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Future creative: Where do you see the role of the ECD going in the next 10 years?


We asked 12 ECDs across the media, marketing and advertising agencies some questions about their daily lives and the key issue facing them while doing their jobs. Here are some of last week’s responses.

This week we ask – among other things – “where do you see the role of the ECD going in the next 10 years?”

Lisa Taylor

Lisa Taylor – executive creative director, Yakkazoo

Do ECDs have a similar way of thinking? Or is it vastly different? Do you all get along in the industry?

Each creative has their own unique way of distilling information and ideas so of course we all think differently, but the creative process is likely to have similarities. I hope we all get along! The big picture is we are better as an industry if we are working together to grow and advance it as a whole.

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Where do you see the role of the ECD going in the next 10 years?

There will be a dramatic shift in skillsets required to create and innovate in an even more digitally engaged and information overloaded world. More collaboration is happening already between creative teams and other disciplines to ensure that we are aligning our messaging to the target audience in an interactive and real way. How people consume media, how they expect to be spoken to has changed so drastically over the last five to ten years that I think in another ten they will be vastly different still. Most of that relates to greater personalisation of messages, programmatic targeting, and experience-led concepts. I think the ECD roles will begin to encompass more than design and oversee the communications from a more macro business view.

What are you reading/listening to?

The Moth podcasts are a great humanitarian fix. I love the spontaneity of the live storytelling and that you can select episodes from 6 mins to 60mins. https://themoth.org/podcast

Alex Toohey

Alex Toohey – ECD, Houston

Do ECDs have a similar way of thinking? Or is it vastly different? Do you all get along in the industry?

I think we are all after that holy grail of an idea, but we all seem to get there on different wheels. I have worked with a few ECDs who have been trained and mentored in similar circles, so have naturally learnt similar methodologies, but I think we all change and adapt quickly, especially these days, shaping and developing our own ideation approaches: ways of working with our teams, how we tell a story, what drives us? So ultimately we’re all similarly influenced but have our own different perspectives which must lead to different ways of thinking. For example, I have learnt a lot from Houston’s CEO and Founder, Stuart O’Brien, who has an amazing business and strategic mind. I am lucky to have a handful of ECD friends whom I consider friends for life, but I’m sure I’d also get along with the rest of them!

Where do you see the role of the ECD going in the next 10 years?

When you think about what has occurred over the last 2-3, 10 years feels like a stretch. I think ECDs need to stay at the forefront of change, be ready to adapt and not hold on to old ways of working. But I think at the heart of the ECD role is the appreciation of the people around them, not taking anyone for granted and that there is always an opportunity to make a difference through the creative idea.

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What is the most frustrating part of the industry for you as an ECD?

Currently, the separation from the team doesn’t allow for spontaneous ideation, being able to bounce ideas around the room and draw from multiple views, perspectives, opinions. I find the remote creative process limiting, lacking flow and is just not as fun.

What do you think ECDs deserve credit for that they don’t currently get in the industry?

I mean, ECDs seem to get a great deal of the credit vs the wider team that contribute to the end picture. But if I need to give you an answer – it would be credit for the effort taken to really understand a business ambition, objective and strategy – to take that and translate it into a creative solution that can lead to real change.

What is the most exciting overall development in your industry now?

I think the industry is changing as it tries to keep up with the acceleration of global environmental and social change: the projects and products we are creating for brands are becoming more and more focused on sustainability, social change and Indigenous respect and connection. The positive effect of the pandemic has woken us up and given us perspective, compassion and understanding of the importance for human connection, and the louder voice of activism having to confront climate change, social inequality – that we are all on this planet together. In our role we have the privilege and responsibility to be on the right side of change, which is exciting.

What are you reading/listening to? 

Barely have time to read the first chapter of a novel but love the Art Collector magazine and keeping across emerging visual artists.

Tim Brown

Tim Brown – ECD, Enigma

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Do ECDs have a similar way of thinking? Or is it vastly different? Do you all get along in the industry?

In my experience all ECDs want the same thing but each has different styles. The best are a combination of great leadership, strategically genius creative brains, brilliant presenters, great talent mentors and are decent people. I find that the truly exceptional in our business are very nice people. The wankers are the ones with middling talent.

Where do you see the role of the ECD going in the next 10 years?

An ECD needs to adapt to change in culture and consumer mindset. I’m excited to see so much amazing talent from diverse backgrounds coming up through the ranks. And look forward to seeing the impact a diversity of brains will bring to the industry over the next decade.

What are you reading/listening to?

Masterclass is a must-have for anyone interested in getting better. From writing smarter, to performance, to negotiating – it has it all.

