From interns to your most experienced team members, everybody can use coaching no matter what their discipline. If you have pride in your work, as most people do, improvement is a career-long pursuit. As a team member of various in-house agencies over the years, I have always welcomed input, whether I agreed with it or not. In the vast majority of cases, the creative director was making a valid point and my work was easily adjusted to incorporate his or her thinking. The work was better for it. And, if there was disagreement, at least I had a chance to share my thinking. On the other side of the coin, as a team leader, I have seen the most success from following these five tips:
- Coach in-person. When making suggestions, I’ve learned the right way to do it is in person. It’s important to give your team members, whether writer, art director, designer, producer, or digital artist, a chance to explain and/or justify their thinking. Sometimes that will change your mind. The benefits of productive dialogue outweigh the alternative of scribbling some direction on a piece of copy or layout and sending it back without any discussion whatsoever. It’s demotivating at best. Sure, in certain circumstances it may be unavoidable, but it should be the last option, not the first.
- Keep it in the team. When possible, it’s best when coaching comes from within the in-house creative team, rather than from another job function or team (account service, marketing, sales, segment director, etc.) Although it is rare to find a perfect situation where this behavior never happens, it can be beneficial if external coaching is kept to a minimum. It seems that this external coaching, from other departments or teams, is often subjective and can be irrelevant if feedback involves creative direction. e.g. “Can you make the logo bigger?” “I don’t like that photograph.” And the list goes on.
- Keep Criticism Constructive. It is common to see creative directors with an art or design background critique concepts by questioning the typeface, leading, kerning, or position of copy/photography and never address the fundamental idea. Keep the priorities straight. Some of those calls are entirely subjective and don’t affect the communication. Again, this type of feedback is demoralizing, at best, so resist the urge and critique only when necessary.
- Tie goes to the creator. As a team leader, I have had a lot of success in my career by letting the creative person or team win the “tossups.” When it was a 50-50 call, it was more motivating to let the people working for you win the argument. The perceived freedom also cultivated a more creative environment for future projects.
- Show and tell. An unexpected coaching success that I have implemented on various teams is “Show and tell.” On occasion, I’ve invited team members to bring in examples of outside work they think is great so everyone can see, discuss, and learn. Not only does this allow for learning and exposure to industry trends, but it also cultivates an environment of creative freedom.
In summary, mentoring is one of, if not THE, most important aspects of your job as a creative leader. You are not doing your job if you are not developing your talent to their fullest potential. And, in most cases, people will remember and appreciate you for that down the road. Despite what many think (“I’m not very creative”), creativity can be taught. I was fortunate enough to have my first creative director spend time teaching me the tricks of the trade, many of which I am now passing along to subsequent generations.