Why compromise is not a dirty word

Ian Heartfield
Ian Heartfield

Creatives are usually brought up to believe that if they listen to other opinions and are flexible then they are somehow not a true creative.

A true creative digs his or her heels in and stands firm, defending their turf like a ferocious Rottweiler under all circumstances.  In my experience this is bullshit. The ability to compromise and find the middle ground is not only essential in this industry, but is a skill to be celebrated in its own right. 

Many years ago I worked for a creative director who was utterly uncompromising. A genius in the true sense of the word, he would rather not make what would undoubtedly be an extraordinary, award-winning film than change one location in one scene. Having this set attitude is easier. Never compromising is a clear position, as is always listening to other opinions and doing whatever other people say. Both of these clear mindsets, at either end of the spectrum, mean your thought process is unclouded and straightforward.

Using your judgement and emotional intelligence to know what to give and take on is by far the harder thing to do. Knowing when the flex doesn’t harm the idea or when, heaven forbid, the flex might actually make the idea better. It’s a position that you have to keep checking yourself on. Am I being too accommodating? Is the work being fatally damaged? Or am I now being unreasonable? Am I running the risk of losing the whole project? Or the entire account?

These are not easy calls to make. It’s a bit like tuning a guitar with an app (I can’t play, but my god you should hear me tune). Don’t twist the peg enough and the dial stays in the red. A fraction too much and the dial skips straight into the red on the other side. Get it just right and the needle hovers satisfyingly on the green.

But the dodgy guitar tuning analogy doesn’t just apply to the work, it also applies to agencies themselves. I have worked in several shops over the years and have seen the pendulum swing violently and decisively from one extreme to the other. The pursuit of a ‘new way’ meant an automatic rejection of the past. This has rarely, if ever, worked. There are always as many good things worth taking forwards as there are bad things that should be left behind. Agency leaders should use their collective judgement to follow the path that lies somewhere in the middle, and be proud to walk it.

Ian Heartfield is the joint executive creative director of Bartle Bogle Hegarty London

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