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Andy Fergusson

Getting creative: The most frustrating part of the industry for ECDs


You can imagine a world without Executive Creative Directors, but it would be a bland place indeed.

Managing the creation of a company’s creative identity and ensuring its dissemination across all media channels, ECDs consult with stakeholders and executive-level management to determine how a business will be portrayed to the public.

The executive creative director oversees a department that develops creative content or products.

How much does an ECD make? Well, the national average salary for an Executive Creative Director is $235,000 in Australia.

The salary range of creative directors in Australia in 2021, by experience level (in 1,000 Australian dollars). Source: Statista 2022 [click to enlarge]

We asked 10 ECDs across the media, marketing and advertising agencies some questions about their daily lives and the key issue facing them while doing their jobs.

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Lisa Taylor

Lisa Taylor – Executive Creative Director, Yakkazoo

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

Misalignment between marketing, creative and comms planning can cause frustration. Everyone inevitably wants what’s best for the business/client in question, but each department can have different ideas of what success looks like. The answer is to always focus on your appreciation of what everyone brings to the table and great collaboration.

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

As a creative director you’re often seen as the ideas person, rather than the jack of all trades person, which you often are! I enjoy the diversity of my work and the level of input varies from client to client, but as an ECD the skill is strategically identifying and realising the creative nuggets across a number of platforms, disciplines, tactics, and people. It’s more encompassing than most would think.

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

With an ‘attention economy’ revolt together with post-COVID mindsets, people want to see more empathetic, human communication. Starting and being part of a conversation. There are so many important topics being addressed in the world and brands are seeing the value in aligning with what they truly believe in and helping fuel the conversation. This means as creatives we are able to help effect positive change in the world and that’s really exciting. For our clients, it means we can be authentic and clever. Consumers want more connection, more relevance, and more focus on what they care about. This is a win for all concerned.

Tim Brown

Tim Brown – ECD, Enigma

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

Discovering, nurturing, growing, and retaining great creative talent is both incredibly rewarding and frustrating because the talent pool is small. And in some cases, the ambition isn’t there.

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

I don’t think any of us are sitting around complaining about not getting credit for what we do. The best ECDs guide the work and allow the team to take the credit.

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

TikTok is a phenomenal platform that in a very short timeframe has captured the attention of millions. It’s exciting to change and adapt how we communicate and create content specifically for this channel. It’s especially important for the work we do with Spotify.

Wez Hawes

Wez Hawes – ECD, Innocean

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

Awards. Just the sheer amount of them. Can everyone just chill.

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

Our people skills. Ian Heartfield, while he was the BBH London CCO, said that the ‘E’ in ECD represents ‘people’. That’s the difference between a CD and an ECD. As an ECD you have a responsibility to put your people first, not yourself. The best ECDs in my opinion are part life coaches, part mentors, part therapists. That’s also why the jump is so hard to make for some.

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

The diverse skill sets and backgrounds of the people charged with ‘cracking the idea’ is a development that excites me. I don’t think we’re seeing the death of traditional art director and copywriter teams in terms of ownership of an idea, but it does feel like the more modern agencies are constructing ‘creative gangs’ to tackle briefs from the get go. I like seeing media strategists, designers, CX, social, and digital thinkers, all pulled in and assembled depending on the problem and task.

Michael Oso-Hughes

Michael Oso-Hughes, ECD (Director of Design), VERSA

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

Throughout my career it’s always frustrated me how much amazing creative talent leaves the industry due to work conditions or burnout. Focusing on effectiveness, rather than efficiency, has been something of a mission for me. Luckily, I’ve found myself with like-minded people who have pioneered and promoted the four-day work week, remote working and the processes required to align and deliver. It’s amazing how effective people can be when they’re happy and have a clear idea of what they’re doing.

