From the egomaniac to the eccentric, creative directors come in all shapes and sizes. If you’re just starting out in your career, it can be tough to predict what floats their boat.
But there is a leveller: no CD worth their CV will ever berate someone who wants to be better. And often that begins with asking the right questions. Being curious. Being hungry for good advice.
With that in mind, here are ten questions I’ve learnt to ask my bosses (and my peers, for that matter) along the way:
1. Can I do anything to help at all?
You’d be surprised how few people think to ask this before they leave for the night, possibly assuming that there’s not much they can add to the proceedings. However, just asking the question contributes so much; it shows enthusiasm, it shows team spirit and it could be the difference between being “the new person” and “(insert name) who’s helping us out on the pitch”. Please note: it’s best to ask this before you’ve put your coat on. At least dress the part of someone willing.
2. So how did you start out in advertising/design?
Everyone loves talking about themselves. So whether you’re in an interview or chatting over a boiling kettle (because you’ve offered to make tea I hope – if not jump to question 10), show an interest in your CD’s career path and it’ll open your eyes to their background, their influences and what makes them tick. Hear their story and you never know, it might inspire your own.
3. What do you think I can do to make this better?
You’re fresh from college. You’ve just landed a job. You’re feeling pretty cocky. Tread carefully. You need to improve, so never present your work as though it’s the Holy Grail of ideas. You should always be chasing down a better solution, and your CD is there to guide you towards it. Ask for their advice, not their praise; it’ll make them feel all-powerful, and it’ll make your work better.
4. Could I present my work to the client?
Presenting work to clients instills a whole new level of accountability to your working day. By asking if you could present, you’re showing you’re eager to take on a serious responsibility, and if (if) you’re given that chance, you’ll be in a position to prove your worth in very exciting ways.
5. What’s the client like?
Your boss loses sleep over client relationships. So show empathy, get to know what they’re up against, show you’re on their side. Chances are it’ll also give you a better understanding of what work will work, and how best to creatively navigate client briefs. When the client’s happy, for the most part your CD will be too.
6. So can I just check I’m going in the right direction…?
Feedback can come in many forms, from the dictatorial to the downright odd (“let’s add some testosterone” being a favourite of mine). A good creative director knows that where there’s clarity there’s creativity. So if you’re not sure of what direction you should take, ask. It may frustrate them to have to re-iterate what they want from you, but they’ll be more frustrated if you toddle off and do something completely wrong.
7. What do you think of (insert recent ad/rebranding/exhibition here)?
Stuck in the lift with your CD? Five floors to go? Here’s a conversation starter: ask what they thought of something, whether it’s the latest John Lewis ad or Tate exhibition. Get their opinion and you’ll be getting a glimpse into how they see things. Just as an aside, first try to decipher whether your CD is a ‘morning person’ – 9am conversations about logos aren’t always preferable to silence.
8. Do you have any books/magazines/websites you’d recommend?
I was once asked this by a freelancer who had infinitely more experience than me and it impressed me no end. Understanding where your CD is absorbing their inspiration from, showing that you want to go beyond the odd dalliance on Pinterest, will show you’re one to watch. The best thing you’ll ever know is that you don’t know it all.
9. I’d love to take on more responsibility. What do you think I could improve on to get to the next stage in my career?
This is one way to approach that age-old question of promotion. You’ll notice that while you’re leaning in, you’re not slapping them round the face with your ambitious demands or threats. Be the solution, not the problem, and you’ll be helping your chances no end.
10. Can I get you a cup of tea / coffee?
Ok, it’s a cliché, but worth a mention – not just because I love tea, but because I believe this is a question you should be asking everyone, at any point in your career. It’s simple: work hard and be nice to people. My CD still makes tea for me, I still make tea for my team. After all, we’re all just trying to get through the day as best we can. And caffeine, my friends, is what helps.
So there you have it. It’s by no means a comprehensive list, but it might just give you a few pointers as to how to forge a happier, more productive relationship with the powers that be. And don’t forget, keep questioning yourself, too. Test your abilities, interrogate your work and be your harshest critic. And one day, you might just find yourself on the receiving end of a few of the questions above.
Holly Kielty is a copywriter at Design Bridge.