‘Lone wolf?’ Forget it. Why creativity needs collaboration

“It was, is and will be a matter of individuals that collaborate perfectly. Harmony is a strategy.
Alexander Schill, Global Chief Creative Officer, Serviceplan Group

We all know that creativity depends on collaboration. And with creative businesses under huge pressure to become more virtual and even more global, effective collaboration is fast becoming a strategy for survival.

LIONS Live gave us some killer insights into successful collaboration – from brands and their long-term agency partners, from the visionaries rethinking old systems to build more inclusive, productive (and kinder) working cultures and also from teams that have reimagined the creative process to ensure that collaboration with communities outside of the industry is built on a fair exchange.

Here are some insights from LIONS Live to help you shape the best partnerships.

1. Keep your friends close – even when cracks start to show

In an analysis of Lion-winning work that we conducted in 2019, we found that brands and agencies that have worked together for ten years or more are twice as likely to win a Lion. And at LIONS Live, we were invited inside perhaps the most commercially successful creative pairing of the past decade. In their talk, ‘Ten Years of You're Not You When You're Hungry’, Snickers and BBDO Worldwide proved that as with any long-term relationship, tensions, points of friction and even a break-up can be hugely productive.

Theirs was one of the most lucrative re-couplings of modern times and represented a truly brilliant creative comeback. "You’re Not You When You’re Hungry" was picked up in 54 markets, moved the brand’s bar sales from #9 in the world to #1 and went on to win 47 Lions.

2. Kill egos, play nicely and make everyone equal

FCB, Serviceplan Group and TBWA/Chiat/Day explained that they’re abandoning hierarchies and creative individualism. Instead, adopting flat structures where “Everybody Leads” and creating cultures built on kindness. Or, “killing the ego with generosity” – as FCB Global’s Worldwide Creative Partner Fred Levron put it. A reocurring theme was the importance of the clearly defined and surprisingly humble mantras that underpin collaborative environments. This was particularly well articulated by TBWA/Chiat/Day New York’s Nancy Reyes and Chris Beresford-Hill, the leadership team behind the recent creative renaissance which culminated in the agency winning the most Lions in the office’s history in 2019.

Nancy and Chris sum up their mantra as a question: “Who are we when we’re being our best selves?”. But how do they work together, with their agency and with clients to bring those “best selves” out? By embracing six best-self behaviours that support effective collaboration: Small teams, not the infantry; Work with urgency; Teach by doing; Work flat; Partner up and Listen and Lean in to clients.

3. Don’t plunder – leave more than you take

What became apparent at LIONS Live is that a diverse creative team must also be matched by a creative and production process that supports access and inclusivity. This was exemplified in the 'Behind the Scenes' story of “Bluesman”, a collaboration between rap artist Baco, Coala, AKQA and Stink and the music video that ignited an important debate on institutional racism and won the Entertainment Lions for Music in 2019. The creative team explained how they reinvented the production process to do justice to Baco’s work and the people who appeared in the video – casting on location, bringing starring actor Kelson Succi into the creative process and hiring people from the local community to work on production. As Stink’s Line Producer Marcella Feo put it, this was a means of creating a “relationship with the location that went beyond ‘pay and leave’”.


True collaboration requires equality in a partnership. Removing hierarchies or hiring people from the location where you’re filming all boils down to having a sense of respect for what the other party (be it the agency, client, or another group) can contribute to the work. Consider how you can foster that respect and equality in your partnerships - whether it’s giving the floor to a more junior member, or taking extra time to listen to additional ideas.

A final top tip from Chris Beresford-Hill, Chief Creative Officer of TBWA\Chiat\Day NY:

"Shut up and listen."

Get collaboration right and you’re clearly halfway there. The next trick, say the experts, is to understand – and nurture – the artistry that goes into great work...