Avoiding Vagaries

I just read your anonymous evaluations on last quarter's class. Thank you. I’m glad so many of you enjoyed it.

Overwhelmingly, the biggest criticism was the occasional (chronic?) vagueness of my direction. More than a few of you dinged me for the all-too-familiar comment, “You’re in a good area. Keep working.” You all deserve better direction than this, so I apologize for the fuzziness. Usually what I mean by this is, “You’ve got a great insight. You’ve really hit on a truth about the product/category/consumer. You just haven’t done enough good ads to fully realize it.” I probably presumed that that was enough direction, and I can see why it wouldn’t be.

Vague direction is something you’ll face in your career. So it’s worth addressing here. What do you do when you hear the following?

“This is interesting. I wonder where it can go.”

“That’s not a bad idea. Seems like it could be a little stronger, though.”

“I’m not really sure about this. Maybe. Why don’t you play with it a bit?”

It’s a bit like playing “What’s in my pocket?” It can be a no-win situation. So how do you deal with this? Here are a few recommendations:
  1. When you’re interviewing for a job, ask the creative director what he or she thinks of some of their past work. Ask them what the agency’s best and weakest work is. Ask them why they think so. A creative director who can articulate those things will probably be able to give you very good direction.

  2. When you’re interviewing, ask the art directors and writers about their creative director. You’ll never hear them say, “He’s a dork. He couldn’t art direct himself out of a paper bag.” But a comment like “He’s amazing,” will be better than, “He’s pretty cool.” (You know all this. It’s just like dating.)

  3. When you’re receiving direction - in class or in a job - ask questions. When I (or any other CD) tells you to keep working, and you’re not sure how, ask. Make it less of a presentation with feedback, and more of a conversation. You may both come up with some pretty cool ideas on the spot.

  4. Keep studying the annuals. Know what makes a great ad. Discuss them with your classmates and co-workers. Be able to articulate it yourself. Knowing what makes a great ad will help you make more of them.
What ideas do you have? How can you avoid receiving vague direction from a creative director? Please post your comments.