What resources does your business value?
Is it cash reserves and a rising stock value? Is it hard assets and a growing inventory of intellectual property? Perhaps it’s your manpower, working hours, and the overall output of your teams?
Now one last question: which of these assets does your creative director manage?
A company’s creative director is not just someone who works to make sure your latest campaign is “on brand.” They’re someone who understands the value of creativity as a resource for your business and works to generate it wherever possible. The idea of viewing creativity as a valuable and manageable resource may be a new concept for data-driven businesses, but it’s a critical area for brands that want to keep making unique, story-focused content.
One of the key difficulties that businesses have when it comes to driving creative ideas is that they treat creativity like oil wells, holding onto the idea that some people have massive reserves of genius that need only be tapped once for the ideas to begin flowing. What’s worse, this approach also comes with this notion that it’s normal for a creative person to dry up.
This perspective is harmful for a few reasons. First, it puts the weight of producing creativity on those who have quick, accessible ideas, rather than those who might take more time or a longer process to get there. And second, it makes creativity a commodity that’s found, not a resource that’s invested in.
“I believe that everyone is creative, in that everyone can come up with an idea,” says Forest Lee, director of creative strategy for Skyword. We sat down to talk about creativity on a warm Friday afternoon, just a day after he had returned from a film shoot in New York. “But executing against those ideas requires practice. It’s not just talent. It’s spending a long time doing creative things.”
Practice: the intentional commitment of time and manpower. Forest doesn’t paint a picture of creativity in business as something that’s tapped and drained. For him, it’s a skill that’s grown through investment and dedication. And in this, creative directors serve as a essential guides, trainers, and leaders.
Image attribution: Maria Fernanda Gonzalez
The idea of a dedicated professional managing company creativity is a relatively new idea. Brands are very comfortable with the idea of a professional who supervises and critiques outgoing creative products. But the idea of a professional whose primary focus is understanding and leading the way that a brand ideates for those products is very new.
To understand what this looks like, I asked Forest to walk me through some of his regular responsibilities. I expected to hear a picture of a fearless champion for wild imagination, bravely forcing innovation into work processes and client projects.
What I actually discovered was a portrait of a patient—but steadfast—teacher and translator.
“Marketers, by nature, tend to be risk averse,” Forest explains. “And I don’t think there’s anything particularly bad with being risk averse.” When he begins conversations about strategy with clients, the goal isn’t to force risk under the guise of innovation. Rather, Forest works to translate the requirements, impressions, and vision of his client partners into tangible elements of discovery and execution for his creative teams. This isn’t a one-time responsibility either. It’s the start of an ongoing conversation that’s meant to both stretch the faculties of his team, while growing the vision and ambition of his partners.
“I’ll be very open with a client up front and be like, ‘Hey, I’m going to give you five ideas—two of them are going to be crazy, but let’s talk about them,'” Forest explains. It’s an essential piece in the long process of pushing creatives to stretch and think in numerous ways, while giving brand partners options and permission to be bolder than their status quo. It is in this push-pull of listening, translating, challenging, and supporting that creative directors thrive.
Image attribution: ketan rajput
Even if your company hasn’t actively put in place structural teams to train and grow your brand’s creativity, you can still practice many of the techniques that a creative director would encourage from your team. Forest offers three simple ways to start treating creativity as a resource.
Think back to your last few strategy, planning, or brainstorming meetings. How many of them involved an awkward silence at the beginning, followed by one idea that everyone harped on for the following hour? Creative mindsets are hard and often antithetical to the routine mechanics of marketing work. Try to start meetings off with a brief exercise or game that isn’t necessarily directly work related but that gets people ideating in line with the rest of your meeting.
This might seem a bit broad, but when applied specifically to marketing practice it’s actually quite sage. There is value in marketing-specific development and learning. But if you’re only reading marketing books, attending marketing conferences, and watching marketing webinars, you aren’t feeding your mind the tangential fuel necessary for creativity. Be intentional about exploring curiosities and looking for unlikely connections to enrich your work.
Seek out ways to support your team members when they want to explore something new (even if it’s a mistake—mistakes with intention are just learning experiences). Look for opportunities to give leadership to team members who might not always have that chance. Lastly, make sure these conversations and opportunities exist in numerous formats so that no one is left out simply due to personality or comfort mismatch in a given arena.
Companies are run on many resources, but content marketing brands are built on the creative conversations that surround them. If your company is going to maintain meaningful conversations into the future, it will need to begin regarding and supporting creativity in business as a resource itself. Whether this entails hiring a leader to drive these creative efforts or simply being more mindful of how you conduct meetings is up to you—but the goal of supporting your team’s creative growth should always remain constant.
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Featured image attribution: Cristofer Jeschke