by MJ ONeill
July 13th, 2017

I recently committed to learning jazz piano. Given I never learned standard piano, it’s not been an easy road. My biggest struggle is my tense and rigid hands. My teacher keeps telling me – ‘Playing jazz is about finding the easiest way to get from one note to the next; you just need to relax’. Strangely, it’s actually similar advice to what I always tell aspiring content writers.

Don’t write to impress; just speak as clearly and accurately as possible and eliminate any mistakes.

In other words; just relax – find the easiest route from one word to the next.

Superficially, you wouldn’t think there would be much to link jazz piano and blog posts. Yet, it’s just one of many surprising intersections I’ve found between the creative arts and professional communications – especially since joining Weber Shandwick. In the past handful of months alone, I’ve worked with music video directors, authors of children’s books, photojournalists and flautists.

Which, in and of itself, is not necessarily jarring. In every workplace, you’ll find surprising hobbies. (One of my favourites: a global communications manager enjoying a successful side-career as an acrobatic circus performer.) But, it’s been decidedly more surprising to see my co-workers’ hobbies bleed into the workplace. Or, to be more accurate, be openly invited into the workplace.

When it became apparent that someone in our community had published two children’s books, we decided to try and develop a children’s book for a pitch. When Tyler Kim, Managing Director of Weber Shandwick Korea, discovered he had some music video directors in his office, he didn’t ignore that. He invited them to make some music videos for clients.

It’s happened to me, too. In another life, I make music. In my initial interview, a manager asked if I had ever used my skills as a music producer in my communications work. I thought she was just curious. Within weeks of commencing my role, I found myself in a recording studio performing a voiceover and coaching others in doing the same.

It’s an interesting glimpse of the oft-discussed ‘agency of the future’. I’ve long maintained that a background in the creative industries helps develop a variety of valuable skills for more corporate workspaces – not just creativity itself, but project management, strategy, communications and cross-disciplinary collaboration. But, it’s not those skills that are proving the differentiators.

No, it’s actually the seemingly non-transferrable special skills and unique curiosities that are helping create exciting new campaigns and new ideas. And, beyond campaigns, work environments. One of the most creative and professional event producers I’ve met actually works in administrating one of our offices – and consistently uses her passion and talent to create a more engaging workplace.

It actually hints at a surprising solution to an ongoing talent problem within the communications industry. More and more, agencies and firms are searching for ways to recruit creative professionals – people who can generate wild new ideas and approaches for clients. And, everywhere you look, workplaces are striving to create company cultures to attract these creative professionals.

But, in many ways, our workplaces are already full of creative people. It’s just about ensuring that they feel supported and encouraged in expressing that creativity within their workplace (which, fortunately, Weber Shandwick does). After all; what better way to attract shiny new creative people – than to give our own creativity permission to shine just as brightly?

I can remember a recent off-site for our Sydney office. During a team-building exercise, one of the office’s younger members revealed she’d actually recently developed a passion for screenwriting. After the exercise, I saw her co-workers rush forward to congratulate her and talk excitedly about her new interest. To my mind, that’s how a workplace truly champions and grows creativity.

As someone who still makes creative work as a professional artist, it’s a truly comforting and stimulating environment. Because, more than just creating a workplace of great ideas, it encourages people to seek out the creativity within their own lives – to follow their passions and explore them as part of their work; to become more adventurous and engaged individuals.

It’s a standard joke that studying the arts (or jazz piano) is a surefire route to bitterness and unemployment. But, in communications, I think we’re truly working to showcase just how richly rewarding the creative arts can (and should) be – and, just as importantly, collaborating with our clients to demonstrate that to audiences around the world.

This July, I’ll be chairing a panel on Creativity and Careers. I’m anticipating there will be the usual questions as to the perceived impracticality of studying or pursuing creative passions for a career. But, I’m looking forward to discussing just how much those passions are valued in my current workplace and industry.

Matt O’Neill is Digital Content Producer for Weber Shandwick Asia Pacific. He will be speaking on Careers and Creativity at QATA’s Ignite! Conference on Saturday 22 July in Brisbane, Australia.  

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