Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Why I Sucked at Being a Creative Director

There's a new book coming out.

And it features the thoughts of several high profile Creative Directors, including friends, colleagues and ex-bosses, their thoughts on becoming a Creative Director and the current state of advertising.

Far from being jealous as to why I was not asked to participate in the endeavor -- which would have been useless since I have nothing relevant to offer in that arena -- the book's announcement got me thinking.

Using generous math, and including the time I was an Associate Creative Director (a worthless title if there ever was one), I spent roughly 10 years as a CD. With the benefit of hindsight and a heaping helping of self-deprecation, here's Why I Sucked at Being a Creative Director:


1. Immovable as a Dead Donkey. Like all Siegels I have inherited a generations-long stubborn streak. It's deeply embedded within my DNA. In some instances it disguises itself as Persistence or Determination. And has served me well in running marathons or getting a movie produced or a book published. But in the case of being a Creative Director at an advertising agency, where there is a premium on building consensus, accommodating cretinous client demands and answering to faceless holding company officers, that same stubborn streak has done me a distinct disservice. Earning me the unhealthy reputation of being an ass. An immovable one at that.

2. Art Before Commerce. Young creatives often find mentors or role models to look up to. More often it's a matter of studying their work in the One Show Book or CA annuals and mimicking (stealing) their style. When I was learning the business, the writer I most respected was Mark Fenske. His work was always smart, always different, and always courageous. Mark subscribed to the auteur theory. That advertising should reflect a personal vision. And stand on its own as a piece of communication worth experiencing. I always challenged myself, and my teams, to those type of standards. Sometimes we measured up. Most times we didn't. But the process was never ever pretty. (see point #1)

3. Dirty Hands. Unlike most Creative Directors, I was never able to walk away from the keyboard. I always kept my hand in the making of ads. Competing with the teams that were working for me. Was it always fair? No, but it was my responsibility to always put the best work in front of the client. I like to think this kind of demanding work environment made any creatives working for me, better creatives. I do know that I fought as hard for their work as I did for any of mine. Of course any admiration from my creative colleagues was far surpassed by the contempt and scorn of those in Account Management and Account Planning who took issue with my pugilistic defense of the work. (again, see point #1)

4. Terrible at Chess. As my buddy Cody is finding out online, I know my way around the rooks and bishops, kings and queens. I even won some chess tournaments while in college. But when all those moving pieces have moving mouths, then it's no longer a game. You see being a Creative Director is often about knowing which client is on the ascent and which one isn't. It's about knowing how to make a CMO look like a hero. It's about Relationships with a capital R. This was all squarely out of my comfort zone. I never had the patience, nor the ability, to keep track of the internal machinations within the client's marketing department. I have a wife and two daughters, I have a hard enough time keeping a lid on that dysfunctional dynamic. (This has little to do with point #1, however I'm sure you can imagine the aforementioned stubbornness never helped matters.)

5. Bad Geography. A long time ago I made the mistake of setting up shop on the West Coast, where sensitivities are high and the beautifully-tanned California skin is awfully thin. Take the simple phrase, "Get out of my office you asshole." Spoken to a colleague here in the homogenized, touchy-feely confines of West L.A., that off-the-cuff type utterance would often earn me an immediate trip to the Human Resources office. But in the Big Apple, where I should have stayed, "Get off of my office asshole", would merit a completely different response, like, "Up yours douchebag. We still on for drinks after work?" See the difference?

6. Replace Filter as Necessary. Another reason I sucked at being a Creative Director is that I never mastered the art of not saying what I was thinking. If a synapse fired in the cortex, you can be sure the tongue and the lips were going to respond accordingly. Not always a good idea. However I am getting better at this. And to that end, I think I'll pay heed to that older and wiser little voice in my head that is telling me to hold off on points 7-point 100. 

I'll save those for a rainy day.
Or better yet, I'll save them for myself.

23 comments:

geo said...

to me it sounds like you were a good creative director at agencies that didn't want good creative directors. Your qualities are all admirable.

