R/GA’s Chapin Clark on what defines success in creative work
This is part of our 100 Creative Directors interview series. It has been edited for length and clarity. To return to the series homepage and browse other interviews, click here.
What kind of creative director are you? How would you describe your approach to the work?
By the time you get to be a Creative Director, the expectation is that you’re, as they say, T-shaped. You've got depth in one craft or discipline, but you should be able to stretch a little bit across and still influence the work holistically.
I'm a copywriter by training and that's where my strong interest is: messaging and how things are phrased. On most projects that’s where my influence is felt.
But depending on the needs of a project, I can function as a senior writer or as more of a true ECD, where there’s a full team and I’m guiding that team to try and get the best work out of everyone.
What would you say is the hardest part in shipping great creative work?
That's a meaty question because there are so many factors, and so many things that can get in the way.
I think on the most successful projects, people are empowered to do what they do best.
You staff a project and ideally you have the right people for whatever the work is. People’s skills mesh with the requirements of the job and you give people enough time and space to just do what they’ve been trained — and what they love — to do.
Things that can get in the way of that are creative directors themselves when they micromanage or don’t give teams the flexibility and freedom to run.
A challenge for me personally is having the impulse or an inclination to just do something myself. You have an idea for how it should be and think ‘oh it’d be quicker and easier if I just did this.’ But that’s demotivating for a team. It’s not a great look in terms of management. It’s not the best way to get good work out of a team, and usually it’s not a recipe for the best work.
Better work comes from collaboration, people plussing other people’s ideas up and building on one another. A megalomaniacal creative director can be an obstacle to shipping great work.
How do you define success when you're finishing a project?
There are different ways to define success. If there are clearly defined goals or success metrics for a project, whether it's sign-ups or clicks or a revenue increase, if you're meeting those goals with what you've done, that feels good.
I think as a creative person, anytime there's real data that validates the work you’ve done, that’s really satisfying. That’s not always there, though.
Anytime you feel like you’ve delivered work that answers the brief, that is doing the work that it needs to do from a business strategy standpoint and that is also work that you can look at and feel good about creatively — it’s well-crafted or it makes you laugh or feel something — I think that’s success.
What are three tools you could not do your job without?
Twitter. We'll see how much longer it’s around in its current form but for the last several years, it's been an invaluable tool to stay current on trends and to keep an eye on the state of the art in our business. Also just for staying informed and entertained. Keeping up with culture is a job requirement for us in advertising and there’s been no better tool than Twitter up until recently.
The only other things are sort of dumb obvious things like the internet (laughs). Books! For creative people working in advertising, it's important to have stimuli outside of advertising. It's a cliche thing, but I think reading a lot makes you a better writer. Likewise if you’re an art director or designer, watching a lot of films and looking at art and architecture. It informs your taste and sense of what’s good or not good. That stuff is important.
Time. Just time and space to brainstorm and daydream and get inspired. Not billable time, you know, just time to let ideas form and marinate.
What’s your favorite piece of advice for someone starting out in this business?
A piece of advice that I have often given younger creatives is to say yes to things.
In my career, I feel like opportunities have been opened for me and good things have happened when I’ve said yes to things that at first seemed like a drag, or projects that seemed like they might be dreary or boring.
But those things can grow into something bigger, or they can lead to sexier opportunities.
So I think in general it’s good whether you’re just starting out or further along in your career to be open to things and to say yes. Good things often happen. At the very least you can score points with colleagues. You can help people out in a jam and they remember that. Then they think of you the next time something comes along.
And that next thing could be something great.