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

As a leader, any credit an ECD gets should be immediately redistributed to the wider team. That said, teams are increasingly cross-functional, so the best ECDs are the ones who can address, encourage, and embrace positive tension to unify a wide range of opinions and create the most effective ideas. It’s these ideas that pull everyone together and point them in the same direction. This is often overlooked.

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What is the most exciting overall development in your industry at the moment?

Conversational AI and machine learning are revolutionising the conception and creation of ideas. Multi-modal conversational interfaces are the natural progression of digital design, bringing a layer of human empathy to advanced technologies; plus, the underlying AI models can be pointed away from spoken and written languages towards design and programming ones. This has led to the emergence of powerful natural language creation tools where you simply type what you want – whether it’s an image or a coded app – and it’s delivered. It’s definitely early days but it’s already simplifying repetitive studio tasks and enhancing creative teams by connecting previously unexplored thoughts.

Guy Sawrey-Cookson

Guy Sawrey-Cookson, ECD, Foxtel Group

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

Lack of risk taking. Bland, predictable marketing is frustrating. Good risk taking takes a lot of planning and time. At Fox Creative we try to live by John Marsden’s great philosophy of “Take care, Take risks”. We strive to create campaigns that make the CEO nervous, customers happy and ourselves proud. It’s not always easy and it just won’t happen if you are not perfectly aligned with the marketers and the execs. We are getting there.

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

People management. I love that side of the job, but it’s not just a side – it is the job. Managing up, down, sideways. Managing clients, being the client. We do the advertising, creative, branding and within reason creative production for the Foxtel Group. We support the huge production requirements of Fox Sports, the Foxtel Original productions from the ground up, the integrated brand campaigns and all Foxtel advertising campaigns. It’s a lot of people management. I’d say if you want to be an ECD you’ve got learn how to tap dance.

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

I’m genuinely excited about Sustainability and Socially Conscious Best Practices in the industry. We’ve turned a corner, finally. Everyone wants to do the right thing. People want to work for an environmentally and socially conscious employer. Customers want to buy from responsible businesses. It’s now possible to track each creative project from start to finish and showcase the savings and benefits you have brought to the planet. It may be a boring answer and we have a long way to go but I find it genuinely exciting.

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Hans Hulsbosch. Picture: James Horan / Wish Magazine

Hans Hulsbosch, ECD, Hulsbosch

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

Young talent coming through are just not getting the exposure to conceptual thinking. There is so much more roll out to develop for clients, that a lot of young talent are just not getting the exposure to contribute. It’s so easy these days to make design look great and it gets too much focus – in the end ideas are what matters.

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

Brand is vital to business and it is the advice we give on brand that have a major impact.

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

Digital is still changing constantly and allowing creators and consumers of brands to do so much more. Today younger consumers have been brought up in a totally digital world, and they have no bounds to their expectations from brands. Brand identities are being developed native to digital and adapted to print – motion and UX are absolutely primary considerations, no longer secondary.

Frank Morabito

Frank Morabito, ECD, Melbourne agency Spinach

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

Over the past two years, for obvious reasons, it’s been incredibly difficult to bring people together. Not just agency people, but clients, and production people too. Part of an ECD’s job is to make collaboration happen, to create environments where creatives can share ideas, where we can meet with clients and dig deep into their business problems. Sadly, this isn’t happening enough.

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

Two things:

  • Creating an environment where people can do great work, which includes all the admin and boardroom stuff.
  • Being a brand Yoda. Sometimes, as creatives, planners and clients move to new roles within an organisation or entirely new jobs, the ECD is the one they seek to discover what before has come and what holds the future.

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

The way different formats, different media, different platforms have become part of the communications palette. But no matter what you’re playing with, strong, attention-getting ideas still rule.

