CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/CREATIVE DIRECTORS - Why creative director isn't really the job from hell

Four creative directors say what they love most about their elevated agency role.

Well, February is looming and Saatchi & Saatchi, J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy & Mather and Grey are still hunting for creative directors.

In a recent piece on the lack of new creative directors (Campaign, 10 January) TBWA/London's creative director, Trevor Beattie, was quoted as saying " it's still the best job in the world", so in the interest of persuading new talent that being a creative director is indeed great, Campaign has asked four current creative directors to outline what they like about their jobs. Their responses vary in sincerity (and ability to stick to the brief) but overall communicate that these four are really enjoying their time at the helm of their respective creative departments.

ANDY MCLEOD - Joint creative director, Fallon

Being a creative director is not the best job in the world.

Being a Premiership footballer is the best job in the world.

Or being Mick Jagger, or maybe Hugh Heffner.

Or, come to think of it, Judith Chalmers. Go on holiday, talk about it for a bit. Go on another, talk about that one for a bit.

There are hundreds of jobs that are thousands of times better than being a creative director.

But it's not a bad job, by any stretch of the imagination.

You get paid well.

You can wear what you like, even in really important meetings.

You can be appallingly incoherent, nervous, or just plain weird in that same important meeting and come out with your reputation undamaged, enhanced even.

Plus you get to approve your own ideas.

And, glibness aside, there are, of course, plenty of people doing jobs that are infinitely, frighteningly worse. Mind numbing, soul destroying, heart-breaking jobs in terrible, squalid conditions.

So let's just all be thankful we're not account men.

JOHN O'KEEFFE - Executive creative director, BBH

There was a tribute to Peter Cook on over Christmas. He was a funny guy, did a very amusing sketch about the worst job he'd ever had, involving variously: bogeys, Winston Churchill, lobsters, and Jayne Mansfield. All of which makes being a creative director seem pretty straightforward.

But suddenly, we read, it's the job from hell.

I suppose the thing that puts most people off is the utter relentlessness of it. I really enjoyed 2002. We got a lot of great things out, and expanded our repertoire. But suddenly that's last year. What's next? Will 2003 be better? Will it be worse? Will I get the blame? The answers to these, and many other questions coming soon.

The truth is being a creative director is a mixed bag. Glance at the client board on any given day and, as you look from one blue-chip name to the next, you might think it's a brilliant job, and a terrible one, and everything in between. And you'd be right. I suppose that's the price you pay to avoid the predictability of most jobs, assuming, as I think we must, that the exotic occupations Cook enjoyed are probably no longer available.

TREVOR BEATTIE - Creative director, TBWA/London

"If you can keep your job when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on the global downturn of 2002, If you can trust yourself when all other departments doubt you, but make allowances for their doubting too.

If you can attend meeting after meeting after meeting after meeting after meeting and not lose the will to live. Or being lied about. Or end up with the memory retention of an old sieve.

And yet not look too good, nor be too much of a smart Alec when doing Private View.

If you can win Best Typographic Change of Direction in a Black & White Regional Press Campaign, but not make awards your master.

If you can manage, but not make management your aim.

If you can meet Triumph and Disaster and treat both Pick of the Week and Turkey just the same.

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken twisted by sub-editors to make a trap for fools.

Or convince a junior brand manager you really don't have a countryside retreat with kidney-shaped pools.

If you can get a 30-strong mob to work weekends on a pitch that's patently a bunch of toss.

And lose, and start again at your beginnings and never breath a word about your loss.

If you can fill the unforgiving commercial break with 30 seconds' worth of distance run, You'll probably actually quite enjoy being a creative director.

And, which is more, Saatchis, Ogilvy, JWT and Garry Lace will have your bloody arms off, my son."

(With apologies to Mr Kipling, who after all, did write some exceedingly cack poems.)

TONY DAVIDSON - Joint creative director, Wieden & Kennedy

The week before we joined W&K London as creative directors, I turned to Kim (Papworth, Davidson's partner) and said: "I don't think I can do this." To which he replied: "Listen, we're only going to do this if we can have fun."

Two-and-a-bit years later and we would be lying if we said it had all been fun. There have been days when we've thought what are we doing this for? We just want to write ads. We've always believed it's important to try different things in your career. Things that will make you scared.

You may fail, but at least you tried. And as long as you learn something from the experience then it will have been worth it.

So is being a creative director like being a football manager? Cue cliche: "Well Barry, I really like the job, but if I'm honest I miss playing." I wonder if one of my heroes Bill Shankly would have said that - he was a better manager than a player.

The closest thing we can compare it to is having kids. They keep you up all night, wet the bed and throw their food about. But then they do something amazing.

Watching people around you grow up and helping them to improve has its frustrations, but when someone puts a great idea in front of you, it's a wonderful feeling. You just want to help them turn it into a brilliant piece of work. The creative side of advertising can be selfish, but helping people reach their true potential is hugely rewarding.


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