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Big Ideas

Directives, Part IV: Movin’ On Up

Many creatives eventually find themselves in positions where they're responsible for other creatives. How then to reconcile passion with leadership?

Many creatives eventually find themselves in positions where they’re responsible for others. Whether it’s a sought-out corporate promotion or the organic expansion of a small creative outfit, some find this transition difficult for a variety of reasons.  In a field where most work is driven by passion, one’s creative essence can get in the way of being an effective manager, unless leadership is cultivated as a new part of one’s skill-set.

Trumpet’s Robbie Vitrano finds it essential to have boundaries drawn between business principles and creative output, even though those lines are often blurred. “The most important thing is to establish a clear understanding of standards, expectations and ethics. This is a more objective investment of energy that hopefully allows the creative leader to not exert her opinion on every solution. The hardest thing for a creative manager is to accept a solution that differs from the way hey would solve the problem. Some may claim to be open and hands-off, but that’s not entirely possible. You need to touch the work, but mostly by moving it to its fullest potential and championing the best solution. This is clearly a subjective call. Get the objective part right and it makes the other part easier and more effective.”

According to POKE’s Tom Ajello, maintaining an empathetic and parent-like nature is key to raising successful creatives. “[You should always] inspire whimsy. Find and nurture team members’ latent talents. Creative peeps that are growing
are happy creative peeps. Don’t forget what it was like to be in their shoes. Communication is key — especially when you are making decisions that can seem like unilateral ones from the outside-in. Remember all the times you said as an AD/CW Man I really wish I was just told X then I could have done a better job….”

Nurturing creatives is something Saatchi’s Jessica Kolski also feels strongly about. “Encourage, don’t discourage! If a reative presents you with crap, encourage them to give it another go. Don’t let them leave your office more confused (and unmotivated). Instill enthusiasm for the brand. Can-do attitudes trickle from the top down — get your teams pumped and you’ll get better work.”

Zach Canfield of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners believes creatives should think long and hard before stepping into anagerial roles, for the benefit of everyone involved: “The most important first step is for the person to check in with themselves and see if they really want to manage other people. Managing is a skill, and to be good at it takes time and effort. It can also take you away from what you might love most about the creative process. If managing is something you really want to do, I would suggest you quickly get comfortable with the fact that not everyone is going to like you in your new role. The sooner you can do that, the sooner you’ll be able to be honest with the people you’re working with. And once you can do that, people will respect you more and the work will get better.”

Compartmentalizing and dividing management works best for thehappycorp’s Doug Jaeger. “Managing people not in captivity is one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do. Over time, I have found that I like to divide management into three parts. I try very hard to give the time management of the creative teams to the production department. It gives the production team control over when things are to be delivered, which they like. Meeting deadlines is critical. Secondly, I always encourage the teams to talk about what they intended to accomplish with the work, so that we can evaluate the success of their attempts as opposed to getting into subject queues like taste. This allows for conversation to be about how they can make their work better, not their work my work. Finally, so much of life and work is one’s own mental state. Forging relationships is critical. By asking employees and contractors about their lives you can get a better sense of how
they are going to deliver. I also really care about them. We have a symbiotic relationship. If I can do anything to help them in their lives, then they are more likely to help the company when it needs help.”


Tom Ajello is the Founder and Creative Director of POKE New York.
He’s an interactive design specialist, developing interactive marketing
strategies since 1996. He aims to use Creativity and Value over
Intrusiveness to implement experiences that start lasting conversations
for honest brands.

Zach Canfield is a Creative Recruiter and Manager at Goodby,
Silverstein & Partners
in San Francisco, California, whose vast
client list includes Hewlett-Packard, Adobe and Hyundai.

Doug Jaeger is the erstwhile digital creative guru of JWT and
TBWAChiatDay and currently finds himself the founder of thehappycorp
. There, his team delivers brand design, websites, &
experiences to their varied client base, and organizes secret NYC
events through an off-shoot project, LVHRD.

Jessica Kolski recruits creative talent for Saatchi & Saatchi in New York City, where she’s been for three years, and whose client base includes JCPenney and Wendy’s.

Robbie Vitrano is the President and Director of Brand Design at Trumpet,
which is a thriving example of how the world-renowned creative culture
of New Orleans is being leveraged in the communications, innovation,
media and technology field.

Comments (2)
  • orangetiki

    great Article. When I had artists under me, they barely had anything to do in the beginning because I was so bread to create, create ,create. I literally had to take a day off, cancel all the appointments, and give the guys a list of art things to do. I did sort myself out, and I have been told it’s great to work under me and earned the respect of my workers<br />
    <br />
    You have to learn how to convey all the info for a project, and let them do it. Some people need someone to crack a whip, others want complete privacy. A good manager manages people the way they need to be, and can properly judge their work. Artistic or otherwise.

  • GCSchmidt

    Excellent points. Creatives, by nature, are more inclined to want to work harder and achieve better results. Encouragement must be balanced by challenges to get the best results.

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