Creative vs. Creative Director

There’s an article in CA‘s Interactive Annual by Xanthe Wells called “Promoted to Fail.” It includes  this chart from Rob Schwartz.

I love it. It’s true. Absolutely true.
But if you’re a young creative with aspirations of becoming a creative director, don’t just jump to the right-hand column. Embrace the left side. Be about your book. Have lots of ideas. Worry about now. It’s what you need to do now.
Someday, you’ll realize you’re more concerned about the client than your book. You’ll know what finding the idea feels like. Unifying won’t sound so lame and kumbaya-ish.
Nothing wrong with either column. Just know where you fall. And play your part as best you can.

How to Double Your Salary

This post isn’t really about money. But I’m going to talk about it to make a point.

Years ago I was the writer on a certain campaign. We shot five spots with a man who was (probably still is) one of the best directors in the industry. The ideas were on strategy so the client loved them. The spots were creative so the agency loved them. And the production was pretty high-end with a lot of props and visual effects so they were fun spots for everyone to make.

When we wrapped, my producer turned to me and said, “Congratulations. You just doubled your salary.” I asked what he meant, and he said, “Put this stuff on your reel, and wherever you go next, expect twice as much as you’re getting now.” This was before anything was even edited. We had barely started to listen to music for the spots.

But that’s pretty much what happened. The spots were better than anything I had on my reel at the time, and they got some national recognition. So when I took another job a few years later, I was able to ask for almost twice as much.

(Let me pause to say that you should never take a job for money. Never. It can be a factor. It can be something you earn. But never let it be your motivation. Take a job you don’t like and no number on your paycheck can comfort you if you’re waking up every day thinking, “Crap. I have to go to work.”)

But this post isn’t about doubling your money. It’s about putting yourself in a position to do the kind of work that you and your agency can be proud of. Money is just a convenient metric for determining the value of your work.

I was very lucky to be the writer on that campaign. I was lucky to be at an agency that championed great work, even when the clients didn’t. I was lucky to have a partner who wanted to make the work better, and a creative director who knew how to make it better. I was lucky to be on this particular assignment because for every great campaign they let us do, we had to produce eight terrible ones. They weren’t Nike. So getting this particular assignment was just dumb luck. And that sometimes happens, too.

But if you’re not at that kind of agency, with that kind of partner, and that kind of creative director, it makes it more difficult to double your salary. To say nothing of doing great work.

So give yourself as many opportunities to luck out as you can.

Jim Haven Wants to See Your Print Work

On the heels of the last two posts, here’s something from Creature co-founder, Jim Haven.

In this article for, Haven explains what he looks for when hiring creatives:I’m looking for great ideas, like everyone else, but I think I’d almost rather see a well-crafted print campaign right now than something like augmented reality or an iPhone app. Shocking? Old school? I know; but there’s a reason, actually.”

Any of you wanting to work for a shop like Creature (98% of you) should check out the article to read his reasons. They’re pretty much in line with our Blank Page Manifesto.

The Work Makes the King

Hugh Mcleod drew this. It appears in Seth Godin’s book The Dip. And it’s very true.

Except in advertising. At least the creative side. At least in agencies that care more about producing great work than about politics.

Creative advertising really is a meritocracy. If you have the best ideas, you get recognized. And the more you’re recognized, the more control you have over where you work, with whom, and on what accounts. That’s not to say you get a blank check, and can call your clients idiots. But being in demand gives you a little more control over your destiny.
So if you find yourself in this king/pawn situation, it’s probably because someone isn’t focused on the work.

Creative directors vs. creative engines

Don’t confuse being the creative director of an agency with being the creative engine of an agency. Sometimes, they’re one and the same. But not always.

I’ve worked at agencies where the creative director, however well-respected, was not the creative engine. Those who came up with the best work, the killer lines and fresh layouts were not always the ECD, the CCO, or even the CD. They were the people who loved their jobs and worked like crazy to make sure their ideas were as good as they could be. They never settled.

It may take you a few years to be a creative director. But you can be an agency’s creative engine whenever you decide to be.

The Fourth Box

A friend of mine who works for a great agency sent me this picture. It’s how they sort the minibooks they receive.

If you click to enlarge, you’ll notice the three categories from right to left are COPYWRITERS, ART DIRECTORS, and THINK OF CAREER CHANGE. Granted, that’s pretty harsh. But as my friend pointed out, “I couldn’t believe how many of them were bad!”
So how do you avoid falling into that third box? Here’s my advice:
Don’t even worry about it. Chances are, your book is already better than 100% of them. What you need to be concerned with is being better than all the other books in the COPYWRITER and ART DIRECTOR slots. If this agency’s hiring at all, it’s probably for one team. Maybe two. That’s still a lot of books being sent home.
There’s a fourth box this picture doesn’t show. The fourth box is your book sitting on the hiring creative director’s desk and being shown around the agency.
What are you doing to make sure your book is in the Fourth Box?