As our blog approaches a milestone (our 100th post is coming up soon) Felix Davey, Head of Copy, finds a topic as yet unexplored: the importance of creatives presenting their work. WARNING: this post will make you hungry.
It’s been a while since this blog featured an intricate – tenuous? – fundraising analogy. So I thought that it was about time I explained how being a creative at an agency is really quite like being a chef.
Customers go to a restaurant for food, and clients generally go to an agency for creative work. Chefs/creatives labour behind the scenes to create the product. This work takes time and requires particular skills. It can also be known for a certain temperament, unsuited to interaction with customers/clients.
With many agencies, clients have very little contact with the people who create the work they pay for. And customers in most restaurants hardly ever see the people who cook the food on their plate.
But Noma in Copenhagen is a little different. For a start, it’s the best restaurant in the world and holder of two Michelin stars. The gastronomic philosophy of head chef Rene Redzepi is all about time and place:
“If you shut your eyes and just ate the food, would you know where you were in the world and what time of year it was?”
Seasonal ingredients are foraged from the forests, dunes and seas of Denmark, and brought together to create delicate and pristine dishes. Such as crudité of carrot, beetroot, cucumber and kohlrabi:
Langoustine with oyster, parsley and seawater emulsion, and rye crumbs:
And fish doughnuts:
If that’s got your mouth watering, you can try making some Nordic cuisine at home - here Redzepi explains how to knock up one of his signature dishes: vintage carrot and camomile.
(It takes a mere two hours to make, and requires such readily accessible ingredients as goat's butter and wild sorrel, so it’s perfect for a quick weekday supper.)
But at Noma, it’s not just the dishes that are unusual. It’s the people who serve them – the chefs leave their stations in the kitchen and bring their dishes to the table.
Redzepi explains, “One of the ways to train the chefs to be better chefs is to make them serve. It’s also a way of showing that we’re on the guest’s side.
“Instead of having some kind of butler, you have an awkward person with rough hands and a little sauce on the apron coming out and saying 'Welcome!' That is a very different approach from your usual waiter.”
This approach benefits everyone involved. It helps the customers understand the components of the dishes – when the ingredients are as obscure as beach mustard, who better to introduce them than the person who has foraged and prepared them?
It also helps create a warm and relaxed atmosphere, in contrast to the stiff linen and stuffiness of many Michelin starred restaurants.
Above all, it makes the customer feel special and involved. They are not just at the restaurant to consume and pay – they are there to try something new, to appreciate and enjoy. Their experience is valued more than their credit card.
As Redzepi says, the chefs learn from the experience too. Although serving and explaining might not come naturally, it helps them think about their creations from the point of view of the customer – how the dishes will be eaten, not just how they are put together.
I would also imagine that it creates a better dynamic amongst Noma’s chefs and waiters – more collaborative, and less ‘us and them’. By getting out of the kitchen and into the dining room, the chefs see the customers not as gastronomic naïfs or tiresome complainers, but rather as people – people on whom the restaurant depends to survive.
All this applies to the restaurant/agency analogy, too. Many agencies keep the creatives tucked out of sight, without any contact with clients. But at Bluefrog, we always present our concepts in person.
Just as it does with the chefs, presenting makes us see our ideas from a different point of view. It focuses our minds – if an idea can’t be shared clearly and succinctly, then it’s probably not worth sharing.
I also think that it helps foster a strong, collaborative dynamic both within the agency – between creatives and client services – and with our clients.
Concept presentations are an opportunity for everyone involved in a project to discuss the best direction to take – for clients to give direct feedback to creatives, and for creatives to ask questions of clients.
They also build rapport – it really helps to get to know the person who will be feeding back on your work in later stages, so you can understand the thinking behind the comments and figure out the best way to address them.
We don’t present each round of creative work in person – that would be impractical, like a chef delivering the bill at the end of the meal – but an open, frank discussion at the start definitely makes for a smoother, more harmonious process overall.
Of course, that’s not to say I don’t find presenting to clients an intensely nerve-wracking experience. Like many creatives, I feel much more at home in front of a blank sheet of paper than I do in front of an audience, just as I’m sure most chefs feel more comfortable by a stove.
So when I present concepts with an art director, I can’t quite promise the spectacle of Michelin-starred fish doughnuts or the charm of sauce stains on aprons. But there’ll probably be some awkwardness, and perhaps even some ink stains on our hands.