iMedia Connection

Creative director reboot: 6 steps to re-launching yourself

Josh Rose

We're entering into a new era of communication. It's not that the big ad is going away, far from it. It's that the day-to-day communications of a business are rapidly increasing, not just taking over a larger portion of the media budget, but a larger portion of the creative capital. More agencies are being asked to the table. The assignments are coming in more frequently. And the expectations are that the best minds will come up with smart, creative solutions. Daily. For earned and owned media as much as paid.

Over the next few years, expect to see marketers of all kinds re-defining themselves and what they do. The idea of a media plan will change. The perception of what is "digital" and what isn't will change. It's evolution, not revolution, though. We've learned not to overreact to Chicken Little-like warnings of marketing apocalypses, like the death of the 30-second spot or the taking over of branded entertainment. And, of course, the industry is not collapsing into "chaos," it's just getting more complex. We will adapt. Not by throwing away what we've learned, but adding to it and rebooting ourselves every now and again.

So, where does a creative director fit into this? I think they'll be making changes, too, in very similar ways. Never losing sight of their core talent, but adding to it. In fact, most great CDs I know actually think on a plane well beyond just the 30-second spot -- even the ones with great broadcast portfolios. They are pop culture black belts. They are sometimes just insanely funny. Or can tell a story. They are great leaders and taste-makers. And although it's common to hear the word "dinosaur" tossed around within the walls of agencies, I don't think truly great creative people have anything to worry about. Those qualities of theirs, and the ability to embrace and manage the creative process, make them timeless and valuable. No matter what the medium.

At the same time, you can't become complacent. The world can pass you by, if you forget to change with it. Right now, if I'm a working creative director of any medium, learning to cope with the changing demands of businesses is a top priority. The expectations on a creative director are growing. The area of biggest growth is in the ability to think more quickly on more things. We've all experienced the shortened timeline over the last ten years. It seems like a constant fire drill, right? I think we can see that that isn't going to change. We aren't going back to five to ten big deliverables a year. It's going to be more like five to ten a week. That's the demand of businesses that communicate in real-time. The leaders of our discipline won't be the ones complaining about how little time they have, but embracing how creative all the opportunities really are. Even the small ones.

For me, these are the six things I'd recommend to anyone trying to position themself as a contemporary creative leader, outside the cult of personality and awesome hair, of course.

Know how you feel about digital in general
The first lesson ever taught to me about being a creative director was "have an opinion." I still hold that advice close to me at all times. Above all else, a leader must lead. Ask yourself, do I have an opinion on the digital medium? On social media? If you don't have a solid, explainable opinion, form one. And make it informed. Then go find out who else has that opinion. Are you taking a populist approach or a counter-intuitive one? Decide how you feel about the medium and stick to your guns.

Embrace real-time branding
Most of our careers in creative fields have taught us that more time and more money leads to better creative work. But that is a battle that cannot be won anymore. It is not businesses that are going to bend, so it must be us. There are ways to address daily needs, quick-turnaround assignments, and something as seemingly mundane as a Facebook post in ways that make it still creative, head-turning, and worth talking about. Get excited about the small stuff.

Be an open source creative
In a lot of ways, the creativity has never been more important. But, often, creative directors only get credit for the finished product and so we put more focus on what gets produced and fail to highlight our great strength -- process. You're likely to think that the day-to-day madness is the job of the account lead and that your office is the bubble where long-form thinking and craftsmanship occur. I'm against that mindset. A creative director's office should be where ideas are flowing all day long. Sure, they aren't all fully fleshed-out ideas, but not every request needs that. You provide the spark, the impetus, the environment, the direction for creative thinking. And it's open to anyone.

Understand engagement
If you believe that top-of-funnel creative thinking is the most important thing to focus on, you're missing the fastest growing part of marketing -- work that makes people interact. That has to be lead, too. And that takes an understanding of the metrics around engagement. If a writer on your team comes up with a promoted Tweet idea, know what the interaction rate of it was. Know why some Facebook posts get more reactions than others and what units in your online media plan are getting the most interaction. Think about the work you create not just in terms of reach, but interactivity. Ask yourself, "Will people really use this?" about everything.

Embrace the creativity of the crowd
CDs all want to prove they're creative. Whether to their peers, their family or themselves. We are inherently either competitive or insecure -- or both -- as our field is filled with critics and people who can kill our precious ideas, seemingly at whim. The work becomes proof of one's worth. That ego-driven part of the business needs to shrink in favor of making the kind of work that promotes the creativity of others. Learn to be proud of the ideas that evolve out of some platform you created. It is hard to let go of those reins and stop secretly saying, "Look what I did" and start openly saying, "Look what they did."

See everything
If you can only speak to the creative work with the largest media dollars and turn it over to someone else when the conversation turns to digital ideas, then you need a reboot. See the site script. See the content calendar and the wireframes. See the tweets. Hang with the developers. Be intimate with the Facebook app, even if you secretly loathe Facebook. In general, think about how much you know about directors, magazine layouts, and post houses and assume you need that level of knowledge about social media, digital production, and online media formats.

These aren't actually hard things. Not nearly as hard as the responsibility of coming up with ideas, establishing culture, and building and managing teams; what creative leaders already know inherently. Keep all your old tricks, learn a few new ones, and enjoy being top dog for the next ten years.

Josh Rose is chief creative officer, multi-platform campaigns, at Weber Shandwick.

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