10 ways to become a creative legend
In October of 2017, I landed my dream job when I became chief creative officer at TBWA\Chiat\Day New York. The chief creative position can be a scary transition. Many chief creatives come and go and only a few build something great and become vital. Hoping to be the latter, I cashed in whatever goodwill I had and reached out to the best creative leaders I knew with an open question: Got any advice for me before I start? On my two-year anniversary at Chiat, I’ll pay it forward and tell you what they told me.
Jason Bagley, executive creative director, Wieden & Kennedy Portland
Jason wrote me an email that was like a step-by-step playbook, because he had just moved into a similar role at W&K. His advice was full of practical gold, including the reminder to overcommunicate your intentions and goals. People at the agency will make a narrative one way or the other and it’s foolish to assume everyone knows what’s going on in your head and heart. I think about this nearly every day.
Jeff Goodby, cofounder, Goodby Silverstein & Partners
Jeff invited me to “do it like nobody else” and “make sure you always feel like you’re doing something vaguely naughty.” I take this as rolling permission, as well as a reminder, to remain a creative person. For all of Jeff’s intelligence and business savvy, you have to look only at how he answered the question to know that he feels more on the side of art than science.
Carter Murray, worldwide CEO, FCB; Susan Credle, global chief creative officer, FCB
Susan and I met in her office and Carter spontaneously stopped by. For a solid hour I witnessed how two great partners could energize all three of us. I’ve found my own relationship with our President, Nancy Reyes, to be like that. All I can say is if you can find this you are really lucky.
John Patroulis, global chief creative officer, Grey
John’s advice was, don’t just work on the award-winners—spend equal time on the difficult stuff and set the tone for everyone. I have embraced this and often say that I spend my time on our best opportunities and biggest challenges—and if anything lives in the middle, I’ll see it when it goes one way or the other.
Richard Brim, chief creative officer, Adam&Eve/DDB
Anecdotally, Rick Brimm is one of the kindest people you will ever meet, except that he is physically allergic to bad creative. You can be nice and also tough on ideas. And Dan Lucey (executive creative director at Joan) hates his own work once it’s out the door. That’s hardcore, but if you get too satisfied with yourself, you’ll go stale.
Colleen DeCourcy, co-president, chief creative officer, Wieden & Kennedy
Colleen and I texted a whole bunch of times, but we could never seem to get together. I now understand a latent message in this, which is if you are all-in, it’s best to give 100 percent of your “advertising time” to the agency. Which reminds me of the most impactful thing Mark Fitzloff (founder of Opinionated and former partner/executive creative director at W&K) advised: “Make the success of the agency your obsession.”
David Lubars, chief creative officer, BBDO Worldwide, and chairman, BBDO North America
David was the best boss I ever had. His advice was very simple: make as many decisions as possible. My build is to orient myself toward whatever is most creative and welcome the endless decisions and other input I can offer in that direction.
Gerry Graf, founder, Barton F. Graf
Gerry is unafraid to push the envelope and also trusts himself. In creative reviews, if he loved your idea, he would take the piece of paper out of your hand after you read it and say “Yahtzee!” and that was it, that was the idea we were doing. I liked that. I try to do that.
Rob Reilly, global creative chairman, McCann Worldgroup
Being afraid of failure is not a great look for a leader. Rob’s take is that it’s going to be awesome and if you say it and believe it, others will, too. Case in point, he told me a lot of things and at one point just repeated “it’s going to be awesome” a couple times. I think he might have willed at least some part of the agency’s success.
So what’s the net net of all of this?
Each one of these leaders has their own specific super power. Said plainly, the very best are most like themselves. As each of them was giving me advice, what they were really doing is showing me who they were: David makes things happen, Gerry knows it instantly, Rob is a force of nature, Susan gives energy, John leads everyone, Jeff is mischievous … and so on.
Moreover, every single one of them finished with “just be yourself.” And that is the magnificent truth: Whatever got you this far, there’s a good chance your superpower is driving it. So discover what you do uniquely well and let it propel you and the work and your agency.
Finally, if you were curious what advice I have to offer, it’s to be kind. Bigger than any spark of genius or force of will, I have discovered that when we make each other our No. 1 priority, the work and the business have followed.