Sunday, August 8, 2010

Are you a good communicator or do you have the skills of a drunken scotsman, with a broken jaw, trying to speak French?

Advertising is a collaborative business. An agency only succeeds when there is partnership between the different departments and team members.

Every agency has its fair share of egomaniacs and people with an arrogant demeanor.

However, when egos clash politics become rife, e-mail wars start to erupt and ill-will starts to spread throughout the organization.

It’s important for a leader to nip politics in the bud.

When an e-mail war breaks out, approach the people involved and drag them into a room. Make them talk to each other to resolve the issue.

I witnessed a colleague of mine recently get into an e-mail war which spiraled out of control. He was unhappy at a proposal that was written from one of our divisions. It was the third revision and the proposal still wasn’t up to scratch. My colleague gave his feedback detailing the areas that needed to be improved and the gaps that needed to be filled.

It was a very concise, objective response. Unfortunately, towards the end of the letter he started to make personal comments, probably out of frustration, about the abilities of the author of the proposal.

This angered the author and he raised the issue to management. The episode caused a bit of a storm. The way the letter was written deflected attention away from what was written. Which was unfortunate. The subject matter was important in terms of getting the project on the right track and, because of the spat, it was now taking a backseat.


The 4 gates of speech. 

On a visit to India, I was talking to Shanta Kumar, our CEO for the country, about how people communicate with each other. He told me about the 4 gates of speech, a principle his guru had taught him.

It goes like this: There are four gates you must pass through to communicate your message to another person. But to pass through the gates you first need to unlock them. And the only way to unlock them is by delivering your message in the right way. In other words, in a manner that is going to have a positive effect on the situation rather than a negative one.

To unlock the first gate, the message has to be honest.

To unlock the second gate, the message must be said in a kind way.

To unlock the third gate, the message needs to be beneficial to both parties.

To unlock the fourth gate, the message needs to be delivered at the right time. 

Although it’s philosophical in nature, I thought the advice was spot on. If you study people who do well in agencies, they tend to follow these principles instinctively. These are the people who know how to build relationships. And in the ad business that is at least 80% of the game. 


The 4 gates of speech work especially well as a format for giving feedback to creative people.

When a creative team shows you their work, it pays to be honest with your views (gate 1). It’s the only way to improve the work.

At the same time, the feedback should not be rude, derogatory or insulting. It should be encouraging (gate 2). The job of a Creative Director is not to be a bully. It’s to be a mentor and a teacher.

The right feedback motivates and encourages people to raise the bar, which means they learn and grow. As a result, the agency gets great work out into the market place, which can only improve your reputation as a creative leader. So both parties benefit (gate 3).

Finally, giving your feedback at the appropriate moment is vital. For instance, you don’t criticize work five minutes before a pitch presentation. There’s no point. It’s too late to do anything about the work. All you’ll do is demoralize the team who will then be jaded and apprehensive in the presentation. Which is the not the state of mind that wins pitches.

The right time to give your feedback in this instance would be the day after the pitch, once all the adrenalin and excitement has died down. The feedback then becomes constructive rather than destructive (gate 4).


It’s not always possible to be positive with people. Sometimes you come across an art director or copywriter who is too arrogant or obstinate for their own good. The creative types that think they are incredibly talented and have nothing left to learn.

As far as I’m concerned, these people have two choices in an agency. They eat humble pie and start taking advice, or they get booted out.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Can you spot a great idea and one that stinks?

I haven't posted one of these for a while (been too busy pitching). Anyway, we're now on the subject of creative. And I get to use one of my favourite cartoons...

Judging work is the essential part of the Creative Director’s job. The quality of an agency’s output relies on the Creative Director’s ability to perform this one task.

A good Creative Director judges work on his gut. He knows instinctively what’s good, average or downright bad. 

However, there are those that find it hard to give feedback to their creative teams. They struggle to translate their gut feel into a clear explanation of what’s right or wrong with the work. Which means they resort to feedback like, “It’s crap. Do something better”. Which is not exactly the best way to advise a team that might be struggling to understand where they need to go. 

So what are the tricks to giving better, clearer and more productive feedback. Here are four techniques that I find useful: 

1. Revisiting the brief 

Before you give any comments on the work, always ask to see the brief. The work, whether it’s good or bad, should have some relation to the “single most important promise”. 

Many times, you will find that the creative team have veered away from what has been asked of them. In that case, it is your job to get them back on track. Perhaps outline some areas they could explore. 

Alternatively, you may find that the brief is off and it is that which is causing the creative team to struggle. If that is indeed the reason, you need to bring the account service team back into the loop in order to iron out any issues. 

2. The Overnight Test 

Quite often, you’ll find a creative team presents some pretty interesting ideas you’re just not sure about. The temptation is to give instant feedback and make a decision for or against. 

This can lead to a rash judgement that you may regret later on. One way around this is to do the Overnight Test. 

Get the team to scamp up their ideas and pin them to the wall. Then leave them there, without further comment, until the next morning. 

If the next day the ideas still feel good, then they have merit and you should approve them. However, if you don’t feel good about them, then the ideas probably don’t make the cut and they have to either be pushed further or canned altogether. 

3. Buying Yourself Thinking Time 

Many times, a creative team will present an idea that you feel is intrinsically good, but needs tweaking here and there to make it perfect. In instances like this, you need time to collect your thoughts and work out the feedback you need to give to help the creative team move forward. 

Some Creative Directors use the ‘balcony break’ to give them the time they need. In other words, they go to the balcony for a smoke and a chat before they come back in to give their feedback. 

