Literature, branding and some world-class expertise, all served up with just a bit of topspin.


In Parts 1 and 2 of our conversation with Siegel+Gale’s, Fred Burt, we touched on the value of “simple is smart” in his branding work, the role of social media for brands and even the relevance of literary history in a marketer’s underlying work. Burt has also embraced simplicity in rediscovering and galvanizing the ties brands share with customers. In our series finale, Part 3, we ask Burt about his perspectives on creativity.

I started by asking Burt simply how he defined creativity. “You need to come up with a solution that, in order to be effective, surprise[s] or inspire[s],” he remarked. “Just give your solution a bit of topspin.”  So too, Burt explained, can effective marketing leave an unanticipated and therefore more potent impact on an audience. Once the unexpected occurs, a person’s guard is down and just as suddenly, he’s listening.

Reconstructing a new brand identity

So, if deriving solutions is at the core of what Burt describes as “applied creativity,” how does he typically approach the task? He describes his process as a methodical one. “I need to disaggregate the problem into little parts…look at those parts and twist them around,” he divulged. Ultimately, he said that this conceptual manipulation allows him to “Look at different ways of expressing the [core ideas] and then rebuild the thing that I’ve disintegrated into something new.”

Applied Creativity

It’s no coincidence that this process mirrors the way that Siegel+Gale’s  integrated strategy and design team distills the core philosophy and objectives of a client brand, realigns the different facets of the business towards this renewed purpose and reconstructs a new identity. A new perspective on the fundamentals and some topspin: applied creativity.

Burt’s appreciation for this creative process stems from his time at Oxford. “I consider myself very, very lucky to have been able to pursue an arts career… What I learned at University was to think, to apply my brain…and exercise my mind,” he reminisced. Burt spoke frankly about a business world that, he believes, has become increasingly hyper-specialized and vocationally focused, a trend that can limit the dynamic set of influences necessary for creative thought. The challenges that Siegel+Gale takes on keeps Burt creatively nimble by virtue of the varied client industries. “We work on all sorts of weird and wonderful assignments,” he said with enthusiasm. For example, he revealed that, “In the last year, I’ve worked on high-tech oil meters in Saudi Arabia, mobile phones, saline nasal sprays, [and] software.” He admits that working with a variety of products and industries ensures that what does remain consistent and fascinating from project to project is that core creativity in his problem solving. “I think that’s why I’ve been very lucky, he said thoughtfully. “I haven’t been tied down vocationally to any one particular art. That’s been extremely useful in my career.”

Creativity and Innovation in a Brand’s DNA

Curious about creativity with respect to Siegel+Gale’s clients, I asked, “Do you notice a marked difference in the way client brands accept or are influenced by creativity in their brands?” With punctuated emphasis, he advised, “For business and brand owners to deliver… They’ve got to have some sort of creativity or sense of innovation about them in the way they operate.”

He noted that research and product development can serve as an extension of brand creativity—something that Burt believes great brands “have in their DNA.” Moreover, he lauded the internal innovation that consumer brands in particular possess across multiple business lines. As for those that don’t fundamentally embrace this inventiveness, he had a stern warning:

“Brands that look outside for creativity as some sort of silver bullet for a business problem…are far less likely to succeed than those that embrace creativity in a more holistic sense.”

During this portion of our conversation, Burt made sure to describe the habits he’s observed of Siegel+Gale’s creatives and designers, those who deal intimately with creating the distinct topspin he mentioned earlier. “They’re very restless souls,” he chuckled. “[They’re] constantly looking for sources to keep their skills fresh and honed.” Continuing with his sporting analogy, he observed that,

“It’s almost like athleticism: Good creatives stay in creative shape.”

He was quick to point out the true value of his colleagues’ discipline, not simply as a skill that produces cutting-edge content, but a balance that makes them keenly effective within the constraints of the commercial world. “When the task is there…[and] there’s a finite period of time to get the job done, they’ve got all the raw material and skill…to draw on, rather than having to rely on the lightning bolts.” Again, we see the vital balance between innovation and problem solving – a marriage that results in this applied creativity of which Burt so enthusiastically speaks.

Unexpected sources that fuel creativity

As our interview came to a close, I asked Burt about what other influences he depended on, of late. He was quick to mention Hamlet, a favorite he constantly revisits, followed quickly thereon by his role as a new father, the occasional round of golf and even a recent book on the history of the Sex Pistols he’d found particularly fascinating. If it’s the interesting and the unusual that inspires creative thought, as Burt says, then his personal interests seem a potent source of ingenuity.

Literature, branding and some world-class expertise, all served up with just a bit of topspin.

What began as an atypical branding interview had grown into a discussion on the vital breadth of influences on which the creative process depends. Literature, branding and some world-class expertise, all served up with just a bit of topspin.

A social branding consultancy

Follow us on Twitter:

Cheryl Burgess @ckburgess

Mark Burgess @mnburgess

Blue Focus Marketing @bluefocus360

Good things come to those who sign up for our newsletter.
Join our email list to get the latest insights straight to your inbox.
Give it a try, you can unsubscribe anytime.