‘Dedicated’, ‘nice’: how in-house CDs are different

A recent job advertised at LEGO Agency got us thinking about what it takes to be an in-house Creative Director

The new Vice President, Creative at LEGO Agency should be “dedicated and nice”. Nice? That’s perhaps one of the more surprising qualities specified in the job description for a recently advertised role which some in our community have described as a dream job.

It set me thinking about the Creative Director role in-house and how it differs from an external agency. Expanding on that “dedicated and nice” requirement, the LEGO ad explains that “you’re a highly creative person in your own right, but you are equally admired for your values and generosity to others”. So none of the stereotypical prima donna Creative Director behaviour of yesteryear, thanks.

Also in the ‘nice to have’s are a requirement for the successful candidate to be “highly collaborative and interested in agile methods of working” and to “believe that creativity is not for the few, but for all and that ideas can genuinely come from anywhere”.

Such an approach will be no surprise to those of you who heard LEGO Agency’s Emma Perkins on one of our panels last year. One of the great advantages of the LEGO Agency (and of many IHAs) is that its proximity to the business and ability to collaborate with other disciplines such as insight and data teams, marketeers, engineers, product designers and content teams allows creatives to be proactive in solving business problems and pursuing opportunities. But that may require a different mindset to what someone joining from an external agency may be used to. “The thing that strikes agency people when they join the LEGO Group is that they realise they are not necessarily going to be the most creative person in the room anymore, and that’s a bit of a shock to some people,” Emma told us.

Leading an in-house creative department, as the LEGO job description makes clear, still requires a CD to be responsible for the quality of the work and build the agency’s reputation with brave, bold ideas, just as they might at an external agency. But there are some differences in emphasis or additional challenges that await an in-house creative leader.

Often with a CMO and/or head of agency, an in-house CD may be responsible for setting the remit and vision for the agency. Is it primarily a production studio or is the ambition to be a full-service agency? Or something in-between? What type of work will it be responsible for? Where will it need external help?

An in-house CD may also own the direction of the brand. Another recent job ad for the Global Creative Director for Vodafone sets this out. Here, the successful candidate will need to “define and lead the brand and champion it across the business”, and “be champion for ensuring the brand shows up in everything we do as a business”.

In his Breakfast Briefing for us last month, ITV Creative’s ECD Tony Pipes emphasised how much work he had to do in order to build trust among stakeholders in him and in the agency, which was moving from being primarily a studio producing trailers to a fully-fledged agency. This is such an important part of the in-house CD role – being that face of the agency, getting out and talking to colleagues across the business, convincing them that the IHA can help them. As is setting out the rules of engagement for the agency: Briefing, approvals, timelines – ‘this is how we would like you to work with us and why’.

And the role within the creative department itself has different challenges to someone leading an external agency creative department. You have to build a creative culture within an organisation that may not itself be particularly ‘creative’ or accepting of the necessity to be able to try and fail. You have to protect and support a team whose role may not be understood by colleagues outside the department. And you may have to work harder to attract talent, particularly if your IHA is located outside one of the main cultural hotspots or is working in an industry that may not be perceived as particularly exciting.

Being an in-house CD is a hugely challenging role but, at a time when dissatisfaction with external agencies is growing, there’s probably never been a better time to be one.

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