Agency Management

Does Your Creative Director have Your Back on Your Creative Projects?

by Brad Egeland, March 30, 2015


I have a tough question for you creative team members. Does your creative leadership have your back? Creative teams are close-knit groups - often like family - with members that help each other out and roles that overlap to make sure all bases on the project are covered and finished on time. There isn't any leeway on creative projects in terms of getting the job done or not – you always need to get the job done.

A couple of years ago I joined a creative team as a contractor to help write online content, create press releases, marketing material and email campaigns, and overhaul their website info to match their printed materials – and vice versa. Even if your title wasn’t specifically web-designer, you pretty much did all of the above anyway. And since there were only five of us including the director, that meant that four of us spent most of our time doing some or all of these tasks. The CEO wanted me to make the brochures and online web content match up as well as making specific changes to both. I had some creative freedom, but the job was fairly laid out – according to the CEO. The Creative Director and I even recorded the session with the CEO – with his knowledge – to ensure that we fully understood what he wanted.

A week later the three of us were in the CEO’s office going over the material and the work I had just completed and hearing how unhappy he was with the effort. This happened even though the director and I both knew I had done exactly what he himself had requested. Long story short – the director threw me under the bus and my contracting stint ended within the hour. I did get the last laugh in terms of compensation, but that’s fodder for another article. The bottom line is this – the director saved his job and tossed the contractor (me) under the bus even though I had more experience in this type of role than he did and had done exactly what was asked of me. Although my creative urges told me to do things differently in a way that probably would have suited the CEO’s real wants and needs in the long run. The Creative Director had his own back, and he certainly did not have mine. I get it, contractors are expendable…no problem.

Much as I am a proponent of any PMO director being a leader of the PMs and being counted on to fight for their needs on projects in the organization, the Creative Director in an organization needs to really be held to that same standard. His team is like family. They are a tight-knit creative team working cohesively and creatively together to solve organizational needs, fulfill customer requests on projects and drive home successful campaigns. The Creative Director leading the creative team in your organization must be:

Talented in the same key areas the team must be talented in. The Creative Director – in order to know and understand what each creative project needs – must have similar skills to those required of the team. In smaller organizations – much like the one in my example – this person starts out as “a one person department” and the team grows as the organization grows. 

Be a strong leader for the team. Work for the team to make sure they have what they need to perform their work. That can mean tools, that can mean time, and that can mean lack of unnecessary oversight and intrusion from outside individuals. Knock down roadblocks, get decisions made, make things happen, get the right additions to the team. It’s all part of the position.

Be a visionary for the organization. The Creative Director must be…well…creative. The vision for change and action and new opportunities and direction must come from somewhere. This position needs to be the source for that.

Have executive management respect and support. The Creative Director needs executive level support. My Creative Director didn’t have that. The CEO didn’t believe in him or the team, and he cowered under him and he wasn’t afraid to say so. Therefore, he failed on this point AND on the one further up this list on being a strong leader. But I digress… The one in charge needs to be connected in the organization and have support so that funding happens, projects get approved, and good teams are assembled.

Call for input

What’s your take? If you’re the Creative Director in your organization, is this what you are tasked to do? If you’re part of the creative team, is your director one of you and helping fill needs and knocking down things that get in the way of success? Is he fighting for the team’s success, or changing course at management’s whim? Although sometimes you do need to change course – as long as it isn’t at the expense of the team. My unfortuante experience was hardest on the team who had their workload increase in a matter of minutes - unnecessarily.

ultimate guide to creative project management

Subscribe to the Workamajig blog