In your creative career, remember this: you’re worse.
Not the worst, but worse. No matter what agency you go to or what project you’re on, someone is better than or has done it better than you.
Usually, that person is your creative director.
Of course. They’re your boss. But try to push beyond the idea that they’re just your boss, and take the time to actually connect with them. Not only will you have the chance to learn from them, but they might become more than another manager to you.
A creative director that has taken you under their wing will make a massive difference in your career. More than anything else.
But navigating those waters isn’t easy.
Don’t be selfish. Don’t be fake.
First off, keep it real.
Be authentic. Don’t be an ass-kisser. Don’t be superficial. They’re people, just like you. They’ll know if you’re being a selfish asshole looking to use them to simply further your career. And trust me, that’s the worst thing they can think of you. (You’d rather they thought you were a bad creative.)
This isn’t a one-night-stand, friends. Look to the long-term.
Be There For Them
Before they were creative directors, they were where you are now. They complained about the same things you’re complaining about. And they still have to deal with all the same issues: timelines, concepting, budgets, blah blah blah. Now multiply that times however many projects they handle. And if something goes wrong, it’s their ass on the line.
Keep in mind, a good creative director won’t look for you to be a shoulder to cry on. But you will be their go-to creative.
You want to be the go-to creative.
They will look to their team for someone to help them work through difficult times. Late night fire drill and a deck needs work? Anyone up to burn a weekend on a pitch? Unpopular opinion from the powers-that-be getting forced upon your CD, who is now looking for support? Sounds like a job for you!
Put yourself out there to be the one they can depend upon.
But don’t just be a yes-man/woman. You need to show that you’re confident in your ability to know when to say “yes” and when to say “fuck off”. (NOTE: telling your boss to “fuck off” is a bad idea. Maybe just say, “I have a different idea.”)
They’ll Be There For You
The benefits that will come to you from creating an honest-to-goodness connection with your creative director are pretty damn important. You’re going to get more knowledge than any school, more support than your friends, and more connections than a recruiter.
Think about it: somehow, they knew enough to get to where they are today. Along the way, they were at the same point in their career that you are now. Then they moved on and learned lots more.
Pick their brain. Chances are, they will divulge countless tricks of the trade to you if you just ask. It may be about how the agency operates behind-the-scenes. Or how to handle difficult coworkers. Maybe it’s their trick to push through creative concepts that nobody thought the client would buy.
If they’re good at what they do, they could teach you a thing or twenty.
At most larger agencies, nobody important will know your name. They will know your creative director. So, if they’re your biggest supporter, they will make you known to the people who control your career’s future.
Their word carries more weight than yours. So, it matters if they’ll fight for your ideas. It makes the difference when they push for your promotions.
They’ll be your cheerleader at times and your linebacker when necessary. So, having them on your side will give you the support you need to keep moving forward.
And most of the time, all you need to do is ask what they’d do to accomplish the goal you’re looking towards.
I left my first agency after my contract ended. My creative director put me in contact with the recruiter of the agency I worked at next.
Then, after another creative director left that place, they called upon me to come to the new agency they were at. I was there for years.
And after I left that agency, I went into an interview at an agency that said they’d heard of me already. Guess who sat across from me at that interview? The first CD I mentioned. They quickly offered me the job.
If you’re looking for a gig, creative directors have massive networks and major pull to find you the right place or bring you to wherever they are. Do not forget this.
The Power is Yours
Your ambition can be your best friend or your worst enemy.
All these tactics could lead to becoming your creative director’s protege, or the incessantly annoying, overwhelmingly brown-nosing creative they just wish would leave them alone.
It’s not easy to find that balance, but when you do, this mentorship could drive your career to previously unreachable places.