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The Creative Director Isn’t Dead

The author of the Digiday article RIP Creative Director: Creativity Belongs to Everyone makes many valid points. Can good ideas come from anywhere? Of course. Do agencies need to shift how they think about the creative process? Absolutely. Is the creative director dead? No. And I don’t plan on going anywhere. (Unless I sell my screenplay.)

I know what you’re thinking: Of course the creative director begs to differ. And I also know by doing so, I’m feeding into the often-painted picture of “traditional” creative directors as dated thinkers, desperately clinging to our dominion over the creative process. Well, let me play into that characterization even more: There are such things as bad ideas.

There. I said it. Now you definitely have a picture of who I am, don’t you? A smug creative director in trendy glasses. Yup, that’s me. Only I’m a chick, so adjust that in your head. There. Now you have me pegged.

Not All Ideas Are Good

This is unpleasant, but true. There are bad ideas, good ideas, ideas that are better than others and ideas that aren’t good yet but have the potential to be good. And unfortunately, it’s hard to tell the difference. You need someone steering the ship to do that. Without a creative director to step in, we’d all be flailing in half-baked ideas, which is a terrible place to flail.

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Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Have you ever been in a huge brainstorm where people get really excited and write down half phrases and draw half pictures on whiteboards, and everyone feels like we’re striking gold left and right? Have you ever then been able to recall one idea that came out of a brainstorm like that? Me neither. The creative department shouldn’t have a monopoly on the creative process, but small groups work better when it’s time to actually create.

Creativity Isn’t a Defined Process

I’m interested in Applied Creativity. I’m sure there are useful techniques involved that prevent the whiteboard debacle I just described from happening. But then again, “a formalized idea-management process” is only going to take us so far.

Gathering data and behaviors to innovate new technologies and create prototypes is great, but we’re always going to need ideas, not just executions. Stories. I know, I know. Here I go again, the dated creative director making a plea for broadcast. I’m not talking about broadcast. I’m talking about stories. Ideas that aren’t quantifiable but make people feel because they tap into something human. It’s difficult to come up with a story with 10 people involved. Two works better, maybe three. Or one. And it helps if that one knows how to write.

There’s No Single Answer

Things are changing. But there’s also no one answer for how to address it. Do we have it completely figured out at GSD&M? No. But it’s a place that embraces collaboration, not through any defined process, but through culture. All of the work is pinned to the agency walls: everyone can see it, add to it and ask questions. Jay Russell, our CCO, is constantly buzzing around the agency, pointing to things on those walls, getting people excited about the possibilities, challenging us to make it all better. I don’t know everyone’s titles here. But I know if I want a different perspective on social or mobile, I should buy Rye Clifton a beer. David Rockwood and Bill Bayne know music. Jeffrey Butterworth can write and draw. For an uncensored gut check on whether I’m even making sense, I talk to Kate Rutkowski, who is on the account side. Crazy, I know.

Maybe we should start calling creative directors something else to open up the definition more, to change the perception that it has to be a certain someone with a certain background in art direction or copywriting. Or we could spend the time and energy we’d use coming up with a new name for creative directors on creating new ideas that make a difference. That seems like a better idea to me. And you know, that is my job, to pick out the better ideas. I earned my paycheck today, Jay.

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(GSD&M’s creative department)

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