I have a theory about why some “traditional” agencies aren’t evolving as quickly, or effectively, as they need to: because their creative directors aren’t admitting that they’re stupid.
Now, hang on a minute. Before you take a four-iron to my knee caps, let me explain what I mean. In my pre-creative-director career as a copywriter (you know, back when ads were written in Triceratops blood on cave walls) I never had to worry about writing for a small thing we now call the internet. Back then, an “integrated campaign” meant it had TV, print and radio. The definition of “interactive” was doing a print ad that required someone to turn the page. My colleagues and I never had to think of any solution beyond it.
The path to becoming a creative director in those days was to be really good at developing work in those media, the theory being, the better you were at doing it, the better you would be at directing it.
Today? Not so much. As someone who’s now responsible for directing creative people doing things I never even dreamed of in my copywriting days, I don’t consider myself solely equipped to make every kind of idea better. How could I? I’ve never done many of them myself.
Sure, I can tell someone how to make a TV spot or a print ad better. I’ve done a ton of them. And, I think, I’m pretty good at them. But when it comes to creativity today — a new world that encompasses everything from iAds to augmented reality — it’s a whole different ballgame.
I’m not alone. I’d venture to say there’s a whole industry of CDs out there who have the same difficulty as I do single-handedly creative directing today’s ideas. Some have even confided in me as much.
So where does that leave creative leaders like me? Here are a few options:
Ignore the new ideas. Hey, if we can’t make them better then let’s just dismiss them altogether!
We can ask for new ideas, even demand them, but because we honestly don’t know how to improve many of them, we can just let them move forward in their “first-draft” state.
We can admit that we don’t know enough about how to make technologically complex creative ideas better and ask for help.
Hopefully, we’ll all be brave enough to pick option No. 3. Creative directors need to admit a weakness in our own ability to creative direct today and ask for help. Take down the walls and ask other people for suggestions about how to make the work better. Heresy, I know. (You’ll have to turn in your creative director secret decoder ring and conveniently forget the creative director secret handshake.) But the danger of pretending like you know how to do it all means great creative opportunities could pass through you agency without a chance of exposing themselves. I believe we’ll be more effective in our jobs if we get help revamping our creative departments to deliver the complex kinds of creative products clients require to engage consumers today.
Note, I’m not suggesting you get others to do it for you. I’m simply saying get help. As creative directors it is still, ultimately, our responsibility. We are, like it or not, better qualified to judge and direct great creative work, of any kind, than anybody else.
And if and when the “I need help” movement takes hold, I promise creative directors will look really damn smart (actually being smart, however, is a different story…hell, we’re creative directors not planners).