Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ramblings on what a Creative Director is

This was written by me in the early 80’s for a worldwide managing directors meeting.

A creative director does not have to be the best creative person in the Agency. He has to know good stuff and has to obsessed with getting it. He has to be a leader. He has to be a manager (art directors seem to have more experience managing work loads because they work with outside suppliers more).

He has to inspire. He mustn’t compete directly with his people. He must have the ability to help develop ideas that are mere germs.

Al Scully use to say his job was “ to create an atmosphere where gold medal ads could be created, but if that wasn’t happening to at least create a bronze medal ad himself “. He must be the champion of certain standards.

A great creative director is like the editor of a magazine. He doesn’t necessarily write it but his are the standards, the vision, and the focus for all. He has to defend his people but he also has to be ruthless.

An agency like McCann has a variety of creative needs, with some accounts you have to work smart, with others you have to strive, because you can, to do great work. A creative department needs to have a variety of talents, the mechanic to the high flyer.

Probably the biggest mistake we make is promoting a great creative into being a mediocre or even a terrible creative director.

I believe an agency must have one creative director. 3 or 4 creatives reporting to a manager is not the way. Creatives need a leader, a champion, actually so does the Agency. Client service people need to know and have an ultimate person to go to. Creative, media, research and planning, and finance need a head, they are all crafts. Client service people can function without a department head, not sure why, but they can. The other departments need a head.

A creative director doesn’t even have to be the highest paid guy in the creative department. He can hire specialists, a great art director, a great copywriter that gives the agency something it needs, not necessarily people that will stay forever, but hired guns for a problem. I worked for a great creative director in Chicago that hired some talents earning more than he did. Made the manager crazy, but it solved a serious problem we had, they eventually went on their way, as most gunfighters do.

An agency is a balance, it must have a creative director or the balance is off, that goes for all the other crafts. If the manger comes from the creative side it still needs a creative director.

I don’t believe you can train a great creative director, you can guide him, motivate him, help him be better but you cannot create one.

The biggest mistake, the biggest demotivator, the quickest way an agency style, not a clients style is to have a creative director who still wants to be a creative and compete directly with his people.

He must be a magnet for great people in the market.
He must be a teacher and a mentor.
He must be respected by everybody in the agency, not necessarily liked, but respected.

Good creative people without great creative directors, get beat up, leave, or worse, do mediocre work.

We believe the agency lacks good creative people, the truth is we lack good creative directors.

Lastly the desire to do great work is not only the creative directors responsibility, but also everyone’s, manager, department heads, financial director. It is after all what we are about. It is what we do.

20 years later, I would not change any of this, but I did say this blog was going to be one sided.


  1. I suppose I do take after you in my job - in my own right. Creative and inspiring...

  2. Spoken like a true creative director.

  3. I think it's quite amazing that at your age you can still reach far enough behind you to give yourself a pat on the back.

  4. This article somehow reminds me of someone I have had many Fredos with over the years...