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Just because you are a great Blacksmith it doesn’t mean you should make cheese.

Many years ago, I was in Cannes and I was introduced to a very enthusiastic young man. He reminded me of somebody who had been sent to a shopping mall to sell books for a cult he had recently joined.

I asked him what he did and he said without a hint of irony that he had been recently promoted to junior creative director. I asked if that was different to being a group head. He said yes, it was completely different and then described exactly what a group head did. I said nothing because he just seemed so fucking happy.

The reason I mention the story is that our business in the last ten years has become full of labels signifying nothing. I believe we should be a lot prouder of the term Creative and Creative Director. They are difficult and distinctive jobs. Labels have overtaken talent and ability. We have started to believe the advert is the product. And sadly, because of this, the word creative has lost some of its power and honour.

It has happened for a number of reasons. The last couple of years has created so many terms and ways of working that this uncertainty has spawned a weird belief that everybody can be creative. In other words, everybody has it, so it isn’t a talent. I think that is bullshit. Especially, when you only have an hour to crack an idea. Being a creative is not about being creative. It’s about being creative under pressure.

If you are a creative you should be very proud. Here’s why.

Our business has grown dramatically in the last 20 years. Just think what an integrated campaign consisted of in 1995. Now, think what it consists of today. It is literally a different business, yet the label has not changed. Integrated campaign. Of course, the amount of time has also remained the same. This has meant a creative now has to do a lot more than was done before within the same time lines. So, what has happened is a creative has had to learn how to up-skill. We have had to learn how to do a lot of different things very quickly.

A creative has to also work with a lot more people who have fancy titles. Words like technologist, innovator and my favourite, future expert, which was on an actual business card. These titles and vague skills are thrown around like meaningless confetti in our business. The problem is some of these people are brilliant and some are not. Some are snake oil salesman selling fake cures to being dated or irrelevant. And you better not choose one of them because we present on Tuesday.

Add to this, input from research, perspectives from strategy, feedback from the client and a mushrooming Tsunami of media options that all may or may not connect to each other as well as the deep internal desire to be brilliant and you begin to experience the shifting tectonic plates creatives are all dancing on. Sounds easy right?

Now, let’s just say you master this dizzying landscape. You become a successful creative. And then you get promoted. You become a Creative Director. And that is a glorious and scary day. The reason it is scary is because you realise all the skills you have acquired are not enough. You have to learn a whole lot of new ones. Up until now you only had to come up with brilliant ideas.

Now, you have to learn how to manage and motivate creatives. You have to care about their ideas. You have to build them up over and over when their ideas die. You have to fight for great work and understand the commercial realities of the client and the agency. You have to be a great showman. You need to be a consummate politician and part time therapist. You must have impeccable judgement and take calculated risks about the future of many ideas that at this point do not exist. Sounds easy right?

The truth is being a great creative is no guarantee of being a good creative director. And may I say, strangely, being a great creative director is not a guarantee of being a great creative.

They are different jobs. Let me repeat this. They are different jobs.

I was very lucky. I became ECD at 32. I was too young for so much responsibility. But I had great teachers. I had support. I would imagine there are a lot of very stressed Creative Directors today who wish they had somebody to ask what to do.

In fact, I know this is true because many around the world have written to me from around the world and told me so.

Being a Creative Director is a strange job because you can never prepare for it. You spend your career trying to get to it and when you do many only have a vague idea of what the job consists of. We need to think about this. Who will teach the teachers?

The truth is not every creative should be a creative director. And we should be fine with that. More than fine. In fact, we should encourage it. We need to make sure labels do not become more important than talent and ability.

As an industry we conveniently forget this. We think if we give somebody a title it gives them the skills too. It doesn’t.

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2 thoughts on “Just because you are a great Blacksmith it doesn’t mean you should make cheese.

  1. Painfully familiar. I became a CD on the heels of my numerous awards and my good-is-the-enemy-of-great ethos. I don’t believe I did badly as one, but I sure wasn’t fantastic either. I would veer wildly from being a ‘people’s person’ to being a micro manager, to if-I-don’t-do-it-myself-all-hell-is-going-to-break-lose to inspiring the whole department like cheap alcohol. We need to have a programme where we grow rising creative stars into leadership position, if THEY WANT IT. It’s ironic that the big clients we work closely with have these system, but we never seem to borrow or learn this from them.

  2. Ron L. Anderson says:

    This is true. And the sad fact is, many of the Creative Directors I know are among the least creative creatives I’ve met. The problem with your thesis is that this industry is run by Creative Directors, who serve their own interests, nothing more. Creative Directors get to do the hiring and firing. And great creatives who stay creatives are eventually ousted in an industry that keeps emphasising young talent, new blood etc. Only Creative Directors get to keep their careers. And frequently they lose the ability to do creative work through the “use it or lose it” principle. The skills they do acquire relate more to management and various forms of political proficiency – how to woo marketing managers etc. etc. I was a Creative Director at 31 too, and had to leave the country of my birth and have only ever been a creative since, because one has to eat and survive. I am still a creative after 23 or so years only because of my creative ability, which is greater than ever after the length of time I have exercised and employed those skills. I don’t believe there’s a Creative Director in town with my skills. But I am a rarity. And uItimately, this industry is not about talent. Any Creative Director who successfully sells that myth should consider a job in some foreign propaganda ministry.

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