Cecilia Gorman said...

Love this post Rich.

Nicosia said...

Since I sorta worked for/with you at Chiat, I can say you didn't suck at being a CD in terms of making the work better, and making the brand relevant. No one can argue with the work produced on the ABC account. Problem is, when agencies say "it's all about the work" what they mean is "it's all about the work we can easily sell without upsetting the client and the account people and the studio manager and client's wife and...."

Mark said...

You could only come up with 6?

glasgowdick said...

Thanks Cecilia.
Thanks George.
Mark, you didn't read to the end. Douchebag

Anonymous said...

"Get out of my cubicle, asshole" - just doesn't have the same amount of flair...

Pen

Jeff B. said...

Great read. Loved your reasons and as an aspiring Jr. Copywriter in the biz, I can already relate to a few of the points you made.

So what made you stop "Creative Directing"? Your post made it sound like you left ad world aside from the blog.

glasgowdick said...

Thanks Jeff B.
I haven't left advertising, I've just downsized myself to a being a freelance copywriter. A happier more productive copywriter.
And Pen, I stand corrected, cubicle is much more accurate in these all-the-profits-are-forwarded-to-the-mothership days.

Richard said...

If you had been my CD in my ad career perhaps I wouldn't have left the business after only a few short years.

Michael Franzese said...

Excellent post! I had my wife read it and she said,"Oh, so that's why you could never hold a job!"

Michael

Kiki said...

i'm right with you on #5.

Spider Lockhart said...

As Nicosia can confirm, I sucked as well.

- Sully

Fenske said...

You misspelled auteur, you douchebag.

Anonymous said...

You nailed what made you a shitty CD in your opening paragraph when you denigrated the title and insane amount of work Associate Creative Directors actually do to make people like you look good.

glasgowdick said...

@ Anonymous ACD. I admire your outrage and indignation. Just think in a few years you'll be a full-fledged Creative Director. Imagine how liberating it will be to have the courage of your convictions and sign your name to your blog posting comments. Good luck with that and let me know how it goes.

Robert Moss said...

Rich, I think you're the guy to take the characters from "The Naked and the Dead," pull them out of W.W. II and the Pacific Theater, drop them in the ad world, and re-tell that story.

They're all there. Cummings, Hearn, Croft, Hennessey (Hennessey!), Gallagher, Goldstein, Martinez, Red, Roth, Polack, Wilson, etc.

Robert Moss said...

I forgot Major Dalleson. Got to have a Maj. Dalleson character!

Tricia said...

Just read this one. Being a former producer of yours, you weren't bad at all. At least you could make a decision and stick to it, weren't trying to be everyone's friend, and funny to boot.

AJ LoFranco said...

Sorry Rich but none of your points would qualify you as a CD that sucked. Having worked for/with many over the years I'd like to submit my short list of poor CD Proclivities.

1- Sucking up to any agenda other than the work and a valid pov.

2- Always unavailable but appearing at the last minute (actually too late and now we're all working unnecessarily till we drop) to SAVE THE DAY. And, after the bluster the work is different but isn't better one fucking bit.

3- Dropping, "my friend, the (add discipline here) can deliver better than the hack you all hired, go ask him for a favor...", kind if shit.

As a producer I can and will deal with anything thrown at me but my goal and desire is to facilitate making the work better. If we're not on the same page... well than, yes. You suck.

Rich Terry said...

Rich, I always admired your work--and quite often tried to (cough cough) mimic the style. I just as much admire your blog. And I hope I'm as lousy a CD as you were. Though I doubt it, unfortunately.

glasgowdick said...

@Rich. It's always so surprising when I hear such nice words from total strangers. Glad you're enjoying the blog. Thanks again.

tore claesson said...

I hadn't come across this blog before my great friend Geo(rge) turned me on to it. Just gave me another great reason to procrastinate.

Hartley said...

Spot on and funny across the board. Nicely done.