Hover or get the hell out of the way? Collaborate your way to great creative

Published May 20, 2015 9:52 am by LoSasso

I’ve learned a lot about leadership during my tour as an agency creative. Sadly, most of those lessons came from really, really bad managers.

How well I remember Pat (not his real name). Though he managed a sizeable group at a large Chicago agency, this writer-turned-CD clearly never learned how to lead.  Working with him was nothing short of creative torture. Hourly check-ins, obsessive nitpicking and a stranglehold on divergent thought fed his apparent fear of losing control. And though he believed micromanaging spawned great work, for anyone below him on the org chart, it was death by a thousands pecks.

Throw a paper wad in any agency and you’ll likely hit a Pat (or a Patty, for that matter). And I’m truly grateful for each and every helicopter CD, or obsessive account lead, who has hovered over my keyboard. Without these heavy-handed overlords (along with those who were MIA until the night before deadline), I would not have witnessed the egregious inefficiencies created by their presence. Nor would I have gained these insights, which I bring to my current role as head of a thriving creative department:


Form a Pre-Launch Partnership

Cozy up with the account lead or planner early on. Sign off on the brief, or at least discuss its contents, before they share with the entire team. Make sure the assignment is clear and the budget is locked down. You don’t want any time-wasting surprises at the startup meeting. Or later on.

Have a Kick-Ass Kickoff

I’ve seen more campaigns crash and burn (and burn a crap-ton of hours) due to a confusing kickoff. Does the team understand the ask? Does everyone know what’s expected of them? Hold the room hostage until there are no unanswered questions regarding objective, audience, deliverables and tone.

Plant Seeds then Peace Out

If the assignment is ginormous, or your team is a bit green, corral the herd to let them freak, if necessary. Offer up a few broad on-task, on-target ideas as examples and then send them off to do their jobs. If your team has seen many a rodeo, host a quick gut-check then step back and let the magic happen while you move on to other pressing matters – including that overdue mani-pedi.

Mold, Don’t Meddle

If you are a parent, you get this. There’s an art to teaching others how to fly and it has a lot to do with trust on both sides of the desk. Know your people and how they work, then choose the best way to guide them. Some creatives crave attention. Others want to go it alone. If you have an open office environment, use proximity to your advantage. Work the room. Blend in. Nurture as needed.

Respect the Work and the Worker

Off-strategy ideas can be great learning experiences. Ask the team to draw a line from their headlines to the main message on the brief. Talk about the boundaries of the brand landscape and whether their layouts live inside or outside of the lines. Above all, honor their effort. Celebrate the good stuff. Pepper with please and thank you.

The bottom line is, set up your team for success by getting involved at the get-go. Then let go. Be a guide with a flashlight. Shine it in the right places and they’ll find their way to great work.

Martha Porter Fiszer, Creative Director