Category: leadership

What is a Creative Director?

No one outside the advertising industry had ever heard of a Creative Director until Mad Men came out, than Don Draper became that iconic figure and suddenly the role became crystal clear. When I introduce myself as a CD people often ask me if I am like like Don. My stock reply is that we’re exactly alike but I don’t smoke. To know me is to understand the humour in that statement.

I would like to say that the job is all about 3 martini lunches, naps in the afternoon, brainstorming all night and all those things that sound so glamorous to young people in the business. It’s all about leadership.

dondraper-lessons-1024x428Despite what you read here, I identify with Don Draper on many levels. Perhaps another post for another time.

It took me a while to understand what a CD actually is, though. For the longest time I thought the job was the next rung on a tall career ladder. Back in my days at Unleaded, I definitely had that mindset. I felt I had to be the quarterback, much like Don Draper, pushing myself and the team across the field to score. But that is hardly what the job is about, and a large part of what makes me laugh when I see some 25 year old telling me they are a CD. You’re barely out of diapers at that point kid; there’s no way you’re a leader.

The Creative Director is not the quarterback. Furthering the football analogy, the CD is actually the coach, and if you’re lucky you have a good solid quarterback working for you. Your role as CD is to get the team ready and set them in motion to score. (A little more irony: I don’t really like football that much, but like most sports, games often help tell stories.) Being the CD is all about putting the right people in the right place at the right time to achieve a goal. Sounds simple, but when you’re team is comprised of creative folks, here is where it gets interesting.

Simon Sinek said it best in the title of his book, “Leaders Eat Last”. That one sentiment captures the very essence of a Creative Director. There’s very few Don Drapers out there who swoop in to save the account, or be the mighty creative force who everyone relies on to win. Rather, if you’re doing your job right, you are often invisible because the machine is humming along smoothly. No one will see the inner workings. Or at least they shouldn’t, especially your boss. The downside is that you don’t get all the glory, and you will get the blame should things go south. It ain’t easy, but I find it all strangely rewarding.

My team entered 15 pieces into the BMA Houston Lantern Awards and eight were accepted into the show for the presentation on 16 Nov. I could not be more proud. The younger version of me would have been jealous. Most of my creative efforts this year are still on the proverbial cutting room floor, or buried deep on the archive drive never to see the light of day again. Not to say I did not do anything this year, that is just how the year shaped up. Instead, I look at the current environment of the oil and gas industry, which I’m in the middle of, and I see what my team was able to accomplish despite these challenging times. Let me reiterate: Put the right people in the right place in the right time. And defend them, shield them for outside forces. Give them the room to succeed. I’m lucky that I have some good quarterbacks, and running backs and linemen, etc. I had to do my job so that they could do theirs, and it worked.

That’s being a Creative Director.

For other’s insights into the job:
A primer on creative direction as compared to art direction and design… and what they all mean in a digital context.


How to be a great creative director
What qualities do you need to become a top creative director? Five leading creative directors offer their views.


Managing Designers on Two Different Tracks


FROM TRADITIONAL TO DIGITAL – THE MODERN CREATIVE DIRECTOR