Wez Hawes

Wez Hawes – ECD, Innocean

Do ECDs have a similar way of thinking? Or is it vastly different? Do you all get along in the industry?

I think ECDs, like most creatives, have a different way of thinking, as we all draw from our own experiences, educational backgrounds and cultural references. It would be pretty boring if we all thought in the same way, which is why it’s so important to have diversity and gender equality in our industry.

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It’s such a small industry here in Australia that we generally all know – or at least know of – one another. I get along with most of the other ECDs, however, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have an Arya Starkstyle list of ECD enemies that comes in really handy for motivational purposes during pitches.

* Where do you see the role of the ECD going in the next 10 years?

I think the shift over the next ten years will see ECDs working almost as consultants to their clients and partners. By that I mean the relationships will be so close and the understanding of the client’s business so nuanced, that ECDs will be an extension of their marketing team and be able to predict client challenges, then extract briefs, rather than just wait for them to come in. This is already happening of course, but it’s only going to become more integral to the role. Clients – and agency CEOs – are demanding we lean in more and that excites me.

* What are you reading/listening to?

We’ve just signed the creative department up to Julia Donaldson’s (children’s author who wrote The Gruffalo) Creative Writing course through BBC Maestro. Any spare time is currently devoted to that. I’m learning so much from her thought processes and techniques. The whole experience feels like your favourite Granny reading you a bedtime story too.

Michael Oso-Hughes

Michael Oso-Hughes, ECD (director of design), VERSA

Do ECDs have a similar way of thinking? Or is it vastly different?

I’d hope it’s vastly different. Diversity of thought is something that should be encouraged and embraced across the industry, regardless of role.

Do you all get along in the industry?

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For the most part, yes… but it’s pretty much impossible to get on with everyone and detrimental to your mental health if that’s your aim. For me, it’s more about respecting people rather than necessarily getting along with them and respect is earned through your personal values, the culture you create, the client partnerships you evolve and, of course, the ideas you encourage and support.

Where do you see the role of the ECD going in the next 10 years?

I’m confident that Conversational AI will become an increasingly integral part of the creative process. The technology is here and it’s at a point of maturity where it can provide immediate value. With this in mind, a lot of what can be automated will be automated. This is probably more than you think but not as much as you can imagine. The automation of certain tasks will mean a small part of an ECD’s role will be managing the interpretation and training of the AI to continually improve. The large part will still be doing what humans do best: applying empathy, emotion, and storytelling to a range of problems.

What are you reading/listening to? 

The Age of AI and our Human Future by Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt and Daniel Huttenlocher. I’m also making a conscious decision to listen to less podcasts and more music, usually techno, drum and bass or grime.

Guy Sawrey-Cookson

Guy Sawrey-Cookson, ECD, Foxtel Group

Do ECDs have a similar way of thinking? Or is it vastly different? Do you all get along in the industry?

I hope not. I hope we all think differently. It’s a passion job. I never met an ECD who didn’t love it on a good day. There’s not many ECD’s in my industry but yes we all get along fine. Except when we poach each other’s staff, then it can get a little tense.

Where do you see the role of the ECD going in the next 10 years?

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In my industry, broadcasting sport and entertainment – it’s the golden age. The content is the best it’s ever been.

There is definitely a move to do more and more creative in house- to get the people who know the shows, the sports, the brand to create the campaigns that will make people want to watch. Plus, given how competitive the landscape is, there is definitely a genuine desire to cut through and disrupt. To take risks. To be different, better and special to anything that has gone before. It’s a really exciting time. I don’t know where we’ll be in ten years, hopefully it’s stopped raining, but I know we’ll have shows and sports and movies and we’ll need to build brands around ‘em.

In the last ten years I’ve seen the old TV Dinosaur Foxtel transform into a lean super streamer – anything is possible in the next ten.

What are you reading/listening to? 

Re-watchables with Bill Simmons is essential listening. The way those guys effortlessly and fluently dance around sport, movie and pop culture references is incredible. They are doing what they love, and they are bloody good at it. It’s spawned a Fox Creative movie club of sorts. We are doing pulp fiction next week, with a $5 shake.

Hans Hulsbosch. Picture: James Horan / Wish Magazine

Hans Hulsbosch, ECD, Hulsbosch

Do ECDs have a similar way of thinking? Or is it vastly different? Do you all get along in the industry?

We don’t meet up too often and if we do, we rarely talk shop. Only some of us think about how to build a great team, think strategically and how to create unique ideas for our clients. But there is always a vast difference in the outcome, depending on experience, leadership and creativity.

Where do you see the role of the ECD going in the next 10 years?

