10 Jun 2013

Don Draper is not my yardstick of a good Creative Director

I like to read stuff written online. When I find an interesting point-of-view that I'd have never thought of on my own, I sometimes use it as the starting point for further thinking or reading. However, I have learned from (many a) firsthand experience to never believe any point-of-view as the absolute truth.

That's why I try to avoid articles that are thick (yes, pun) on meaningless jargon and cliches.... You know, the type I mean: "5 Ways Brand Conversations are overtaking Brand Advertising" or "10 Reasons Why Traditional Advertising is Dead".

Today I came across this two-part article from early-2009 titled "What Makes A Good Creative Director?" - Part 1 & Part 2. It is a very well-considered and well-written piece. It isn't blatant self-promotion, or hero-worship of the latest creative demi-god. In fact, it is genuinely grounded, with lots of anecdotes from the real Advertising world - and hardly any 'Mad Men' cliches.

The article had another more important, and rather unintended, effect. It challenged me to accept the points that I find myself nodding in agreement with as well as the one I didn't agree totally with. Why? Because I understood that I may be unconsciously agreeing only with qualities that I believed I had, and disagreeing with the ones I didn't possess. It's called Confirmation Bias, where we accept as true only that information which conforms to or affirms our existing beliefs.

In other words, this article had information I could interpret in two dfferent ways:
1. I could parse the article for points that I agree with and dismiss the others as mere opinion - and bask in the ego-warming view of myself as a "Good" Creative Director, or
2. I could accept that the author had better experience and insight - and that there are areas that I genuinely need to work on to become a "Good" Creative Director.

I am choosing a daunting new yardstick to measure myself by.

I have 'cut & past' excerpts from the original article to summarise (woefully imperfectly) the qualities that a "Good Creative Director" must possess. (For the real deal, please click the article's links above. It's a must-read for any ambitious person in Advertising Creative.)

Here are the 24 qualities that make a "Good" Creative Director:

1. The creative director is the last line of defense.
When no one else in the creative department knows where to take a job, or how to crack a brief, the CD can do it. They have the experience, the savvy and the ability to produce the work when no one else can.

2. The creative director doesn’t play politics with creatives.
Yes, the CD can play office politics and be a shrewd player of the game within the agency itself, but not with the team they oversee.

3. The creative director gives specific feedback.
A good creative director gives specific feedback, not vague platitudes. Their direction will be considered, constructive, smart and intelligible.

4. The creative director is well-versed in all crafts.
Great CDs are chameleons who understand the balance between concepts & strategy, and copy & design.

5. The creative director is a selfless creative.
A good CD will let you flex your creative muscles and allow your own work to shine.

6. The creative director is not your best buddy.
If you want friends, don’t look to the CD. (Read the article to find out why.)

7. The creative director knows the latest trends.
If your CD has no idea what Facebook is, or looks puzzled when you talk about Twitter or social networking, they aren’t doing their duty, as an advertiser, to understand the modern consumer.

8. The creative director will hire great creatives.
Several giants in the industry, including the late, great David Ogilvy, talked about hiring people more talented than themselves.

9. The creative director is well-read.
By reading a wide variety of books, periodicals and websites, the CD is furnished with a mind that can think outside of the annuals, and guide work that other agencies will follow.

10. The creative director produces work.
Good creative directors never lose that passion, that drive and that hunger for doing great work. It’s in the blood.

11. The creative director knows every creative brief intimately.
When the creative director guides the account team to get the brief ready, expect good things. When the CD shouts “I’m not quite understanding point four” in the briefing, expect long nights and short tempers.

12. The creative director is an idea catalyst.
Creative directors, good ones, are an encyclopedia of advertising and design. They’ve seen a lot, they’ve created a lot, they’ve tasted success and failure a million times. In effect, they are armed with a tool kit that helps them plant seeds at every stage of the job.

13. The creative director has a broad range of experience.
Most good CDs are armed with a huge range of experiences, be they copywriters, art directors or designers. They will have attended photoshoots and film productions. They will know what the inside of a recording studio looks like. They will have direct mail experience, print and web knowledge, and will know a thing or two about outdoor, PR and guerrilla.

14. The creative director steers the whole ship in the right direction.
The work that comes out of the creative department is the agency’s product. The agency lives and dies by its creative work, and that ultimately comes down on the creative director.

15. The creative director understands strategy and planning.
A CD may not agree with the strategy, but he or she should understand it and adhere to it. And if it’s wrong, they should speak up before the brief ever gets on a creative team’s desk.

16. The creative director is a shepherd.
The CD should set the standard for how the creatives are treated within the agency. If he or she lets account directors walk all over creative teams, changing copy and art direction at will, then the morale in the department will hit rock bottom. The CD who is a good shepherd will keep the creatives in line, but also keep the wolves from bringing them and their work down.

17. The creative director can sell or present anything, and do it well.
Selling and presenting is a skill; by the time you’re elevated to the dizzy heights of CD, you should be damned good at it.

18. The creative director has balls.
A creative director should have the authority and confidence to make some big decisions, and should also take some firm stands against feedback that will either ruin the creative or demoralize the department.

19. The creative director knows how to motivate.
Good creative directors will want you to do well for you, not for them. They will instill in you the kind of passion and drive that makes an eight-hour day become a 13-hour day. They will get you so charged and excited about a project that you will set your alarm clock for six A.M., battle traffic and eat a cold hot dog for breakfast, because you know you’re on a mission to do some great work.

20. The creative director wants honest opinions, not nodding dogs.
(A good) CD is open to every opinion and critique. It’s an essential skill to have, to know how to fight for your ideas intelligently, and good creative directors will happily take your opinion with both respect and consideration.

21. The creative director doesn’t play the second-guessing game.
A CD needs to have real confidence in the ideas, and will not spend hours umming and ahhing over work that everyone knows is solid and ready to present.

22. The creative director doesn’t care about being popular.
If a CD is going to stand up for creative work and make tough decisions, he or she is also going to make a few enemies. This is the nature of the business.

23. The creative director doesn’t micromanage.
A confident CD will realize that they only need to see the bigger picture. The details can be handled by less senior members of the department.

24. Finally, the creative director improves the work.
In summation of the good CD over the mediocre CD; the proof of the pudding, so to speak. A good CD will improve the work. Period.