By Tham Khai Meng
FORTUNE -- We were in the rooftop bar just a few hours before it was strictly decent to be there. But with the news we'd just received, who could blame us?
I had to push a client to the breaking point while still keeping him on my side, encourage my creative colleagues to keep pushing the boundaries while keeping them from heading off the roof from feeling that their integrity was being compromised, and I had to do it all in the backdrop of a huge European regional meeting we had called.
Paul Smith, the regional creative director for Ogilvy & Mather's offices in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, sat hunched over his drink. Chris Garbutt, executive creative director for the Paris office, paced back and forth, frustrated and disappointed. As worldwide chief creative officer, I needed to figure out how to solve this problem.
We had all convened in Vienna, a city that can claim an embarrassingly large share of responsibility for Western culture's great achievements. Dozens of creative directors had come together for three intense days of critique and sharing ideas.
Managing a creative team is like building with mercury -- structurally unsound and toxic. So instead of trying to construct creativity, as if it were a kind of widget you can build, I try to create the best possible environment for it to grow. Face-to-face meetings are the best occasions for me to lay the groundwork for this kind of environment.
And here, right in the middle of one of those cherished meetings, dropped a creative problem of the first magnitude. Chris had taken things well into the unknown, just as he ought to. He and his team in Paris had produced an impressive commercial for a major beverage brand with an upscale and slightly conservative image. The film had been in the works for three years. The team scrimped on each expense to pour every cent of the budget into the commercial, and they still ran out of money. They were teetering on the edge of failure or even outright, expensive disaster. With some budgetary acrobatics, our global CEO Miles Young and I found them another $80,000 to work with, and I'm glad we did. It was the kind of film that wins acclaim -- and more importantly, rings the till. More
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