Digital For Hire

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One of the few advantages of restaffing and rethinking an entire creative department is that it gives you a current view into industry talent. This is what I have observed after more than 100 interviews, 27 offers and 20 new hires in the last four months.

1. The creative director conundrum

There's a new wave of creative leaders seeking out digital jobs, which is boosting the quality of digital ideas and helping fill the seat at the table that interactive shops have finally earned. The biggest issue is not their interactive aptitude or their lack of street cred to rally teams, but whether they'll know how to tackle the types of briefs that come their way. Creative leaders with interactive pedigrees, on the other hand, are often strong designers but struggle with the bigger role interactive now plays in marketing a brand. For me, a lot of the best creative directors for digital are now associate creative directors at big ad shops. They're aggressive, curious and exposed to great thinking—but haven't picked up all the bad habits.

2. People crave leaders, mentors—and grown-ups
Creatives of all levels are openly hungry for a boss who cares about them as much as he does about the work. Sure, they want their boss to have a vision and set the bar, but they also want regular feedback and career guidance. It seems many creative departments blow off reviews, aren't honest about performance and don't give feedback beyond "That's good" or "That sucks." One of the first things I did at Agency.com was tear up a cumbersome and confusing review form, which had little to do with ideas and the type of work we would be creating for a new era. Replacing long questionnaires and to-do lists, we now have six simple categories in which people are rated: Ideas, Brand, Craft, Collaboration, Behavior, and Leadership. Brand is new to digital creatives. Collaboration is new to offline folks. Having a three-, six- and twelve-month review at all is sadly new to most.

3. They want to know what you like and believe
I'm getting more questions about what I believe, what I like and where I stand on integration issues than I've had in previous years. I think it reveals both a hunger for great work and perhaps some broken trust along the way at previous gigs. So to help facilitate this conversation, what we've created is "The Bar," a physical black line on the wall to which people can contribute what they think is great, what's good and what sucks. The entire office participates, so it's a shared agency view, not just mine or the creative department's. I invite candidates to contribute to it as well, which helps me see their taste level.

4. Art rules the roost. But pity the AD moving from traditional to digital
Right now, the opportunity for great work is biggest among art directors and designers. The importance of graphic design. The possibilities in motion graphics. The evolution of what a concept can be beyond a tagline. There is much fun to be had, a huge canvas and art directors and designers have an enormous impact on what's cool and what works for a brand. In traditional agencies, the AD is a conceptual partner to a copywriter, but he has little responsibility. At most serious digital shops, however, the role is more demanding and more detailed, with more responsibility from brief through every step of delivery. The CD must be clear about the job and hire art directors who can design as well as direct—or they will fail.

5. Finally, copywriter immigration
Swarms of copywriters from offline are now seeking interactive jobs. The good news is that it's not too late. Good writers have the easier time working across all media, and what digital needs today is exactly the craft found in print headlines, the narrative and dialogue of TV and the persuasion of direct mail. But copywriters for the future (at least ours) must have qualities in addition to a strong ad book: curiosity of human behavior, attention span for longer content and an interest in what works, not just what they think is funny. And yes, you must love media, breathe technology, obey deadlines and respect account people. The '90s are gone.

Creatives don't fit neatly into categories and what it takes to succeed will change much more in even the next 6-12 months. There is no war for talent, but now is a time to take risks on what you know you want, what you think you need—with the ability to quickly correct it if it doesn't work.
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