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Be it agency or client-side, creative leadership has meant different things to different people in different types of organizations. The following is meant to clarify what an experienced CD, GCD or ECD could mean to your company right now and moving forward – should we be so lucky!

The primary purpose of creative leadership is to enhance the creative reputation of the agency, to be a creative advocate for the agency (and its clients), and to help the agency win new business and to grow organically. When and wherever I can assist in accomplishing these things, I should be enlisted. Any challenge threatening the above, I should be enlisted. Secondarily, but of no less importance, I assist in the development of strategy (conceptual and tactical) and welcome the collaboration.

Another way of looking at my process, what I do and what I feel is expected of me. Specifically:

Organizing Principle. I am interested in creative business ideas that drive our client’s business; what I call an organizing principle: a melding of strategy and hyperbole that puts a stake in the ground, demonstrating the power and potential of our client’s offering. An OP usually includes a manifesto that brings it to life, a poetic and powerful story that sets up the problem and delivers the solution. For every OP I expect proof of concept in formats relevant to the engagement, i.e. home page, product and solutions, advertising, templates, trade show booth, etc…

The Three C’s: Creation. Curating. Choreography.

  1. Creation: As a player-coach, rely on me for high-level concept development and first order copywriting.
  2. Curation: Finding the best work and making it better, combining and marrying assets to tell the best story.
  3. Choreography: Putting work together so it flows with the rest of our content and delivers maximum impact.

Pitching. As a creative face for the agency, I should play a significant role in pitches – not just creating the work in the room but also delivering it effectively.

Strategy. I can contribute on strategy (conceptual, digital, tactical, media) and look forward to helping pre-strategy and in the development of creative briefs.

Integration, Alignment & Resources. Helping to determine best fit for creative resources from the available talent pool.

If your organization (be it agency or client-side) is looking for a creative director and/or content creator, please contact me directly. I am available for contract, freelance or full time engagement. All inquiries: Steffan1@rcn.com

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When I was in college, I took a course on rhetoric and debate in 20th century America. In it, we looked at numerous famous speeches made by famous people: Lincoln, Jefferson, King, etc. Learning from great persuaders how to fashion a rational and emotional argument would later become useful as a copywriter and presenter. During that semester, no document we studied was more powerful than Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail.

I am not being glib when I say Letter from a Birmingham Jail is one of the finest pieces of long copy ever written. No question Equal Rights was and is a big idea. I like LFABJ better than King’s more famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Not because of content (both are awesome) but because of circumstances. King was alone in a jail cell when he wrote it.

On this, the anniversary of what would have been MLK’s 90th birthday; I think it a fine thing to reexamine this seminal document. An excerpt follows. The full text is linked below it.

“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

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You’re boxed in behind a slow driver. Cars speed by you on either side, making it difficult to pass. You bang your hands on the steering wheel, cussing. You flash your high beams. Honk. The driver in front of you continues as he was, probably listening to a favorite song on the radio, or maybe chatting with one of his children on speakerphone. In that moment he is an unfit driver, quickly morphing into your nemesis and all that is wrong with the world. Finally, you see an opening and tear by him, raising your middle finger. Fucking idiot! It all happens in the span of a minute. If only you could see yourself. Raving.

Fortunately, this is not you, not today anyway but rather a passage in Daily Reflections, a small book in the lexicon of recovery literature. The chapter’s title: Levitation.

Being able to view yourself from above, in a moment, in general. This is what the reading means by levitation. Seeing what is really happening versus the way it feels – perspective over pandemonium. With it, maybe one doesn’t go off at every provocation. Maybe nobody does.

Is the lack of patience human nature, besetting the entire species? No other creature stops crawling to get up and walk. Then to drive, fly and eventually break the sound barrier. Tom Cruise in Top Gun: “I feel the need… the need for speed.” Original Sin begot this defect, upon Adam and Eve’s rebellion in Eden. They could not wait. With each passing generation the concept of gratification has grown, and now the right now is all that matters. Instant gratification has zoomed past the virtue of patience like the driver from the story, adding a vulgar gesture.

