You needs soldiers and artists  … spreadsheets and Powerpoint

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Ron Atkinson, the manager of Manchester United in the Eighties and then salty football pundit, used to say that every football team needed a mixture of soldiers and artists.

Bill Shankly, the great Liverpool manager of the Sixties and Seventies, used to make a similar point when he compared a football to a piano. A team, he said, needed eight players to carry the piano and then three, as he put it, “to play the bloody thing”.

What they both agreed, in other words, was that every team needed the right blend of two kinds of players: the tireless, brave and battling “soldiers” (or “piano-carriers”), who provided strength, energy, structure and organisation, and held the team together …  and then the “artists” (or “piano-players”), who created and scored the goals.

Among the key roles of piano-carriers, was, of course, to carry the piano, so that the piano-players could play it.

Both types of players were vital but one type – according to the football market at least – was both scarcer and more valuable, because its members were judged to add more value. The creative players – the “artists” or piano-players, who created and scored the goals – then as now, commanded both higher transfer fees and higher pay.

Applicants for jobs in PR firms, meanwhile, are, I’m told, normally asked the following question: Are you a spreadsheet person or a Powerpoint person – i.e. are you stronger on process or on ideas and creativity?

There is no right answer … since every PR team, like every football team, needs both.

It’s the spreadsheet people who keep the show running and the agency solvent – and the Powerpoint people who win the awards and the attention of the world with their ideas.

The Powerpoint people couldn’t function or have impact that they do without their spreadsheet folks. They are, however, the ones who in the end provide the X Factor and the secret sauce, in the form of creativity.

Or, as the American ad man, Ed McCabe put it, “Creativity is one of the last remaining legal ways of gaining an unfair advantage over the competition.”