The creative director has always held a hallowed space in advertising. They hold the keys to the creative kingdom, can make even crappy ideas sound like poetry in a pitch, and always have cool shoes.
But with digital taking increasingly larger portions of client budgets, has the creative director's time as the exalted leader of creativity island come to a close? Is digital a different enough medium to warrant a digital creative director?
Answer #1: Yes, Go Out and Hire a Digital Creative Director, Now!
Digital is just different.
The creative director position was conceived at a time when companies produced few, high-budget productions (think the annual TV spot and print campaign). Digital strategy is different. It requires knowledge of the latest technological trends, ability to use metrics to shape strategy, and the ability to craft unique online user experiences. Being a creative storyteller through TV commercials doesn't mean you can develop an effective digital campaign. Just like you wouldn't ask an architect to create wireframes for your website, maybe you need to find creatives who are digital natives to lead on digital projects.
Real-Time changes everything.
Creating a traditional TV or print campaign can take months to perfect and produce. The digital ecosystem demands not only real-time responsiveness, but real-time content development. Poland Springs was excoriated for taking over twelve hours to respond to the awkward Mark Rubio dry-mouth moment. They were uniformly bashed not for waiting days or weeks, but hours to respond. The volume and speed of real-time content production requires a radically different mindset. Is it feasible for one creative director to both logistically and creatively oversee multiple clients who are all producing daily content?
The technology game changer
Six years ago Pinterest didn't exist, Vines were things you used to get across a chasm, and Grumpy Cat wasn't being considered as a keynote speaker at your next conference. Technological changes radically alter the landscape for digital campaigns. Recognizing the role technology plays in creative development, digital agency Big Spaceship includes a technologist in all of their brainstorms. Joshua Hirsch of Big Spaceship explains, "If you don't have [a technologist] at the table then the people who come up with ideas will be limited to what they've seen." For creative directors that aren't digital natives, is the chasm between traditional advertising and online experiences too large to breach?
Answer #2: Creative is Creative, Your Creative Director Stays Put
What is digital anyway?
There's no such thing as an online/offline world, there is just the world we live in. Creative directors are just as influenced by digital technology as anyone else. Even if they aren't digital natives, smart creative directors will adapt with the times and utilize digital thinkers to fill in the gaps.
Storytelling is storytelling
The job of creative directors isn't about digital or not digital, it's about telling authentic stories. Sure, digital is complex but at the end of the day it's just another channel for your brand narrative. A powerful story can be told in a 30-second spot as well as across multiple blog posts. Effective creative directors will harness the power of digital mediums to continue the tradition of telling powerful stories.
Bring different skills to the table
Could being a late adopter of Foursquare or Pinterest actually be a good thing? Outsiders can bring a unique perspective to any industry. Smart creative directors will use their varied backgrounds to their advantage by bringing a different outlook and relying on digital natives to help bolster their knowledge about the latest trends.
Answer #3: Screw Creative Directors
Everyone is creative
What if we didn't need a creative director at all? Could small, efficient teams do the same job as an uber-creative director? Quality matters, except when you want a good idea. Wait, what? Recent studies have shown that the best way to develop quality ideas is to generate a large quantity of concepts rather than wait for one breakthrough. This means instead of anointing a few "creatives" having more people contributing ideas gives you a better chance at finding a winning concept.
The same studies also says groups, not individuals are better suited at filtering ideas. So the lone creative director sitting in his office evaluating ideas is probably not as effective as a small group of people who bring different perspectives to the table.
OK... so how does it work without a creative director?
Many people say, "Everyone is creative," but Big Spaceship walks the walk. They've eliminated "Creative" from all of their titles and make it part of everyone's job responsibilities to generate ideas. Tangibly, this works best when smaller, tightly managed teams own all aspects of a project. From ideation to creative to implementation, a group of people with a similar goal in mind will self police themselves in pursuit of common objectives.
So what does it all mean? In the words of every consultant ever, "It depends." In many situations there might be a need to bring in digital talent to take the lead on creative. Other situations might be better suited for your existing creative director to get some help from your digital team to get up to speed. And finally, there might be reasons to restructure your entire process,,creating agile teams that manage the creative process as they go along.
Thanks to Joshua Hirsch at Big Spaceship and Dave Snyder at Firstborn for participating in interviews for this article.