The vast majority of technology and innovation is defined by speeds and feeds, not creating something new but making which already exists even faster. From primitive fire to unseen microwaves, from handwritten letters to messaging Apps, the world keeps shifting into higher gears. You want your fast food faster. Forget drive-through, there’s an App for that. And the human race races forward. You just read on the Internet (not in a magazine or newspaper) that Starkist tuna is suffering profound financial losses because today’s consumers are unwilling to use a can opener. Suddenly this tool, a mainstay in every kitchen on earth, is now obsolete. It makes sense a turn crank no longer has value but the wider implications are scary. If one of your daughters is hungry and discovers a can of tuna in the pantry, she will be clueless how to acquire its contents. She will look at it as she would a novel. No way I’m opening that. Why bother?

This is not a diatribe on the ignorance of new generations. Your children are not stupid. Rather they are lazy and impatient, as much as any addict, and you cannot blame them. Indeed, you haven’t opened a can of tuna in years. You too prefer a quicker solution for your hunger. No surprise the once iconic can of tuna is dead in the water.

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At a recent all-hands meeting, I was asked about my “creative vision” for the company. I’m not sure I provided a good answer. Not a concise one anyway. Big picture my vision is the same as any sane employee: to grow, to succeed, to become prosperous -as an agency, as individuals.

This is not the first time I’ve been asked about creative vision and philosophy. Typically, my answer lined up with whatever mantra the agency I worked for was advocating. For example, at Leo Burnett it was to create brand believers with big ideas. At Euro RSCG (now Havas), it was to make creative business ideas (not just ads). At Gyro, it was to create humanly relevant ideas for B2B and technology clients. At R2I, it’s to help accelerate connections.

Whatever the hoo-ha, the common denominator is always ideas. Specifically, I want to divine the organizing principle out of every legitimate creative opportunity we have. If/when a client comes to our doorstep with inherent gravitas, social currency or the ambition to achieve those things I would expect our creative solutions rise to that potential. Put another way: Wouldn’t it be nice if we could actually talk to our friends and family about what we made at work without their eyes glazing over?! Creative that makes a statement and leaves a footprint. I want us to do that. I want us to be seen.

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Before I was offered a new job, I visited a lot of agencies. Typically, I met with people representing the management team. It was a gauntlet. But I always expected a positive reception, from both the interviewers and myself. However, that was not always the case. At one agency, a number of the folks I met were down on their company and told me so. There were politics. There was unfairness. Dead weight permeated the company. One interviewer asked: “Steffan, do you know what you’re getting yourself into?”

Sad but true.

Complaining is common in Adland. Granted, usually not as part of a first impression but typical nevertheless. It’s not a good look. Seldom is it useful. Startled, I told the above-mentioned complainer a parable, the best thing I could think of at the time. Here is part of it:

Every day a group of men set out to forage in the desert by their village. They ventured far in order to get to the forest and its abundance of resources. At the half way point of their journey was a lone, large tree in which they took a break to rest and eat lunch. “A shame this tree,” one man said. “It has no fruit for eating.” The others agreed. “And its wood isn’t suitable for building either…”

And so on they complained. What the complainers failed to realize was the great benefit the tree provided. In fact, the old tree was a refuge. Seemingly barren, it provided shelter from the noonday sun without which their journey would have been infinitely more treacherous. This critical benefit was lost on the men. As was the unity this resting place fostered among the travelers. All was taken for granted to spite the obvious.

I recall a company meeting at a previous place of employment, a long time ago. We’d had a tough year. Morale was low. The employees were skeptical about their agency’s future. Many used the setting as a forum to voice their complaints: Management was inept, they cried. Our clients are bound to mediocrity. Woe is us!

During my turn to speak I told the story about the old tree. Our agency was beleaguered but I wanted us to appreciate all that we had: jobs, community and a place to voice our grievances freely and without fear of reparations.

In some respect I was talking to myself. Though I harbored many of my fellow’s misgivings I wanted healing words. Not apathetic ones. We’d had plenty of those already. Change was needed. And change would come. But on that day I needed gratitude. We all did. I worked for one of the greatest advertising agencies in the world. It had been hobbled but it was still there. Despite our weakened position, so were we.

Author’s note: I published a version of this story some time ago, while I was looking for my next job. Having found one, I am filled with gratitude. Here’s to never forgetting what matters…