By Astrid O’Neal, Creative Director
Fashion, Art, Entertainment. That’s where you will find creative directors. Luxury fashion brands, tech brands, social media companies, start-ups are all getting their own creative directors. CDs are the greatest thing since…since everyone became a content creator. Just look at all the celebrity creative directors we’ve had thrown at us within recent times – from Drew Barrymore for Garnier, will.i.am for Intel, to rapper Big Sean for Detroit Pistons. Every type of industry is now open season for announcing their latest Creative Director find. Some are ‘established’ brand ambassadors promoting the latest Beauty and wellness product to their hundreds of thousands of Insta followers – influencer cum creative director.
I am not one of those.
I come from that traditional and hardworking sector that combines fashion, art, entertainment and ideas into one inspiration-filled industry called advertising. I am not a celebrity, no ‘gram worthy’ pics here! Welcome to agency life where overtime does not exist yet everybody wants to get in. So, here’s some of what makes my job worth the passion and hours that I put into it.
Creativity and Cost
We get to be creative. It may not sound like much but when you are creative it’s great to see your work on a 40-foot lit billboard or on TV or as an immersive 6-hour event. Given the shift to digital overtime, now your work lives online. Inspiration is all around us just waiting to be captured and transformed into a ‘BIG idea’ with our team of – sometimes rebel – creatives.
Sometimes we need to tame our wild creative spirits. The harsh reality is – we are not being commissioned to create a piece of art, so we compromise and collaborate with clients and industry partners to achieve the best outcome. Holding on to an idea is both a blessing and a curse – a blessing in the sense of ownership and conviction and curse in the ‘heartbreak’ when your vision is not shared by the client or your team. L
The client pays the bills so as CD, you sometimes have to let go of your idea. A good CD can keep the essence of the original idea in budget…most times. A good CD also challenges themselves and their team to work with any budgetary constraints. Sometimes we strike gold going back to the drawing board and sometimes we convince the client to ‘shake the money tree’ to get some extra budget!
Media and Messaging
We play a role in creating, shaping, and influencing trends and societal norms. People drink what we say makes them fit in, they wear what we say makes them look cool, they buy what we say makes them look successful, they sign up for services we say will bring convenience to their lives. Mind control much?! Most of the time we go beyond creating ‘pretty ads’ and are tasked with coming up with realistic solutions to everyday problems and that is the essence of customer led marketing and advertising strategy.
With everyone living and being social online, some people think they are being manipulated by ads. Technology and programmatics make it easy to target our audience. The algorithms gonna get you and so will the client if you don’t meet your KPIs! Performance anxiety is real, which is why teamwork and partnering with clients is ultra-important in this role.
Another school of thought argues that we contribute to creating shallow audiences. An alternative viewpoint is we are just helping them find their own true selves. I’ve toggled between both through the years while keeping my moral compass on its toes!
You get to meet and work with famous people! Musicians who sing your jingles, actors who voice your scripts, pro athletes who become spokespersons for the brands you manage. You also connect with, or sometimes discover the most amazing talent (inclusive of team members or freelancers), artists and artisans, everyday individuals, influencers and suppliers who all play a critical part in bringing the agency’s ideas to life! This job, and the industry is built on relationships. We are no longer limited by geography and that’s something to get fired up about!
The famous people you work with probably won’t remember you long enough for back-stage passes or free tickets at their next event. But jokes aside, ‘agency life’ is demanding and you spend more time with your team than you do with family. You’re on the grind longer than your 8-4 colleagues. The truth is, this is a labour of not just love but passion and commitment, yet the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry and you sometimes question your career choice.
Burnout is real, safeguarding mental health is real, not just for you but for your team. The need for ‘always on’ emotional intelligence and mindfulness is essential. Prior to the pandemic distress signals, flags or triggers are easily spotted but behind screens, these queues can be lost. This is perhaps one the most challenging responsibilities in this role – working with the team to mitigate burnout and safeguard mental health. A cookie cutter approach will not suffice with a team of distinctly unique creatives. You, as CD will also need to identify when you too, need to take a step back!
You get to teach and mould young, opinionated, creatives. I was fortunate to work under the guidance of some industry titans throughout my career. I’ve been ‘paying it forward’ whenever I can and will say that there is no greater joy than seeing a budding creative you’ve helped, succeed and go on to be amazing! It means I’m doing something right! Also, winning new accounts or RFPs, having your team recognised with industry awards, and getting good client reviews for day-to-day projects are some of the sweet spots in this role.
Creatives can be very opinionated and competitive which can be the catalyst for the next ‘BIG Idea’ or innovation. In an environment that fosters the expression of varying opinions this is good, however depending on the delivery and respect for these opinions this can disrupt team spirit and vibe. Conflict resolution is a big part of this role. Having the ability to see the bigger picture and objectively work to resolve challenges even if it means someone walks away upset is one of the more challenging parts of this position. You are counselor, moderator, mediator, decisionmaker. There are many facets to this role beyond being ‘creative’.
You get to teach and mould young, opinionated, creatives. Your young creative proteges outgrow you – which is not a bad thing at all – and become your greatest competition. Student becomes not just the successor but the competitor and challenges not only your work but your ego! This could be one of the greatest honours in this position, but I have not gotten to this level of ‘self-actualization‘ yet. Tomorrow is another day!