Opinion

Today’s creative departments lack a sense of pride in the job

Former ad agency creative director Dave Trott argues that today's young creatives are lacking the most important thing a team can have: a sense of pride.

A year or so back, I was chatting to a young creative team who’d just got a job.

I said “Which one of you is the art director?” They shrugged and said “We both are.”

I said “Okay, so who’s the copywriter?” They said “Well, we both are really.”

I said “Then who types up the body copy?” They said “Well we share that.”

I said “Okay, who does the layout, who chooses the type, the photographer?”

They said “Well we just do a rough and give it to the head of design, he does all that.”

That was pretty much the end of the conversation.

I felt I was talking to children, not professionals. But that’s the sort of teams we’re hiring nowadays. They can’t do layouts, they can’t write, and they don’t even care. Just explain to me why a creative director would hire untrained children.

My art director for thirty years, Gordon Smith, was dyslexic. So he checked every word with a spellchecker he carried in his pocket. No one was going to do his job for him, no matter what. He often wrote better headlines than me, but he didn’t see that as his job.

His job was spelt with a cap A and cap D.

No one dared change anything on Gordon’s ads, and that included all the way up to colour correction on final proofs.

He wouldn’t have let that young team sharpen his pencils for him. Because what Gordon had that they didn’t have was pride.

Pride in not letting anyone do any aspect of your job better than you could.

Pride in not wanting to look like an amateur.

David Abbott had pride in his job. John Webster had pride in his job. Tony Brignull had pride in his job. Paul Arden had pride in his job. John Hegarty had pride in his job.

All the greats had pride.

That’s why they were the best.

Under “Profession” John Webster had “Art Director” in his passport.

He didn’t have “Well not sure really, I just do a rough and give it to someone else.”

Of course we want great ideas.

But no one gets there without first having pride in what they do.

Helmut Krone was maybe the greatest art director ever.

He said: “I can’t wait for the copywriter to leave after work. Once we’ve had the idea I want to go in the studio and start experimenting with different looks and different typefaces. I don’t want him looking over my shoulder giving his opinion. When he comes in, in the morning, it will be the same ad we talked about last night, but he won’t recognise it.”

My wife was an art director at AMV with David Abbott.

She said that whenever she was putting together an ad she’d done with him, David stayed late into the night until the ad was totally finished.

He stayed in case a line of copy was too long and needed changing.

If the ad looked better for losing several characters, David would make sure he was the one to choose which characters to lose and how to rewrite the line.

Pride is why he won more awards than almost anyone else. Pride is also why his name is on one of the biggest and best agencies in Europe.

Lack of pride is why I can’t even remember the names of that young team I talked to.

Dave Trott is a consultant, author and former ad agency creative director. This article was first published on his blog.

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