Despite the tectonic shifts that we've seen in the marketing world over the last five years, the role of creative director has endured as the unquestionable grande dame. And the best practitioners continue to be courted and fought over by rival agencies in an ever-escalating creative arms war.
Nonetheless, despite our enduring (blind?) faith in the role, surely it's time to ask what a creative director needs to be these days? Is the role the same as it has always been? Or does the lone ranger creative superhero of our collective imaginations fail to make the grade in today's search for that 360, integrated, technology-embedded, ground breaking holy grail of an idea that we're all searching for?
In other words, what sort of a creative director is going to be behind the next Fuel Band?
After all, let's be honest, the DNA of a 21st century idea is by necessity complicated; really complicated. We all know that. We're all trying to crack the creative code. And that's why the expectations being placed on our creative directors are ever greater.
And maybe the nature of those expectations means that it's time to reset our understanding of what the creative director can deliver? Perhaps it's time to shift our focus from the singular superhero of yore to the ever-emerging 'ideas collective', in which the creative director plays a very different role? An ideas collective that embraces diverse creative skills, knowledge and craft; some of which may already exist within the agency and some of which may choose to stay outside of such an institution.
Because, in a process once dominated by the twin monoliths of art and copy, we now have to factor in a diverse cast of players. Artists, storytellers and content creators, creative technologists, social conversation engineers, theatrical designers, liquid content designers - the list goes on.
Such a collective undoubtedly needs leadership and so perhaps the re-defined role of the creative director is merely a glorified manager? Someone to keep the collective in check? A creative chairman in the united nations of ideas? Well, yes and no. That ability is a must-have and, arguably, always has been. But what such a collective really needs is inspiration and creative judgement.
We may no longer need a lone superhero to swoop in and save the day with their big idea, but we most certainly need the creative protagonist - one who inspires, facilitates and pushes the creative collective to greatness. Who understands the business challenge, holds the creative vision and channels the ambition to achieve greatness. Who acts as a beacon for new and diverse talent; including talent we haven't even thought of yet. And who knows what to do with it. How to combine and recombine it. How to create productive and meaningful interactions. One who recognises what a great creative opportunity it is, to be surrounded by such talent.
An architect. An orchestrator. A collaborator. A creative director that has re-discovered what it means to direct and why that skill, more than ever, is the one that is required to make the role successful.
But not a superhero? It's interesting to note that 'superheroes' are reported to have emerged from the depression era of the 1930s. Fast forward not far off a century and another period of economic gloom, and like our predecessors we must re-think our world. Change is nothing new and neither is the need for creative, game-changing individuals with the ability to save the day. It's just how they save it which is necessarily different and it's our ability to recognise and act on this need which will make or break us. And anyway, whatever you want to call it, it's still a pretty cool job. Tim Leighton is creative strategy director at brand experience agency Jack Morton, London
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