Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in May-Jun 2016

Going shopping for a creative director

Hiring and retaining good creative directors is tough – and the fickle attitude of the new lot doesn't help much.

The Chief Innovation Officer, Adcom Leo Burnett, has a rather strange conversation.

“Heard you are shopping for a creative director?”

“Where did you hear that from?”

“Oh, the usual industry grapevine.”

“Yes, been shopping for a while now.”


“I wish it were as simple as sauda-shopping every month.”

“You should go shopping like my mom. List in hand, she pushes off with her cart, knows exactly which aisles to hit, and is out in 10 minutes!”

“Yeah but this is different...”

“How so? Pick up the product that catches your eye, inspect it, read the ingredients (don’t forget the fine print), and don’t forget to check for price and expiry dates.”

“LOL! You mean ‘burn-out date’?”

“Yeah, whatever...”

“That’s fine for you; you get attracted to all the glitzy, colourful packaging, how it looks on the shelf...”

“Hold on there, you’re telling me I’m shallow?”

“Who me?! God forbid! I’m just saying...”

“I’ll have you know that I read the ingredients just as carefully as anyone else and besides...”

“Ha! Admit it. Thori si achi English hoti hai and you start drooling. And woh Facebook, QR code-type things ko dekh kar tau tumhari ankhon mein stars chamaknay lagtay hain… have you ever checked to see if there is anything of substance inside?”


“I thought not. I’m telling you, it’s not the same thing. Those days are gone when it was easy to figure out the quality of the content from the packaging, and remember, you only needed to make a few things back then.”

“That’s true... ab tau those ingredients are outdated. Now it’s sooo different; appearances matter, in everything!”

“Actually, I disagree with you there, but see what I meant by your fixation on just the packaging?”

“But, I’m telling you yaar, I read all the fine print too. It all sounds impressive (but, honestly, I just can’t make head or tail of it all).”

“LOL... in our industry, we really know how to camouflage the true benefits of the product behind fancy descriptors and words!”

“But what don’t you agree with?”

“Outdated ingredients.”

“Haan, tau? Those stone-age skills are outdated.”

“Actually, the basic skills don’t change; it’s just that the repertoire has expanded. Those core skill-sets (including work-ethics) will always be relevant, because the fundamental nature of our work hasn’t changed.”

Illustration by Creative Unit.
Illustration by Creative Unit.

“But people don’t just want sugar in a plastic bag anymore. They want...”

“... sugar in a fancy box, I know, with a fancy name and nutrition info and links to online recipes. But inside the box they still want the sugar with its essential purity.”

“Okay, okay, I get it; sugar needs to be sugar, not some new-age artificial replacement from some fancy processing plant that will give you heartburn in the long run.”

“I never said I was against fancy processing plants.”

“Uffff! Let’s just ditch the metaphor, okay?”

“Hey, you are the one who asked if I was shopping...”

“Yeah, but...”

“Hahaha... Big Idea stretch kar kar kay already thak gaye?”

“Don’t throw that Big Idea jargon at me. Save that for your creative director – if you ever find one, that is!”

“And just what do you mean by that?!”

“Nothing, nothing. It’s just that you go all perfectionist and anal about intellectual depth and substance and profundities... with such a specific shopping list, koi nahin milay ga khareednay ko!”

“So we are back to the metaphor, eh?”

“Just saying... you know, our clients are generally so risk-averse, they just want the same stuff regurgitated over and over again and…”

“... so it’s okay to not push the envelope in what we do?”

“I mean, it’s difficult to find people who are willing to do that every day as a job description.”

“And whose fault is that?!”

“Excuse me?”

“Hush! It’s our collective problem, I know. We tend to retreat into our comfort zones and aren’t willing to step out for fear we’ll be exposed. What we do has always been a collective effort of many different types of people, skills and talents. It is easy for people’s shortcomings to be concealed within the collective effort. That also makes it very difficult to single out the individual efforts of people, especially the more senior you become...”

“But that’s always been the case.”

Aik tau tum kahani ka saara flow kharaab kar daitay ho...”

Iss ko kehtay hain ad break!”

“That’s exactly one of those comfort zone things...”

“What? Interruptions? Ad breaks?”

“People are consuming media and content in so many new ways that we – people on the creative side – are in danger of being left behind, especially senior types who are slow to evolve. On the other hand, these kids in college or fresh out of business school, art school, what-have-you, eat-breathe-sleep in this new universe and yet they are just as clueless about the potential and power that lies within and desperately need that guidance (even though they would be loathe to admit that).”

“This younger lot is so impatient! Har cheez forii chahiye; promotion, raise, experience...”

“And not willing to learn from someone whom they perceive as out of date, even though they may not even be 10 years older than them!”

Waisay, these new kids think they know it all... inki mentoring bhi kaun karay ga?

“That is the biggest gap we have today: the mentors of yesteryear, the ustaads, are no more. Senior creatives today are either unable or unwilling to play that role, agencies are no longer focused on nurturing talent. They all want it pakka-pakaya, readymade...”

“Duh! Because the minute the talent at your place becomes ripe after all that mentoring, people like me will come along and snatch it away at twice the salary!”

“We all poach off each other when we need to... you know how small the talent pool is and with so much fresh creative talent being lured away from the ad industry and into productions, films or even freelancing... but that doesn’t take away from the urgency of mentorship, har creative director kay liye mandate honi chahiye.”

“Waisay, this talent pool you are referring to... are we looking in the wrong pool? Take those new startups; they seem to be doing crazy stuff!”

“That’s exactly what I mean.”


“One should have the ability or willingness to embrace all this crazy stuff, and not shut it out simply because it’s out of our comfort zone. And invariably all this fancy-shmancy jargon and lists of awards and achievements on paper sometimes masks an insecurity and lack of vision, depth, whatever... You know, this new smart biscuit packaging you see on the shelf; (some of it at least) is only half full from inside...”

“Metaphor alert!”

“Yeah, yeah...”

Adnan Syed is Chief Innovation Officer, Adcom Leo Burnett.