series here but the Don Draper – Conrad Hilton storyline in Mad Men rather eloquently explored this issue. Ultimately himself and the agency suffered the fallout when as head creative he failed to see the importance of the agency’s account managers work.

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