Every piece of visual content your brand creates impacts customer trust, whether we're talking about your logo, your entire website or a mobile ad. Without question, consistent and compelling branding can set the stage for even the smallest companies to compete against established ones. But what should an executive-level creative director actually be expected to do, day-to-day? What skills must they possess to be successful across a variety of platforms and channels, from business cards to mobile sites?
While a stellar executive should have an eye for design, there is so much more that goes into the role. Eleven entrepreneurs from Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) explain what else they are looking for from their creative leads in the upcoming year.
Design is at the heart of any good startup. When you're hiring your creative director, it's easy to focus on one who can execute incredibly well. With little resources, you need someone who can get their hands dirty. But you also need to plan for your brand to scale, so hiring a creative genius isn't enough. You need someone who can help others design in the brand's voice. Find someone who is organized and process-driven so they can build an entire team.
A startup's creative director has to be ready to test a minimally viable product, track analytics, fail fast and pivot just like the rest of us. Design serves a function: to increase click and conversion rates. The creative director can't be content to beautify the brand image to his or her own satisfaction. Instead, they need to think like a design innovator and test new elements for their impacts on business metrics. In startups, form is function and beauty is in the eye of the engagement statistics.
The holy grail for any creative talent is a mastery of graphic design and elegant, pithy, on-brand writing. Usually you get one or the other, but every once in a while someone comes along with a mastery for both. The elements of creativity come down to words and pictures. A senior executive in charge of it would be well served to be able to come up with the perfect headline or graphic flourish that sets an example for the team.
Look for someone who is a jack-of-all-trades in the creative space. As a startup, you need someone who can not only strategize and be creative, but also deliver on the vision. Getting someone from Corporate America hits strategy and creative skills but not necessarily the delivery part. Corporate talent usually has people who can execute. I hired a creative director who can not only execute with excellence, but has a breadth of skills from front-end development to creating promotional videos. This has saved us significant money and enables us to be agile.
In its simplest form, it's all about their work. What have they created? It's not about a process, a system or organizational skills. Forget about all of that. It's all about the end result. When William Roam hired someone, we looked for an individual or team who could set trends, not simply follow them. It's pretty easy to find a designer who can copy and manipulate what is en vogue at any given moment; those designers are a dime a dozen. To create something original is extremely difficult — anyone who has worked with a second-rate designer can tell you horror stories. There are plenty of designers out there, but to find one who's truly creative and can help you fill that hole you've identified in your particular market is like discovering pure gold.— Derek Hunter, William Roam
Creative roles are on the rise and are constantly evolving. It is important to find the right person who will correlate well with your brand. You need someone who is very current and up-to-date with their experience and user experience application. In the end, they need to present and reflect well on your site and/or product.
Lead creative types shouldn't be satisfied with being "second" in anything they do. Rather than looking for someone who simply followed the trends, start your search by looking for someone who has helped to define those trends throughout the years. If you want your brand to be successful for the remainder of the year (especially in the creative space), whoever you hire should already be looking towards the future instead of focusing on past accomplishments. So ask them what they can do to change the industry in the upcoming months rather than having them showcase past accomplishments alone.
If your business is not mobile-first you will shortly find yourself playing catch up. For instance, Smarter Insights recently reported that media consumption via mobile device significantly exceeds consumption on desktop and is growing quickly in favor of mobile. Furthermore, with Google's most recent "Mobilegeddon" algorithm update penalizing websites that aren't mobile-friendly, as well as the fact that 80% of Internet users own a smartphone, the importance of mobile-first design can't be overstated. Therefore, if you are looking for a senior person to help set the tone for all of creative make sure they live and breathe mobile design.
The most important thing that hiring managers should be looking for when interviewing and meeting creative directors is their drive to work hard and push your company to the next level. In conversation and meeting with them, they should be expressing their artistic vision and how it can coincide with your company's values and goals. It is not about their past work or experience, but instead what they can do for you right now and in the future. Although hiring for years and years of experience seems like the right route, many creative professionals have experience in all different kinds of fields — and have held many years as freelancers. Basing hiring decisions off of professional experience is not fair in this case, while seeing the individual's drive is the smart way to go.
Too often creative directors focus on defining a brand by the "collateral" they produce (i.e. logos, taglines, style guides, etc). These items are a great way to create a consistent visual identity and tone for your brand, but customers care far more about the experience they have with your brand than just the way it looks. A good creative director should spend time understanding the customer's buying process and designing an experience that caters to that experience in the unique voice of your company. By spending more time on the customer experience than visual collateral, you'll ensure you're impacting the areas of the business that impact the bottom-line.
Look for relevant and effective project work and, very critically, someone who has demonstrated experience managing a team and is not just an individual contributor. Look for someone who has increasingly gained a significant level of project responsibility and is still curious to learn new technology. The most predictably successful candidate has had previous small company or startup experience or worked in a startup environment within a large company. Hiring someone who is simply "eager to join the startup world" with no relatable experience is probably too risky and unproven in a world that is faster-paced, and where directions and priorities often change. As we know, it's a different beast.
— Peggy Shell, Creative Alignments
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