Dreams and fear by Ann Maes

The first mail that hits my eye this morning is: ‘How do you define creativity?’ Claire Bridges sends it to me, one of my fellow jurors on the Cannes PR Lions jury. Put 21 clever creative PR/communications people from all over the globe in one jury room and not a single one will come up with the same definition. I like to think that everybody can be creative, so I send my partner a quick mail with that one question. He is a wine entrepreneur and has a knack of thinking out of the box. It only takes him two minutes to mail me back: When I was seventeen I stumbled upon this quote of jazz musician Charles Mingus. ‘Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.’


Not bad.


Like every other fussy creative strategist I feel like telling him that something is missing. Something along the lines of: ‘Turning the ordinary into the remarkable – all whilst being truthful’. I will only send him that thought later on, as I reckon that he must be off sharing remarkable stories about wine and the men and women that are producing it.


That thought leads me to ‘storytelling’. Read: the delicate art of crafting the right kind of creative content. When storytelling is at its best, it is light years away from the bland content that so often lands on our plates. When stellar, storytelling is about magnetic little gems.


Do I see you frowning there? Don’t worry – it must be me: I often get asked what I mean by that. Here’s how I recently explained it to my 69-year-old dad. ‘Magnetic stories have many different faces: it can be articles, pictures, one-liners, art, cartoons or videos that touch you in such a way that it creates a strong emotion of recognition. Or even better: that is creates the urge to share it with others. Not necessarily via social media channels, but even so when having a good old chat.


I mostly get people to nod when I put it like that. Some inquisitive souls -including my beloved dad and juniors looking for a job- confront me with questions that grant them access to the next level: how can you tell upfront whether content is good enough to tear the house down – or not?


I tell them about context then: about the importance of understanding whom you talk to, about the importance of sharing a story when the time is right. If you know what the dreams and fears are of the people that you are trying to sweep off their feet, you are well on your way to just do that.


So how ‘magnetic’ is the content I’ve seen so far in Cannes?


Really good.


Pretty bad.


I find it remarkable to notice how many wonderful creative campaigns don’t make me tick – for the one and simple reason that the content is just not up to par.


I had a chat with a young creative girl from Romania on this topic when eating an ice cream on the Croisette. In five minutes she quizzed me about content, context and pitched a story that made me smile and shiver. I forgot to ask her contact details, but in case she ever reads this – here’s my message to you: ‘Call me: talent like yours is rare.’


PS: My partner sent me another mail later on – pointing out that creativity is also about authenticity, honesty and empathy. His message made me smile. Creativity is not something people in creative industries own: it is the oxygen that keeps every passionate professional going. 



Ann Maes is Managing Director of Ogilvy Public Relations for its Brussels-based operation.

Ann returned to Ogilvy PR after an absence of twelve years. In the intervening time she has demonstrated excellent client counselling and business-building skills through leadership roles at Leads United and most recently as the founder of PrideTBWA.

Ann has worked across a range of sectors and companies in her career – with a focus on integrated campaigns, change communication and reputation management. Ann’s work has won many awards, in Belgium and abroad. Her clients over the years have included: McDonald’s, Coca Cola, Ahold Group, Pfizer, Sabic, Microsoft, Amgen, MasterCard, KBC, Proximus, KPN and Stanley.