Creative Insights: Poem's Jess Cluff on the three secrets to commercial creativity

By AdNews | 1 May 2024
Creative Insights is an AdNews series investigating and uncovering the secrets of the creative side of advertising.
Poem creative director Jess Cluff:

How did you fall into the industry? Was it deliberate or a misstep?

Fall feels appropriate. I did an internship at a PR agency purely because it was a requirement of my uni degree. I had no idea what PR was beyond Samantha from Sex and the City. I was in for a big shock. After working my way up underneath some incredible female bosses (Hi, Kat Thomas and Claire Salvetti), a brilliant ECD (Hi, Pia Chaudhuri) saw something in me and mentored me into the creative department. Grateful was an understatement. Saying that, I wouldn’t be the creative I am now without all those years as a publicist. I know inherently and immediately what a truly earned idea is.   

What’s your secret sauce for commercial creativity?

Three things. First, not getting too caught up in your own cleverness. The simplest ideas are always the best. If I think to myself “Nah that couldn’t work it’s too simple”, that’s when I know it’ll probably be good. Second, teamwork. The best ideas are those that have passed through many brain sieves. And third, finding the sweet spot between what a brand wants to say, what the audience is interested in and what’s happening in culture. When you can find that intersection, you’ve struck gold.

What’s the biggest hurdle now for creatives?

I mean I could say AI or short-term thinking overpowering long-term brand building or something clever. But to be honest it’s such a personal thing. My biggest hurdle is battling my imposter syndrome. PR used to be the afterthought of every marketer and so for a long time I felt like I had to prove myself as a “proper” capital C Creative. But now the industry has realised that earned ideas are able to both pierce culture and deliver business results, and so PR has a seat at the table.   

Do you wear the black t-shirt uniform or are you a nonconformist?

Neither. I love clothes. I love colour. I love a trend. You don’t have to wear a black t-shirt to be creative. Nor do you have to wear something outrageously unique that you bought at a flea market in Portugal during a full moon while microdosing mushrooms. Sometimes you can just wear something from Zara. 

Can commercial creativity only take place in a room full of people in black T-shirts?

Ha. How is there any other answer to that question than no? Do people really still think that? 

What was the latest campaign that you worked on that you really enjoyed?

It would have to be the one we just wrapped for Uber Carshare. We were asked to get mass awareness around their new brand platform, Australia’s Second Car. So we partnered with Formula 1 driver Valtteri Bottas and made him a second car that Aussies could rent while he raced his first one. There were SO many fun parts to it - from designing the car (complete with mullet aeration fans, a budgie smuggler clothes line, and a built in meat pie warmer) to writing and shooting the content with Valtteri to adding a mullet clause to his contract. We turned the entire thing around in 4 weeks so while it was fun, there was another F word I’d use to describe it…

(Fast, obviously.)

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