The trouble with creatives: negotiating creative identity in advertising agencies

Chris Hackley
Royal Holloway, University of London

Arthur J. Kover
Fordham Graduate Business School


Creative professionals in advertising agencies ('creatives') are commonly characterised by outsiders as quirky and insecure, brash and brilliant, and even mendacious. Few such accounts have focused on the subjective experience of being a creative professional. Because of this surface treatment, it has never been clear how these people arrive at an identity that satisfies themselves and others in their workplaces. This research opens up this area for investigation.

We first review the ways in which advertising creatives have been represented in popular culture and academic research. These representations form part of the discursive repertoire from which they seek to construct a viable sense of identity. We then offer a rich interpretation of a purposive sample of seven depth interviews with experienced and currently practising New York agency creatives. We infer two broad 'dilemmas of creative identity', which we explicate with quotes. We discuss implications and conclude by suggesting that, while the subjective experience of these advertising agency creatives might not be typical, nevertheless it should be recognised as a relatively under-acknowledged aspect of ad agency work.