The role of the creative director is transforming — the evolution of mobile technology and all the ways that consumers interact with ads are completely altering how industry leadership approaches the job. Put another way, the days of A-list Photoshop-jockeys with master’s degrees are waning. The future of the creative director now turns on the intersection of marketing, technology, product design, and sales. Tomorrow’s directors — and, frankly, today’s as well — must stand at the crossroads of all these skill-sets.
Let’s look at what this means for both the up-and-coming director and the mid-stream professional. Given the far-reaching effects of the transformation that’s underway, both are pivoting to meet the new demands of the emerging role.
Future Forward: The Next-Generation Creative Director
Creative directors, thirty years ago, would never have said, “My goal is for millions of people to interact with my ad.” What did ads have to do with real-time interaction? Advertising appeared primarily in print and on TV, and campaign results were evaluated based on longer-game metrics such as revenue, coupon performance, quarterly sales, and other measurement techniques. Creative agencies sat at the start of this process, making up the big ideas, and advertising gave them new business when the big ideas worked.
Flash-forward to 2017: creative directors increasingly measure success and earn business by the number of users who interact with their work on mobile and desktop screens (but mostly mobile, as media-buying agency Zenith reports). Campaigns have to show rich results in terms of ad performance, swipes, clicks, time spent with ad, video completion, and interactions like these. Bottom line, while performance will always take a forward position in the race, creative directors will have to focus on engagement in the months and years to come.
To understand engagement, start with all the elements of advertising, marketing, product, and technology already in play. Each is a component that creative directors often haven’t had to prioritize.
- Sales and Marketing: For much of creative’s history, the creative director sat within a sales organization and marketing was on the other side of the table. Directors haven’t had to worry much about approvals — the sales org sold the idea, and if the idea sold-through then creative could think about approvals later (or not at all). This has changed. The demands of technology, platforms, and mobile-consumer behaviors mean that creative must enter the mix with marketing much earlier in the process. It’s vital that marketing and creative are properly integrated. Meaning, marketers decide where a campaign is run and creative directors get involved from the technology- and product-level up, helping to make cohesive campaigns across all platforms and taking advantage of unique platform traits. We’ll take a further look at these two elements in the next two sections.
- Technology and the Creative Director: For years the creative shop has been creative-design driven and focused, but the future of the creative director means becoming an expert at the platforms for which the shop is creating too. Directors need to understand, from a technology point of view, exactly how ad units interact with the underlying platform — and at how mobile-ad units interact, in particular, as they are shaped, affected, and in some ways track directly with the development of cutting-edge smartphone tech. This means partnering with engineers and developers in early stages, brainstorming and learning to create platform-compatible concepts, aligning capabilities with brands’ missions and then working to bring continuously new formats and solutions to the table.
- Product and Owning the Process: The product department is a prime resource for creative directors, especially in the mobile marketplace. With product, creative can work to ensure that the director’s next grand idea hits the mark instead of completely flopping. In terms of understanding how creative rolls-out new experiences, for example, product helps create the underlying process, and then together product and creative own that process from a business point of view. A close working relationship between the two is critical, ensuring that, as the industry evolves, the next-generation of creative ad units is not only deeply relevant to mobile consumers but it also helps drive revenue for brands.
Think of the evolving creative director as a technological and marketing pentathlete, a dynamic force who’ll need to satisfy more than just the traditional advertising imperative. Envision a product-strategy role; that is the model to come.
In all likelihood, the growth and change underway means changing the very way we work — i.e., creative going in-house with tech and marketing and product, as the industry has already started to do, in fact. It means embedding ourselves at companies that think deeply about advertising from a different point of view, and that see analytics and creative as sitting next to each other and interacting day to day.
And so, creative directors, now and future, go out and find the organizations that are thinking differently about the job. Build a deeper understanding of rich media as you go. Remember that this is huge: it’s the next and newest reality when it comes to where we’re going and it’s the target at which the creative director of the future will have to aim for future success.
Walter T. Geer III is Vice President, Creative Director at Verve in New York City.