Others use more subtle techniques. One particular Creative Director, who was famous back in the 80’s, used to buy time by taking his glasses off and cleaning them. In the 5 or 10 minutes it took him to do this, he’d formulate his feedback. Interestingly, there was a time when this Creative Director started dating a new girlfriend and switched to contact lenses. It was a mere 2 weeks before he changed back to his old look. A friend asked him why he’d gone back to his glasses. “Because I can’t do my job without them,” he replied. 

But what you do if you don’t smoke or wear glasses? 

I’ve quite often used the coffee break. In other words, when a team shows me their work, and I want to think about it, I excuse myself for five minutes to make a coffee. By the time I get back, I usually have some thoughts in my head as to where the ideas need to be taken. 

Of course, many Creative Directors don’t feel the need to buy time at all. They just sit in their chair for 10 or 15 minutes staring quietly at the work, a method which works, but can be a bit unnerving for the anxious team sitting in front of him. 

4. The CD on the wall 

When you reject an idea, creative teams usually want to know why. You can always say it’s not good enough and send them on their way, but it’s not exactly the best way to teach and mentor young creative people. 

So many years ago, I concocted a little evaluation device. When a team came to see me, I would use it to judge their work. It was a great way to give instant feedback and at the same time give creative teams a way to evaluate their own ideas. 

Here’s the checklist I used. 

Interestingly, I used this device to evaluate the award-winning potential of campaigns. It was very accurate. If a campaign scored positively in all six areas, it invariably won. 

Many of my CDs and senior creative guys have used the tool, too. In fact, quite a few of them have pinned it on the wall of their office and have fondly dubbed it, “The CD on the wall”.

5. How the CD on the wall has changed with the rise of social media 

The original “CD on the wall” was great if you were just judging print ads or TV spots, but in today’s world it needs to go a bit further. I’ve added one more criteria to the list above.

Over the last two to three years, we have all witnessed the power of dialogue over monlogue. The campaigns we produce that allow high levels of involvement have far more impact than those that don’t. Not just in terms of engagement but also in terms of sales, too. Our work for HP in China helped them grab a 1.5% market share away from Lenovo in just 6 months. Our campaign for Sony Ericsson took them out of a loss making position in 2009 to profit in 2010. And our thinking on Tiger Biscuat helped Kraft increase their sales by 12% in Indonesia. (You can see all these on my Youtube channel:

All these campaigns allowed high levels of participation. It is a well known fact that participation releases endorphins in the body and stimulates the part of the brain which recognizes pleasure and love.

So the new list would look like this: 

Other stuff by the author:

Saturday, June 19, 2010

How to hire the right people (because there's far too many wrong ones out there).

A Creative Director lives or dies by the people he hires. I'd love to here some of the horror stories you've encountered....


Hiring people is a key aspect of the Creative Director’s job. Hiring the right people is essential for you to achieve the objective of creating Great Ideas. 

In order to run a department smoothly - and in a way which accommodates both the pursuit of creative fame and the production of bread and butter work – you need to fill your department with four types of people: Conceptualisers, Beautyfiers, Connectors and Doers. 

* The Conceptualisers are the essential people to find. They can be copywriters or art directors and their key skill is generating a high volume of big ideas. If they can art direct or write, that’s an added bonus, but it is not essential. These people are literally the cornerstones of the creative department. They will lead you to honour and glory.

* The Beautyfiers are art directors. They don’t necessarily have to be good at coming up with the big idea (although many of them are). But once they have a big idea in front of them, they will make it look stunning. And that is why they are essential. I’ve seen many a great campaign destroyed by an overzealous art director who thought it his duty to stamp his unique personality on it (pretty borders, trendy photography and funky type, for example). The Beautyfier, on the other hand, has the ability to make a great idea shine by honing down the elements to their purest form. He understands the role of the art direction is to enhance the idea, not to overshadow it.

* The Connectors are writers or art directors with a deep understanding of the digital space. They know how to take a big idea and spread it through the Internet. They get blogging, Facebook, twitter and Youtube. These guys fundamentally understand the power of involvement. They can take a broadcast idea and turn it into a participation piece that infects communities online. These guys play a relatively small role now, but are the future of our business.

* The Doers are the people that get things done. Eighty percent of the work, in most agencies, is run of the mill. But it is also the very same work that pays the bills. So it needs to be treated seriously. And with absolute professionalism. That is not to say that these people should be boxed away and not allowed to take part in creative opportunities. If anything, it is a given that they need to pursue creative opportunities at every turn. But at the same time, they must have total dedication to servicing their designated accounts through thick and thin.


Aptitude vs attitude. The good thing about hiring creative people is that their abilities can mostly be judged by what’s in their book. But there is one more factor that is important to bear in mind. And that is attitude. I’ve seen some wonderfully talented creative people who have great aptitude, but not the right attitude.

An Art Director that worked for me in Hong Kong was a great example of this type of person. His own natural talent often let him down. He didn’t have the attitude that drives you to go further than the average person. In fact, he believed in his own abilities so much, he didn’t believe he could fail. And that led to complacency.

One time, for example, a group of creative people, including our Art Director, were working on a banking project. They started brainstorming ideas and after about two hours stumbled across an idea that had some merit. The Art Director in question suddenly announced to the team “Well that’s it. We’ve cracked it. Let’s go to the pub”. Which he promptly did with his partner.

The idea was good but not ‘Great’. The Art Director had been a little too hasty. He needed a little more insecurity about his abilities. He needed that mindset that makes you think, “That might be the solution, but I’m not sure. I better carry on for a while longer.”

Which is exactly what the rest of the team did and eventually arrived at a great campaign idea.

On the other hand, I’ve known many creative people (most of whom are famous now) who had little raw talent, but made up for it with attitude. They always worked harder. They always worked longer. And they were all frightened of failure. And perhaps that’s why they succeeded.

