A few months ago I started to write this piece, and to avoid some sort of back slapping self referential rhetoric I thought I’d ask around. I asked a fairly wide spectrum of people, acquaintances, mates, senior people, a few people I’d even hired as juniors. What came back was interesting, for different reasons. I was amazed by the humility of some, who I had previously put on a proverbial pedestal. Most of them, appeared to share my reluctance to talk about it, presumably because you leave yourself wide open. So, here’s more of a splurge than an article, I’ve bottled it too. This is something for creatives/designers to look out for, or aspire to. Maybe just a bit of a check-list for Creative Directors in general. It’s kind of a lot to start talking about really, maybe even a book’s worth or at least a chapter. So I’ll kick off with the obvious: like any position of authority you will have to have character aspects outside of your job description – politician, parent/teacher, nurse, midwife, shrink, salesman etc, however: fundamentally a Creative Director ought to be a balance of a creative person, and a director. It’s a bit like taking charge of the question AND the answer. I don’t think it’s enough to sit back and ‘mark’ the work of a team, as many great CDs are charged with, in an urban legend way. You need to be able to first and foremost take charge of your role, which is to lead and inspire, not dictate. Your responsibility is the work, and so you should be able to deliver, whatever happens. David Ogilvy many years ago talked about ‘building a company of giants’, recruiting people with better potential than oneself, and I totally agree. A great CD is always looking to take on raw talent and nurture it. People that worked with John Hegarty at BBH talked about him sharing his ideas, by the hour, every hour. Not being precious with ideas, giving them away to your team, and helping create a generation momentum was a universal must. Sharing, collaborating, involving, making things, together is something that came up a lot. I would also say you need to nurture the ideas of creative people and get behind them. You need to build the two way street of trust, helping ideas to work, whilst giving credit where it’s due – but ultimately taking responsibility. As a team, you need to share the success and failures, together. Hopefully more successes, but no finger pointing.
Infectious enthusiasm goes a long way, but couple it with knowledge and talent – It needs to be backed up. I don’t think anyone wants to work with a morose Jack Dee type CD, but here’s where time and experience will help give equity into people’s working relationships. I once worked with someone who tried to mentor me into giving the team the “shit sandwich” approach. When reviewing the work, tell them something good, then bad, then end good. I didn’t adopt this on principle, and instead worked towards clarity of the brief up front, therefore easier to see the teams thinking in response. Being a realist and the ability to be unbiased is a charge, too. The ability to look beyond the white walls of the meeting room and think about how things work in the real world. I think in design agencies, Creative Directors are often asked to take on more managerial roles, too, or at least into the Executive level role. For me, that is more about being able to solve a brief faster than anyone, but keeping that in reserve, really supporting the wider team. So, nothing new there then, really. Apart from one last thing, I found it really refreshing that some of the amazingly talented people I talked to – still looked upwards, or were reluctant to talk as a CD, preferring to be seen as a creative. Maybe these people would or do actually make the best creative directors. Not the ones worrying about who they are. They’re busy making things and enjoying what they do.
Special thanks to Graham, Ad, Adam, Verity, Claude, Tony, Katy and Yann for your thoughts and help.