When I started in advertising the Creative Director of an advertising agency was the most senior person in the creative department. Depending on the size of the agency they may also be a partner in the business or even the agency owner. The most creative advertising professionals, the ones who won gold lions at Cannes year on year were Creative Directors.
On the creative ladder, CD was the top. It was an aspirational role for sure and unique to the advertising business. But something happened a couple of years ago. Perhaps with the popularity of The Gruen Transfer or just because it sounded ‘cool’, the title Creative Director started popping up all over the place. Suddenly magazines had Creative Directors. Then record labels had Creative Directors. Then startup businesses that loosely worked in the creative industry had Creative Directors. I think this is all Don Drapers‘ fault!
True Creative Directors were people with minds that worked differently to everyone else’s. Beyond the creative side of their remit was the business side. They were as familiar with marketing strategy as they were with managing client relationships. They also had a great sense of humour and presentation skills that could sell anything to anyone. I once saw the CD of one of the big agencies I worked for, fake a heart attack in the middle of a presentation to their bank client, then get up and continue on with the presentation, all to win a $100 bet with the agency MD. Inspired!
I was immensely fortunate to be taught by George Betsis and then train under four great CDs; Grahame Bond (at BondStrothfeldt), Bob Mitchell (at Clemenger), John Anstey (at SASS) and Jan O’Connell (at Grey). And when Tim Hunt promoted me to Creative Director at Capital I had 15 years experience under my belt working in some of the biggest, some of the best creative departments on some of the biggest brands in the world. When I founded my own agency I continued as Creative Director. And that’s when the real work started. Inside someone else’s agency there is a support system. Not so when you’re doing it for yourself. But the flip side is unprecedented freedom in every aspect of the business you are creating; in reality, a true Creative Director.
CDs in adland noted this devaluing trend in the title and started looking for alternatives; Creative Partner, Executive Creative Director or my personal favourite, CCO (Chief Creative Officer). WTF! IMHO none of these fit the bill. So they drew upon their creative minds and looked left field; Head of Ideas, Principal Thought Generator, Ideationist. I mean seriously, rather than defining what their roles and responsibilities, these titles sound at best confusing and at worst a joke.
I experimented with alternative titles when I was CD at Left FIeld. The company name deemed that we needed to be different and we wanted to portray that difference at every opportunity. Staff titles was the first place we started. I was Creative Director, Knower of Things and Chief Swashbuckler. The format was simple; real title from employment contract, a talent, a personality trait. We rolled this format out to all staff. They appreciated it and so did clients and other stakeholders. A great icebreaker as well as serious communication device.
But I will no longer call myself a Creative Director. The title has lost any true value and now is as useful as describing someone as a ‘consultant’.
* For the purposes of being pigeon holed and LinkedIn, I have to keep calling myself a Creative Director. At least my mum now understands what I do for a living.