Brands are the enemy of creators. Let’s change that.

Sell-out. Fake. Forced.

These are some words we see hurled at some of those special few creators who have a chance to collaborate with brands. It’s almost always the result of a misguided approach to collaboration.

So often when there is even a hint of a commercial aspect to a piece of creative work, the cries of upset mask any positive reaction so thoroughly that both the brand and the creator are scarred by the experience.

There is a better way to collaborate though. Between creatives and brands––between humans and humans.

Define boundaries from the beginning. Treat creators as experts. Treat brands as co-strategists. Be transparent. Call each other out. Understand. Critique based on strategy, not personal taste.

Whether you’re finding a film director, illustrator, painter, designer or influencer, your creator needs freedom. Whether you’re being hired by an agency, a small business or a mega-corporation, you must always both respect and be respected b­y them. Let this rulebook be a guide to making the most effective collaboration between brand and collaborator.

These are rules to improve creative collaboration between creator and brand.

These rules are phrased in terms of how to solve a problem. All creative collaborations are fundamentally solving a problem. Every creative output should fundamentally have a problem that it solves otherwise the collaboration is wasted. Whether the problem is one of the brand or the creator, it should be identified before the collaboration begins and the problem is solved.

For the brand

Let go.

You can’t be in total control, for the work to be the purest, most authentic and most effective it can be, you need let the creator do as much of the creation as possible. Define only goal and provide only advice, not vision.

It takes immense trust but if you’ve found the right creator, the right work will happen. Don’t let your vision or your goals dilute the actual work.

Every iteration by the brand is a dilution of the original vision. Every dilution is a mask on the creator’s freedom and expression. This dilution is where the outrage of your audience finds its feet.

Treat your creator as an expert. Like your doctor and your lawyer: respect their judgement on how to solve the problem at hand.

There are varying levels of involvement between a brand and a creator. Define your involvement from the outset and use it as a basis of how the relationship will continue. Ensure that your involvement is proportional to budget, prestige, goal, timeline and medium and that it honours creator as expert.

Value each piece of creative output as both a standalone piece of work and a strategy-based sales-tool.

No matter what the purpose is, the creative product should serve as a mark of your brand as well as a unique piece of content. If you produce a film, don’t flood it with brand messages; if you produce an installation, it should work without your logo; if you produce an article, it should read without your call-to-action.

While your hand should appear in the work and it should sell your brand as much as it functions as entertainment or art, it also must be entertaining and compelling. When it becomes more an ad for you than a piece of independent creative work, it is infinitely more likely to attract the fury of purist fans of your collaborator or their medium.

Resist opinion. Be ready to give feedback but consider it carefully. Feedback should be based on the goals, the strategy and the final outcome, not personal taste. When personal taste apart from that of the creator interferes with the creative, the goals are compromised, the purity of the work is tainted and the vision is no longer. Is it the way you’d do it? No. Is it wrong? No. Go with it, you’re hiring an expert at what they do because you value their opinion, prove that by endorsing it.

For the creator

As a creator, you are imbued with the power to create. In his 2018 manifesto “Against Creativity”, Oli Mould defends that creating is not an ability but a power. A power to start conversations, to spark debate, to condemn hate, to inspire change and to empower thought. Don’t waste a single ounce of that power on diluted work.

You must treat your power with responsibility and apply the same intellectual and moral rigour as you would if you were governing a nation or sentencing a crime. Don’t allow commerce, emotion or conflict to interfere with the ultimate power you have as a creator.

In collaboration with a brand, you can avoid diluting your power as a creative by asserting a vision and sharing it in the clearest way possible. Be prepared to have to communicate your vision, it is this step that enables you to produce the purest version of it. Present what you aim for the project and let that be the guide for the final output, not a sales goal or a client scamp.

Be ready for change but don’t compromise the fundamental value of the work. You know what your work is about, you have creative control and the power to deny compromise. Use it. Empower your work as a vessel for the right message. Use your conscience to moderate the work and apply the same rigorous standards as everything else to the work you produce with a brand.

Treat yourself as an expert, a practitioner of your creative art and don’t let your solution to the problem be dictated to you. Decide the problem together and make work that solves it. To solve the wrong problem is to incur the same dilution of your power as if you were to create blatantly uncreative or purely commercial work.

Author Blair Enns cites that as creatives – as experts – you must diagnose and solve creative problems together, not endorse the broken cycle where amateurs define the output and dilute your creative vision. Manifest your power as a presentation of the problem you intend to solve and your way to solve it.

This is part of the power that is entrusted to you: the power to be independent and use different eyes to view the problem.

Share responsibly. Don’t mask the intentions or purpose of what you’ve created. Be proud of what you’ve created and the brand you’ve collaborated with to produce the content.

For everyone

Wear your conscience and your heart on your sleeve. The more honest you are about your brand, the more you can connect with your audience. Let the brand shine through the filter of the creator’s vision.

Don’t take it too seriously. As much as these rules depict your collaboration as some world-ending interaction, ultimately, for your creative output to be a success, it has to be a genuine reflection of your identity. It’s a collaboration because both creator and brand contribute.

So have fun, express yourself and be friendly. All collaborations are fostered in the crucible of conversation. Let the next collaboration become a dialogue between brand, creator and audience.

Recommended readings:

Against Creativity – Oli Mould

The Win Without Pitching Manifesto – Blair Enns