Hiring (and Shaping) the Ideal Creative Candidate.

Okay, so a job position in the creative department opens up.

On one hand, I wanna hire only the most techno-geeked-out, mobile-ready, code-slinging web brat I can find.

On the other hand, I want to hire a writer or an art director who knows how to take a blank sheet of paper and make something interesting and beautiful happen.

The place where these two skills overlap is the sweet spot. The ones who can do both of these things are the creatives of the future.

As for us creatives here in the present? What can we do to align ourselves with reality right now?

For now, I find myself pushing either group towards the middle. Pushing traditional creatives to use, study, and learn the emerging technologies. And pushing digital creatives to learn how to create things that are delightful and conceptual on paper; things that are still cool even before any coding happens.

I’ll use myself as an example.

Having come up in this business during the ‘80s and ‘90s, I think I’m probably pretty good at looking at a brand brief, figuring out the single most important thing to say, and then making something interesting happen: in print, on TV, outdoor or radio. I kinda know what I’m doing there.

But I won’t kid myself. I’m still a digital immigrant, probably with a heavy old-world accent even the guys at the corner deli couldn’t understand. Yet I am not content to sit on Ellis Island wondering what delights await discovery on the new digital shores. I’m swimmin’ across. Meaning, I stay very busy learning everything I can.

I am busy actually using the new media. I am busy reading about it. I am busy blogging about it, tweeting about it, and watching “webinars” (I still can’t say that word with a straight face) – online seminars broadcast from cool places like Boulder Digital Works. I read Edward Boches’ blog (the guy’s brill). And Boches’s’s site is just one of the websites I visit regularly to find inspiration and education. (The list is over there to the right). When I can talk my company into paying for it (they came through big-time on SxSW) I attend seminars and conferences in person. All of this so I can learn the new media, experience the new technologies, and help take my agency’s brands out into the world to meet its customers.

I do all this hoping my self-guided education will push me towards that sweet spot in the middle.

Now, if I were a digital native, someone who knows HTML5, CSS, and Javascript? I’d get me a big ol’ One Show annual (insist on the kind made out of paper). Or I’d find any December issue of Communication Arts. Then I’d unplug the cellphone and settle in to read ‘em cover to cover.

I’d probably start by studying the print of the ‘80s Fallon McElligott, I’d watch the TV of the ‘90s Goodby, and understand how they tell an integrated story at today’s Crispin. I’d learn how to write a headlines as good as the work Abbott Meade Vickers did for The Economist. I’d learn how to say something really provocative in a 10-word headline. I’d learn how to tell an interesting story in 30 seconds.

I’d push myself towards the middle.

Ultimately, for an open job position in the creative department, I’ll hire someone who is – drum roll – creative. But the tie’s gonna go to the person who can express creativity over the widest variety of media.

That’s just my two cents. (Or to borrow from that stupid Second Life thing) that’s just my two Linden dollars.

(Seriously, it’s okay to roll your eyes. Not everything digital is great.)



  1. This is great. Couldn’t agree more.

    Every day I’m looking to apply my “traditional” concepting, writing, and strategy abilities to all the whiz-bang awesome new tools out there. And the whiz-bang awesome old tools, as the case may be.

  2. This is a great piece with wonderful insight. I just wonder though… if we spend all of our time obsessing over new media… webinars, seminars, avatars (oh my)… aren’t we missing out on what we’re really supposed to be doing? Which is immersing ourselves in pop-culture. Reading magazines, listening to music, watching movies, checking out websites… basically keeping our finger on the pulse of what’s actually going on out there. So that we can do what really drives people to listen to our messages. That being of course, speak to them in a language that is completely and totally relevant to them. Like we’re their best friend and we like all the same stuff that they like. Because once you find that voice or that insight you can put it anywhere. So let the media people sit in the seminars. Let them tell us where the most metrics are (don’t really know what that means). That way we can concentrate on more important things. Like how we’re going to get a web banner to make someone laugh. Or how we’re going to get this flash idea to make a mother wanna go buy her kids some Nesquik. I hear you on the new frontier. But it’s still about telling stories I think. There is no traditional. There is no digital. There is only creative. Long live creative.

    • Dood nailed it.

      • That makes me feel better.

  3. I think the reason so few people hit the sweet spot you mention is that it simply takes a different type of brain to get passionate about learning coding languages than it does to create whipsmart headlines or dream up top-flight design.

    Show me a digital genius proficient in jQuery and CSS and I’ll show you someone who very likely lacks a similar passion for the beauty of a well-turned phrase or gorgeous visual aesthetic. Their brains are organizational and methodical, not prone to blue sky concepting where the boundaries and rules aren’t so well defined.

    At the same time the most you’re going to get from “traditional” creatives is a great sense of what ideas work and which ones don’t coupled with a healthy appetite for culture, which keeps them in touch with the latest platforms to desseminate and implement their ideas.

    Until you can change brain chemistry, you’ll need to have both types on board.

    • To TAYLOR: Well, I didn’t mean to say that coders are the only digital people out there. You know what I mean. There are some great developers (I’ve worked with a few new) who are just as creative as any copywriter. And who GET what a concept is, and who GET how to take it to the next level.

      That said, I hear you. Advertising needs people who get more than code. And who get more than “How big do you want your newspaper ad to be?”

