Creative Combos That Work

An interview with IPNY Chief Creative Partner Bruce Lee as published in

Tell us about some of the creative partners you’ve worked with.

As a copywriter I’ve worked with many types of creative partners over the years. Starting out, I teamed with an art director twice my age. He couldn’t come up with an idea to save his life, but what a talker. Every time we’d work we got into these incredible conversations and I’d find myself coming up with ideas, ideas, ideas – way better than the ones I would have come up with on my own – even though we barely talked about the work. In some weird way he opened my flow. But isn’t that what you want – to be with a partner who gets you going? Magic is hard to explain. Fortunately, you don’t have to explain it. You just have to produce it.

Most art directors I’ve partnered with had collaborative styles. We’d toss thoughts back and forth and build on each other’s ideas until one of us had the eureka. Which neither of us would take credit for. We felt the process made it happen. At the other extreme I worked for a while with a lone wolf. He preferred to close himself off and come up with his own ideas. Creative problem solving is a delicate process – you can’t make someone interact if it’s out of their comfort zone – so I adapted to working as a recluse as well. In the end we’d show each other our hand. I never liked this subtly competitive approach but there was no other way to get him to deliver. He was talented, and the work we did brought a lot of attention and new business, so it was worth it from that standpoint, but it was neither a satisfying or efficient experience.

What makes for the best creative partner?

In the beginning, before the writing or the art direction, you and your partner are idea people in quest of unexpected ways to express the strategy. I’ve always done the best questing with a partner who wants to create something never seen before and is flat-out obsessive about finding it. You wouldn’t want to live with such a person, but you sure want them for your partner. Because they push you as hard as you push them and it makes the solution, when it comes, that much sweeter.

Another quality one appreciates is a partner who’s open to new things. I’ve worked in categories known for flashy work, but these days I enjoy more complex categories like financial, healthcare and nonprofit, where the work can be just as challenging but there is more opportunity to rethink the rules. And having an art director who enjoys problem-solving no matter what the category is essential.

When is a creative duo not a duo?

To paraphrase Freud, creative people are polymorphously perverse. I’ve been party to great creative ideas by working solo, in a pair, in a triad. With some of our TV projects I work with my long-time art director partner and our favorite TV director who is a former agency art director. The process is so easy because the three of us have been collaborating for years and there’s a high degree of trust.

Sometimes the most valued creative partner does not meet the strict definition of a “creative.” I work successfully with our strategic planner, because he inspires me with his deep appreciation of the problem. And because he has the ability to see my ideas the way the marketplace will.