View from a garden: How to wing it
A view from Jonathan Burley

View from a garden: How to wing it

Good chief executives had training that helped them be good bosses, but there's no magic IPA course to help creatives as they move into management. So I've created a guide.

Don’t tell him, but I’ve always been slightly jealous of Paul Lawson. Before you ask, no, I don’t covet his ill-fitting Burton suits with elasticated waistbands, or the way his eyes sweat when the temperature rises, or the oddly piggy-snorting noise he makes in the back of his nose when he is feeling angsty.

The thing about Paul that makes me go all green-eyed is something he shares with the other excellent chief executives I’ve worked with over the years, from Andrew Robertson to Rupert Howell, Nick Howarth to Sarah Golding.

You see, unlike me, those jammy suity buggers have all been trained on how to be a boss.

The thing with being a creative is that we are expected to elegantly make that transition from coming up with ideas to steering them, and no-one can be arsed to tell us how. There’s no magic IPA course to take us through the varying stages of our creative careers, no workshops or diplomas. We’re just expected to get on with it as if it’s the same job but with a fancier sign-off on our emails.

But it’s not the same job, not by a long shot. So – in what is undoubtedly an incredibly hubristic act that I’ll regret for the rest of my career – here’s my five-point version of an IPA course for budding executive creative directors. Probably more "Idiotically Platitudinal Advice" than "Institute of Practitioners in Advertising", so if you quite understandably can’t be arsed to read any further, the rest of this asinine article can probably be summed up thus: do unto others the polar opposite of what some bellend once did unto you. Sadly, I’ve learned more from suffering under other people’s bad behaviours than I ever did copying their more admirable character traits.

1 Don’t be an asswipe

For some reason – I’ve never quite been able to fathom – something weird seems to happen when certain creatives become Da Big Boss. They start to act like one – strutting around in fancy sneakers and throwing wild tantrums when a junior suit has the audacity to question their sage creative judgement over the call to action on a radio script.

One newly minted ECD I know of, three weeks into their new job, angrily insisted that their PA stayed late after work to polish their various awards and arrange them in size order on the new mid-20th-century Danish cabinet they had ordered for their office. I could fill 20 Campaign articles with anecdotes of the ridiculous behaviours of creative folk unused to suddenly having a bit of managerial power, but you undoubtedly have your own, so I’ll cut to the chase: be nice and be humble, and don’t behave in any way that would make your mum feel horribly disappointed in you.

2 Ad guru = ad wanker

Perhaps more than a little connected to point one. A well-known ECD would often call huge, unwieldy creative reviews involving half the agency and the four or five sad-sack creative teams he would have briefed on a project. This wasn’t because he was in the slightest bit interested in anyone else’s point of view, or because he was nervous about making a decision (see point three), but more because he hugely enjoyed sitting cross-legged at the head of the boardroom table (I shit you not), stroking his chin and pontificating in front of a large audience for – literally – hours at a time.

Such oxygen-burning behaviour may well make the blood rush giddily to your genitals, but is both time-wasting and arse-wincingly embarrassing for everyone else. You didn’t come down from the mount to make a sermon, old love; be concise, get on with it and stop showing off in front of your friends.

3 Don’t panic

With something so delightfully subjective as a creative product, you’re just as likely to make the wrong decision as the right one, no matter how much you fret about it. Revisiting a decision over and over again, constantly worrying whether it’s right or not, changing your mind over something you were emphatic about yesterday – that’s a sure-fire way to royally screw everything up.

One old boss of mine would constantly phone me the night before a shoot or a pitch, insisting that what we were about to do was going to be an unmitigated disaster of Trumpish proportions. They were undoubtedly right some of the time (I refer you to my B-reel), but it was hardly a helpful performance note when I was about to go into ad battle. If you’re panicking, everyone panics along with you and, before long, you’ve got an agency running round in its underpants setting fire to the office furniture to keep warm. Go with your gut, make a call and stop being a flibbertigibbet. After all, that is why they pay you.

4 You are not the best creative in the agency

And if you are, your agency is in a shit-load of trouble. You don’t need to "crack the brief" yourself when you have a whole department of excellent creative folk sitting around waiting to do it for you. Your department isn’t your competition, remember; if they do good, you do great.

The mentality of "I’ll do it better" is the same ego-driven impetus that leads to the occasional deeply unsavoury sight of an ECD storming the stage at an awards do and wrestling the trophy from the limp grasp of one of their young creative teams. I once witnessed an otherwise excellent creative director team physically trying to force two young creatives back into their seats so that they could go on stage themselves and causing a right kerfuffle in the process. It didn't help that the creative team were built like brick shithouses and could have snapped the CDs like twigs were they down a dark alleyway rather than under the bright lights of Grosvenor House. Terribly unedifying. Be free with your ideas, generous with your guidance and stop believing your own hype. 

5 What the fuck do I know?

I have no doubt that, in my own way, I’ve been a total, total arse at times as I have transitioned from being a sallow young creative to an equally sallow CCO (my complexion really does suffer from a lack of vitamin D, you know). To those of you who laboured under me, I simply refer you to my earlier summation of this ramble: do unto others the polar opposite of what some bellend once did unto you. My past bellendishness is my gift to you all.