Got Talent? Agency Creative Leaders Reveal What They Look for in New Hires

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From left: Susan Credle, CCO, Leo Burnett USA; Tom Myhren, president and COO, Grey, New York; Rob Schwartz, CCO, TBWA/Chiat/Day, LA; David Lubars, chairman-CCO, BBDO North America; David Droga, founder-CCO, Droga5; Linus Karlsson, CCO, McCann, New York and London; Con Williamson, CCO, Saatchi & Saatchi, New York; Jose Molla, co-founder and CCO, La Comunidad; P.J. Pereira, co-founder and CCO, Pereira & O'Dell
Ask any creative person -- heck, ask any agency person -- what their three biggest challenges are, and one of those is consistent every time: talent. Creativity is, at its heart, a human business and finding people who can adapt to a changing world is on the minds of every chief creative officer.

We asked several what's important in scouting the next great creative star and whether they would have hired themselves fresh out of school.

Ad Age: Lots of creatives now are focused on "the big idea" or integrated work. Is this something you look for in a young creative's book?

Rob Schwartz: We always look for the big idea. The issue now I see is that a lot of books have an integrated bunch of tactics, fleshed out from a mediocre idea. I'm thrilled that kids are thinking in terms of media arts, but media arts without an idea is like a lot of ingredients in search of a recipe.

PJ Pereira: Big ideas ... another overrated concept. Not because a big idea isn't important. But because it's very easy for us to oversize our own ideas, or even our own judgment of the size of someone else's idea. Why would size matter, though? Sometimes a series of "smaller ideas" is much bigger than a single one that will make a splash then get tired.

Ad Age: What about basic skills like copywriting and art directing? How do people with those skills rank, compared to coming up with big ideas?

Susan Credle: We have underestimated the need for brilliant writing and art direction. I have a saying: Just because you can type fast does not make you a great writer. The last 10 years, technology has been so all-consuming that we have been a bit distracted. It has been necessary but as technology becomes more second nature, the craft of creativity will gain importance again. I have seen many people who didn't know they wanted to be in advertising succeed because they simply were fantastic storytellers.

Con Williamson: What's really cool are the tools we now have make it easier for us to execute, and the more industrious younger folks know how to use these tools. So if they have an idea they can execute it. We see this with younger creatives -- how they pull it off for like $7.

Mr. Schwartz: We like people who come up with big ideas and can tell stories graphically. Art directors need to show us impact and guide us through executions. Writers need to write. I like to see at least two long copy ads in a book. I like to know that the writer can frame an argument and persuade me. Although these days, sentences and paragraphs are as rare as Haley's Comet.

Ad Age: What stands out in a portfolio for you?

Ms. Credle: Confidence to tackle the hardest territories.

Tor Myhren: Versatility. I really like portfolios and bodies of work that show a good range. We're a very big agency with a lot of different types of brands. That's not true for necessarily every agency. I look for sort of a modern approach to problem-solving. If things are feeling dated, that's a bad sign in skill set but also in how you approach a business or creative problem. Things really are changing so much that I just really look for a forward-leaning point-of-view aesthetic and skill set.

Ad Age: What was the last portfolio that really attracted your attention or got you excited?

David Droga: An entire novel about a young writer's life and their desires to work for me. Beyond the ego stroke, it was well written, funny, honest and displayed cover-to-cover dedication.

Linus Karlsson: A guy named Zack McDonald from Kentucky. He's a writer but I didn't find anything written in the whole portfolio. I could see his point of view in his portfolio pictures and films and projects-interesting stuff.

Ad Age: What are the most important skills you look for in a new hire?

Mr. Karlsson: A good heart. We're in the business of working together, so I think being a good person is essential. It's always important to find lots of different people with different backgrounds. That's when it gets interesting. I really don't like to label creative people. I am looking for people with interesting points of view on what we're doing and life itself. The more interesting backgrounds with different points of view and different kinds of skill sets, the more interesting it gets. It's important to find that vs. trying to streamline everything and get the sea of sameness.

Mr. Lubars: There are all the usual criteria about brilliance you would expect. A key thing, though, is that they must also possess soulfulness and not be an asshole. It's crucially important and a major contributor to our success.

Mr. Williamson: We're looking for Swiss Army knives. You have to have idea people first, but we're creating more unique combinations. We have a lot more digital creatives. Craft is first -- being a great art director and writer means you can write; it means you can art direct. But when we get into execution, more digital creatives are being brought into traditional roles. We're taking the traditional position and adding something new to it. We want creatives to see a whole world around an idea. People with digital experience tend to do that more. I'm tired of seeing case studies on reels.

Ad Age: How important is it for young creatives to be well-versed in technology, social media, etc.?

Jose Molla: To me, it's a given. Someone who isn't curious about technology or social media these days should probably work in a different industry.

Participate or leave, those are pretty much the options. Digital/social media isn't a position at the agency and it's also not a three-month campaign. It's a change of behavior that has to be embraced because it's here to stay.

Mr. Myhren: It's mandatory. We have to be fluent in the digital space, and it's not just young people. Everyone will have to be fluent. The question is how deep have they gone. It's also really interesting -- when you're hiring from pure digital agencies for a place like Grey that's much more brand building and less digital-specific, there are some very different creative methodologies.

Now I look for people who are idea first and technology second. I'm not crazy about things led by technology. I'd rather they be led by the idea and see that they use the technology really beautifully around that idea. For what we do, being brand architects from the brand up, we have to lead with idea.

Ad Age: If you look back on your first portfolio now, would you hire yourself?

Ms. Credle: S.C. If I look back at my first portfolio, I might fire myself.

Mr. Molla: No way! The only thing I had going for me was my conviction.

Mr. Pereira: I wouldn't. I was too sure of myself back then. And probably still am.

Mr. Droga: Absolutely. I worked my arse off, was appreciative and not a dick.

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