Management for creatives who are managing creatives

By June 13, 2016September 7th, 2018Staff


Getting the best out of creative staff is a live topic for management writers and thinkers. Google about for a bit, and you’ll find plenty of people offering advice on how to get the most out of those brilliant but pesky creative staff.

Here’s Harvard Business Review, as a starting point talking about the seven rules for managing creatives. (Keep Googling from there and you’ll find plenty of people who disagree with those rules. Or even the idea that you can apply rules to creativity.)

However, most of this advice seems to be directed towards people who are not creatives, managing those who are. Which itself demonstrates a kind of inbuilt bias, assuming that it’s the ‘non-creatives’ among us who rise to management roles.

In my experience, it’s more common to be advising CEOs and managers who are themselves creatives, or who were once in purely creative roles. Often this is because businesses have evolved around one key creative (usually the business owner) and their role has changed over time to become more management that creative. Since that time, they’ve employed people to take on the creative work of the business.

This interaction of ‘creative managing creatives’ brings about tensions of its own. So here, I offer my five not-rules-but-observations of the problems experienced by creatives managing creatives.

  • They are often disappointed in the level of creative skills demonstrated by their staff. This is a dissatisfaction, sometimes quite undefined, that the staff member’s creative work should be better. It’s a tricky one because the manager is often comparing their staff’s work to the creative approach they would have taken themselves. Subjectivity is impossible.

Combat this by focussing on whether the client is happy with the work, not whether you are. The client’s reaction, not yours, is the one to address.

  • They feel frustration that their staff don’t understand the financial realities of running a business. Particularly when their creative staff want to keep working on jobs long after profitability has run out. You can keep on their backs about job monitoring, but this might stymie the creativity needed to undertake the work.

To tackle this, ensure that they are involved in the quoting stage of the job so that they have input into the time taken to complete the job. And check out this blog here about scope creep.

  • They face difficulties in communications about the briefs. “But I told them,” a creative manager might say, “that the client wanted this specific thing/needed it by then/wanted it with mag wheels…” and so on. It’s not uncommon to hear of work veering off the brief when it has passed from manager to the creative team.

Don’t forget that communication is a two way street. Don’t assume that the problem is that the staff haven’t heard you correctly; it might be the way you’re telling the story.

Experiment with different ways of discussing the brief. Work with your creative staff to find the mode that works best: a kick-off meeting? A project management tool like Trello? A formalised job sheet? Keep trying until you get to the method that works best. And check regularly that everyone has a shared understanding of the job at hand.

  • They feel that they can’t put the creatives in front of the clients. Because once they do, things go to pot. It might be that the creative staff member is great on the tools, but can’t form a good relation with the client. Or the opposite, that the creative will pander to the client and lose track of the job.

My tip here is don’t expect everyone to be great at everything. Instead, play to their individual strengths and seek to establish a team of people, which includes people with good client liaison skills. Having people with contrasting skill sets gives you the maximum flexibility in deploying those people.

  • Their staff only want to work on the ‘interesting’ jobs. And turn their noses up at the boring jobs. Even if those are the jobs which are paying the bills that month.

In this case, talk to your staff about the full range of work which comes through your business. Explain why you take on the boring jobs (timing, cash flow, etc.) and what role they have the business. And encourage them to bring in work their feel is more stimulating. If this spurs them into doing some more business development, that’s great.

Does this sound familiar? You might benefit from an initial conversation with Generate to assess your particular situation and challenges. Drop us a line, and we’ll talk about ways to start getting the best out of both you and your staff.