The ad business has a problem. It’s called "title-itis." The proliferation of way too many titles. Here’s what I found for Creative Director:
Associate Creative Director
Group Creative Director
Group Creative Head
Deputy Creative Director
Executive Creative Director
Chief Creative Officer
Global Creative Director
Global Chief Creative Officer
Worldwide Creative Director
Worldwide Creative Chief
Head of Creative/Global
I’m not sure what caused this outbreak — probably the mergers and resulting global networks didn’t help. Yet, I even see title-itis in smaller, local shops.
The symptoms of title-itis are easy to spot.
Diarrhea of credits when campaigns are posted. (Full disclosure: The Martin Agency has a bad case.)
Panic when you realize there are no creatives left in the department with the title "Copywriter" or "Art Director."
Hyperventilation when you see young kids, two years out of grad school, already at the CD level.
And so many more.
The obsession with being promoted to a certain title is the most common and obvious side effect of title-itis. "Frank is a GCD now, I should be one, too. I’m so much better than he is."
The problem with title-itis is that it doesn’t have to be like this.
I said I hate my title because it’s just not true of what I do every day. I am not a Chief. Chiefs are police officers and firemen. They wear badges. Sure, I am creative and I am an officer of our company. But there are dozens of officers of our company doing a lot of "officerley" stuff every day, yet they are simply called Account Supervisor or Operations Manager.
I am a Creative Director. I direct — like a film director — the creative that happens at the agency. I counsel clients, help shape campaigns, work on new biz, mentor the staff, recruit new talent and much more. But it’s all about "creative direction." I’m helping lead the creative direction of the place.
My mentor, Mike Hughes, was never more than "Creative Director" in his career. Mike is in every Hall of Fame that matters. If anybody should have been a Chief, it was Mike.
So what to do?
Unfortunately, the industry is suffering from an irreversible disease.
Title-itis is so systemic and such a part of the business that our only hope is to manage the pain. Sure, you could start an agency today and from Day 1 declare no titles outside CD, CW, AD and Designer. But I would bet that within a couple years you would start to see early signs of title-itis, especially if you grew, new people came in, and your best started to get offers.
Creative people want to be rewarded. It’s just the way it is. Titles are not going to go away soon. But what can go away is the false sense that a big shiny new title is an important measure of success. The most important thing is your body of work. Your creative reputation is your calling card, not the title on your business card.
I was lucky enough to work under Hall of Famer Tom McElligott very briefly at Chiat. He used to say "keep your head down and make ads." It was his way of saying that every second of every day you spend looking around not making stuff is time spent away from what matters.
To that point, here’s something I found recently after Tom retired almost 30 years ago. He was being interviewed by a newbie ad student.
It’s still, without question, the perfect antidote for title-itis.
Don’t be distracted by anything. The work is what counts. There are a lot of things that can get in your way, that take up your time and your emotional and intellectual energy; none of them account for anything. They mean nothing. The only thing, in the final analysis, at this stage of the game, that really counts, is the work. The work is everything. The years that I spent in advertising I saw an awful lot of people who had the potential to be good lose a lot of their ability to distraction, to politics, to fear, and to who has the bigger office. You’ll get the bigger office; you’ll make the money. Anything you want will happen, but sometimes it’s hard for people to see that when they’re in the middle of it. It looks like it’s incredibly complicated. Well, it’s not complicated at all. In fact, it’s so uncomplicated it’s amazing. All it is about is the work. Finally, if you do the work people will notice and you will get what you want. That’s it. It’s as simple as that.
Joe Alexander is chief creative officer with The Martin Agency.