  4. Totally true. Agencies should look for real “egglayingcottonmilkpigs”, people, who are really into it, information junkies who have the ability to recombine things and push them one step farther. Hard to find for agencies – they still search for art directors, planners… they don’t know how to handle somebody who doesn’t fit in any category.

    • TO Christian: EGGLAYINGCOTTONMILKPIGS??? I love it. Can I use that?

  5. Luke,

    Hire people who can think. Anything else you need them to do is just training. That’s all. Training.

    There will always be a new whizbang.

    Radio was not an idea. TV was not an idea. Digital is not an idea either.
    It is simply an amazing windows that great ideas can walk through.

    Making stairs into a keyboard so people can see exercise can be fun.

    Was that a digital idea or a traditional idea or dagnabit, an idea?

    O.k., that’s enough sucking up for now. Cya.

    • To Tobi: I love it. And agreeing doesn’t mean sucking up. Sucking up would be more like, “Hey, I think your book is the best book ever written. Way better than all the crap that won the Pulitzer Prize last year.” … THAT…my friend….is sucking up.

  6. Great post, as a recent graduate my professors showed me exactly what you have stated here, to know as much as you can about new technology and media while not forgeting about what came before that: a pen and a paper. Thanks for the great insight.

  7. And with new technologies you also must learn how to type again, mispelled “forgetting” in previous post, large fingers+small keypad= misspelling.

    Which post? I wanna fix it. Tell me which one???

    • To Joel:
      Yes, I csuk.
      I ksuc.
      I sukc.
      I suck.
      Tell me which post had the mispelling. I cain’t find it.

  8. Good article, Luke. To your knowledge is there any educational program in the country centered around the “whole creative”-someone whose learned in liberal arts with adequate digital training?

    We’ve hired folks from SCAD and been really impressed with their inter-disciplinary education. But I wonder if there are others worthy of note.

    • TO RON: Yes, I think VCU Brandcenter in Richmond is doing a great job.

    • I have to agree with Christian that agencies don’t seem to know what to do with egglayingcottonmilkpigs. I came out of SCAD with a degree in advertising, with a background in digital media and programming, theater and writing, and agencies didn’t know what to do with me. They would call me back for meeting after meeting and not know how to hire me. So I went into museum design for the time being – the only other industry I could find that utilized multiple disciplines to make for an immersive storytelling experience.

  9. Thank you for saying it so well, so simply, so lucidly.
    Thanks for doing what you’re doing, Luke.

  10. Note: This is a repost from the posterous entry

    I recently spent some time thinking about my shift from digital designer to programmer to user experience. The main difference between what I was doing then and what I’m doing now? Where I used to focus on specific execution and specific skillsets, now I focus on best practices and methodologies. Keep that analog to go along with your digital- tech is useless without those big ideas and creativity. Those who can blend the two will always outshine the rest.

  11. Taylor: It is exactly that kind of thinking that I fight against on a daily basis. GOOD programming requires it’s own kind of creativity, and the best collaborative experiences I’ve had over the years are the ones that involved creative AND development in the ideation process from the get-go.

  12. To Luke: It would be an honour for me! egglayingcottonmilkpig is a strange translation for the german “Eierlegende Wollmilchsau” – but I didn`t like “wool”, Cotton is better.

  13. I don’t necessarily agree with what all of the comments are saying. (Tobi, Christian). However Jeff has it right on the nose – it’s our responsibility as advertisers to immerse ourselves in popular culture – whether it be online or off. I’m a digital native (and full disclosure: soon to be Creative Technologist at VCU Brandcenter) and though I read hundreds of blogs on my RSS feed I still get my weekly AdAge in print form and my monthly Fast Company and (ironically) Wired.

    To respond to Tobi’s statement:
    In some senses, he’s right – oftentimes as designers we’re trained to work directly with a developer, someone who will take our ideas and apply them in a digital space. On the other hand, I think that there are certainly a few codemonkeys coming out of VCU Brandcenter (and some with a design eye, particularly Marc Andrew Stephens). I don’t think it’s a limitation of thinking – I think it’s a limitation of training – oftentimes developers have gone through an entire college coursework training them in language logic and so on, whereas a designer is trained similarly in negative space and typefaces. It’s not that they’re incompatible – it’s that they’re rarely taught together.

  14. Mike: Not saying that creative and development don’t work together to create great things, just that they seldom come from the same person. If you’ve managed to master both, enjoy the rocket ride straight to the top my friend.

  15. Taylor: I guess what I was trying to say was that don’t close yourself off to that potential for crossover in the devs and creatives you encounter. Too often I’ve been dismissed as one or the other- if I’m acting as a dev, how dare I speak as if I’m a creative and vice versa. It can be very frustrating.


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Luke Sullivan

Author, speaker, and ad veteran available to recharge, reinvigorate, and refocus marketing, advertising, and branding firms.

I give a hugely energetic series of presentations on innovation, creativity, branding, and marketing. I spent 32 years in the trenches of advertising (at agencies like Martin, GSD&M, and Fallon) and I’ve put everything I learned into my book, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. But for me nothing beats taking the message out and speaking to living breathing audiences at clients, agencies, and conferences. You can book me on the button below.