It’s pretty easy to list the traits of a bad creative manager. Short-sighted, impulsive, stubborn, ego-driven, unconstructive or unclear in their feedback, resistant of change, impossible to approach or simply impossible to work with… Feel free to take a moment to remember a miserable leader you worked under. Thank god that’s over (hopefully).
Here’s the thing, though. Being a creative manager is tough stuff. Most people entering the role have emerged from the proverbial agency trenches after years of direct, hands-on creative input. They were the people pulling late nights and working tirelessly towards tight deadlines. It was their vision seamlessly woven into the fabric of every campaign.
But being a good creative manager, one who drives results, means taking a step back from being directly involved in the creative process and refocusing on the actual management of a creative team. And yes, it can feel like a prolonged moment of tongue-biting as you find the right balance of gentle but firm managerial touch.
Here are a few suggestions to help you become a benevolent ruler instead of an overbearing warlord. By following these guidelines you’ll see long term results, a happy team and greater innovation…
Accept that managing people is not a waste of time.
When you’re so used to doing the creative heavy lifting, management can look like tedious work that doesn’t really make a difference. Resist rolling up your sleeves and jumping in to do your creatives’ jobs for them. It’s the whole “give a man a fish vs. teach a man to fish” mentality. While it might be quicker/easier/more enjoyable to do the task yourself in the short term, graduating to a creative manager position means you're investing your energies into shaping a team that will see long term achievements.
Unless your management plan is for productivity to come to a screeching halt in record time, you need to be able to guide and trust your team to execute tasks properly without your direct involvement.
Open yourself to change.
We’ve all had that one boss or coworker who dug their heels in at the first sign of change. Whether they were a relic from a bygone agency era or were simply averse to learning new tricks, you may have felt like your creative output was held back by their refusal to adapt to the latest industry advancements.
Don’t be that person. No one likes that person.
Part of being an effective, results-oriented creative manager is knowing that you will not always be the first to conceive a groundbreaking idea. Frequently it will be someone else who approaches you to ask your thoughts trying a new approach. When that time comes, listen.
Just last month at CES, for example, virtual reality video capability was highly buzzed about throughout the convention halls. Its pervasiveness, along with the genuine excitement and inspired products it generated, cemented it as not just another tech trend.
A creative manager with an affinity for the analog way of doing things would dismiss VR as fleeting, problematic and complicating a perfectly fine way of doing things, etc. This is also the creative manager who stifles innovation among his team and ignores the facts:
- Nearly 1.3 million people already subscribe to the YouTube 360 channel
- 30% of consumer-facing companies in the Forbes Global 2000 will experiment with VR as part of their marketing efforts in 2017
- Facebook purchased the maker of the Oculus Rift VR headset in anticipation of the marketing trend expanding onto social networks
- International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that by 2020 over 20% of commercial media on Facebook will be 360-degree video content
Just remember that wild ideas can be great ideas. VR may have sounded like an impossible dream for marketing teams years ago, but it’s now it's becoming a key feature in award-winning campaings.
Delegate non-essential tasks.
Consider hiring an assistant to help with scheduling meetings, sending emails, booking travel and all those annoying miscellaneous to-dos that can pile up and plague your productivity.
By eliminating some of the more annoying tasks, your creative management tactics will feel more purpose-driven and less weighed down.
Respect the power of emotions and relationships.
There’s a difference between maintaining a healthy, fast-paced environment and making your creative team feel like they’re working in an unrelenting sweatshop that’s primary goal is to churn out work ASAP lest the entire ship sink in a fiery wreck.
Do I even need to say that one of those examples builds confidence, teamwork and a sense of accomplishment, while the other will create a long list of ex-employees?
The emotional well-being of your creative team is paramount to their success, and it’s your job to make sure people associate you with answers and stability. Don’t be the root of their problems.
Be glad when your team works as a team – and give them the frequent opportunity to do so. You want your creatives to form strong relationships with you and with each other. A sense of unity directly leads to emotional investment in individual projects and grand-scale agency goals (not to mention drastically decreases turnover).
Make the good work great.
Don’t waste time making the bad work less bad. At the end of the day, it’s still bad. Instead, push your creative team to make the already strong work really shine.
Like we said previously, your creatives need a combination of the right tools, creative freedoms and high expectations to bring 9 ideas to a 10. And then you have to be the safety net in case their ideas fall short. No one is going to risk testing out a theory if they think failure is going to be met with ridicule.
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