Surreal set-ups

Why do some feel the urge to adopt pompous job titles like ’Creative Director of the World’? David Bernstein calls for a bit of simplicity when it comes to defining what we do for a living

A job title says what you do and/or did (see bottom of page), or it represents a notch on a greasy pole (see Patrick Baglee’s comment on ’farcical hierarchies’, Voxpop, DW 26 August).

When The Creative Business opened, Laurence Isaacson and I were clear about our roles, though he did contemplate a farcical hierarchy and thought of calling himself ’Account Controller Western Hemisphere’. We decided, however, simply to identify ourselves with the company name. Thus I would begin a pitch by saying ’I’m creative, he’s business’, and if the third member of our team was also present, I would point to him and say ’he’s limited’.

The remark was ironic, Postmodern possibly, for the last thing we respected was a restricted outlook. Indeed, we were in print announcing we welcomed specialist skills, but not specialist mentalities.

For the first few weeks our only presentation aid was the company’s name on a business card. We’d emphasise the interrelation of the two disciplines/ a creative attitude to business and a business-like attitude to creativity. We tried to live the philosophy and thus kept our business cards title-free until growth dictated otherwise and we resorted to simple descriptors.

In an earlier life I had, in fact, encountered farcical hierarchies, most remarkably when introduced to a senior figure in a famous agency. He had a global role. His card bore the title (I kid you not) ’Creative Director of the World’. Pomposity is one thing, blasphemy another.

One of the Voxpop contributors advocated not having a job title on her card as it might restrict her scope. Are creatives really inhibited by titles?

One of the freest creative spirits I had anything to do with had a definite title – though that was all he had and it was never printed on a card: ’International Creative Co-ordinator’. A colleague, Peter Langford, and I invented him at McCann-Erickson. We circulated a memo announcing his arrival from the New York head office and that he could be contacted on our number. He was subsequently copied on internal creative memos and reports. Occasionally, he (or, rather, Peter in a faultless American accent) rang the operator with important messages. It was all so plausible and the hoax reached its climax when a senior art director claimed to have been in a meeting with him. Alas, the general manager’s secretary smelled a rat and the title without a person disappeared from the agency.

In preparing this piece I sifted through a collection of business cards. Here were names I could barely recall in organisations whose function was hard to discern.

One key purpose of a business card is to place its owner. Name is not enough. Role is important, but context is vital. Too often the card conveys the impression that the recipient will have an implicit understanding of context. But for how long? I now don’t know what a ’senior service adviser’ does. Senior Service in my youth was a cigarette which borrowed its imagery from the actual senior service, the Royal Navy. But I guess that this particular adviser, in the words of a Beatles lyric, works ’in the motor trade’. And what does a ’head of innovation development’ actually do? Likewise, a ’branch consultant’? Is that a junior tree surgeon? My implicit understanding of context suggests banking – but who knows?

Another of the Voxpop contributors opposed the axing of job titles. ’Just keep them simple,’ he urged. He signed his piece ’John Speight, Worldwide design leader big wig 999 Design’. Now, that really is Postmodern.
David Bernstein was founder of The Creative Business and is a creative consultant

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