With creativity first, business will follow

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Creative directors shouldn't just run departments. They should lead the whole damn thing, says Mark Figliulo

Creative is not a department. It’s everything. It needs to be at the forefront of everything an agency does and the only way to do so is to have a creative leader at the helm of the company. So when I read the news last week that Burberry’s Christopher Bailey is bowing to pressure and stepping down from his position as CEO (he previously had a combined role of CEO and Creative Director), the expectation was that it would shock me. It did not.

The fashion industry has always been led by creative directors, not CEOs. They are the visionary behind the look, the feel and the clothes of that season’s collection. From Dior to Saint Laurent to Marc Jacobs, and still Christopher Bailey, it’s the creative directors who are the visionary leaders of their companies. The same thing has to happen for agencies. The agenda and the vision, as well as the business approach has to be set by the creative leaders, and right now, that’s the exception rather than the rule.

Having a CEO with a creative background is a priority statement — a simple statement about what’s most important to that organization. When you have a finance CEO, you get procurement-led communications. With a client-service CEO, you get "give the client what they want" communications. And with a creative CEO, you get idea-led communications. Client relationships are not enough anymore. Ideas drive agency revenue now. I see this every single day.

We all know how complex marketing and communications have become and we need to empower the storytellers to make sense of it. I don’t mean they should lead a campaign or a department, I mean they should lead the whole damn thing. The advertising industry has been reduced to a small handful of holding companies led by a small group of finance guys. They, in turn, put business types in charge of their individual agencies, not creatives. Basically, you’re several branches down the org chart before you even get a hint of a CD title. When you do, it’s a department head. And that’s the problem.

For both today’s and tomorrow’s world, we need a new kind of creative leader. Our very best creatives need to lead not just creative teams, but strategic and analytic teams, media agency teams, client teams and ultimately millions of consumers. This means that the modern CD must be collaborative; he or she must understand data analytics, strategy, technology, finance and marketing. Gone are the days of complaining about the suits or the researchers, they are now your collaborators as much as any film director or photographer.

Creatives have retreated into an executional box. Yes, concept and craftsmanship of a single execution is critical and worthy of awards, but there is a bigger, more important picture. It’s time to break away from a narrow definition of a creative person as an executional thinker and become creative visionaries that inspire everyone to follow you and your idea.

For this and so many other reasons, I’ve focused on talent since Day One at Figliulo&Partners, and I hand-picked an amazing group of partners that are truly exceptional at what they do. They are much smarter about finance, strategy, production and client relationships than me. They are even better at running a viable business than me, but we work well together because we all know that at the end of the day, it comes down to the power of the idea, and the skills of the creative leader to make that idea happen.

Mark Figliulo is founder and CEO of Figliulo&Partners.


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