So if I had a choice between someone with aptitude and someone with attitude, I would always go for the person with attitude. If you can find a person with both attributes, you have a superstar in the making.


The interview. As we’ve already mentioned, a good portfolio is only part of the equation when it comes to interviewing people. Raw talent is easy to spot. Mental attitude, however, is a bit harder to gauge. Here are some questions to ask that may help you understand whether the person in front of you is the right fit for your company.

Question 1: When you arrive at an idea, how do you know it’s good or bad? 

What you’re looking for here is the person who shares his ideas with other people, gets opinions from them. The kind of person that understands that feedback from others can help with his own perspective on whether the idea’s good or not. The best creative people are always unsure of their ideas. They seek reassurance. They want to pull the idea apart, with the opinions of others if necessary, before they settle on it.

If you meet a person who’s dead-sure cocky about the brilliance of his ideas, be weary. Unless of course, that person has 10 campaigns in their book that just blow you away. Then they’re probably a genius and know exactly what they’re talking about.

Question 2: How do you react to client feedback? 

The person you’re looking for is someone who can debate with the client. Someone who uses their powers of persuasion. Someone who can collaborate with the client and gain their trust. If the client eventually rejects their idea, they don’t give up. They bounce right back with an equally good, or even better, idea second time round.

The people you should be weary of are those creative types that throw tantrums, insult the client, walk out and say: “Obviously there’s no point in me being in this meeting.” These are the people that may be able to create big ideas, but rarely sell them through. They don’t have the temperament or people skills to navigate the difficult obstacles that every great idea has to endure. Worse still, they’ll probably upset the client so much that they’ll be thrown off the account.

Question 3: When you go to your Creative Director with ideas, how many do you show him?

You’re looking for people who go to their Creative Director with lots of ideas. They understand that producing a high volume of ideas can help you get past the expected and start opening new creative territories.

Be weary of the people who go to their creative director with only one idea. These types are either lazy, obstinate or limited in talent.

Question 4: What do you do if your Creative Director doesn’t buy your ideas?

The people you’re looking for are those that say: “I take it on the chin and go back to the drawing board.” That’s not to say they don’t debate the idea with their CD, but they don’t dig their heels in at all costs.

Beware of those people that obstinately resist. They’re probably the ones that think they are better than they actually are. They’re the ones that will fight for mediocre ideas. They’re also the ones that will be reluctant to explore new routes and will invariably come back with the idea you rejected repackaged to look slightly different.

Question 5: If you’re given a job for an uncreative account, how do you approach the project?

The people you’re looking for are those that understand what is required for the job and go about their business with absolute professionalism. They know they won’t win an award with their work, but they won’t be disrespectful and sloppy in their approach to it. They will write an effective ad that works as hard as it can in the marketplace.

Be weary of the people who say they will produce great work for the client at any cost. They obviously don’t understand the realities of the world. Also be weary of those that say they will just crank the work out. People who are happy to let standards slip don’t have enough professional pride. In the long run, they will have a negative impact on the agency.

Other stuff from the author:

Man from Zork

A crash course in surviving the future of advertising

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The importance of creative gardening

The creative department of an agency is like a big garden. You plant different species of flora depending on the requirements. Where the soil is gritty and dry, you plant a hardy species like a cactus. At the entrance of the garden, where you want to make an impression, you plant roses. And in the pond you plant water lilies.

Some Creative Directors make the mistake of just planting roses. That is to say, they hire creative stars whose main objective in life is to produce award-winning work. As I’ve mentioned earlier, building and maintaining your reputation is important. And awards are one way of doing that. You need roses to help you create an attractive image. But when you plant a rose in dry, gritty soil, it shrivels up and starts to die. The same is true when you put a rose in a pond. The excess water drowns the poor thing.

The fact is, it’s no use hiring someone to help you create award-winning work and then put him on a retail account. He will do exactly what you hired him for. He will produce award-winning work. The client will reject all this work and your creative person will become frustrated. The client will become frustrated, too, because she’s not getting the kind of work she expects. And eventually one of two things is likely to happen. Either your client will ask for the person to be taken off her account. Or she will fire the agency.

But that’s not all. Even if you do take the creative star off the account, where do you put him?

You start to see the problem, don’t you. Before you know it, you have a whole lot of creative people in the department who have no accounts to work on.

Your staff costs will start to go through the roof. And at some point you are going to have to start firing good people. Nothing is more demoralizing to a Creative Department than seeing its stars being forced to leave.

My first agency faced this very problem. The Creative Director at the time had put a bunch of star creative people on a retail account that didn’t appreciate, or want, ‘great’ creative work. This account was the biggest revenue earner in the agency – and was essential to keep in order for the agency to make its numbers at the end of the year.

However, the account was nearly lost because of the terrible friction that was caused between the client and the creative stars. The creative people were desperately trying to force work on a Marketing Director that simply didn’t want to buy it (sounds familiar to our physician story, doesn’t it?).

If the account had walked out the door, fifteen people would have had to be laid off.

When I took over the CD role, I pulled these people off the account straight away and brought in a very senior art director who was happy to do the kind of work that was required. The client was happy (because she got what she wanted), the creative department was happy (because they could concentrate on accounts that did want creative solutions), the person we hired on the account was happy (because we gave her a huge wad of money every month). And I was happy (because the department could get back to the business of creating ‘Great’ ideas without having to worry too much about the financials).

Next week, we'll talk more about the types of people you need to hire.

More by the author:

A crash course in surviving the future of advertising

Man from Zork

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Part 4: Setting a vision that will inspire people

As a Creative Director, it is important that you have a clear idea of where you want to take the agency - and to disseminate that vision amongst the troops.

