Commentary

End Of An Era: The 'Big Scary Chief Creative'

Every advertising creative who has served on a jury knows it isn’t easy: The list of work to judge is a little too long and deliberations go rounds and rounds in a stuffy room. As one of the jurors for ADC in Bermuda a few months ago, said room overlooked the crystal blue waters of South Hampton, tempting us away from our singular focus. 

It’s a good thing the view inside the room was also lovely. 

I mean the work. Some if it fantastic, some of it not so, but all of it a testament to the blood, sweat, tears, and passion our peers pour out, despite dwindling budgets and procurement-led projects. The work always inspires—to dig in harder and dream bigger. It’s a wonderful reminder that very few people in this world have the privilege of working a job they care so much about. 

As it happens, there was something even more inspiring than the work inside this room. 

We were a group of 12 digital creatives from around the globe (six women, six men), with vastly different points of view on advertising, life, and nearly everything else. Egos ebbed and flowed. Biases, unconscious and otherwise, influenced deliberation. However, despite our various backgrounds and points of view, our group agreed on one thing, and it reigned supreme: honest, collaborative feedback. 

I suppose it shouldn’t be too surprising because creative work depends on collaboration to survive. But nevertheless, it’s still true that agency creative directors, who also happen to be un-collaborative assholes, sometimes get a pass if the work they produce is great. Hell, even when the work isn’t that great. 

And thus, we excuse poor leadership. We expect those with the titles to cast a shadow of terror. We say that fear-based tactics, misogynistic commentary, and oppressive teams are part of the territory. We don’t see why it needs to change—so it never changes. 

Consider this: Our industry is constantly refreshed by the young people for whom we’ll someday work. And guess what kind of leader these young talents are not interested in following? Yep, you guessed it. Doctrinaire assholes. Excuse us, but they’ll go work for Facebook, thank you very much. 

The age of Big Scary Chief Creative is over. The new leadership is generous and approachable.Does this mean we should lack toughness? Or that “nice” is a way to get things done? No. But what if we saw feedback as a gift, and the opportunity to give feedback as an honor? 

Pushing teams hard when the work demands it is good. Killing a round of concepts just because you felt like it is not. Passion is good; raging, unpredictable lunacy is, exactly that—crazy. 

Working hard and taking on honest feedback does not have to add up to an awful experience. While nice is largely ineffective (if not annoying), respect gives back through the work twofold. Our job isn’t to be assholes, it’s to get the very best out of everyone around us. 

Trash the work, not the person who did the work. Show respect for the talent within, and you lead in a way that makes others want to make great work for you—but most importantly, they want to make great work for themselves. That’s when the magic gets delivered. 

More and more of us are subscribing to this new way of working; I’ve just met 12 creatives who do. And here’s the big surprise: The work is still good. Sometimes, it’s even GREAT

What does it look like when this philosophy shows up in a jury room, with a too-long list of work to judge, and what seems like endless deliberations? I’m here to tell you—it’s breathtaking.

 

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