It seems like EVERYBODY in advertising is a “creative director” these days. But the title means different things to different people.
What’s fair to expect?
- Help sort through the creative chaos to find those ideas with the most promise. The creative process generates a lot of ideas. Not all of them are golden. A good creative leader helps identify the best ones in their infancy and makes sure they have room to develop.
- Focus and simplify the ideas. Sometimes an idea has a bunch of extra “stuff” on it and needs to be pruned. If you can’t explain your idea in a sentence, it probably needs to be simplified.
- Collaborate with the other leaders on the team to stay focused on the goal: solving your client’s problems with inspired, original, effective creative work. No creative director can do it alone. He or she needs to work closely with the strategy, account and production leads to set a vision for both the internal team and the client.
- Nurture, encourage, challenge, cajole and/or do whatever it takes to help make the work better. Managing creatives can be difficult; you need to know what sort of techniques to use with creative people to get their best work out of them. A good coach knows how to get the best out of each player; the same strategies don’t necessarily work for everybody.
- Make decisions. A good creative director decides what’s moving forward and kills the rest. When you keep too many things alive for too long, you ask the team to keep too many balls in the air at once. Decisions allow your team to go deeper with the remaining ideas, making them richer and more effective.
- Avoid phrases like “Just keep pushing it,” “Go ahead and blow it out,” and “Ten more just like that.” They are clichés for a reason — too many creative directors use them to fill the silence when they don’t know what to say. Actionable specifics is what the team needs to make work better.
- Help figure out how the work will live in the world — that is, how real people will experience the campaign — which includes thinking through the PR and media strategy. Creative ideas have to live somewhere. If the media and PR strategy aren’t part of the thinking from the earliest stages, you’re missing a key element of the CD’s role.
- Respect people’s time. People want go home and see their significant other or their kid or their dog or their TV or whatever. They don’t want to wait all night at the office for your email with a CD’s cryptic creative feedback. Be realistic about how much time people need to do the work and give them that time.
- Present work in a way that makes it dynamic, compelling and entertaining. A good creative director needs to make a creative idea come to life well before it actually exists in the world. Not every CD has the same presentation style, but he or she needs to command the room when they are sharing work with the client.
- Develop a good relationship with the human beings on the client side; people will only take risks and buy interesting work if they trust you. It’s not about “selling” an idea, it’s about understanding your client’s problems and finding a great, creative solution to that problem. Clients know when you’re in it for them or you’re just in it for the award.
- Listen. Clients tell you what they need if you stop talking long enough to hear it.
- Keep it fun. Advertising is supposed to be fun, remember? A great CD has a huge impact on the team dynamic and can help create an environment where people enjoy their work.
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About the Author
When he originoally wrote this, John Kovacevich was a freelance writer and creative director in San Francisco. In 2018, he pulled in his freelance shingle to join Duncan Channon as an executive creative director. Now he’s forced to do all these things and acknowledges they’re easier said than done.
He has written extensively about the ad biz and you can read more tips here.