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: