“Life Is Too Short To Accept Brutal Creative Directors.”

In which we have a short but vigorous discussion about creative directors who act out on their childhood issues by brutalizing and traumatizing other creative people. I myself have been fortunate to have had a long career and never been abused by the caprice and arrogance of a brutal creative director. But they are out there. Please join me in my fervent hope that a print-out of this column finds its way onto every one of their polished marble desktops.

The creative director enters the room. Finally.

His untroubled gait belies the fact that he’s fully 35 minutes late. After setting down his mocha-decaff latte he begins to stare grimly at the ideas tacked up on the wall. He brushes his pony-tail off of his shoulder. He sneers, rips an idea off the wall, crumples and drops it to the floor.

He then dispenses what he calls creative direction. To his little clutch of scribblers he gives this helpful and articulate re-direction.

“It’s crap.”

Now he’s working his way down the bulletin board and the campaigns begin to die like soldiers in front of the guns of Gallipoli, in wave after wave. Accompanying the death of each idea comes similarly helpful creative advice:


“Bitch, pleeease.”

“Like I’d do that.”

And finally the wall is bare. No ideas are good enough for his majesty. As he takes leave, over his shoulder he quips, “I’ll know it when I see it, people.” No discussion about what was right about the work, what was wrong. And though his title is Creative Director, there is no direction given to creative.

In a world of sharp objects within easy reach, it’s a wonder these asshats last as long as they do.

Okay, this Latte-Ponytail Guy, he’s just one kind of brutal creative director but these dickheads come in different flavors. The worst ones actually berate and browbeat creatives, bludgeoning them with words that serve to improve neither the work nor morale.

And when their words do in fact improve the creative, these guys will defend their behavior by describing it as “brutally honest.” Unfortunately, all that the employees remember is the brutality, not the honesty.

Imagine how stupid this kind of brutality would look if we could see it in some other venue.


“Hey, I didn’t get to wear this red paper Manager’s hat by makin’ milkshakes as crappy as this!”

Why advertising creates so many of these tinpot dictators is a mystery. What, pray tell, warrants any kind of arrogance at all? Dude, this is advertising. You’re not pullin’ babies out of burning buildings. You’re not curing cancer. You make commercials for cry-eye. Websites. End-aisle displays. Jesus.

If I could get one of these guys alone, my speech might go like this.

Dude, sit down. And toss that fuckin’ latte. Listen, I don’t care …. I said zip it, Pony-Tail. … I don’t care that you were once on a “big Volvo shoot” with Robert Goulet. I don’t care you won an award that one time. I don’t care that you wear sunglasses indoors. The thing is, none of that crap gives you the permission to treat people poorly. Somewhere along the line, dude, you seem to have gotten the idea that establishing a high bar means you can whack people with it.

In a recent post about good creative directors on the Denver Egoist, I read this:

“You don’t get people to want to work harder for you by shouting, … abusing and humiliating. Motivation comes from a place of respect and trust. Good creative directors will want you to do well for you, not for them. They instill in you the kind of passion and drive that makes an eight-hour day become a 13-hour day. If your CD’s idea of motivation is to threaten you with pay cuts, demotions, crappy accounts or losing your job, you don’t want to work for that CD any more. … Sure, you’ll work for the asshole for as long as it takes you to find another job, but word will soon spread that the CD is a raging dick, and the agency will find it more and more difficult to hire genuinely good creative talent.”

My advice?

If you work for a dick-tator, drop a dime on him or her and let H.R. know. If you can get another job, do it and do it fast. And on your way out, spread the word. This isn’t gossip. You’re providing a valuable service to your creative brethren by putting up a warning sign: “Steer Clear. Toxic Dickweed Ahead.”

Or you could, just-by-accident, leave an invitation to my Nov. 10th webinar on King Kreative’s marble desktop: “How Not To Suck As A Creative Director.” Hey…,I’m just sayin’. Register here.