On the Campaign couch: Do creative directors really need a team?
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: Do creative directors really need a team?

Does an executive creative director job ever require a team? Surely one person is not only cheaper but actually more effective in the role?

Never forget that titles are conferred for more than one reason. Wherever you find multiple holders of the same executive title, you can also expect to find fudgy management. Someone has been bribed into staying with the agency by being given a title that implies ultimate authority while simultaneously diluting it. More often than not, such expedient appointments end in tears – and quite right too.

It’s not a question of cost: executive creative directors need to be singular – for a number of reasons but for one above all. ECDs are called upon to make 28 creative judgments every working day. Not one of them will be self-evident. None will be universally applauded. All will leave at least two talented people feeling bruised and hard done by. 

As the author of the envelope-pushing, game-changing idea that has just been summarily rejected by your ECD, you’ll feel violated. This won’t just be petty resentment: you’ll be totally convinced, at least for a day or two, that your ECD, when presented with a newborn child of exquisite promise, murdered it. Then you live with this belief for long enough to have another idea and life goes on.

But suppose you have not one ECD but two. You would be inhuman – or, as you would see it, irresponsible – not to take your baby for a second opinion. And the second ECD – but not second in rank, remember – would be inhuman not to see some future fame in your baby’s seamless face.

From that moment on, terminal decay is in train: not just in the creative department but throughout the agency. A group of jurors is convened to pass judgment on your now controversial infant – probably the senior account person and a planner or two. So, already, creative autonomy has been surrendered. Anxious not to be divisive, the panel concludes – as panels often do – that, with a few very minor modifications, your creative idea could be jiggled enough to find favour with both ECDs. So, already, purity of purpose has been lost. 

And so it comes about that a campaign idea, which might have been the finished article but probably wasn’t, is now loved by no-one and has no proud parent to finesse it to excellence. And the agency is now split into two. And creativity has no single champion. And creative teams quickly work out which of their two ultimate arbiters is the more likely to smile on their work and much enjoy playing one off against the other.

By ducking its duties, by wimpishly trying to conciliate two of its stars, management has managed to emasculate both. Two ECDs is already twice the optimum number. God knows what damage a team of them can do.

I’m pitching for a big piece of business but have heard horrendous tales about the person who will be in charge of the account. We didn’t get a good feeling from the first meeting, but the account could be agency-defining. Should we pull out of the process or carry on, hoping it improves?
I know what you mean; but no piece of business should be agency-defining. Vast retail accounts can be agency-defining but seldom in a good way. 

Do a lot of research. What’s the history of this account? How long has this horrendous person been in charge? Has good work emerged despite his presence? How many agency changes has he made in the past 18 months? 

The easiest decision you can take is the worst one: to go into the pitch half-hoping you won’t win it. This will ensure that you’ll squander three months’ profit, demoralise your top team, neglect existing clients, enhance your reputation as a loser and rule yourself out of the running for a much more delectable pitch that you don’t even know about yet. 

I want to institute a Bring Your Dog to Work Day on Fridays, but a colleague hates dogs. Should I push ahead anyway? 
You didn’t want to institute a Bring Your Dog to Work Day at all. You just wanted to bring in your Labrador, Sultan, but didn’t want to look like Hugh Bonneville. So you thought you’d better let the peasants bring in their own little mongrels as well. 

Bad idea. Your colleague wouldn’t be the only one to hate it; so would Sultan.