A vision will help bring focus to the whole department.

More importantly, a vision allows you to impart your beliefs and expectations to the whole team. It is extremely important in terms of setting the groundwork for how people should work together – and also in building a culture which will bind your people as a single unit.

It is imperative you set your team objectives so that they have a clear target to aim for. And if the objectives are tough, and even beyond what they think is possible, you will create such a buzz in the department, the momentum will keep the agency going for years.

One of Leo Burnett’s quotes has always struck me as a good example of this philosophy. It reads: “Always aim for the stars. You may not quite get there, but you’ll never come up with a handful of mud.”

It is the Creative Director’s job to make the creative people feel as if they can actually reach those stars.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when setting a vision:

1. Where is the agency now? 

Is it performing well or performing badly? How well does it do in new business? How many awards does it win? Does it have a good reputation? Is the morale high or low? Does it have the best talent in town? What’s its relationship with clients? Do people feel proud working there?

It’s important to work out where the agency is currently so that you can keep the positive aspects intact and then understand what negative elements you need to change or eliminate.

An agency I took over was rife with politics, had underperformed at the award shows, was losing clients at an alarming rate and had a bucket shop culture. By putting these issues down on paper, I was able to get everyone to agree that this wasn’t where we wanted to be as an agency.

2. Where do we want the agency to be? 

Now that we’ve worked out where we don’t want the agency to be, we can start to work out where we do want it to be.

Do you want it to be the No. 1 agency in town? In the region? In the network? Do you want the best creative profile? The best talent? Do you want to have a better new business record? Do you want to improve the work on bread and butter accounts? Or focus on the two or three clients that are more creatively oriented? Do you want it to be seen as the agency that is leading the way in social network marketing?

Once you’ve worked out where you want the agency to be you have a plan. Having a plan gives you more than half a chance of succeeding. It gives you a direction. And when there’s a direction, there’s a much better chance of reaching your destination and achieving your goals.

3. How do you get there? 

Having worked out what you want to achieve, it’s now critical you put in place action points that will help you get there.

For instance, if you want to get the best talent in town working for your agency, you need to fire people who are under-performing to make way for them. If you want to create the best profile in the business, you need to put a PR strategy in place that gives you exposure in the press. It may even require you hiring a full time communications manager. And if you want to be seen as a leader in social network marketing, then you need to hire people who can help you make that happen – and retool the best of your existing people with the relevant skills.

What’s more, when it comes to writing your action points, be clear and concise. Don’t write: “We need to improve our creative talent.” That’s too wishy washy.

Instead write: “We need to fire our mediocre talent and hire the best talent in the market.”

There’s no escaping what you need to do with an action point like that.

4. What culture do you want for the agency? 

It’s important to let people know how you want to work and the practices you expect people to follow. Some Creative Directors like a culture of individualism. Others prefer a culture of teamwork.

Here is the culture and ideals I have tried to instill as a Creative Director.

1. We don’t tolerate politics

2. We encourage transparency, honesty and integrity

3. We share ideas with others and expect them to share their ideas with us

4. We accept criticism in order to improve our work

5. We approach every job with optimism, enthusiasm and passion

6. We chase big ideas. And never give up until we’ve caught them

7. We promote team work over individualism

8. We engage in constructive competition within the department

9. We create big ideas

When the right attitude and work ethic permeates through an agency, there’s no ceiling to the heights it can reach.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Part 3: The difference between a great creative person and a great Creative Director

The ability of an art director or copywriter to produce big ideas is not an automatic credential for becoming a Creative Director. 

The fact is, there are many great art directors and copywriters out there who can produce work of the highest standard. Campaign ideas that, if implemented, would make the client’s sales soar. But I have seen these very same people find it impossible to get great work through, either to the client or internally to their own people.

This is because they are quite often deficient in the skills required to navigate around the many obstacles that block the way of great work.

I know a writer who has won every award under the sun. He is one of the best copywriters around. In his career, he has held the Creative Director position in three different agencies. Each time he got fired. To this day, he firmly believes that the management was wrong - that each time, he was the victim of an agency that had a brutal and uncaring culture.

The fact is, the man actually needed to be carefully managed himself and couldn’t possibly have coped with the responsibility of managing others. He was always going to be a disaster in the Creative Director role.

Too often, as I’ve mentioned earlier in the book, agencies thrust these people into the Creative Director position as recognition of their creative contribution. This is the fastest way to lose them. They will fail because they are not rounded enough for the role.

The Creative Director has to be a multi-faceted manager. He has to deal with everything from work flow, timings and man management, to creative delivery, client relationships and crisis management.

If we go back to our story about the emperor, the physician acts as a very good analogy for the creative person who lacks the management skills of a Creative Director. Just like the physician, he will be put under pressure by the client and will eventually concede. And if he stands his ground, he is doomed to lose his head just as the physician was.

So how would a ‘creative manager’ approach the dilemma that the physician faced with his emperor?

In this case, perhaps he would have used some dye to turn the pink medicine green. It would be the same concoction, but it would have been presented to the client in a way that was acceptable to him.

Other stuff by the author:

Man from Zork

Compulsive Liar

A crash course in surviving the future of advertising

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Part 2: The most important job of a Creative Director is to get great ideas sold

The success of a Creative Director should be gauged by the amount of great work that gets produced by the agency under his stewardship.

If he manages to generate a high volume of great work, everything else falls into place. Big ideas improve a client’s business by increasing sales and brand awareness. They also make the client famous (which means they’ll be eternally grateful to you). Not to mention they make the agency famous. Which helps to attract new business. In addition to that, the best people in the industry start to knock on your door to be part of this success. Which means you have the resource to produce better strategy and even better work. Which leads to a continuous upward cycle of prosperity.

