Players to managers/creatives to CDs

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.

Comments 18

  1. Higg's Boson wrote:

    Everyone’s a CD these days. The ECD “promotes” a team to be CDs on a bit of business that is troublesome, time consuming or crap or all three. They will be tasked with “turning round” this bit of business and making it “award winning.”

    He doesn’t need to pay them any more money because creatives are awful wankers who get off on being able to say they are a CD and imagine that their lives will now be dispensing words of wisdom, eating at the Ivy and being blown by lady placement teams.

    Helpfully the ECD adds that they needn’t worry about not writing ads anymore as they will still be able to do that. The result. The same amount of ads to write AND being a CD on the shittest account in the agency and all that entails.

    The result. Meetings in Slough with shitheads. A queue of creatives outside the door with shit ads. A queue of account men outside the door with problems. A queue of planners outside their office with “builds” and they stil have to crack the same amount of briefs they did before they were CDs plus the briefs on the account they run that the rest of the creative department has failed to crack and need to be cracked right NOW.

    Their lives will be Work – Eat – Sleep. Day in. Day out. Even on the weekends.

    Who wants to be a CD?

    Posted 28 Jan 2012 at 4:07 pm
  2. ben wrote:

    Maybe I should have said ‘ECDs’. I mean the man or woman at the top who doesn’t write ads anymore, not the people who used to be called group heads, whose lives you so accurately described.

    Posted 28 Jan 2012 at 5:24 pm
  3. Higg's Boson wrote:

    Oh I see.

    Posted 29 Jan 2012 at 9:50 am
  4. Les McQueen wrote:

    Good article about football players becoming good managers this weekend in the FT.

    Funny how Roy Keane’s been on hiatus for the last 12 months….
    Back to the script, there’s some assumption that they suddenly break from their cuntish chrysalis and become management Red Admirals. In such an up and out culture as adland, it’s rare that creatives are left to be just what they’re good at, namely creating. Mark Reddy’s one

    but for a creative industry, it’s as regimented as fuck.

    Good article here about how it correlates in football.

    Posted 29 Jan 2012 at 3:28 pm
  5. Scamp wrote:

    I think the ‘good but not great’ creatives who nevertheless make great CD’s fortunately ARE still able to get through, Ben. They just have to serve a little more of an apprenticeship.

    Which is where the analogy with football managers does hold up.

    The superstar players tend to get catapulted in to managing top clubs straight away – Dalglish at Liverpool, Mancini at Fiorentina, Guardiola at Barcelona.

    Just as star creatives can sometimes get an ECD position without even having creative directed before.

    Whereas the journeymen players have to serve managerial apprenticeships – Ferguson, Eriksson and Hiddink all worked their way up from less fashionable clubs.

    But they still got through. As did the likes of Bernbach, Millward, and Tony Cox.

    Posted 29 Jan 2012 at 10:28 pm
  6. Original Richard H wrote:

    I’m a pretty average creative. But I’m a good ECD. Unfortunately for my department, I still have to write ads.

    Posted 30 Jan 2012 at 9:00 am
  7. ben wrote:

    Hi Scamp, true, but I wonder if there are any of the Mourinho/Villas Boas mould who have NEVER been a player (creative) and yet are allowed to work their way up through lesser purely management roles to become a top manager (ECD).

    Posted 30 Jan 2012 at 9:34 am
  8. Scamp wrote:

    Um, yeah. Football analogies are never perfect are they…

    Posted 30 Jan 2012 at 10:18 am
  9. kev wrote:

    There was a very good article in the Times Sport a couple of years ago about what makes a good manager.

    It’s conclusions were quite revealing. It said the ‘best’ players always found it hard to manage and quite often had poor records and relationships with their players.
    Seems they couldn’t understand why X player couldn’t do what they wanted them to do. And it would be frustrating and they had no way around that.
    What they failed to grasp is that not may players were/are as good as they were.
    They used Roy Kean’s outburst as an example. Roy just couldn’t get why Ireland weren’t trying to win the world cup where Mick was just trying to stop them getting a hammering.

    That’s why Roy isn’t a good manager. And to quote the Guardian from 2 weeks ago ‘Roy Kean has a distain for humanity’

    Cruyff put it in his autobiography that he found it frustrating that his players couldn’t just dribble round half a team like he could. ANd gave up management.

    Maybe really good ECDs get that. And some are just cunts.

    Posted 30 Jan 2012 at 10:45 am
  10. Anonymouse wrote:

    It’s the ‘planner as CD’ argument. An argument I am hearing increasingly ever year.

