There isn’t any one way to do an ECD’s job.
Different people do it different ways.
Some people think the job is simply to be the best creative person in the department, then lead by example.
Some think the job is simply to hire the best, most expensive, talent and leave them to it.
Neither of those worked for me.
The first didn’t work because I wasn’t the best creative person around, there were others as good, or better than me.
The second didn’t work because I couldn’t work with heavyweights.
They were too experienced, they’d won awards, they wouldn’t let me tell them what to do.
I always saw the ECD job in terms of being a football manager.
Putting a team together that beats other teams.
So, thinking like a football manager, how could I get my team to beat other teams?
I had two models: Jack Charlton and Alex Ferguson.
In each case they did it with kids.
Kids are hungry (if you get the right ones) and they don’t have families yet, so they don’t have any priorities beside work.
Work is their priority.
Especially if you get kids who are at a bad agency and desperate to prove they can do good work, you become their lifeline.
As journalists used to say about Jack Charlton’s team “They’d run through brick walls for him”.
And of course kids are cheaper than heavyweights.
So you can hire more of them.
Of course you have to pick the right kids, but that’s the creative director’s job.
That’s what you get paid for.
The way Alex Ferguson found David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Phil Neville, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, and Ryan Giggs in the youth team.
When he picked them, Alan Hansen said “You win nothing with kids”.
But that was the team that won everything, many times over.
After that it’s down to the creative director (manager) how you put the team together.
For me, you have a spine of very good, hard workers: Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Roy Keane.
Then you have a brilliant player who might be a bit lazy but can do things the others can’t, like David Beckham or Ronaldo.
So for me Nick Wray and Paul Grubb were my Scholes and Neville.
Dave Waters was my Roy Keane.
Steve Henry was my Beckham.
Steve was absolutely brilliant on premium products, like Holsten Pils.
Not so good on mainstream products, like Cadburys.
For that I’d use Dave Waters, Paul Grubb, or Nick Wray – who weren’t so good on premium products.
Mainstream products are all about cutting through and getting into the language.
Premium products are about flattering people for being clever enough to understand the joke.
Steve had been to Oxford, so he was perfect for that.
In a broader sense, I saw the planners as wingers.
It was their job to bring the ball (brief) the length of the park, then CROSS it.
Don’t try to walk it into the goal.
My job was to play as the big, traditional centre-forward with my back to the goal.
Bring the ball (brief) down, set it up and lay it off for one of the nippy little forwards (creatives) to run in and stick it away.
At least that’s how it worked in my mind.
If I was doing my job right, I’d make sure the brief was right, then I’d make sure the creative work done to that brief was right.
But I wouldn’t actually do it.
It wasn’t my job to score (unless no one else could).
It was my job to put a team together that scored.
That for me was the difference between being an art director or copywriter and being an ECD.
Alex Ferguson wasn’t nearly as good a player as Kenny Dalglish, but he was a much better manager.