On the other hand, if the Creative Director doesn’t manage to get great work into the market, the opposite can happen.

Clients start to lose confidence when their campaigns get a poor response from consumers. The blame (regardless of where it really lies) gets placed squarely on the shoulders of the agency. Eventually, those clients start to fire you. Morale within the agency starts to sink and good people begin to leave. It then becomes hard to recruit good new people because of your plummeting reputation. So you have to hire average people instead. New business pitches become harder to win so you have to engage in more of them to meet your quota.

So people work longer hours for less pay. And before you know it, you’ve become a bucket shop.

Once you reach this stage, you embark on a downward cycle that is hard to break. No-one enjoys themselves because they’re under so much pressure to scrape in the pennies. Professional pride becomes almost non-existent. And eventually the agency begins to lose money like a leaky bucket loses water.

In other words, the agency implodes.

So it is the number one mission of any Creative Director to ensure great campaigns make it into the market. Because when they do, you get happy clients and happy employees. You also get talked about in trade magazines and blogs. And may even pick up the odd Gold Lion.

Great work is the best way to keep great people, existing clients – and is a magnet for new business.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

How to be a Creative Leader. (You can ignore this advice, but one day you might be working for me.)

This is the latest excerpt from 'The Creative Director', a book that gives you advice and tips on how to be a creative manager. Some of you might be saying to yourself, "What gives Andy the right to speak about this topic?" And, hearing that difficult question, I would do what any other good Creative Director would do: ignore it and get you focused on what's important. Which is reading this book so you can climb the corporate ladder, make a shit load of money and be famous for inspiring landmark campaigns.

(You've just witnessed the first rule of Creative Directorship: Don't let difficult questions get in the way of selling your ideas.) I would love feedback on these excerpts. So don't be shy with your comments.


Almost every creative person aspires to hold the top job some day. Unfortunately, there is very little guidance out there for them and many fledgling Creative Directors crash and burn within their first year. The reason for this, I believe, is that many creative people are thrust into the job because of their ability to produce outstanding work, with no regard for their ability to be a manager. 

Creative ability and managerial ability are two very different skill sets. To be a good Creative Director, you need to have both. And as many of us in the creative business know, most creative people are deficient in the latter. 

A few years ago, a friend of mine was promoted to Creative Director. He was literally having kittens at the prospect of taking on his new role and started to quiz me endlessly about every aspect of the job. 

I told him I would write down the things I’ve learned over the years. What he should strive to achieve and the pitfalls he should avoid. 

Hence this book. 

He found the advice useful. And although he found the transition from Senior Art Director to Creative Director painful, with a little time and a little insight, he grew into the role and became successful at it. 

So, if you’re about to become a Creative Director, or aspire to be one some day, I hope this book helps you make the transition with as little distress as possible. 

Part 1: 
The job of a Creative Director is to inspire 

Back in 2003, a couple of days before Christmas, I flew down to Australia for an interview with Bob Isherwood, the Worldwide Creative Director for Saatchi & Saatchi. 

I was being asked to take the Regional Creative Director job in Asia. 

Bob took me through some of the work done by the network, shared his philosophy on advertising and told me why Saatchi was the best agency for me to join. 

At some point during our discussion, we got onto the topic of creative leadership. And it suddenly occurred to me that I had forgotten to ask him an important question. “What is the role, in his view, of a Creative Director?” 

He mused for a couple of seconds, looked me in the eye, and replied “To inspire.” 

I’d never heard the definition of a Creative Director put so simply before. But I knew instinctively that he was spot on. 


Ultimately, a Creative Director has to ensure great work comes out of his agency - and he can only do that by inspiring people. First and foremost he has to inspire his creative teams to go beyond the expected and produce something original. He has to inspire the planners to write great strategies. And he has to inspire the Account Service team to get on board with the idea and ensure they are excited enough to sell it to their client. 

But when we talk about inspiration, what do we actually mean? What is it about a person that makes them either inspiring or uninspiring? 

First, it’s important to remember that there is no magic formula. Inspiration isn’t a text book technique or process that can be mechanically implemented throughout a company. Inspiration is sparked by a certain breed of person, individuals who have the ability to ignite a vision and purpose in others. 

In my experience, these people are highly driven and have a ‘never say die’ attitude. They share key values and traits.

1. They have a vision 

Inspiration starts with a goal. People need to know and be told what they’re aiming for. They also need to believe in the cause. The people that inspire always have a clear goal. They live and breathe that goal day in, day out. And they get their people to breathe it, too. 

2. They have ability 

You can’t inspire in a creative industry if you don’t have talent. That’s because the very act of creating your own work is the most powerful way to inspire other creative people. More than that, the people who have a talent for spotting original and ground-breaking work are those who have a knack for creating it themselves. 

3. They are honest with feedback 

People who inspire tell it as it is. They don’t hold back to protect someone’s feelings. Creative teams cannot create great work if their boss doesn’t give them feedback on how to improve it. 

However, it’s important to give feedback in a positive way. Many fledgling Creative Directors feel they have to verbally beat up their creative teams to get the best out of them. I’ve always found this approach counter-productive. Bullying tactics demoralize your team. It’s better, in my view, to use the carrot rather than the stick. 

4. They have energy 

Inspiring people have enormous amounts of energy. And find it easy to energize everybody around them. They walk around their department getting actively involved with people. Chatting with them, cajoling them and giving feedback on the work. They are people who instill fun and liveliness into their agencies. 

5. They have eternal optimism 

Nothing can dampen the optimism of an inspiring person. When they get knocked down, they bounce right back. Their optimism is infectious. And it motivates all around them to bounce back too. 

