Last week I was reading article about a young football manager that questioned whether his mediocre playing career would affect his ability to do the job.
The oddest thing about this doubt is that the two jobs are very different. One involves running around on a football pitch, spending fifteen minutes being told how to do it the same/differently, then running around on a football pitch. The other involves sitting watching half a game of football, spending fifteen minutes telling the players how to do it better, then watching the other half (I oversimplify, but you get my drift). So although knowledge of one might bring knowledge to the other, the mentalities must be quite different.
Look at the top managers in today: Ferguson, Wenger and Mourinho had unremarkable or non-existent playing careers, while Mancini, Ancelotti and Guardiola all played with distinction. So what can we learn from that? Perhaps that a great playing career has nothing to do with being a great manager? Some would suggest that great players would be have more respect for the words of ex-great players (I recall Roy Keane walking out on Mick McCarthy, manager of the Irish 2002 World Cup team with the words, ‘Mick, you’re a liar … you’re a fucking wanker. I didn’t rate you as a player, I don’t rate you as a manager, and I don’t rate you as a person. You’re a fucking wanker and you can stick your World Cup up your arse.”), but great players have no apparent problems listening to Wenger, Mourinho or Fergie.
In advertising this is mirrored in the differences between creatives and Creative Directors: two jobs that are utterly unlike each other, yet you only get to do one if you excel at the other. If you managed to be a selfish bastard who slagged off clients and developed a monomania over the size of a logo then apparently you’re a perfect fit for a job that involves juggling fragile egos, spending much of your day in management meetings and incorporating the views of the holding company vis-a-vis your Q3 figures.
Perhaps the business, with this conventional career progression, is overlooking some great creative directors, people who may not produce the goods when it comes to getting into D&AD, but are much more able to bring the very best out of a department. Actually, wasn’t that the case with Bernbach and Millward? Two of the greatest CDs of all time, pioneers of the creative revolution on either side of the Atlantic, were not thought to be great creatives, yet it did not affect their managerial careers one jot. Name a Bernbach or Millward ad, then name ten classics they steered through as CDs.
I suppose that, unlike in football, there’s little chance that anyone will be nursing a burning ambition to be a CD from the time they’re a teenager, so the likelihood of finding a Creative Directorial prodigy would be minuscule. But what if we’re missing out on some great CDs? What if the new Bernbach is out there somewhere, misunderstood and underrated in the creative department of an unfashionable shop? What if the hunger of frustration is stoking a genius?
I guess we’ll never know, but after several consecutive years of UK advertising mediocrity, something about the current system obviously isn’t working as well as it could. Einstein’s definition of insanity might be worth some consideration.