Should Creative Directors Be Middle Class?

This article includes guidelines for Creative Directors, but in my view, may be applicable to any professional who wants to present themselves as such, and remains highly appropriate today, over thirty years after writing.

When I first joined the company, there were five Creative Directors, each leading very large groups. Their exposure to clients was not frequent. Nor was it necessary. The business was less sophisticated and the account men of the time were involved with the evolution of the creative work from the start, knew it backwards when it was completed and could present everything from press ads and merchandising to storyboards, posters and media schedules, standing on their heads. Some better than others.

Alternative campaigns (sometimes three), with a recommended one, were often the order e: the day and m stly the campaigns were approved, sometimes with and sometimes without, damage.

The writing and visualising styles and crude strategies on which, rather by instinct than design, they were based, were beamed at primarily middle class markets. The so called established middle classes in the UK (Bank Managers and their tellers, white collared fathers struggling with school fees) still had the buying power.

Very quickly the status and individual personalities of the Creative Directors became known t(, me. Some (again) were better than others, all were different and all were special. All, needless to say, were constantly criticised but not disliked.

Their stature resulted from a variety of qualities, idiosyncrasies and accomplishments.

a) Age and long experience
b) Outstanding painters, some established
c) Novelists and established writers
d) Successful lyricists
e) Eccentric craftsmen
f) Wise cynics
g) All were middle class, having enjoyed formal education and were apparently from middle class homes.

The UK society changed. Buying power moved down the market. The so-called working class people, particularly the young, began to beat the system. Bright barrow boys without a letter after their name and a relative in high places created Carnaby Street, and fashion was set from street level. Some lads called the Beatles outraged an exasperated Liverpool headmaster and made a million pounds, women in industry became second earners in the country’s households and dreams of cars, holidays and hairdressers became a reality for all. The traditional career was seen as a drag, new vocabularies, dialects and pronunciations flooded through the proliferation of new redbrick universities. It was up with the self expression, down with the self consciousness. Up with what you are, down with where you came from.

The middle aged and middle classes cringed with fear for their young behind their privet hedges. The middle class young themselves soon discarded the outward manifestations of their parents investment and assumed working class speech, clothes and mannerisms. To be working class was in. The debs in Kensington adopted the Little Nell look.

A new breed of creative men was required for the UK advertising agencies. Writers and visualisers from the new society itself, were able to communicate with the new consumers in a language they understood.
They emerged with force, candour, quick skills, crudity and shock. They spoke like the man of the street, expletives and all, dressed like him and, given a bigger stock of Spanish wine, lived like him. Some came with scholastic merit as well, some came with raw talent alone.

They took well to most of the scene. Easily they flew in Boeings. They were at home on distant location shoots with their peers behind the camera. Some became Creative Directors and those who did were compelled to grapple with the new emerging advertising disciplines, strategy, executions, quality control and all. They were now in charge of the creative riot squads, no longer one of them.

They are now faced with the new necessity of client exposure. An ingredient of the emancipated scene to be everywhere the action is. But in many client organisations the senior management are still in the traditional middle class mould, in company with the account men and managements of their agencies (maybe resolute survival is more in their nature!). In such a situation there are talented Creative Directors who cannot bring their own case home and who are not perceived as having the presence and stature that their position demands. Either from inside, as it used to be, or from outside as is now expected.
This is a dilemma not in my view directly related to education in the academic sense. After all, we here have as Senior Creative people, men who have taken University degrees but some of these clearly are in the dilemma defined’

The dilemma is I think caused by

a) Their apparent values
b) Their presentation of themselves
c) Their lack of authority

I believe that some Senior Creative people still identify themselves too agressively, some too theatrically, with the new mass market. They should remember that our clients expect them to understand that market but perhaps resent receiving instructions from it.

Clients who do not live in the “swinging scene” that we do, of course expect us to be engagingly, and even excitingly different to them but they see one mass market every time they walk through their factory and observe the group leaders of it calling a strike from the top of a lathe. Their idea of the “pop” world, if they are older and still more senior, is the peculiar, somewhat undesirable and unedifying, group of people their children are mixing with, and if younger, the community that their children slavishly worship on the tele and at pop concerts.

“…Somebody once said that you don’t have to be working class to write successful fiction or non-fiction about them”. Somebody else said that “twenty years ago you couldn’t get a job in show business if you had an accent, today you can’t get a job in show business unless you have one”.

Relating both quotations to our business, I believe the former is true, the latter no longer true.

I do not know the agency working environment in the U.S.A. well enough to make comparisons. It may be possible there to talk like a New York cabbie and dress like a plumber and still command respect and have authority. I doubt it. I know it is not easy here. At the same time, I would emphasize that stylish, even way out dressing of the right type has certainly not done Ronnie Kirkwood any harm. Nor has the “Mr. Ordinary” speech style of Jeremy Bullmore done him any harm either. Charles Saatchi is an exceptional case. He is a successful proprietor and has made it despite his excruciating elocution.

So in what ways can our Creative Directors give themselves more stature, more maturity, more evidence of leadership, more authority without diminishing their ability, without losing their individuality, without going for a 12 month adult training course at Eton or Harrow? I would suggest that the following guidelines be considered for use by them when applicable, particularly in all conference with others and in all presentations to others.

They are based on the premise that if a carpenter only talks well about the woodwork job he is doing for the customer, he is seen as a skilled tradesman and treated as a tradesman. If he talks well about it but periodically in dialogue stands back from it, demonstrating a wider understanding of the environment in which the finished job will be, he is still seen as a skilled craftsman but is treated as a professional and a mentor.


Be Wise

e. g. Stand back-and comment on the media in which your advertisements will appear. The 20 year old prodigy ITV and its precocious relationship with the 250 years old national press.

Be aware of the wisdom of others

Quote the words of the great to make a point. Be in touch with culture

Be not a bore but be not afraid to use it.

Many are the clients who would have our voice-overs working like Figaro.

Be aware of Communications as both a giant art and giant science

Matthew, Socrates and Shaw, Roosevelt, de Gaulle and Churchill, Michaelangelo, Degas and Picasso , Edison, Marconi and Baird, Beethoven, Strauss and Baccarat, Burnett, Bernbach and Ogilvy. All teach us lessons in communications.

Be audaciously confident without being absurd

Not aggressive but sure within existing evidence.

Be equal

You are an expert on your subject, you are not inferior nor superior to the audience you are addressing. You are human, relaxed and professional.

Be aware of history

Times move fast. You remember campaign backgrounds, market backgrounds and social backgrounds whether your experience ranges back five years or twenty-five years.

Be travelled

We are marketing products in the UK, in Europe, in the world. You have travelled with your eyes open. What you see is interesting and often relevant.

Be one with intelligent folk expertise

Grass roots knowledge can often be compatible with research. Yorkshire wisdom, Lancashire thrift and Cockney opportunism are probably inimitable, certainly endearing and sometimes useful.

Be not without wit

Dry, salty, swift or sophisticated.

Be interesting

In colour, in perfect tone! At your peril, be otherwise.

Be professionally enthusiastic

Not amateurishly excited or introspectively entrenched.

Be not alone

Nor be just a member of the team. Be the affectionately respected, special member of the team!

Be like a good doctor

Nobody can describe symptoms as well as the patient.

Be an experienced impresario

Listen carefully to the “front of the house” man – he may have a good idea for the Second Act.

Be yourself

Within the context of these guidelines, be yourself. Work on yourself. You are the best raw material you have got.”

By André Newton-Carter
Vice Chairman of Leo Burnett LPE Ltd 1969 – 1976

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