5 Rules for Being an In-House Creative Director

Guideposts for a broader view of creativity
Rule #1: Rewire your creative switchboard.

When you build a creative team in-house, the first thing you need to understand is that creatives are just one department in the midst of a vast and differentiated network of wildly talented people. You need to rewire your creative switchboard—the notion that a place exists solely for the purpose of creative comms—and start to see the bigger picture of what all it takes to build a functioning brand. I now see myself as a creative leader with a bigger purpose—at the service of every department and product team. These days, good creative ideas aren't just the shiny ads or the most expensive Super Bowl spot; they're all the dots we're connecting and the problems that are being solved at scale. Because the best ideas happen when we start listening and when we stop working toward our own agendas. Allowing other teams to breathe life and perspective into your creativity is what lays the foundation for a company where everyone is aligned on building the same brand. And that's powerful. 

Rule #2: Strip the layers.

I love being close to the process of making. That's why I believe in simplifying processes in favor of better communication and relationships. Less layers. As many seats as we need at the table. A few years ago I texted a director: "Hey, I have the perfect project for you. We can shape the work together from start to finish. What do you think?" A week later we had a stellar team including a movie set designer and a documentary cinematographer ready to make work for a brand they hadn't really stopped to consider. They were struck by our willingness to collaborate and the opportunity to be part of the decision-making process. No matter how it's structured or restructured, the many layers of traditional advertising and agency models tend to isolate the creatives and makers who should really be sharing in every step of the process. In addition, this way of working fosters a deeper sense of understanding and respect within the whole company—because we all start to see and understand how considered and powerful the creative process can be.

Rule #3: Stop making things for the sake of it.

Are big ideas the same as 10 years ago? In my opinion, briefs that are built around things like "a big TV ad during the Oscars'' or "next year's Super Bowl spot" shouldn't exist anymore. We must create with the awareness that whatever we put out in the world has one main question to answer: "WHAT'S GOING TO FOLLOW?" Creatives often underestimate the "longevity" aspect of an idea and let's not make shiny things for the sake of it or just to hire the most expensive talent out there.

I know many people hate the expression "An idea that has many legs." I actually love it! I conjugated for myself the expression of "millipede thinking" as looking for creative ideas that can work across multiple moments and media, even the ones that creatives might find boring at first. For me, that's the meaning of building a brand nowadays. The work needs to connect as much as it communicates.

Rule #4: Creative leaders equal strategic leaders

Behind any successful work, there is always a badass strategist. That's why I encourage any creative person in-house to think of themselves as a hybrid creative and strategist.

Is the brief wrong? Rewrite it. It doesn't matter if your title is art director or copywriter and not strategist. When I was a younger creative, I found myself often without any awareness of how my work could actually impact a brand. Why didn't we connect our people with those brand stakeholders who actually have the answers for the work to be successful? This is important to anyone in-house or at an agency to implement all of this to make teams stronger.

Rule #5: Generate creative energy within your company

You must bring people with different experiences and expertise along on your journey. You'll soon realize how creative ideas are contagious: Everyone will rally around that good idea because they love it, too—and they'll put in all that extra effort and passion, because now it's their idea, too. This is how you create trust with your fellow marketers and stakeholders. It's how you generate that creative energy that's at the foundation of most successful campaigns.

You can make the weirdest, funniest ads in the world, but the challenge today is to create work that genuinely excites people in and outside your company. That's how you know you're onto something bigger than yourself.

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Gianmaria Schonlieb
Gianmaria Schonlieb is a creative director at Lyft.

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