Here are six things you need to know if you're going to be a happy, healthy creative director.
1. Hiring is everything.
If you have terrific people the advertising business isn’t that difficult. If you have mediocrities advertising is impossible. For your own self-preservation you must get rid of bad people and hire good ones. There is no other way to do good work and have a happy life. Talent is a rare and precious thing. The idea that "we're all creative" is absolute bullshit. Mediocre talent never makes terrific ads. Never.
2. Avoid the “tyranny of strategy.”
Strategies are not written by God. They are written by planners, researchers, account execs, clients and other mildly retarded mortals. Good creative people often have a better feel for the problem than the committee that wrote the strategy. When you are evaluating a campaign idea, it’s not enough to say ‘this is off strategy’. You must also ask yourself, ‘is this a better strategy than the one we have?’
If the answer is yes, you’re going to have a lousy week. You have to go back and un-sell a strategy that has probably taken months to develop, has been up and down the client organization, and has lots of (probably irrelevant) research to back it up. Somehow, you have to convince a whole bunch of people that all the work they’ve been doing for the past few months is wrong.
Sound impossible? That’s why you get the big bucks.
3. Be eternally skeptical of grand strategic insights:
Planners, researchers and their ilk love to take a little information and turn it into a heroic vision. Beware of this. Most valuable insights are small and contingent. There is almost nothing you can say about human behavior that is universal. Including this.
I was once at an advertising conference and a planning director was making a presentation. She was talking about groups she was conducting for a bank. The groups were going nowhere. She asked a participant “If you could invent the perfect bank, what would it be like?” He sat there for a minute or two without answering.
“I suddenly realized,” she said, “I had the answer right there before me. People don’t want to think about their bank. Then I knew I had the strategy: Bank of Whatever. It’s the bank you don’t have to think about.”
I have a different explanation for the above. She asked a stupid question and the respondent sat there dazed and confused.
From the flimsiest of observations, she drew a grand, idiotic conclusion. And worst of all, the agency and the client bought it.
4. Simplify and specify:
I‘ve seen thousands of ads that were too complicated or too generic. I’ve never seen one that was too simple or too specific.
5. Remember why people buy stuff:
There is an old blues song that goes like this:
All the money in the world spent on
The guy who wrote that lyric understands marketing better than any Stanford MBA I’ve ever worked with. That’s what commerce is about – people spending money to acquire things they think will make them feel better.
Save your dark, pessimistic vision for your screenplay. Which reminds me...
6. You’re a salesman, not an artist:
Want to be an artist? God bless you. So do I. I wish us both good luck.
But first you probably need to quit your day job. As a creative director, your job is to sell stuff. If you don’t like that, I don’t blame you. It’s dirty work and hard on the creative ego.
If you are not comfortable being a salesman you will not be comfortable or successful being a creative director.
Does this mean it’s impossible to create advertising that rises to the level of art? No. Every generation has a few people who can do that. But trust me on this one, it ain’t you.
This was first posted in 2007.