Since then you might say I've been on a quest to define the ideal role
of a creative director, and to build an organization that stays open to
creative possibilities. No surprise that my thinking has changed and
evolved with the growth of the agency.
I've come to the conclusion that the job of creative director is bigger
and more important than any one task. Rather than the person with the
best ideas, or the person who is the best judge of good work, or the
person who can best manage the creative process, a creative director
needs to shape the creative brain of the entire agency and build a
creative conscience. His influence extends well beyond the creative
department. This conviction has made me question many of the
traditional expectations for a creative leader.
For example, when we were smaller, I thought it was essential that a
creative director produce the most high-profile work. It went with our
player-coach model, where managers were expected to be hands on. Plus,
we couldn't afford a creative director who wasn't producing billable
work. I still think that's a good thing, up to a point. However, when
you get to a certain size, a creative director becomes most valuable
when he sees the importance of creating the conditions for other people
to do great work. That's a tough transition to make.
It's only natural that the best creative directors will become stars.
When that happens, you run the risk of building the agency around the
cult of one creative personality. I've got nothing against superstars,
but what's even better is to find a creative director with the talent
to develop an entire team of them.
At other times I've valued a creative director who can oversee all the
agency work and be the arbiter of what's good and what makes the final
cut. This introduces another dilemma. As the single voice of authority,
the creative director becomes a creative dictator. No matter how
talented they may be, when all the work goes through one creative
filter, interesting voices and ideas will be lost. This dramatically
narrows an agency's creative range, and ultimately produces a singular
tone and style, which is the fastest path for an agency to go from
being regarded as innovative to being stereotyped.
Of course, someone has got to make decisions. There are misguided
concepts and bad ideas that need to be killed. Rather than be a
one-sheriff town, the creative director should spread this
responsibility among a group of trusted people. When you've got a lot
of talent in one agency, there is seldom a single best idea. Instead
there are a lot of good ideas that just happen to be different. That's
a good thing, and one of the benefits that clients get from working
with an agency. A creative director needs to keep that diversity of
I've gone through stages where I thought the most important
role for a creative director is to be a skilled manager. When you've
got growing accounts and you're struggling to manage work across
multiple offices and geographies, you're desperate for a creative
leader who can protect the quality of the work and make the trains run
on time. Those are important skills, and at key moments, they can save
an agency from crashing and burning, but they won't lead an agency to
In my evolving view, a creative director's most valuable contributions take place outside of the day-to-day agency operations.
He needs to cultivate an active debate about what makes for good work,
so that diverse ideas thrive and many people have the power to choose
the best direction to pursue.
She needs to shape the environment that attracts creative people, and
that makes the rest of us more creative than we thought possible.
He needs to find ways to model the creative process throughout the
organization, so that people know what it looks like when they see it.
As hard as it may be, she needs to make people believe that she can do
the impossible and create experiences that have never been done before.
That's when the door opens for creative breakthroughs.
The job doesn't come with operating instructions. I'm lucky that I work
with a couple of creative directors who have the gifts to operate at
this level. It takes a lot of guts, because when they succeed, they
ignite a creative force bigger then themselves. That's a daring move
for someone whose career rides on a creative reputation. For my money,
if you can unleash the creativity around you, that's the top of the