Ad agencies have a dreadful record in appointing new creative leadership.
Agencies proudly announce a new star hiring, that is a “great creative and cultural fit with the agency,” only to announce 18 months later that person has decided to “pursue other opportunities” but, they have uncovered another “star” who is really going to turn the agency work around this time and lead them to the promised land.
There’s a reason Agency Spy has a section called Revolving Door.
The Creative Director, Executive Creative Director, Chief Creative Officer, call it what you will, is the heart and soul of an agency, basically the sexiest job in the agency.
It’s also the most volatile. Probably up there with the tenure of a CMO.
It’s the job everyone in the creative department wants, although I have a theory that deep down they don’t actually want the job, but they sure as heck don’t want anyone else to have it.
Most agencies assume that if you are a very good creative, you will make a very good creative leader. Wrong. It’s a different job, different skill sets, different needs and abilities.
Very few great creative people make good creative directors.
So I thought it would be interesting to chat with friends at Wieden + Kennedy who seem to get these appointments right more often than not, and see if we can pick up a few pointers.
I spoke with Karl Lieberman, who has recently moved from Wieden + Kennedy in Portland to assume the role of Executive Creative Director in the Wieden + Kennedy’s New York office.
Karl and his partner Neal Arthur (WKNY’s Managing Director) run the 200 people WKNY office together, reporting back to Colleen DeCourcy, Global Executive Creative Director and Dave Luhr, President. Their client roster includes Bud Light, ESPN, Delta, the Jordan Brand, Equinox, Sprite and Spotify.
Karl was one of the originators of the Dos XX “Most interesting Man in the World” campaign… (no really, many people have attached their name to that campaign, but Karl was one of the original team who came up with it) and has been with W+K Portland since 2007 where he was recently running KFC, Yoplait, the P&G Olympics “Thank You, Mom” brand work and Travel Oregon.
I hired Karl to work on Volvo when I was ECD at EURO/RSCG. Some people you feel are not only going to have stellar creative careers, but have the personality and focus to become a great creative leader.
Karl, I believed even then, was one of the latter.
As we’re in a political year, I thought it would be worth a chat and see how his first 100 days were going as a freshly minted Executive Creative Director.
Michael Lee: You’ve been ECD now for about four months, is it different than expected?
Karl Lieberman: I’ve actually found that the jump from CD to ECD is not too dissimilar from the jump from being a creative to being a CD.
When you’re a creative, you’re basically trying to drive a 2007 Buick LeSabre that’s on fire down a winding mountain road in a blinding hailstorm.
When you’re a creative director, you’re trying to do the same, but you’re in the passenger seat and you’re not supposed to touch the steering wheel.
And when you’re an ECD, you’re still trying to do the same thing, but now you’re in the trunk and everyone keeps texting you.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.
Michael Lee writes about creativity in marketing.
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