What Makes a Great Creative Director

 When looking for a job, don't just look at the agency, look at the clients and most importantly, look at the team.

Check out the culture of the team. Walk around the floor. See the work spaces. Talk to the people - not just the ones with big titles. And talk to the creative director.

Are these people you want to work with til 11pm? People you want to learn from? People you want to hang out with at work events?

Is the creative director someone you respect, who you think you can grow under? 

I had a creative director who wouldn't even blink at my Good Mornings or speak in my direction. I didn't feel like I was part of the team or like he cared if I was happy, overwhelmed or growing. That, along with other factors, made me hate going to work.

You may feel a little desperate because you really, really want a job and just want to get in there and start working (I'll admit, it's easier to get a job once you already have a job.) But don't let the allure of being employed or the name on the side of a building make you jump into a bad situation.

Check out this article from Anne Hubben that examines what makes a great creative director.

What Makes a Great Creative Director
Posted on 10/11/2012 By Anne

I’m working with someone who is stepping in to the role of Creative Director and we’ve been talking  about what makes a Creative Director great. I found a few excellent articles that have already been written (links below) and tried not to duplicate, but there are a few points that I hear repeatedly and will mention here as well.

To be a great creative director, you must:

Have great work in your portfolio
:  Creatives respect exceptional work from other creatives, especially the person leading them. You can walk in to a room and have the presence of a leader where you look the part and speak the part, but if your book doesn’t show smart, creative work, then you’ll have some challenges.

Continue to do great creative work:  You also can’t rest on your laurels. Having won an award 10 years ago for a recognizable campaign is admirable, but you’re going to have to have strong recent work too. What have the teams you’ve led produced lately?  Do you roll up your sleeves and work along side your team when necessary?  When nobody can crack a creative brief and it’s getting down to the wire, are you able to throw out something that the team can use?

Be a thought leader:  You have experience, opinions and a vision that you share with your team on a regular basis. Your team knows what the vision is and can articulate it and/or show it in their work. If they don’t get it yet, they’re not afraid to ask because you don’t take it personally, but instead see it as your responsibility to communicate more effectively.

Be able to separate the good ideas from the crap:  That’s pretty self-explanatory.  You believe in your team’s ability to make the work better. You have the willingness and desire to improve their work. When there’s someone that’s not performing as they should, and you’ve worked with them, given them direction and they’re just not getting it, it’s time to let them go. But they shouldn’t be surprised by it (that’s a whole other post).

Be specific with feedback:  So many creative directors think it’s okay to just say “it’s not there yet” and send the team away. But, how do creatives work with that?  They beat their heads against the wall, that’s how. They need specific feedback, direction, suggestions. As a great creative director, you know how to get the best work out of your team and you give them the tools to get there.

Stay connected to your people: You know your team as individuals. You know what motivates each of them. As many have discovered, you can’t motivate a 23-year old and a 42-year old in the same way. There’s no “right” way either. They’ve grown up differently and as a result, they learn differently, are motivated differently and work differently. It’s your job to get to know them and determine how to effectively communicate with them.

Be a great communicator:  With your team, your account people, your bosses and clients. There’s also a misconception that you have to be an extrovert to be a great communicator. I disagree. We all know those people that say more with fewer words.  Don’t let the flamboyant extroverts keep you from striving for the Chief Creative role.

Stand up for your creative team’s work:  No creative wants to feel like an order taker. Nor do they want to feel that their leader will crumble under pressure.  As a leader you should have your people’s back.

Have humility:  You’ve received plenty of accolades, have done award winning work, now it’s time to let your team shine.  Also, don’t be afraid to admit when you’ve made a mistake, own up to it and learn and teach from it.

Give credit and/or take the blame:   You work on boosting other people and help them rise up and be their best.  On the flip side, your people are going to make mistakes. As a great creative director you don’t throw your people under the bus.

Be able to spot and nurture talent:  As a recruiter I had to put this in. I’ve worked with some creative directors who were able to see talent where others might not. They don’t expect to see exactly what the job description says. They value people from all different backgrounds — screenwriters/fine artists/illustrators or they have that background themselves. Variety makes people interesting. I always encourage people who aren’t working to find a personal project to pursue. It keeps you engaged and makes you interesting to people who are hiring while also keeping you happy and sane.

Never stop learning:  It has always been important for creative people to continue learning, to stay up on trends, ideas, art, pop culture, politics, global issues, life in general. But now more than ever, it’s critical to embrace technology so you can stay on top of that too.  You don’t have to know how to do it all, but play around with technology, check out sites you hear about, download apps, get an iPad, see what Twitter’s all about. If you don’t “get it” watch someone who does, or ask them about it. It’s fun if you open up to it and if you want to be great, you have to be open.

That’s my list for now. I got some great suggestions from people after posting the question of what makes a creative director on my social networks, so thank you to all of you who answered.