One of the greatest joys of my 30 year career as a creative director, regional CD, chairman, CEO, partner and owner in advertising agencies, is having met, hired, worked with, guided, mentored, taught, advised, groomed, nurtured, partnered with, and learned from some truly wonderful, bright account managers and creative people. They not only helped me build four successful ad agency brands in Asia Pacific, but made my time doing it a sheer pleasure.
Now I sit back with a smile on my face because today, many of these people have risen to great heights in our business, as creative directors, senior executives, planners, managing directors, owners of their own ad agencies, digital and design studios, award winners and marketing directors of some of the leading brands of the world.
You people know who you are. Please take a bow!
It’s amazing what happens over twenty or thirty years. I’m proud of so many of them.
And what a wonderful thing the Internet is, allowing us to continue to stay in touch with each other, all over the world, discuss advertising, art, graphic design, architecture, new business start-ups, new ad campaign concepts, marketing plans, new product introductions, new client wins (and some losses), the economy, family matters, health matters, (some deaths and illnesses–sadly enough), photography, travel, music, books and so much more. We Facebook, we Linkedin, we Tweet, we email, we SMS, we Skype and we phone one another.
But this good stuff doesn’t just happen over night. You have to work at keeping these relationships warm, so they do not fade. Better yet, you have to plant the seeds early in your career in order to build these lasting relationships. Sure, you are not going to be successful winning them all over to your side—especially those you had to let go — dismiss, lay off, retrench or fire.
Good relationships with your people can be richly rewarding, not only for the person being mentored, but for the mentor too.
You can, among other things, provide exceptional learning experiences and, in doing so, expand their awareness, insight and perspective.
Here are some things (other than money) I think really work well to keep your people happy, working hard, working at peak performance, and loyal to you and your agency.
The best creative directors I’ve encountered have been people that have credibility in, and have personally achieved success. Being credible doesn’t mean that you need to have all the answers. The best answers often come from their own thinking, with the help of your wisdom to support them.
Be a positive role model
Good CDs are respected CDs. Your people can learn a lot from you simply by watching how you behave in any particular situation. They will also look out for you, give you work and opportunities that will help you gain experience, and even create situations in which you can become involved to learn new things, or take you behind the scenes for a glimpse at how other people in the agency do things.
Be genuinely interested in your people and treat each one of them as an individual
The best relationship is a personal one, which is often very important to the your people. Get to know them personally, not just as a member of your staff, but about their hopes and aspirations.
Be a selfless creative person
You can be as selfish as you like when rising through the ranks. You can write copy the way you want to write copy. You can art direct the way you love to art direct. That’s not to say the client won’t turn down what you do. We most often go out of the gate with our best foot forward.
The reason you are able to do that is because a good CD will let you flex your creative muscles and allow your own work to shine. A bad CD will want everything to look like something from their own book. That’s not selfless, it’s not letting people grow and flourish. It’s bloody demoralising work ethic; creatives need to be creatives, not production artists.
Create some of your own work or work with your team
A good creative director likes doing creative work too.” Creative directors have an awful lot on their plates. They’re department managers, agency politicians, salesmen, planners, strategists, therapists, they cut the red tape, break down the brick walls, see the bigger picture, you name it, they’re involved. Good creative directors never lose that passion, that drive and that hunger for doing great work.
Share your experiences and insights
In doing so, choose stories that you feel are appropriate and helpful. Be open to sharing your mistakes and failures too, as these are often where our biggest lessons are learned. Make them aware that challenges will arise, and the way you dealt with the situation might also help them gain insight about how to build resilience.
Don’t give them the solution. Ask good questions
It’s a great way to get your people to think through situations themselves and draw out the consequences of the various choices or courses of action they can take. During these conversations, you can share your wisdom, without making decisions for them. That’s their job.
Act as a sounding board
Your people will benefit greatly from the opportunity of having you listen to them. Allow them to explore their thoughts and ideas openly with you. This will often help them unravel their thinking and gain insights.
Provide a fresh perspective
Give them the benefit of your personal perspective on an issue. Show them that you have the clarity of distance from an issue or problem that’s needed to provide objective feedback
Provide helpful feedback
Not all feedback is helpful. A good mentor knows this and will deliver feedback in a way that will help their people gain insight to further develop specific ideas, qualities or skills. Giving unwelcome feedback can be detrimental to any relationship. Instead, explain what you’d like to talk about first and highlight the benefits of doing this. A good creative director gives specific feedback, not vague platitudes. Your direction will be considered, constructive, smart and intelligible. And by constructive, I mean much more than “I hate all your ideas, go away and try again.”
Highlight their achievements to help build their confidence. Remember to celebrate their successes on your journey too. In fact, let them know you and the agency are successful because of their hard work and commitment.
Offer advice if they ask for it
It can be very tempting to just jump in and offer advice before someone has actually asked for it. Being a sounding board for your people, allows them to discuss any situation with you. They’ll trust you to help them think through a situation or a project. It’s always more empowering for them than advising or telling them what to do. It helps them work through the issue and come to their own conclusions. By doing so, you help them to learn to think for themselves and trust their own judgement.
A creative director should have the authority and confidence to make some big decisions, and should also take some firm stands against feedback that will either ruin the creative or demoralize the department. You need to stand behind your peoples’ ideas. You need to set the standards. If you are a CD with balls, your peoples’ portfolios (and your book too) will soon fill up with great work.
Improve the work.
The good CD will improve the work. Period. No matter how much of an advertising genius some people think they are, there’s nothing you can do that can’t be improved upon by a good CD. It could be a simplification of an idea. It could be a small tweak that makes a big difference. It could be taking your idea down an avenue you never thought of. It could be turning the whole idea on its head, or pulling an idea out of your trash can.
Be a motivator
You don’t get people to want to work harder for you by shouting, screaming, berating, abusing and humiliating. Motivation comes from a place of respect and trust. Good creative directors will want you to do well for you, not for them. They will instill in you the kind of passion and drive that makes an eight-hour day become a 13-hour day. They will get you so charged and excited about a project that you will set your alarm clock for six a.m., battle traffic and eat a cold hot dog for breakfast, because you know you’re on a mission to do some great work. Loyalty to a CD and an agency is built on good relationships, not bitter ones.
Hire people with great talent
David Ogilvy talked about hiring people more talented than themselves: “If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”
Unfortunately, some CDs are so concerned about being knocked off their perch that they’ll insist on filling the creative department with mediocre hacks. This is not only detrimental to the clients, but the agency as a whole. You don’t win new business or keep existing business on the back of cruddy work.