Directing the Fun

The best creative directors know that they work for their team, not the other way around.

By Danielle Trivisonno Hawley, CCO Americas, POSSIBLE

Illustration: Paz Ulloa

Being a creative director sounds like a dream title. Doesn’t it? When we were kids, art class was the fun class — the creative class. So, it’s almost as if we managed to land a real job directing the fun. And really, at dinner parties when asked what we do for a living, we do sound pretty cool. Let’s be honest, it is great to show up to work in your custom Vans and cue the “confidence rawk” when the team is cranking.

There is, however, “work” behind all that fun and people often overlook that part of the job. I once had a photographer friend of mine say, “Don’t you just go to photo shoots and point?” If only it were that easy.

The truth is, being a creative director is a lot more complicated than it sounds.

Here are some reasons why:

  1. Being creative is exciting. Being responsible when the creative isn’t good — well, is not exciting at all.
  2. Finding a way to help ideas on the path to greatness without just doing it yourself is like trying to be patient while a kid is learning to tie his shoes — and is also late for school.
  3. And sometimes, you do have to do the work. All on your own. The night before the pitch. Because you’re out of time, and see #1.
  4. Creatives are weird — thank god. But, hiring great talent is the most important thing a creative director does. And you never really know what you’re going to get until you have it.
  5. It’s tough to truly know where your inspiration comes from, or even when it might leave the building never to return — eek! You’re also no longer allowed to marinate on an idea or wait patiently for divine inspiration. The team needs you to be creative on the spot.
  6. Most likely, your creative abilities do not serve you well for being a great manager. And — surprise — management is a huge part of the gig. Vacation requests and mediating arguments with account people aren’t exactly what we signed up for.
  7. Other disciplines have an impact on your ideas. Speaking intelligently about strategy and tech means the difference between a good idea and a great one. You now have to be fluent in languages beyond your own.
  8. Not everything is a great creative opportunity. But it’s on you to make sure the team loves what they do anyway.
  9. Your client is now your partner. The building of trust is no longer someone else’s job. We all know the very best work is done through strong creative partnerships with clients. Finding a balance between what said client thinks they want and what’s best for the idea is the true art form in the title.
  10. Building a culture of inclusivity and diversity is the ticket. If you don’t build a team with different POVs, you simply cannot win. Period.

Look, we do have the best jobs around. It sure as hell beats selling insurance, and you can’t wear your sneaks to the courtroom. While it isn’t all about concepting, it seems to me that being a good creative director is really about being a good human.

The best creative directors know that they work for their team, not the other way around.Good creative directors shouldn’t just win awards, they should make way for their top talent to do the same.

Hey, creative directors — don’t forget your ability to do the work. Get in rooms, roll up your sleeves, let the team know you’ve got their back — always. I still love to write, and if the team is down a writing resource I’m happy to step in — don’t undervalue the opportunity to keep your craft sharp. If you let your experience, not your ego, guide you, you’ll be able to make even the toughest calls without losing respect.

Above all else, I’ve found that being real about not having all the answers breaks down unnecessary barriers. I may be where the buck stops, but I’m fallible and vulnerable, too. That vulnerability paves the way for the thing I hope my team, and any successful team, realizes: we’re all in this together.


Originally published at www.thedrum.com on March 23, 2018.

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