Talent Creative Direction Advertising

The challenge of finding – and keeping – creative experts

By Ian Haworth, Chief creative officer

August 8, 2016 | 7 min read

To stay relevant as a creative director today, where the idea landscape is so diverse, you not only need to have a rich, top-level understanding of your industry, but must have the right mix of creative experts at your side.

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You’ve got to ‘walk the talk’ and have a team that complements what you, as a creative director, promise to deliver. But with a spike in exceptional creative out there and low employment retention, how can you identify the skills needed to find the right creative talent and keep it?

Knowledge is power

As a creative director you need to be in tune with your creative compass in order to keep track of where the creative industry and businesses are headed. The old adage ‘knowledge is power’ has never been truer than for a creative director, who if clued up on industry trends is more likely to determine what kind of creatives are needed, both to drive the department’s success and to stay well ahead of the ever-shifting creative curve.

When I first started out in the industry some moons ago, things were very different. There were three basic forms of creative execution: print, TV and radio. There was no digital, there were no apps, and computers existed but were bulky, expensive and not widely accessible. So with fewer creative execution outlets, finding the right creative experts was less demanding than in today’s super-digital, technologically advanced world.

With this increasing number of digital touchpoints, comes the need for more skill sets in order make sure every idea is streamlined, whether it be on a website, a mobile app or a TV ad. Hence the need for a creative to recognise the right person for the specific job. Evolution has never been more holistic or continuous and a creative director must be excited about change, willing to adapt and have a fluid approach to working solutions.

Get out that crystal ball

Identify talent to fit the current climate and the right job. You need to have the means in your business to operate now, but there’s another key ingredient, which is to future invest in talent. Be clever on what you think the next emerging trends are and where they’re coming from. Trust your instinct.

We invest in what we think is coming next. If your agency has a committed vision to products you’ll always have a bit of investment in ensuing trends. Of course it always helps to have finance by your side, so they’ll make the money work for those new hires based on your intuition and penchant for future gazing! Reserve an annual budget for new creative flair, fresh out of college or school and you’ve always got a new hopper of talent.

Curiosity killed the cat but made the CD

The antidote to a creative director losing their edge is a healthy dose of curiosity. These five syllables are the glue that binds the creative mind and keeps it ticking. So as a creative director you not only need to stay curious, but make sure your team are akin to ‘Curious George’ himself.

Without a sense of curiosity, there’s the risk of simply going through the motions and ending up with ideas that just don’t cut it, particularly when faced with a competitive brief. If the creative experts have a thirst for learning, for exploration and discovery, then your agency will never be short of rich, diverse and original solutions. Curiosity can come in so many forms, from exploring different trends to perusing the latest creations in art galleries, or just by spending time with colleagues in other departments.

Diversify and co-create

This brings me to my next point – which is breaking the traditional mould of creativity. It’s absolutely imperative that the creative talent is not all cut from the same cloth or your results will be stagnated, most likely underwhelming and have that ‘off-the-shelf’, lack-of-distinction feel. Bring in the people from strategy and data and infuse their expertise and ideas with those of the creatives. We have a working methodology, called ‘Collision’, which enables us to merge these different creative talents and fuse their minds effectively.

Recruiting people with different skillsets is a key part of our co-creative process. We value diversity and working co-creatively – both when it comes to skillsets and experience. If you mix the raw, fresh talent who have grown up digitally native, with the older more experienced creatives, who are skill-set different, you’re bound to get a really rich, mixed pot of results.

We also don’t want our creative experts to all share the same socio-demographic profile. So, while we interview graduates fresh from some of the world’s best design schools, we also mentor raw talent who haven’t been privy to a higher education, with the likes of award winners at the D&AD New Blood Academy and creatives from the School of Communications and Art. We want a mix of people with a university education and those young YouTube generation kids, who are making astounding, original films from their bedrooms and creating apps you or I would never have thought of.

Eat some humble pie

When you’ve got a diverse team of talent you need to be flexible as a creative director. Admit you don’t know everything and employ the skill of listening. Show the team humility and be prepared to learn something new every day. The creative industry is rooted in a constant learning process. You’ll never crack it, but the power of sharing ideas and co-creating is the closest you’ll ever get. Being a creative director for many years, it’s still an eye opener seeing the talent that’s out there, and being inspired by the up and coming creators.

Last, but not least the right creative experts must be easy to work with. A passion for creativity, and having the courage of conviction in your ideas is essential, yes, but good personal skills and an affable manner are just as key. They go hand in hand.

Finding the right creative experts is no easy feat. You’ll need to identity your team’s breadth of strength. Do you have enough skills to meet today’s market demands and are you looking to cater for tomorrow’s? Is your team diverse and co-creating? Are you genuinely pushing innovative, thought-provoking solutions in the right direction? If the answer to these questions is yes, then you’ve already got the right creatives on-board and you’d be wise to keep them there.

Ian Haworth is executive creative director at Wunderman UK

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