Jon Austin

Jon Austin, ECD, Host/Havas

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

The speed at which the industry operates means that we can struggle to keep up with pop culture, and in doing so, fail to truly maximise the cultural impact of our creativity.
Thankfully, not every project requires us to work at the speed of culture, but when those brilliant, fleeting moments arise, it can at times feel like we’re cruise ships trying to pivot to catch cultural waves. Ryan Reynolds’ agency Maximum Effort calls it ‘fastvertising’. I don’t love the name, but I do subscribe to the theory. Collaborative creative, expedited approvals, a strong adherence to the whole ‘done is better than perfect’ mentality. The result? Work that cuts through by feeling incredibly relevant. If content is becoming more disposable, and our ideas’ shelf life is getting shorter, we need to work faster to ensure it hits harder.

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

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I feel like this question is a trap. ECDs already claim too much credit for stuff.

What is the most exciting overall development in your industry at the moment? 

I actually feel like the most exciting development in our industry is our audiences’ ability to block us out of their lives. Right now, 91% of people think advertising is more interruptive than ever. There are 6.6 screens in the average Aussie household, and over 60% of people switch to another one when ads come on. Increasingly, people have both the motive and the means to avoid what we put out into the world. And that’s awesome.

It means that we can no longer afford to just blast shit into their lives, knowing they can’t avoid it. It’s not about trying and find hacks and loopholes to deceive audiences into engaging. Because it’s not them that needs to change – it’s us. And the only way we can continue to engage people is by creating stuff they actually want to engage with. Whether that’s through compelling entertainment or genuine utility, the onus is on us to pull audiences in, rather than push, unwelcome, into their lives. What a genuinely exciting, fulfilling time to be in the industry.

Andy Fergusson

Andy Fergusson, ECD, Leo Burnett Australia

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

There are many easier and more lucrative ways to make a living than advertising. But unlike most jobs, we get to create things all day. We can make people laugh and cry. We can change behaviour. And on our best days, we can even make a positive impact in the world.

So the number one frustration I have in this industry is being forced to settle for just ‘ok’, when I know something could have been great. Sometimes it’s due to a lack of time or budget, other times it’s an unforeseen circumstance. But most often, it’s that there were too many people in the process that would rather take the path of least resistance, than take a (calculated) risk on something that scared them a little.

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

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I think ECDs have always been given credit for the work. Probably too much. But the thing that struck me most when I first became a creative leader, was that you can’t afford to be ignorant about any one of the agency disciplines.

If you aren’t proficient in strategy, you won’t challenge the briefs enough to ensure they lead to great work. If you don’t understand the client’s business and internal politics, you won’t be able to sell meaningful ideas. If you don’t understand budgets and production techniques, you won’t be able to execute your creative vision. If you aren’t an expert in the craft, the final result won’t feel original and unexpected enough. And so on.

Maybe it’s an obvious point, but it’s a constant trait I see among all good ECDs I’ve worked with. And also a point that many creatives never grasp in their careers.

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

The removal of geographical boundaries is one of the most exciting developments in our industry right now. While there are certainly issues with building office culture when people are working remotely. There are huge upsides for staff and the potential to connect with talent anywhere in Australia, or indeed, the world.

Simon Bagnasco

Simon Bagnasco, ECD, Saatchi & Saatchi Australia

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

I’m frustrated by nothing, I’m prepared for everything. There is only really one thing I get frustrated by and that’s ‘anonymous’. This is a tough industry and it requires a huge amount of effort to make great work. We should applaud each other for trying. Even if we miss the ball. Sometimes it’s the valiant attempt that deserves praise. Well, apart from the praise we receive at award shows.

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

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I believe we get enough of it. It’s the creative teams and clients who put up with us who deserve the credit. They’re the real heroes.

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

We can literally make and do anything now. Our ideas don’t just have to comfortably fit in formatted shapes. There is no limit to what you can do as a creative person in this industry. We would all be well served to embrace the infinite possibilities before us and not be overwhelmed by them. ‘Nothing is Impossible,’ a wise agency once said.

Next week, we find out how well ECDs get along with each other in the industry.

The post Getting creative: The most frustrating part of the industry for ECDs appeared first on Mumbrella.



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