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The Creative “Big D”

One of the current business thought leadership topics du jour is that everyone is a creative. While this may be true (though I’d be willing to debate that premise by starting with the argument that not everyone can run a 6-minute mile), when a creative team needs to execute on critical complex projects in a given timeframe, someone has to be the “Big D” as in “The Decider” and have the authority to make the final call on the creative aspects of the group’s deliverables.

Even if your team has a designated Creative Director, divvying up the “D” requires a nuanced approach. To keep this post simple and to the point here’s a bucket list of considerations:

  • More junior-level creatives should be afforded enough autonomy to feel they have some ownership of the job and enough skin in the game to give the execution 200%. This approach also contributes to the professional development of the team. There’s a balance here, of course, and the Creative Director needs to gauge when to override or redirect a design so that the deliverable meets the client’s needs and expectations. A seasoned CD will know how to coach a more junior creative in a way where they feel respected and supported.
  • The delivery channel should have an impact on the creative. This necessitates a creative partnership between the Creative Director (or whoever has taken on that function) and the functional team Lead. If, let’s say, a video is the final deliverable, the Lead will have insights specific to the opportunities and limitations inherent in creating a video that the CD should acknowledge and adapt her direction and feedback.
  • The Creative Director should never be a bottleneck to the timely execution of the studio’s projects. If the CD is maxed out, then she needs to assign the “D” to an Art Director or functional team Lead. This, of course, necessitates having A-team creatives in all leadership roles.
  • Most Creative Directors come into their roles from either the design/art director path or from the copywriting discipline. This fact means that a CD most likely will have an area of relative inexperience or lack of expertise. Therefore, it’s in the best interests of the project for the CD to assign a level of “D” to a leader with expertise in the area where she has less experience.
  • The most dicey dynamic is what piece of the “D” will be given to the Account Services team. This includes both Project and Account Managers who, because of their familiarity with the clients and the clients’ businesses, have unique critical insights that may impact creative. Just because they don’t have formal creative training doesn’t mean they don’t have critical feedback to contribute. The fact that this group often advocates for the client, though, can at times lead to serious head-butting if they disagree with the Creative Director’s creative approach. If this occurs, the creative team lead will need to step in and provide the absolute “D.”
  • Finally, a critical caveat: Regardless of the tier of a project, an experienced creative should review the deliverable to ensure it’s appropriate and meets the creative/branding requirements of the job. It can be tempting to skip this practice on more production-oriented pieces, but I’ve witnessed enough instances where a critical new or subtle branding requirement was missed or a seemingly small content change had a rather significant design impact, to know that having a second set of more experienced eyes view the work is critical to the successful execution of the job.

  • The bottom line on these considerations is that along the creative process you have to bake in opportunities for multiple team members to have an impact on the creative to ensure that the team will quickly come to a solution that best meets the needs of the project and the client’s expectations AND the Creative Director still needs to have the final say.

Andy Epstein

Andy Epstein is an industry thought leader in the field of in-house creative. He currently serves as the Director of Studio Operations for Cella Solutions where he has oversight of the managed in-house agencies run by Cella. Andy has written and spoken extensively on in-house issues and published “The Corporate Creative,” a book on in-house design in the spring of 2010. He is a co-founder of InSource, the former Programming Director for the InHOWse Managers Conference, and a key member of Cella’s professional development team. Andy is focused on empowering in-house teams to raise their stature in the design and business communities.

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