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The pandemic has been a difficult proposition for many brands unable to steadily move forward but dramatically and fundamentally change, having to become far more animated and pivot to play in all sorts of places and spaces they haven’t played in before. The normalising of more flexible working arrangements is going to challenge the way ECDs create culture and instil behaviours. The role is shifting and broadening at speed to be more – from a ‘director’ to an ‘influencer.’

What are you reading/listening to?

I am currently reading Block, Delete, Move On by Lalalaletmeexplain about the highs and lows of dating. A great psychological guide in finding a partner and how to live your best life. I’m listening to Montero by Lil Nas X, a ‘peek into the mind of an artist who is unafraid of himself’ and rediscovering the band that started it all and still influences music today: The Beatles.

Bart Pawlak

Bart Pawlak – ECD, 303 MullenLowe

Do ECDs have a similar way of thinking? Or is it vastly different? Do you all get along in the industry?

Advertising today strikes me as a homogenous business. Particularly since the internet removed borders and turned it into one global industry. We all have the same reference points and admire the same work. We all face similar challenges. We all tend to fold our arms and glare impassively for publicity shots. Certain cultural differences may account for a degree of diversity but not like they once did when the world was less interconnected. And so, while I’m sure many ECDs like to believe they are unique, I’d argue that we all come from a similar school of thought. Paradoxically, this doesn’t always translate to a spirit of fraternity. Finite opportunities, well-developed egos, as well as the insecurity that often plagues creative people, seem to get in the way of genuine connection. Particularly, in a small industry like Australia and absolutely to our detriment.

Where do you see the role of the ECD going in the next 10 years?

I see the role of the ECD as a discipline-neutral advocate for creativity and an overall catalyst for creative thinking, across the entire business, as increasingly vital. Particularly in an industry that loves to become enamoured with shiny new skills that promise higher margins. If they haven’t already, soon every agency will transform to match the needs of the market and offer a myriad of very similar end-to-end services. However, creativity will remain the key ingredient in distinguishing one agencies cornucopia of services from another’s and making them valuable. It’s in my mind no accident that one of the world’s most famous creatives was recently placed at the helm of one of the world’s leading consulting firms. Feels like the universe is betting large on creativity and the people who are its strongest champions.

What is the most frustrating part of the industry for you as an ECD?

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The common disconnect between agencies and clients. Agencies feeling clients are marketing to themselves and their internal stakeholders instead of the intended target. Clients suspecting that agencies are being self-serving whenever they push for work that is outside everyone’s comfort zones. It’s a misalignment that is capping the potential of what we could collectively accomplish.

What do you think ECDs deserve credit for that they don’t currently get in the industry?

I personally don’t think any of us are suffering in the credit stakes. A casual scroll through LinkedIn will confirm that as an industry we have elevated constant self-congratulation to an art form. Little wonder clients occasionally look at us askance. That said, as the industry constantly transforms and agencies expand their capabilities accordingly, the ECD should be increasingly valued and credited for championing creativity as the all-important multiplier that it is. The fundamental ingredient that makes agencies unique and valuable. As confirmed by the many recent forays made by the almighty consultancies into the creative space.

What is the most exciting development in your industry now?

It’s by no means a new development, but I feel that the marriage of creativity with data science is still the most exciting, as well as the most untapped development in our industry. The genuine success of both going forward will rely on the acknowledgment of their interdependence.

What are you reading?

I’m almost at the end of a book called ‘Why Orwell Matters’ by the late Christopher Hitchens. Waiting on the nightstand is ‘Peril’ by the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. Pretty dry for someone with ‘creative’ in their title, I guess. But politics and history have always been my go-to for understanding human behaviour.

Frank Morabito

Frank Morabito, ECD, Melbourne agency Spinach

Do ECDs have a similar way of thinking? Or is it vastly different? Do you all get along in the industry?

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I’m sure we have similar challenges and therefore similar ways of thinking, but most probably, different ways of working. ECDs in larger agencies can’t possibly be on top of all the work their agency does or have too many opportunities to roll their sleeves up and do the things that got them the job in the first place. Personally, I’m in the fortunate position of being able to get on the tools when required.

Where do you see the role of the ECD going in the next 10 years?

Who the hell knows? Over the past 10 years, the rate of change in our industry has been supersonic. All creatives, not just ECDs, have had to become instant experts in all kinds of new tech, media and formats. But the fundamentals haven’t changed, and I don’t believe they ever will. I just hope we don’t have to become expert AI programmers.

What are you reading/listening to? 

Recently, in an article just like this, a creative mentioned the book ‘The Penguin History of the World’, by J.M.Roberts. It’s described as ‘a magisterial sweep through time and history.’ It is the most powerful thing I have ever read. Do yourself a favour.