    I think the football analogy is nearly spot on. But I think while a Mourninho can operate as a successful manager, I don’t think a planner can make a good CD.

    The difference, I believe, is simply the difference between mind and body. A footballer is a physical creature. You can tell what someone is physically capable of by watching them. Then all you need is a magic man-management technique and a clever tactical brain, and you can be a football manager.

    The big problem these guys face is getting respect from the players. However, if they are a big enough character, it is not a problem. If results come, the players will respect their boss player or not.

    It’s different in creative depts, I think. The main problem is still there … how can you work for someone who’s work you do not respect? Not easily. They would have to be an incredibly likeable and inspiring person to get the team on side. But that’s not unthinkable. Such planners do exist.

    The big problem is if you’ve never had to solve the problem, you don’t know the creative process. If a team are stuck, you can’t guide them to the light because you’ve never walked those paths. You might even find yourself asking the impossible of your team. If you don’t know what it’s like to be creative against a deadline, you can’t really be a good manager. You are at a loss if things go wrong.

    Now, I do believe a ‘good’ creative can make an excellent ECD, however. The ability to bring the best out of others and to see and idea is different to being able to *have* a brilliant idea. You know enough about the creative process and the creative recesses to get the best out of people. Of course, you have to be some impressive motherfucker of a salesman etc. But it is possible.

    Likewise, it’s possible to get geniuses who make fucking terrible ECDs. The Glenn Hoddle’s who cannot understand why others aren’t as good as they are.

    You have to have earned your spurs I think. But you don’t have to be the most awarded dude on earth.

    Like anything it’s common sense. A great ECD should be a creative who, y’know, makes a great ECD.

    Posted 30 Jan 2012 at 12:34 pm
  11. boot1947 wrote:

    I think ‘famous player/great creative’ ego gets in the way of being able to manage. Mangement generally requires people skills (apart from Fergie and Dalglish, obvs). I think you need an understanding of the basics (can kick ball around without falling over/ can create an average ad, preferably with punctuation for clarity), but a huge ego can get in the way of team-building. Just a thought.

    Posted 30 Jan 2012 at 3:05 pm
  12. ben wrote:

    The Hoddle comparison brings up another issue: apparently he used to despair of his players not having his magical skillz, so he’d show them how to do it in front of the rest of team, both to put them down and to make him look good.

    ECDs actually do this quite often because it’s part of their job (looking at the work then suggesting how it might be done better), but they tend to (ought to) do it in a way that doesn’t demoralise the team.

    Also, people tend to believe that ECDs are still entirely capable of producing great ads/ideas and the only reason they don’t is because they have too much other shit to do. I guess this is true to varying degrees (there are a few ECDs out there who still like doing the work despite the consistent proof that they are no longer able to do so to a high enough standard).

    The Hoddle situation comparison happens if an ECD takes a really juicy brief away from the department then fucks it up for all to see.

    Posted 30 Jan 2012 at 3:21 pm
  13. Harry Styles barnet wrote:

    People seem to have forgotten that as well as creatives and planners vying for the top ECD jobs, there have been a few designers grabbing it instead. People who can talk about presentation, but can’t explain the strategy that got it there.

    Posted 30 Jan 2012 at 5:29 pm
  14. Original Richard H wrote:

    Hold on a minute. Perhaps I’m confused. What Planner is ‘…vying for…’ a ‘…top ECD job…’? Is that serious? Apart from Richard Huntington, obviously…

    Posted 31 Jan 2012 at 8:34 am
  15. Mister Gash wrote:

    @ 13

    Just spluttered my coffee across my keyboard.

    Planners. Vying. ECD.

    You are kidding?


    Posted 31 Jan 2012 at 10:00 am
  16. Neville wrote:

    I’ve never met him and can only go by articles and blogs, but someone like Russell Davies seems more creative (in the true sense of the word) than a lot of current CDs / ECDs.

    Posted 01 Feb 2012 at 10:17 am
  17. vinny warren wrote:

    i’m not a football fan but i am Irish so i love what Roy Keane said and did. He’s hardcore.

    i think the biggest difference between creative and ECD is/should be that you’re kind of in the parent role. your personal success has to take a back seat to others’ success.

    The worst ECDs simply use their position to PR themselves and spend their time on awards show juries and playing the role of ECD vs actually doing the job of helping others succeed.

    Posted 01 Feb 2012 at 7:25 pm
  18. john p woods wrote:

    Budgies are good at showing people how to succeed.

    Posted 03 Feb 2012 at 12:17 pm

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