Creative people should lead companies

SPIKES ASIA - It's a polarising statement that, somewhat ironically, is open to a 360 attack. But Al Moseley, CCO at 180 Amsterdam, defends it well, bringing in personal experience and a taste for implementing structures that foster creative management.

Al Moseley:  CCO at 180 Amsterdam,
Al Moseley: CCO at 180 Amsterdam,

"Years of nurturing fragile ideas, clients, and egos has been the best training for running a business," Moseley said in his Forum presentation at Spikes Asia 2014 in Singapore.

Yet becoming a leader hadn’t been his plan. Starting out as a copywriter at TBWA, he went on to work for Mother, Wieden+Kennedy and finally 180 Amsterdam, with the explicit focus of being a creative. The watershed moment came in 2013, when 180 Amsterdam's director left the company, which forced Moseley to wear two hats: creative and business.

"I found myself calling up clients to tell them about the leadership change. Invariably, they’d ask if I’d be picking up the business responsibilities or be taking over the whole thing," Moseley said, laughing as it was something he never expected.

As Moseley puts it, he was an "accidental leader". But it drove him to focus on developing a creative leadership that would work for 180 Amsterdam, "make the finance people happy", and strengthen the bottom line.

For guidance, Moseley turned to YouTube and cheesy leadership books with classic one-size-fits-all advice and trailblazing mottos like, "do it right here, right now". As he related the story, the audience at Spikes Asia let out a guffaw. "I’m sure it’s something many of you can relate to," Moseley said. 

In the end, the creative had to turn to his own creative resources to figure out how to be a leader. "As a creative you always have the work to talk about," he said. "As a leader you have to ask what’s going to happen next?" From there Moseley drew up a 90-day plan and an amoeba-shaped organization chart (below) was born.

 

Essentially, ideas are placed in the centre of the organisation and everyone in the agency reports to and becomes accountable to the idea rather than the client or a superior. According to Moseley, it was a notion that initially horrified the finance department.

An audience member aptly followed with a question: Who then drives a project forward?

With a somewhat boyish smile, Moseley answered, "Accounts, planners and creatives all start work on the project together from the very beginning." As a unit they’re equally responsible for making an idea the best it can be.

"I’ve been in the role for a year now—and I’m still here," Moseley said, at least partly extinguishing the doubts. "I work closely with finance, and our bottom-line has grown stronger," he added.

Here’s Moseley’s advice for creative leadership in bullet form:

  • Leadership is a conspiracy. You need to define what works for yourself and your organisation.
  • Suggest weird ideas and ask stupid questions.
  • Nowadays, great brands all have something in common: Ideas run their business. That’s where you need to start.
  • Consider a flat structure. Make environments for employees to create and where everyone is responsible for an idea reaching its potential. In other words, report to the idea.
  • If you’re a creative person, step in and get more involved with the business end of your organization. Work with the finance guy. Or just start your own business.
  • Always ask: does it make the work better? Every decision needs to answer to this.

 This article originally appeared on Campaign Asia-Pacific

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