Pharrell Williams Is Always Happy to Collaborate

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Moments ago, I had the pleasure of watching a live interview between two icons of the music industry, Pharrell Williams and Ryan Seacrest, here in the Grand Auditorium of The Palais in Cannes.

I must admit that, going in, I wasn’t sure how much I’d learn from these guys about the ad business. I mean, I know Pharrell is a prodigiously talented composer who’s written countless amazing songs, and I have no doubt that his hat collection is the stuff of legend; but I don’t need to know how to arrange a chord progression or select a fashionable head garment in order to do my job. So I was pleasantly surprised that much of what I heard was remarkably insightful and directly applicable to all creative industries, including advertising.

Of course, I can’t cover the whole interview here, but what stuck with me most were Pharrell’s thoughts about “intention.” In my words, this was about how listeners of music (and consumers of advertising messages) can intuitively “feel” the intentions of the creators, and will make instinctive judgments based on those feelings. For example, if two artists collaborate on an album, and they share a mutual respect and trust for one another, they’re likely to play off of each other’s talents, share ownership of the resulting ideas, put their hearts into their work and produce some genuinely moving melodies, harmonies and arrangements, because the listener will sense that the true intention was to create a piece of art for them to enjoy.

Conversely, if these two artists let their egos get in the way, compete for ownership and assume the other is always trying to champion his or her own ideas to serve his own interests, then the project is destined for failure. The songs may be somewhat interesting, and a record company might package them in an appealing way, ultimately the audience will probably experience a disconnect with the art on a visceral level, and the project will fail.

My experiences as an advertising creative are very consistent with this.

When the art director isn’t willing to share ownership with the designer, the copywriter fails to see the brilliance of the strategist’s headline or the client refuses to trust the agency, it shows in the work. The audience will sense that they’re being marketed to, because the work probably won’t really be about them as much as it’ll be about the company that paid to run it, or because the work will be watered down by people who have ulterior motives and competing agendas.

And BTW, this is to say nothing of the headaches and heartaches that come with ego battles between coworkers who might otherwise be great friends.

But when we all trust and listen to each other, and share credit with all who legitimately contributed, we can make sweet, sweet music together every time. And our audience will love us for it, because they’ll feel our true intention – to create engaging, original ideas that entertain, inform, provide utility and, ultimately, improve the lives of the people who define our brands.

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