Back to school: Where are the future creative leaders?

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Eight Inc question whether the right skills are being taught to newbies in the industry to enhance their creativity.

A voice expert sketching with a creative director. A back-end technologist sitting with a car designer. A painter writing code. These are examples I’ve observed on creative projects in recent years, to my delight. While I was an executive creative director for a wellknown digital agency, it was abundantly clear how the hybrid capability of a creative has become a baseline standard hire. But finding them?

Hybrid creativity

At times, a portfolio comes your way where a young designer built the object, programmed it and produced her own film to launch it, and this kind of work really does get noticed. As a design leader you want to find people who can apply different dimensions of their creativity because you know they have a better chance at getting beyond the typical. This type of creative can build bridges across the disciplines within the team. It’s important to discover them and equally to make sure you are discovering capability within the teams as well. And the more hybrid disciplines the greater the cross-flow of ideas, the greater the conversations and the higher chance of a category-creating idea.

I’ve witnessed this first-hand, because you notice some creative teams quite reserved in the studio and others literally creating their own studio within a studio. Why was this so?

For decades digital agencies, like many other industries, siloed their disciplines. Technologists on one side, creatives on another floor. Today, bridging that divide must also be a baseline standard. Clients demand ideation at breakneck speed with thinner budgets.

Broken education system

But where all of this comes apart is the ongoing disconnect between the education system and the state of our industry. There are some alliances, but by and large there’s been virtually no breakthrough in the supply and demand of hybrid talent coming up the ranks from universities and design.

I applaud schools such as Hyper Island that made this very problem a business model. In the sports world, young athletes compete to make it to the minor leagues and work their way up. The synergies between pro sports and universities have been an established network for decades. Yet for a multibillion creative industry, almost every entity is out there for themselves when it comes to talent acquisition.

So many young design student portfolios come my way, and I see an ocean of sameness when it comes to the digital work, as though there’s a checklist out there of what should be in a portfolio. Is the design curriculum of today in step with the agency of tomorrow? No. Not at all, and never was.

If you could have the ideal university creative recruit, what would be the levels you would want to see? We all know when we see it, and now we must forecast it. And that is precisely what needs to happen. But we oversee our creative operations with little time and, in some cases, little money to commit to changing our access to future creative leaders – an industry trapped within itself. Even though we are constantly competing against each other, we could all find common ground on where the future of digital talent can come from.

How can this be done?

I offer some ideas, but clearly not the ultimate solution. We gather collectively across the globe, from Cannes to SXSW, and perhaps we can use these collective gatherings to invite educational leaders to the table? We then need to make an initiative stick.

Identify what job-winning capabilities and hybrid talents actually look like, hold this to standard and promote it heavily. Celebrate the top schools that realign with a new industryled curriculum. Start communicating the ROI for creative placements in the industry, the economics behind developing an accurate base of student candidates. Develop more modern access for the industry to discover new talent; a platform can help – for instance, how could our friends at LinkedIn support a creative portal?

The outside in

Another action to take is to literally pull both areas together. What are creative ways that education can live in a design firm, and vice versa? Beyond internship, can we take steps to make the curriculum live? A school setting within the creative company where one shares with another, faculty and creative leader, student and art director. At the end, the creative organisations that adapt a new farming method for talent will win, and win consistently, and so will parents who are about to embrace the cost of this education.

A partnership between education systems and the creative industry, which promises that this investment in their child’s creative education can have reasonable guarantees of a career path, could solve our current talent challenge.

Rob McIntosh, executive principle at design studio Eight Inc.

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.