Jon Austin

Jon Austin, ECD, Host/Havas

Do ECDs have a similar way of thinking? Or is it vastly different?

I certainly think most ECDs, regardless of era, want to create work that makes a genuine mark on the world and help build enduring and memorable brands. But, while our egos apparently haven’t decreased too much, I think where modern ECDs differ from those we had coming up through the ranks is our capacity for empathy and collaboration.

I remember once, a while back, I was asked how often I made people in my agency cry, as though treating people so terribly it impacted their mental health was a badge of honour. I’m happy to say I believe ECDs today have veered away from that model of leadership.

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Do you all get along in the industry?

Sure. I think there’s very little animosity between Aussie ECDs. Whilst it’s competitive (as creativity should be), the industry is small enough that most of us have either worked together or hung out enough that we absolutely get along. Alex at BMF knows I think Tourism Tassie’s ‘Come down for air’ is one of the greatest lines ever written. Pia and I go way back to Host and OGB days. Jim and Fitz at Clems Melbourne know about (and have capitalised on) my debilitating fear of slugs. It’s a very amiable group.

Where do you see the role of the ECD going in the next 10 years?

We expect creatives to be more hybridised, and I think that expectation should absolutely apply to ECDs too. Our CEO Laura Aldington wrote a brilliant piece for International Women’s Day that used the term ‘weaponised incompetence’. Granted it was used in a very different context in her article, but I think the theory applies to anyone in a position of leadership. If you refuse to learn new skills because ‘you know best’ or you don’t like the way things are going, you won’t make it another 3 years, let alone another 10. Successful and enduring ECDs are willing to put their insecurities aside, and be shit at new skills in order to learn, improve and better collaborate with their team and their clients.

What are you reading/listening to?

It sounds like a plug, I know, but I’m listening to Crime Interrupted – a six-part podcast we’ve recently done in partnership with true crime team Casefile for the Australian Federal Police. It de-classifies six of the most notorious serious crimes in Australia and is currently the number one true crime podcast in Australia. It involves human trafficking, child sex rings, Netflix scams, drug importing, and an Aussie who thought he’d found true love online, only to discover the woman of his dreams was a group of West African kidnappers. Check it out.

Andy Fergusson

Andy Fergusson, ECD, Leo Burnett Australia

Do ECDs have a similar way of thinking? Or is it vastly different? Do you all get along in the industry?

I think ECDs often have vastly different ways of thinking. Some are instinctual, scatterbrained geniuses, some are more analytical and strategic, and others are just really good at coaching

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the best out of their team. The reality is, we’re primarily judged by our output, so there’s plenty of room for different personalities, skill sets and ways of working in senior creative leadership.

I think there’s a general comradery and respect between ECDs in the industry, particularly this current generation. There’s definitely a friendly rivalry at play, but creatives generally want to see each other succeed because it pushes us all to do better. The toxicity we see in some corners of our industry very rarely comes from the people doing the good work.

Where do you see the role of the ECD going in the next 10 years?

I think there’s already been a major shift away from the dictatorial ECD role that we saw in the past. The increasing complexity and speed of our industry requires more conversation and collaboration to ensure that we understand the changing marketing landscape and audiences. However, there will always be a need for a clear creative vision and focus. There’s a reason ‘designed by committee’ is not meant as a compliment.

What are you reading/listening to? 

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts of late. Mostly comedy, because the world is pretty serious right now. A couple of favourites are ‘Smartless’, and ‘Off Menu’ with James Acaster and Ed Gamble.

Simon Bagnasco

Simon Bagnasco, ECD, Saatchi & Saatchi Australia

Do ECDs have a similar way of thinking? Or is it vastly different? Do you all get along in the industry?

Every creative director approaches the ‘direction’ part of their job in their own way – with their own background and experiences informing how they do things. More and more it’s how well you work with other disciplines and skill sets that makes the difference. Rather than just being able to pick a great idea, sell it and make it.

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Yes, we all get along. Some of us even high five when we see each other.

Where do you see the role of the ECD going in the next 10 years?

When I started out there was very much a type and style when it came to creative leadership. Fortunately that’s changing. More diversity in opinions, styles and backgrounds is great to see and something the industry needs to encourage and keep pushing for.

What are you reading/listening to? 

Reading a Jerry Lee Lewis autobiography called Hellfire. Watching a spy drama called ‘the bureau’ and always listening to ‘the daily’ podcast by NY Times.

The post Future creative: Where do you see the role of the ECD going in the next 10 years? appeared first on Mumbrella.



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