6. They have humility 

The best creative leaders aren’t braggarts. They usually have enormous amounts of humility. And although they take credit for the overall success of the agency, they don’t steal the limelight from their people. Nothing gets a creative team down more than a Creative Director who takes credit for the work they’ve produced. An inspiring leader let’s his people take the glory. He praises them in public forums, in front of clients and in press articles. 

7. They want to win 

True inspirers aren’t interested in coming second. They want to be first. They have an unusually strong competitive streak to their nature.

Other stuff by the author:

Man from Zork

A crash course in surviving the new world of advertising

Compulsive Liar

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Where did all the creative leaders go?

I’ve been asked by quite a few people recently (creative guys, journalists and even suits) why creative leadership is so lacking in the industry these days.

Many believe the revolutionary changes in media are to blame. I disagree. Something more fundamental is at the root of the problem. Much of it has to do with the awards culture that has dominated our business for the last 15 years.

You can’t make a dog quack.

Our industry has always been victim to a strange phenomenon. Many creative people are thrust into the Creative Director position because of their ability to produce outstanding work, with no regard for their ability to be a manager.

Creative ability and managerial ability are two very different skill sets. To be a good Creative Director, you need to have both. And as many of us in the creative business know, most creative people are deficient in the latter.

Let’s pretend.

But there is another destructive force at play which has made matters even worse in recent years: scam.

We have a whole generation of Creative Directors who been promoted because of their ability to win awards. In other words, they’ve been promoted because of their ability to fake it. Most of them have no experience in managing ‘real’ campaigns, ‘real’ clients, 'real' problems or ‘real’ pitches.

But the problem is, you can’t fake it in front of clients. They see right through you. More importantly, they hold all the power. So when you go in with a campaign that’s off brief, they’ll hammer you. If the work is continually late, they’ll slap you like a bitch. And if you ‘arrogantly’ stick your heels in the ground over an 'award-winning' campaign (because you’re God remember), you’ll lose the business.

You'd think these Pretenders would be caught out. But they're not. There is some strange perception amongst the leaders of our industry that we need the flakey, tempestuous creative types. What invariably happens is a grafter is put in to do all the real work and the Pretender carries on doing scam, taking the money and pretending his world is perfectly normal.


A few years ago, a friend of mine was promoted to Creative Director. He was literally having kittens at the prospect of taking on his new role and started to quiz me endlessly about every aspect of the job.

I told him I would write down the things I’ve learned over the years. What he should strive to achieve and the pitfalls he should avoid. It turned out to be a pretty useful book, I believe. I’m going to publish a chapter here every week. So if you’re a CD that’s struggling, or someone who wants to be a CD some day, then maybe it will help. Be sure to subscribe to the RSS feed so you don't miss anything.

Here’s the prologue:


An old Chinese Emperor fell deadly sick one day. He summoned the court physician who promptly diagnosed the condition. He told the emperor that it was a potentially fatal illness but with the right medicine could be cured.

With that, the physician poured some pink liquid onto a spoon and went to feed the emperor with it.

The emperor, who was used to getting his way, refused the liquid because he didn’t like the colour. “Give me some of that green medicine that I can see protruding out of your medicine case.”

“But your Highness, the pink medicine is the right remedy for your illness. The green medicine will have no effect,” replied the physician.

“Look, I’m the emperor and I don’t like pink, I like green,” insisted the emperor.

“But the green medicine will do you no good. I strongly urge you to take the pink,” quivered the physician.

“I will not tell you again. If you don’t give me the green medicine, I will have you taken away and beheaded,” retorted the emperor.

So, fearing for his life, the physician dispensed the green medicine and left.

The next day, the emperor was in an even worse state. The physician was summoned yet again. And once more he tried to persuade the emperor to take the pink medicine. He reaffirmed his stance from the day before. If the emperor did not take the pink medicine, he would die. Once again, the emperor threatened the physician with the executioner’s axe and insisted on only taking the green liquid.

This routine continued for a few days with the physician always recommending the pink medicine and the emperor always insisting on the green – despite his worsening condition. Until one day, the emperor succumbed to his illness and passed away.

The physician was promptly led away by the royal guards and beheaded for allowing the emperor to die.


The Creative Director of an agency is quite often faced with a similar situation with his clients. But unlike our poor physician, the best Creative Directors know how to overcome the obstacles that are put in their way by belligerent brand managers and gatekeepers. They have the skills to avoid being beheaded and instead are praised for helping the client’s brand survive its illness.

Other stuff by the author:

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The 10 Commandments According to Boyle

Happy Days

Seanie Boyle, my old Saatchi planning partner (who, for his sins, now works at JWT New York), was invited to speak at the 4As Transformation Conference in San Francisco recently.

It’s a dangerous thing to let a maverick Irishman on stage. Especially when you ask him to speak for no more than 4 minutes (he went over by a minute and a half, naughty boy). He gave the audience a sermon based on his STOP and START commandments.

Roger Makak, Asia’s most awarded advertising monkey, was impressed. “Although Sean has put on some weight, his words were lean and mean. His commandments should be watched by every adman that still cares about the business.”

Check out his video on youtube. Or if you haven’t got the time, here’s a quick summary of his points below, with a little bit of commentary by Roger.

1. Start telling the truth (we lie to each other, lie to our clients and we lie to consumers. Stop lying and start telling the truth. Unless it’s a spoof like a fake copywriter who’s really a monkey. Then that’s just good old fun).

2. Stop the bloody politics (Seanie reckons there’s too many money men in the business. And when things are all about money, instead of the work, politics become rampant. Put passion first, put money second. Unless you’re a monkey and then bananas should be pretty high on the list, too).

