I wasn’t surprised when a new client recently admitted “we lack creative direction”. Considering they aren’t short of in-house creative resources, this revelation did come as a bit of surprise to them.

Brands lacking creative direction is a problem I’m seeing regularly (especially in large organisations). So what’s the real underlying problem? More importantly, how can it be solved?

In a bid to cut costs and simplify workflow, more and more organisations are ditching their old ‘Mad Men’ creative agencies and establishing internal creative solution departments. But with every saving, comes a loss. In this instance, when a company culls a creative agency, they don’t just lose the overheads of said resource, they also lose the value of their agency’s Creative Director.

If you’ve ever worked for an ad or marketing agency, you’ll understand the important role the CD plays. If you haven’t, well, bear with me, I have an interesting analogy coming up.

Once built, internal design teams are often run by a Head of Design (or similar title) who reports to the Chief Marketing Officer. This, in my opinion, is where the bolts on the proverbial wheels start coming loose. You see, a Head of Design or Studio Manager does exactly what it says on their over-designed business cards; they head up the design team or manage the studio. I’m not taking anything away from these justifiable positions, but in order for content marketing to succeed, companies need well-considered ideas and creative direction. Not just good design from a well-managed team.

Creative direction spans your proposition, campaign concepts, art directed photography, well-written copy, engaging films etc. All of which exceed the realm of ‘design’. With all due respect, these can’t all be steered by experts in leading, kerning and Pantone references. This is the fundamental mistake many organisations make.

Audiences don’t consume communications just because they are well-designed or adhere to brand guidelines. Their attention is sought through creative consideration first and stylish execution second. Both of which are skills possessed by Creative Directors.

Time for that analogy I mentioned.

Some of the internal design departments I’ve seen (and heard marketing director’s moan about) are like Michelin starred restaurants… without a head chef.

Imagine Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen without Jamie. Or Heston’s Fat Duck without Heston. You’d still have a great kitchen rife with talented sous chefs producing amazing dishes. But those dishes would likely be standalone masterpieces. Ultimately, it’s the Head Chef who has the vision and the ability to look at the entire experience from a culinary and customer’s perspective. To bring it back to marketing, individual dishes are siloed tactics. A coherent menu (and vision) is the creative and strategy.

I’ve certainly worked with the Gordon Ramsey’s of the creative world. Whilst all that effing and jeffing was hard to swallow at the time, I developed the ability (to be fair, it was beaten into me), to see things from the customer’s perspective.

Designers can design materials that look nice. Copywriters can write good copy. But it’s the Creative Directors who possess the ability to see the bigger picture and create sustainable marketing content that appeals to hearts and minds.

I realise that internal marketing departments aren’t about to start recruiting their own creative directors. But as our new client has discovered, you don’t need to hire an over-inflated oligarch agency to benefit from one.

Barry Richardson is the Founder & Creative Director of
BRAVO  : :  Creative Marketing Well Done

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