Most ad agencies and marketing firms grow to a certain point—say, 15-20 employees—at which point the principals need to spend most of their time on management, finances and new business… leaving no one in charge of the creative work. And at this point, they realize they need a creative director.
A creative director takes charge of the creative style of the agency—what work you produce, the quality of that work compared to competitors, the overall feel of the agency’s creative output. Lacking this creative leader, agencies may struggle to establish their creative reputations. Worse, they may be unable to attract good clients because their creative work is indistinguishable from less talented competitors’ work.
Grow Your CD In-house
While many agencies seek creative directors from outside their core staff, others successfully grow their CDs from within. Here are some traits, skills and abilities any home-grown creative director needs.
People management skills – How does s/he relate to co-workers? Can the person step up to a manager’s position and assume the necessary authority over former peers? How do they handle conflict? (Ideally, they’re good listeners, able to find the core issue and get people to talk respectfully about it.)
Recognizes and appreciates the work of others – Is s/he a self-promoter, or is the work of the group more important? The ability to see the best ideas and bring them forward is essential for creative direction. S/he should also be good at praising and recognizing top creators, and promoting those people to agency management.
Communicates well verbally and orally – Look for someone who exudes self-confidence as expressed in meetings with clients, explaining work/ideas, and the ability to simplify complex ideas so others understand them.
Goal-oriented and deadline-aware – A good CD candidate understands accountability and productivity needs, and keeps these goals in mind while striving to bring forward the best work… within the budget and time-frame, and attuned to the creative brief.
Strong creative thinking, but a good delegator – Your best CD does not feel s/he has to DO everything themselves; they are willing to assign work to others and guide them to their best work. But if needed, they can step in and develop a good idea into a better idea, or push others to elevate their work from good to great.
Mentors, not just manages – Your pick for CD should find fulfillment in boosting the career goals of others, guiding newbies in acquiring new skills, and matching designers and copywriters, interactive and traditional creatives, with the goal of producing the right alchemy to develop each member of the team. They should be attractors of new talent, invaluable for recruiting the best new talent.
Curiosity, and openness to the New – A creative director must be an explorer, always seeking new ideas, new inspirations and new thinking. They should be willing to push riskier ideas if they feel strongly about their value. And they should be very good at encouraging the creative team to explore, discover and test new concepts.
The Equalizer – The very best creative directors may not be down in the trenches daily, but remain attuned to the overall agency creative vibe, aware at all times of where everyone is in terms of tension, workload, conflicts, stresses and job satisfaction. Their ability to keep this fluid and sometimes pressured environment in balance is key to agency success, and the right creative culture.
A top agency advocate – The CD should be a valued representative for the agency with the public, vendors, business contacts and clients. You should trust them to represent you and your values whenever they walk out the door, post a blog piece, share a Tweet or post on social media. Look for a creative person genuinely interested in other people, having broad interests beyond the agency, who enjoys sharing ideas and believes in our industry.
Wow, you may think: that’s a lot of traits to find in one person. Remember that creative talent can be developed and molded. Look for people who have some of these traits, and work to help them grow those they lack. Provide opportunities for them to acquire new skills and spend more time leading. Like a gardener cultivates the healthiest seedlings, you can cultivate your best creative director candidate.
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