No matter whether you’re working in a design studio, advertising agency, film production, digital agency, freelance or photography studio, there comes a time when you’ll be asked to lead a team of people. Sometimes two or three people, sometimes 50. And it can be scary, thrilling, bewildering and a pleasant boost to the ego (sometimes all at once). So we asked some of the best leaders in the PADC community to give some advice to anyone who’s about to make that giant leap forward from ‘staff’ to ‘leader’.

I’ve run a business, freelanced and worked in agency, and have two key pieces of advice for anyone entering a senior role or taking the plunge to run their own show:

1. People: Fit is key
People are your greatest asset, but they can also be your greatest liability. Find the right people that best fit you, your team, and your environment. Fit is key. The right people (technically) may not be the best on paper, but they’ll prove more valuable as a collaborator in the long run.

2. Life: Remember to breathe
Running a business is overwhelming – particularly when you’re the Creative Director, Account Manager, Designer, Receptionist and Book-keeper all rolled into one. Force yourself to take time out and appreciate life, it will help remind you why you got into this batshit crazy world in the first place.

Anthony Nankervis, Creative Director (Juicebox)

You probably got to be a CD by being competitive. The first thing you have to do now is realise that you’re no longer competing with your colleagues, you’re coaching them.

The second thing you need to do is master the ability to create true collaboration across the whole agency. Agencies always function best as a single team, not a team of teams.

Adam Barker, Creative Partner (Gatecrasher)

Woody Allen always said the most important part of directing is casting. Choose the right people and generating good work will need less input from you.

A corollary: if you’re battling to improve someone’s inherent creative flair it’s likely the problem can’t be solved through training. Some people just need to be somewhere else.

If you’re a human, letting someone go is going to hurt. It doesn’t get easier. Be kind but be honest and direct and unambiguous. And don’t let anyone else do it for you.

Those account managers defining your jobs and setting your schedule and harassing you about budgets and deadlines? They’re your greatest allies and you must become theirs. You won’t know how valuable they are until you don’t have them anymore.

You’ve been given a title that comes with a built-in aura of insight. Use it. Even if you’re not yet sure of the value of your perspective, someone has decided that your opinions are worth hearing. Don’t be a dick about it, but say what you think. Influence the conversation.

Before you discuss a piece of work, have a reason for every creative decision. Make it clear that you love the art with a passion, but you love the strategy even more. You’re doing this cool thing to make stuff happen for your client.

Ric Cairns, Creative Director (Brandino)

When you launch into a creative leadership role, chances are that you’ve only ever seen a small handful of other Creative Directors in action.

They don’t necessarily represent the full gamut of approaches to the position. Take what works from your past leaders, seek out new mentors, and make it up as you go along. Because your own approach – one that works for you and your team – is just as valid as anyone else’s.

Learn to say ‘no.’ Particularly when your PADC President* asks for something from you when you’re totally overworked and drowning in accumulated deadlines!

Liz Hammond, Creative Director (Rare)

* Note from the President: Any advice pertaining to the ignoring of the PADC President may be safely ignored…

Listen more. Not only do other people like to be heard, they’ll be more inclined to return the favour and listen to you, too.

Pick your battles. You’ll be busier, be more responsible for more pieces of work, more people, more relationships. You won’t have time to fight for everything or with everyone. And you’ll hate your job pretty quickly if you do.

Try your best not to appear stressed, even if you’re about to pop. Stress and worry is contagious. It spreads quickly. And a completely stressed workplace isn’t one anyone wants to work at.

More of a general life mantra, but completely applicable to a leadership position in an agency, is this gem from Maya Angelou;

People will forget what you said,
People will forget what you did,
But people will never forget how you made them feel.

Be nice to the people you work with and who look to you for advice and support. You can still be firm and challenging and disappointed and frustrated, but just don’t be a dick about it.

Joe Hawkins, Creative Director (Wunderman Thompson)

If you’re anything like me, you’re never going to be an overly confident 6-foot-2 man in a sports jacket. So stop trying to be that.

Not only is it okay to look and act differently to the leaders you’ve grown up with, we should be actively encouraging it.

Push against the expectations and limitations placed on you by the creative industry (or society, or your Dad or whatever), but most importantly, push against your own ingrained sense of what you’re allowed to be, and how you’re supposed to act.

It won’t be comfortable, but creative growth comes from exploring new perspectives.

Rikki Burns, Creative Director (Meerkats)

You are not clones. Your department should have a diverse range of skills. Celebrate each and every one of them.

Don’t spend too much time looking at what’s been done, real success comes from thinking that hasn’t yet been done.

Every person in your department will respond in their own way to your leadership. Take the time to find out what works best for each and every one of them.

Steve Straw, Senior Copywriter/CD (Freelance)

Don’t be afraid of being scared.

We’re a funny bunch of random flowers, us creatives.




Often incredibly confident.

Other-times completely insecure.

And scared.

Scared of opinion.

Scared of rejection.

Scared of failure.

Scared of success.

Don’t be afraid to admit it, because being scared is not a sign of weakness, it’s actually a pillar of strength.

It’s good to be scared because it means you’re pushing yourself, and when you’re pushing yourself, it means that you’re actually not afraid.

If you don’t push yourself and let fear force you to stay in your comfort zone, that’s where you’ll remain.

In a comfortable job… producing comfortable work… leading a comfortable life.

If that’s what you want, then don’t be scared to admit it. Just don’t pretend you’d rather be somewhere else.

If it’s not, then don’t be afraid of being scared.

May the fear be with you.

Andrew Tinning, Creative Consultant/CD (ATCreative)

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