Are Creative Directors actually creative?

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Recently I was reading Simon Veksner’s blog. It was a story about Matt Eastwood and discussed the idea of how one’s appearance might affect their career progression. Amongst the comments was this:

Anonymous said…

I’ve been a ‘creative’ for a very long time and your article solved what has been a continuing mystery for me.

Many people have said over the years ‘why don’t you become a creative director?’
And I’ve always replied ‘why would you?’. The thrill of being in creative is thinking of an idea. Sure the money drugs and babes are cool too, but creating ideas is what defines ‘creatives’.

The moment you become a ‘creative director’ is the moment you stop being creative.
You become an inspirer. A seller. A buffer.
In other words you become a suit. And this was obviously Matt’s goal.

I don’t mean that as a pejorative. Great suits are as valuable as great creatives, often more so.
If work doesn’t get sold it may as well not have been conceived.

But it always bugs me when those who have chosen to don the literal or metaphorical suit continue to pretend they are still part of the creative department, or creative brotherhood.
They are not.
When you stop doing ideas yourself, you stop being a creator.

Worldwide CDs like Matt are the epitome of this. He doesn’t create anything himself. He doesn’t even see any work before it goes to clients let alone influence it.

He travels the world raising the profile of the network by chairing awards, then he chairs meetings of selected ECDs where everyone agrees to be much better, then he sacks some ECDs who didn’t get much better even though their clients won’t allow it.

This is not being creative. It’s being a suit.

If the role of worldwide creative director actually involved being the most creative person in the network, wouldn’t you expect such a demi-god to actually think of stuff when there’s a world-wide pitch?

Why hire someone who used to think of things, to not think of things?
It’s silly.
I hope Matt reads this. Because I now know how he became a CD, I just don’t know why.

This got me thinking. It reminded me of a book that came out a few years ago called Creative Director: Year Zero. It’s a collection of thoughts from CDs about their role.

I think there were two main things to come out of that book.
The first was that the term ‘Creative Director’ has taken on a whole new meaning. With the advent of so many new titles, a Creative Director these days is what a ‘Creative Group Head’ used to be (i.e. they’re like a deputy, and they’re usually responsible for a particular client). They still have to answer to a CD (who is now called an ‘Executive Creative Director’, or ECD). In some instances, there’s even a ‘Chief Creative Officer’, but that usually only happens when there’s a real pissing competition going on.

What it all comes down to is this: if you’re not the one making the final creative calls on work before it leaves the agency or if you have to show someone else, you’re not really the Creative Director (actually, these days, many of the people making creative calls aren’t actually from the Creative Dept, but that’s a blog for another time).

The other point is that a Creative Director’s job is not an extension of being a Copywriter or Art Director. It’s not like the ‘Suit side of things’ where you have Account Executive, Account Manager, Account Director, Group Account Director and Managing Director, with each role being an extension of the one prior.

By moving from Copywriter or Art Director to Creative Director, you go from making or creating ideas to suddenly reviewing or presenting them.
Or in other words, you go from playing to coaching.

In a way, this is a very weird situation. Imagine pulling one of your best players from the field so he or she can yell advice from the sideline.
It gives rise to the question, ‘do you have to have been a good player to be a good coach?’

Logic says you don’t. There are plenty of great coaches who weren’t great players.
However, a General leading his troops into battle will almost always have greater respect from his soldiers if they know that he’s spent time in the trenches too.

For example, Vince Lombardi played gridiron on a college scholarship. Sir Alex Ferguson was top goal-scorer in the Scottish league for 1965-6. And Sir Graham Henry played for the highly respected New Zealand provincial side, Canterbury, before coaching the All-Blacks and being named IRB International Coach of the year 5 times.

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