How to be a good creative (copywriter, art director).

Tom Lichtenheld is an accomplished creative director (at Cramer-Krasselt and now freelancing). Before that, he was a fantastic art director (at Fallon). Last year he spoke at the VCU Brandcenter’s Friday Forum on the myths about creativity. It was a great presentation (see my notes on that topic here). I recently ran across some more of my notes from the presentation. Tom made a list of seven things to be a good creative. Here is Tom’s list combined with my thoughts:

To be a good creative, one must give the creative director:

1) Passion (the most important thing): This was the top thing for Tom, and it is the most important attribute listed by most people when talking about being creative. Passion creates the desire to want to be creative. Passion fuels the need for generating the strongest idea. Passion helps us endure the endless pursuit for absolute beauty in the writing and art direction of advertising.

The author, Sir Ken Robinson, is an expert on creativity and innovation. His book is about finding your passions and how that can change everything.

2) Studiousness: Being a good creative is a never-ending pursuit of knowledge. Knowledge about the craft (writing and art direction). The craft is ever evolving. Knowledge about people – people in general and specific knowledge of the target audience. There’s always more to know about the target audience. Knowledge about culture – what are cool things that people are doing around the world (fashion, hobbies, technology, opinions, interests, etc). Culture is how creatives use their craft to connect with people… they do it by creating culture. Knowledge about he brand. How do people use is (apart from it’s primary use), why do consumers buy it (really), how does the brand fit in with people’s aspirations in life?  As a creative, there’s always more to learn

3) Constant focus on the brief: Creatives are paid to think of millions of ideas. To succeed in that mission, it is natural to veer away from the direction of the brief. That’s OK. That’s expected. In fact, that’s encouraged. However, good creatives always get back to the brief. The ideas that are presented are always on brief. And if ideas are presented that are off brief, those ideas have rationale telling why they diverted from the direction of the brief.

4) More ideas (and fewer pixels): Wonderful direction! The best tools for generating the best ideas are:  paper, pen or pencil, and brain. Notice that “computer” is not on the list. Our capacity to generate ideas is infinite. And all we need to tap into the endless resource of ideas (our brain) is the passion to want more ideas (see #1 above), the background knowledge on the topic (see #2 above), paper and pen/pencil (to record the plethora of ideas that will flow.

5) Good presentations of the work: Raymond McKinney (a CD at The Martin Agency) once told me, “Ideas that are presented like shit, are shit.”  In my years in the ad business (and my years outside of agencies, too), it was easy to see that the ideas that were presented well had a better chance of approval than all of the other the ideas. The guys who always presented their work in a strong, fluid, and easy-to-understand manner, got their work approved. Approved work equals bonuses and promotions. Learn to present your ideas well.

6) Acceptance of critiques: As the saying goes, “Everyone has an opinion….” Creative directors are hired to have opinions and to give critiques. It’s their job! Good clients give good feedback (compliments and criticisms = critiques). So creatives job is to accept all critiques, use them as tools to make the work better, and flourish. The opinions of the creatives are important, and everyone has an opinion. Creatives who don’t respect the opinion of the client or the creative director, tend not to get respect.

7) Independence: Good creatives take direction (as described on in #3), while at the same time they push ideas further (as described in #1). Creatives are expected to own the projects, push the work on their projects, and see the projects through without micromanagement. Creatives that require close scrutiny or micromanagement are less creative and drain the mojo of everyone else.

Tom Lichtenheld makes a great presentation. He is smart, he is down to earth, and he is funny. Every junior art director and junior copywriter should tape this list to his/her cubicle wall. Live by these ideas, and you won’t be a junior for long. And when you’re ready to be a creative director, Tom has a new list for you. Along with this list of how to be a good creative, he shared ways to be a good creative director. I’ll post those thoughts later.

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks for your kind comments about my presentation. I recently read something written by Lee Clow which I would add to the list of advice for creative directors: “Ask a young person what to do, then do it.” – Tom L.

  2. I would like to know more about business advertising ideas.

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