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

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