3. Start having fun again (we used to be the envy of the salary men. Now we’re just like them. We need to start swinging around).

4. Stop over thinking things (our business has got really complicated. People over analyze. It’s a simple business. Even a primate can do it).

5. Start doing something (we talk about stuff so much – I think this is particular to the US – that it takes years for stuff to get through. Stop talking. Stop Bullshitting and start doing).

6. Stop the incessant research (research is a crutch. Stop using it. Loads of it is bollocks anyway).

7. Start doing good (we should give back to the community. Why not take the money we spend on irrelevant award shows and start doing some good with it. Like ending homelessness. I’m alright, I’ve got a tree).

8. Stop banging on about digital (it doesn’t exist. It’s just the air that we breathe. Ideas are king, digital is just a channel).

9. Start ups again please (the big networks thought they had it all sewn up. But things happened – see previous 8 points above – which have given rise to independents. Seanie reckons the more the better. Has anyone called their agency APE yet?)

10. Stop using animals in commercials (every creative director in the US tries to sell a commercial with an animal in it. I think Sean’s being a little bit critical here. As far as I’m concerned, there’s far too much use of humans in ads).

More content from the author: 

Monday, April 12, 2010

Why scam is dead. (And why you’re dead too if you’re still playing the game.)

“That’s pretty rich coming from you Andy,” I can hear some of you saying, “you’re the King of scam”.

That may well have been true a couple of years ago (although I was more of a Prince than a King), but it’s not true today. A couple of things happened in the past two years which changed my perspective on the whole issue. But before we talk about those events, let’s spend a little time examining why scam became so prevalent in the first place.


In the eighties and nineties, our business was fast becoming a commodity. Media was king and the creative agencies were quickly being relegated to second-class citizens. The majority of clients (not all, to be fair) could make an average commercial and carpet-bomb living rooms until the poor consumer was brainwashed into buying the product. There was no incentive for a client to buy cutting edge advertising (in fact, buying edgy creative was quite often the fast track to a short career).

Agencies, in an attempt to differentiate themselves (and thus not be seen as a commodity), decided creative reputation was the key to success. So they started to chase creative awards with a vengeance. It became the desire of every agency CEO to have a chart in their credentials that showed they were an award-winning agency. And not just in local and regional shows, but further afield, too: Cannes, One Show and the Clios

But how do you win awards with clients that are content with carpet-bombing? You can’t. So you find a couple of pro bono clients. No agency ever got chastised for winning metal for a charity. Or even a chicken rice stall, it seemed.

But then something came along that changed the game. The Creative Rankings.

Initially brought out by Campaign Brief Asia (then by Donald Gunn and subsequently by other organizations), they became an instant hit. It was like the pop charts for the advertising industry. If you became the number one creative in Asia (or even number twenty), you felt like a rock star. And you were guaranteed a flood of offers from a myriad of agencies.

Every regional network wanted to be number one. Every local agency wanted to be number one. Every Creative Director wanted to be number one. Every Copywriter and Art Director wanted to be number one. Even a monkey wanted to be number one. It became an obsession. Perhaps even a sickness. But there was a flaw in the system. It wasn’t a quality game, it was a volume game. One Gold could be out-pointed by four finalists.

So agencies, realizing how difficult it was to get a Gold played the numbers game and churned out shitloads of ads. Why produce two great campaigns when you could produce twenty good ones? And increase your chances in the great award lottery.

But you can’t do twenty good campaigns for your real, existing clients (the carpet bombers). So campaigns for little companies started appearing: restaurants, magazines, hotels, herbal remedies, bars and hemorrhoid creams.

And that’s how the scam game proliferated into something that was akin to an arms race. And it was condoned by CEOs and Regional Presidents because they soon came to realize the only way to attract talent was by being an award-winning agency. The industry had created a vicious cycle for itself.


I was an inherent part of the rankings game, both with Ogilvy and my current agency Saatchi & Saatchi. It was fun. Being number one every year made you feel like king of the hill.

But the game has changed. The rise of the Internet and the explosion of social networks changed everything. The original reasons for doing scam are fast disappearing: in a fragmented media world, clients can no longer carpet-bomb their consumers. Which means creativity is becoming a valuable asset again.

More than that, the form of creativity is changing. It’s not about the 30 second TV spot or a double page print ad any more. It’s about big media agnostic ideas that have scale, are viral in nature and allow participation. You can’t scam these kinds of campaigns. They’re too big, take too much time to make and cost serious money.  Some sensible agencies have realized it’s a about fewer, high quality ideas that have an impact on culture rather than a one off idea that is only seen by a small, usually out of touch, advertising jury.

I think the rankings still have a place in our industry (we are a business that craves and needs recognition). And there’s already a re-adjustment taking place. Scam is declining and real work is on the rise.


Back to the events that changed my view on scam. There are two of them:

1. About two and half years ago, I saw a campaign from our Beijing office for HP (watch it on Youtube here). It was a bit messy but it had a dynamism about it that struck a chord. The traction with consumers was huge and the results in market were astounding (the campaign took 1.5% market share off Lenovo in just six months). As I examined the film, and uncovered more intelligence of the mechanics behind it, I had an epiphany. I was looking at the future.

Based on that case study, I worked with fellow Saatchi guys to formulate an approach. We called it Community Marketing. It has since become a core offering from Saatchi. And many clients are buying it – and seeing tremendous success with it.

2. A short while afterwards, I had a Regional Creative Director’s meeting in Bangkok (about 15 CDs from around the region turned up). There was a hearty and passionate discussion around the type of work we were doing. We did a brutal self-appraisal of where we were.

I conducted a poll, “Why do we like winning awards?” The responses ranged from personal reputation, getting job offers and building a portfolio to attracting clients, winning new business and creating good PR in the marketplace. Then I did something naughty. I asked people to score the responses.  1 was low impact, 10 was high impact.

Not surprisingly, anything to do with personal reputation and building a great portfolio had high scores: 8s, 9s, and 10s. Anything to do with actually running and building the business had low scores: 2s, 3,s and 4s. So, we were chasing awards based on purely selfish reasons at a time when agencies were struggling to find their way in the new world. Our approach to awards was entirely at odds with what we had to do as a business. It was a situation that was unsustainable.

I made a brave statement. “If we’re still winning Gold Lions for print 3 years from now, we’re dead in the water.” Most agreed. Joel Clement dubbed the phrase Printosaurus. And we committed ourselves to doing the kind of work that would give us a stake in the new world.


If you’re still spending your time creating and crafting scam print, you’re in deep shit. In 3 years from now you will be redundant. If a young creative came to me today with five print Lions in his book, and nothing else, he wouldn’t get a job. A Gold print Lion now means nothing. It’s holds no currency in the new world.

So reinvent now and have a future.

Follow my training course on the Media website: A crash course in surviving the new world of advertising

Other links of the author: Man from Zork

Friday, April 2, 2010

How to spot a Printosaurus

As most of us know, the advertising world has changed forever. The explosive rise of the Internet and social networks has made sure of that. But despite the obvious transformations taking place in our industry, many ad guys still live in denial, convinced the Internet is a fad and newspapers will make a spectacular comeback. I like to call this breed of people Printosaurus (a term invented by my Regional Head of Art, Joel Clement).

A Printosaurus is easy to spot, especially when you strike up a conversation with him. Mention Flash and he’ll wonder if you’re talking about a famous Super Hero. Ask him about Facebook and he’ll think you’re referring to a book of mug shots the police use to help people identify criminals. Enquire if he’s got a Blog and he’ll be convinced you’re talking about a piece of wood that’s been cut into the shape of the letter B.

“They’re everywhere,” said Roger Makak, Asia’s most awarded advertising monkey. “You see them huddling in dark corners talking to each other about the latest print campaign. They’ll argue for hours about the size of the logo and whether art pulls should have a 2 inch or 3 inch border.”

One Printosaurus was recently overheard asking his reptilian colleague if he knew what RSS stood for. “I don’t know,” was the reply. “Really Smelly Snot?”

Friday, March 26, 2010

The world's first museum of print. Admission free.

I had an epiphany about 2 years ago. I suddenly realized all the beautiful print work in my book was about to become defunct. The Internet Age, after years of broken promises, was now well and truly upon us. And my portfolio, the prized asset of every creative person, seemed more Victorian than Obamian.

So I decided to set up The Museum of Print on Flickr (click to view it).

You may well enjoy this foray into the past. And remember, that’s exactly what it is. The past. A nice place to visit if you want to reminisce about the good old days, but no place to hang around if you’re looking for a role in the future.

At this point, I can already hear the violent protestations from the die-hard ad guys who still believe the world hasn’t changed. This breed of advertising lunatics, which I like to call Printosaurus, believe the Internet is just a fad that will eventually die out when everybody gets bored with it (I’m not joking. There are senior creative guys out there that truly believe this view of the world).

For the sane ones in the industry, we know our business has changed forever. Print will be dead in 10 years (most probably replaced by digital reading tablets such as Kindle and iPad). We will move away from communications that broadcast at you to ones that allow full participation. And clients will start to move away from bought media (where you have to pay a third party, like Yahoo, to place an ad on their portal) to owned media (where a client can create his own website, attract millions to it and save millions of dollars in media spend).

The future is exciting. But if you’re a bit worried, take a deep breath and wander around a museum for a while. It’s the best way to prepare yourself for what’s to come.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The difference a little punctuation can make

Below is a dismissal letter to a Printosaurus Creative Director. Unfortunately, the half blind PA that typed it up misplaced the punctuation...

Dear Hika, I want a Creative Director that knows what the new world of advertising is all about. You are smart, intelligent, forward thinking. People who are not like you admit to being out of touch and clueless. You have put our client’s brands back on top. Of that I am certain. Things will only get worse if you resign. I will be happy to give you a pay rise. Is out of the question you can leave.

Dear Hika, I want a Creative Director that knows what the new world of advertising is. All about you are smart, intelligent, forward thinking people who are not like you. Admit to being out of touch and clueless. You have put our client’s brands back. On top of that I am certain things will only get worse. If you resign I will be happy. To give you a pay rise is out of the question. You can leave.

Printosaurus and PA have subsequently been fired.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Campaign to promote print possibly worst print campaign ever!

In a desperate attempt to save the industry, magazine executives have launched a campaign to promote print as a viable medium in today's digital world. 1,400 pages of ads will be sprinkled through magazines including People, Vogue and Ladies' Home Journal.

When a leading Digital Creative Director was asked what he thought of the campaign, he replied, "I haven't seen it. I thought magazines had disappeared years ago. Are they still around?"

Roger Makak, Asia's most awarded Copywriter, was more scathing. "It's primitive. Possibly the worst print campaign that's ever been created," he explained while giving his gonads a good old scratch. "The growth comparisons are bananas. I mean how can you compare 11% growth over 12 years with Google's 56,643% growth over the same period?"

One digital guru was skeptical about the campaign's effectiveness. "I should imagine there will be 0% recall," he explained. "Nobody's reading the magazines except for the people who write them - and media buyers who have to read them to bolster circulation figures."

Dave, a Digital Media specialist, thought the ads were quite good. "I thought the copy was quite compelling. If they put them on the web they would work really well."