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The Cat Herder: The Role and Function of the Agency Creative Director
Unformatted Document Text:  THE  CAT  HERDER     18   Other creative directors attempt to spur creativity by partnering. One large agency CD said he likes “to change teams to get a spark. Mix people up.” But if a team is working well, he won’t break them up (L3). Guru/Mentor James summed up his job as creative director “to make people excel and become brilliant. To unleash their full potential. Be a teacher. Instill confidence, with the client and employees” (L1). That describes the role of creative director as guru and mentor. The creative directors we interviewed strongly believe in nurturing the talent within their spheres. That is both an active and a passive process. One thing all creatives have is a built-in desire that the next thing they do will be the greatest thing they’ve ever done. They have craftsmanship and pride in their work—their heart and soul is in it. Of course, there are times when boredom or fatigue set in. …then I’ll have a conversation: “I think you can do better.” I clear the weeds so that they can grow and be great (CD, S1). Many manage by steering subordinates gently in the “right” direction. In some instances, guidance is given with subtlety and finesse. In other cases, direction is more explicit. The mentor/mentee role is complicated when the creative director is not purely playing a managerial role, but functioning as a hybrid—a working creative and supervisor of others. Creatives much prefer the former. One writer resented a previous creative director who felt it his responsibility to come up with ideas, and described his current one admiringly: The biggest value is having someone you know running the department, interfacing at the strategy level. Someone who has 30,000 ft. view so we don’t get mired in the details. He rarely takes the creative lead; he lets us drive ideas. [He] helps to determine strategy and lets us bring ideas to him. He’s chief motivating officer (S1). Some very young creatives (four years experience or less) were very opposed to the idea of creative directors doing their own work as well as supervising, acknowledging that some CDs “kidnap” subordinates’ ideas and claim the credit and glory (CW & AD L1).

Authors: Mallia, Karen., Windels, Kasey. and Broyles, Sheri.
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THE  CAT  HERDER  
 
18  
 
Other creative directors attempt to spur creativity by partnering. One large agency CD 
said he likes “to change teams to get a spark. Mix people up.” But if a team is working well, 
he won’t break them up (L3). 
Guru/Mentor 
 
James summed up his job as creative director “to make people excel and become 
brilliant. To unleash their full potential. Be a teacher. Instill confidence, with the client and 
employees” (L1).  That describes the role of creative director as guru and mentor. 
 
The creative directors we interviewed strongly believe in nurturing the talent within 
their spheres. That is both an active and a passive process.  
One thing all creatives have is a built-in desire that the next thing they do will be the 
greatest thing they’ve ever done. They have craftsmanship and pride in their work—
their heart and soul is in it. Of course, there are times when boredom or fatigue set 
in.  …then I’ll have a conversation: “I think you can do better.” I clear the weeds so 
that they can grow and be great
 (CD, S1). 
 
Many manage by steering subordinates gently in the “right” direction. In some instances, 
guidance is given with subtlety and finesse. In other cases, direction is more explicit.  
 
The mentor/mentee role is complicated when the creative director is not purely 
playing a managerial role, but functioning as a hybrid—a working creative and supervisor of 
others. Creatives much prefer the former. One writer resented a previous creative director 
who felt it his responsibility to come up with ideas, and described his current one admiringly:  
The biggest value is having someone you know running the department, interfacing at 
the strategy level. Someone who has 30,000 ft. view so we don’t get mired in the 
details. He rarely takes the creative lead; he lets us drive ideas. [He] helps to 
determine strategy and lets us bring ideas to him. He’s chief motivating officer
 (S1). 
 
Some very young creatives (four years experience or less) were very opposed to the 
idea of creative directors doing their own work as well as supervising, acknowledging that 
some CDs “kidnap” subordinates’ ideas and claim the credit and glory (CW & AD L1). 


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