by Matt O'Neill
July 26th, 2017

I recently committed to learning jazz piano. Given I never learned standard piano, it’s not been an easy road. My biggest struggle is my tense and rigid hands. My teacher keeps telling me – ‘Playing jazz is about finding the easiest way to get from one note to the next; you just need to relax’. Strangely, it’s actually similar advice to what I always tell aspiring content writers.

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In other words; just relax – find the easiest route from one word to the next.

Superficially, you wouldn’t think there would be much to link jazz piano and blog posts. Yet, it’s just one of many surprising intersections I’ve found between the creative arts and professional communications – especially since joining Weber Shandwick. In the past handful of months alone, I’ve worked with music video directors, authors of children’s books, photojournalists and flautists.

Which, in and of itself, is not necessarily jarring. In every workplace, you’ll find surprising hobbies. (One of my favourites: a global communications manager enjoying a successful side-career as an acrobatic circus performer.) But, it’s been decidedly more surprising to see my co-workers’ hobbies bleed into the workplace. Or, to be more accurate, be openly invited into the workplace.

The talent in our Singapore office, for example, has previously led to us pitching graphic novels and children’s storybooks – because we have already had the creativity, skills and passion in our teams to easily deliver on such a brief. It’s happened to me, too. In another life, I make music. Since starting at Weber, these skills have proven invaluable in my day-to-day work.

In my initial interview, a manager asked if I had ever used my skills as a music producer in my communications work. I thought she was just curious. Within weeks of commencing my role, I found myself in a recording studio performing a voiceover and coaching others in doing the same. In the months that followed, I found myself increasingly using music in strategic branding exercises.

It’s an interesting glimpse of the oft-discussed ‘agency of the future’. I’ve long maintained that a background in the creative industries helps develop a variety of valuable skills for more corporate workspaces – not just creativity itself, but project management, strategy, communications and cross-disciplinary collaboration. But, it’s not those skills that are proving the differentiators.

No, it’s actually the seemingly non-transferrable special skills and unique curiosities that are helping create exciting new campaigns and new ideas. And, beyond campaigns, work environments. One of the most creative and professional event producers I’ve met actually works in administering one of our offices – and consistently uses her passion and talent to create a more engaging workplace.

It actually hints at a surprising solution to an ongoing talent problem within the communications industry. More and more, agencies and firms are searching for ways to recruit creative professionals – people who can generate wild new ideas and approaches for clients. And, everywhere you look, workplaces are striving to create company cultures to attract these creative professionals.

But, in many ways, our workplaces are already full of creative people. It’s just about ensuring that they feel supported and encouraged in expressing that creativity within their workplace (which, fortunately, Weber Shandwick does). After all; what better way to attract shiny new creative people – than to give our own creativity permission to shine just as brightly?

As someone who still makes creative work as a professional artist, it’s a truly comforting and stimulating environment. Because, more than just creating a workplace of great ideas, it encourages people to seek out the creativity within their own lives – to follow their passions and explore them as part of their work; to become more adventurous and engaged individuals.

It’s a standard joke that studying the arts (or jazz piano) is a surefire route to bitterness and unemployment. But, in communications, I think we’re truly working to showcase just how richly rewarding the creative arts can (and should) be – and, just as importantly, collaborating with our clients to demonstrate that to audiences around the world.

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