Creative honchos = control freaks? Aye or Nay?

In milieu of controversy around scam ads, e4m sheds light on how creative heads can walk the fine line between being control freaks & nurturing innovative thinking

e4m by Twishy
Updated: May 3, 2013 9:16 PM
Creative honchos = control freaks? Aye or Nay?

On Mondays write a snappy slogan, on Wednesdays shoot a fancy film and on Fridays record a peppy jingle. Is this the life of an ad man with the so-called glitz and glamour? How do they brush their grey cells to give birth to Zoozoos and Mooch walis? Do they give liberty to free-spirited creative birds or are they control freaks? It is often said that control freaks have lost talent and killed careers. It is widely believed that most of the creative directors are control freaks because they fear the opinion of others.

With the meteoric rise in social media platforms, gone are the days when the client’s opinion was paramount. In this highly social world, almost everyone has an opinion and a million ‘likes’ on the social platform can transform the fortunes of a brand. The fear of opinion by almost everyone has become the greatest difficulty for creative heads as it can’t be controlled and ignored. However, one can be a control freak and still be humble and respectful to other opinions because nobody wants to work for a dictator and an ego-maniac.

Anindya Banerjee, Branch Head and ECD, Scarecrow Delhi said, “There’s a very thin line between being a guide and a control freak. No one should become control freaks. Not the CD, not the NCD, not the Branch Head and not even the client because people don’t like working with control freaks and excessive control turns people into either rebels or yes men. I believe that creativity needs freedom.”

“At Scarecrow, for instance, there is a lot of debate beforehand. But the final decision lies in the hands of the person who’s going to be in the trenches fighting the war and that person could be a Raghu, Manish, Joy or even a junior writer,” he added.  According to him, an NCD is the brand ambassador of his agency and it has to be seen visibly in the work he does, his interaction with clients and the team he builds.

Controllers have strong fears and anxieties about other’s work and they constantly question the same. They want things to be right on time, in the way they want. It hampers the creativity of the team and restricts thinking power. Nitesh Shah, Creative Head – Art, Rediffusion Y&R said, “The job of a Creative Director is to nurture and liberate his or her team to produce brilliant ideas. Sometimes these ideas may become a challenge prevailing cultural, religious, or political sentiments. As a Creative Director, one needs to be aware of these sensitivities when making a judgment about a piece of creative work. Sometimes pushing the boundaries of popular sentiments can be a fantastic thing for the brand or the client. Sometimes it may not. It is a tricky balancing act and it can only come with experience and strong mentorship. So, instead of being control freaks, I think Creative Directors should nurture the skill of mature decision-making across all levels of their team.”

“I would expect them to encourage ground-breaking ideas, out of the box thinking, and receptiveness to new and innovative ways of doing things. I would also seek guidance, sharing of experience and learnings, and mentorship to evolve creatively. Finally, a good NCD would support good ideas wherever they may arise from,” Shah added.

The recent Ford Figo controversy showing the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi flashing a peace sign with scantily clad women in the Ford Figo’s boot that led to the exit of a creative leader has raised several questions on the kind of work to be done by the industry. This has been happening for years now, but it is unfortunate that this time it has been blown up to such a degree.

It has also raised issues such as NCDs in many big agencies not having the time to evaluate every work piece and if a ‘scam’ happens, the creative leader faces the heat. Does this call for a need to become control freak to avoid controversies?

Banerjee feels that the problem with large agencies are, well, they are simply too big. It is physically impossible for any one person to look into each and every piece of creative work that goes out of the agency – which is why places such as O&M have empowered Rajiv Rao and Abhijit Awasthi.

According to him, work entered for awards should always be seen by the senior-most creative person not just in the agency, but also in the network. He said, “I remember Aggie telling me at Cannes that Craig Davis (then Worldwide CD of JWT) had personally seen each and every piece of Lead India (including the AV submission). So what’s the point? Any piece of work that goes out of the agency should be seen by an empowered creative person. If things go wrong, then he or she is responsible and corrective measures should be taken. (And corrective measures does not mean sacking.)”

He added, “Last but not the least, creative awards have become an ‘official’ mandate. And are no longer mere indulgences of creative people. If servicing people can walk onto the stage to receive a creative award, they should be prepared to take the flak when the proverbial s*%# hits the fan.”

In a world that is open, it is necessary for NCDs to carefully evaluate every piece of creative work to avoid any kind of controversy. It is important to create an environment where people are bold and not afraid to come up with creative ideas.

“I don’t really agree with the word ‘scam’. I would prefer the term ‘proactive’. Let me explain the difference. ‘Scam’ is some work that has been created for non-existing clients…so much so that people now create clients such as shoelaces, toothpicks, lawyers, etc., create advertising and enter it for awards. Whereas, ‘proactive’ is work that is created for your own clients, fully keeping in mind that if this work is actually approved and released by the client, it will surely work for the brand. And I don’t believe that NCDs do not have the time to evaluate each piece of work, especially when awards are a sure shot way to glory and fame. I am sure NCDs have a look at every piece of entry, after all his or her name would be there on the form,” said Sachin Das Burma, Group Creative Director, Draftfcb Ulka.

“They should not encourage ‘scams’ and should fully back ‘proactive’ work. In fact, they should clearly explain the difference to their teams, help them fine tune the ideas and most importantly, sell the ideas to the clients,” Burma added.

Shah feels that the NCD’s job is to be a mentor and create other leaders within the agency who are mature enough to take judgment calls on the creative pieces of work getting out of the agency. The responsibility for the creative output of an agency does lie with the NCD or the Chief Creative Officer. Those leaders who embrace this responsibility for the work done under their watch, even in the face of criticism, exhibit great strength of character and become role models for younger ones to emulate.

It also makes us believe that creative heads need to control the quality of work to some extent and decide how far should the proactive work go to win awards, without hurting the sentiments of people. 

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