What Does a Creative Director Do?

I get asked this question a lot.

Over the years I’ve answered it by describing my functional roles, such as the one who oversees the creative process and team. The gateway between the client, and the client services and the creative departments. The creative bar raiser and standards bearer.

Other times I’ve described my role as cat herder. (If you’ve ever managed writers, designers, art directors, photographers, illustrators and the like you’ll know how appropriate this is.) Surrogate parent. (Don’t get me started on the topic of managing spoiled kids with a misguided sense of entitlement.) Brand and message platform police. (Self explanatory.)

But for the last couple of years, I’ve described what I do thusly: I encourage failure.

On the strange looks I often get, I continue to state that “creative” by its very definition is something that’s never been done before. There is risk involved in developing and championing the unfamiliar. The completely new.

It's important to note that I didn't say "irrelevant" creative. Don't mistake the pursuit of creative for its own sake with contextual creative. A truly creative solution is one that is on strategy, echoes a brand trait and solves the problem at hand.

But it does so in a completely new way. A surprising mash-up. A whole new perspective.

Those who have worked with me have heard me say often that I've not done my job unless I've made the client nervous. (Usually making the client services team nervous first.)

This is the kind of breakthrough, attention-getting, results-generating work I want my creative team and myself to feel free to create.

But if creative people don’t feel secure enough, don’t feel comfortable exposing their hearts and souls without fear of being crushed, don’t feel someone has their back (and their front), then all you’ll get is safe creative. Middle of the road ideas. Rehashed and recycled copy and art.

So my job as a creative director is to encourage failure. To support misfires. To buttress bumbling.

Because out of that free-flowing process will eventually emerge an idea so powerful that it can literally change the future.

A good creative director is one who, as Seth Godin recently wrote, “knows the difference between failures that are better off forgotten and failures that are merely successes that haven't grow up yet.”

So that's my job. I encourage successes that haven’t grown up yet.