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I bristle against this pervasive notion that “It’s all about the Work.”

(In an attempt to cover my ass and maintain goodwill from BBDO, a network near and dear to my heart, I must quickly explain, I’m not talking about an agency’s product, nor am I taking a shot at BBDO’s rallying cry, “The Work The Work The Work.)

I’m talking about the belief – that it’s all about the work – and the hiring against this belief that causes agencies with great intentions to never change.

I know that whatever issues your agency is currently facing, they all ultimately stem back to the work, so I understand why you believe that if you hire someone who ‘has the work’, everything will be fixed overnight.

There is a difference between being able to put out ‘the work’ in an environment that has been made hospitable to doing great work by a Creative Leader that knows how to do more than ‘the work’, and creating that environment.

A big difference.

But you didn’t hire for that. You hired for the work.

The work is done by teams and teams need to be built, and attracted and hired and, once hired, they need to be inspired, and kept inspired.

Over and over and over.

Clients need to be reassured, problems need to be solved, award shows need to be entered, new business needs to be won, boardrooms need to be massaged, reputations need to be managed, and well, yes, the work also needs to get done.

Most Creative Leaders today are hired by agencies that want to change things. The problem is, if you’re only hiring for the work, you’re not hiring the Leader you REALLY need.

You’re not hiring a Creative Leader. You’re hiring a creative who just won a bunch of awards.

A Creative Leader can hire the people that will do the work, and get the best work out of them.

But see, in order to attract the Creative Leader I’ve just described, you need to start having a conversation that is the business minded conversation based on what you really plan to do.

Not, “We are going to turn this place into a creative hot shop.”

No Creative Leader will fall for that anymore.

Only creative children fall for that.

The ones that still believe it’s all about the work.

You need to figure out, before you go to market to find your Creative Leader: Real goals. Business goals. Quantifiable goals. With a timeline.

If you want to win this game, you have to stop doing what everyone else is doing and JUST hiring the book without the businessman.

These days you need both. Why not? YOU have to be both. Everyone has to be both whether they like it, or not.

(Stop hiring this way. Let me help you hire your next ECD. No I’m not going to recruit. I’m going to consult. With you and your team. I promise you the outcome will be better than you’ve ever had before.)

Which brings me to my next point.

What about you? The Creative Leader reading this post. Or the creative person reading this post.

What if you’re not both? Should you be?

You’re damn straight you should be.

I know you’re still resisting, so I’ll keep going.

Today’s Creative Leader needs to be a Business Person.

Think of the best Creative Leaders you know. Think of the ones that have gone on to positions of repute, and/or to start their own agencies (Agencies that have gone on to become agencies we give a shit about. Not the ‘also rans’. )

Aren’t they all both great creative people AND great business people? Now think of the Creative Leaders that have been appointed in the past three years. The ones that flamed out. Right. Not both. Just one. A TON OF ONE, but not both.

Sorry to tell you this: They hired you because they believed it’s all about the work. You didn’t fail b/c you don’t have the work, or the creative chops. You failed b/c of all the other stuff that I mentioned. You got broadsided. You were all alone. No one to help you.




(Don’t let that happen to you. Negotiate a coach into your contract, find a coach now and tell your agency you need it, or fund it yourself. Who? Me. That’s Who.)

Creativity is harder to learn than the Business Side. You’ve got the hard part down.

The good news (which is very very good news for Creative people) is this:

The stuff you’re good at – the Creativity? That’s where the magic is. And that’s the hard part to learn. Don’t believe me? Which is harder to judge? A good headline, or whether 2+2=4. Right. The subjectivity of creativity is where the crazy making stuff is. At the risk of MASSIVELY oversimplifying, business is numbers and numbers are numbers. Day in and Day Out.

The business part – while better if you’re born with it all, but not that many of us are unicorns – can be learned. Those Creative Leaders that inspire us? They learned it too. They saw how important it was, early in the game, and they learned it. Studied it. Those business books and magazines and articles and blogs and Facebook Pages you don’t think are important to read? They’re important to read.

Start now. Become well-rounded. If you think you may want to have the big job at the best agency some day start now.

Stop waiting. Find out what you don’t know and learn it.

As a Creative Leader whom I have done some recent work with said to me last week, “Until our first conversation, I did not know what I did not know. You have helped me to learn what I didn’t know. What I worry about, is how much more of this stuff, that I should know, I still don’t know. But at least I’m learning now and I know more than I did six months ago.”

He’s right.


Net net for everyone. Start. Start hiring Creative Leaders that check more boxes than having “The Work”.

Start becoming a Creative Leader that has more than “The Work”

~ heidi