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Creative Ops

EA SPORTS FIFA’s Eric Beard on maintaining passion in creative work

January 17, 2023 · 8 min read

This is part of our 100 Creative Directors interview series. To return to the series homepage and browse other interviews, click here.

Eric Beard is a creative director whose career has become inseparable from a lifelong passion for soccer. Currently a Creative Director at EA SPORTS FIFA, Eric has spent much of his career telling stories about the beautiful game, the world’s game — soccer — at a variety of agencies and brands. While it’s not been his only focus, his career is a clear endorsement of what you can accomplish when you approach your work from a place of real passion and care.

Below is our conversation with Eric, edited for length and clarity.

Tell me about your role. What kind of creative director are you?

I’m a Creative Director for EA SPORTS FIFA’s in-house Global Creative Team. We  oversee all the creative marketing for the company, as well as work on developing the game’s branding and brand identity.

We have a lot of cross-functional teams. So with FIFA specifically, we have tons of relationships with athletes and clubs around the world. It’s a very collaborative process. We have a team of designers, writers, and capture artists that I work very closely with, but we also have quite a few agencies and studios that we work with depending on project needs.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given as a creative director?

This one is especially for creatives working at agencies. Get more out of them than they get out of you. What I mean is there's always so much to be learned, but you also need to acknowledge the value that you're bringing, your expertise. Never discredit that. 

Frequently ask yourself if you've reached a point of diminishing returns, or feel like you've done everything you can do somewhere. Learn to be honest with yourself: maybe I've outgrown this or maybe it's not interesting to me anymore. In other words, don’t let yourself stagnate.

It’s very healthy for a creative to say, “cool, I’ve done this type of campaign, I don’t need to do eight more of these.” Early in my career, I worked on the 2014 World Cup campaign for Nike — that was an incredible experience, but I moved on after, because I knew I would grow and produce better work if I wasn’t just focused on producing different versions of that campaign every four years.

Given the nature of any corporate structure, there's always going to be imperfections that arise. Find your lanes as much as possible. Whether that means collaborating with talented people and forming those relationships, or having an opportunity to develop a production skillset, or exploring part of your brain you haven't before. Just ask yourself: what am I getting out of this experience?

What's the most difficult part of shipping good creative work?

It’s very meditative in that you have to learn to surrender. There's a time and a place to perfect every single detail and go in on the framing of every shot or whatnot. But, especially when you're working with athletes or other partners, and dates are changing, things come up, you need to be able to surrender to the circumstances at any moment.

Learn to stay grounded and accept, cool, this isn't the treatment or concept that we had in this deck last week, but it's still going to be something that we can all get behind and get excited about.

Maintain openness and flexibility. To be clear, I wouldn't say to never be precious with your work or anything to that extreme. It’s good to care. I've just seen a lot of creatives who really disengage when their idea is changed or something they were really excited about shifts, and it creates this loss of passion and connection to what they're working on, which shows in the end product.

Being able to take a step back and acknowledge that it’s part of the process with anything whether you're launching a product, or making a film, or making a design system — it’s tough. There's always gonna be some wrench that falls into the gears when you don’t expect it.

Difficult and unexpected circumstances are always going to arise. You’re always going to have to deal with them. Learn to surrender to the reality of the creative process, which involves so many moving parts.

How do you ensure, on a project, that  you don't move away from that initial spark that makes people excited about it, that passion that ensures a good end product?

Sometimes you need to have uncomfortable conversations. You just have to be honest and say, for example, “That feels like very transactional messaging. Sure, we need to nod to our product for this campaign, but we can do that in a way that retains the spirit of the project.”

At the beginning of a project, everyone is discussing what’s coming to life, and obviously everyone tries to express what they want to achieve. The creative team’s job is to truly hear those desires, keep them in mind, and find ways to develop a concept or approach that weaves together great creative ambition with the wider goals of the campaign.

We asked Eric to talk us through part of what it’s like to produce good work. Check out part of the final campaign here.

It comes back to that truth of, if we're only working on transactional banner ads or something like that — the people on my team are going to leave and work somewhere else. Your most talented people aren’t going to stick around unless you let them use their talents on projects they care about.

I try to prioritize doing the most interesting work to keep all these people, who I respect tremendously, really satisfied with what they're doing. You see the potential of a sport like soccer, or a gaming platform like FIFA, to impact a lot of people in a really positive way, and to create that impact while actually having fun. Why should we accept anything less than that? Why should we ever be doing anything that isn’t fun? If we can make it fun, we have to.

As a creative director, how do you measure a creative team's success? How do you know that the way your team operates is working?

Personally, I'm much more effective when working on things I'm passionate about. That's obviously true for a lot of people. When there’s an underlying sense of value or connection to the work, across the team, that’s when you know it’s right.

I actually have a very strong opinion on this. In most lines of creative work, you can look at something and tell if the people who worked on it enjoyed making it. It's usually pretty apparent. When something was time-crunched, or a concept was flattened to forcibly include some brand message, the wind can get taken out of it. 

Especially working for a gaming company, if we're approaching the work like a life or death scenario, then the joy has been sucked out of it. People are going to take note of that. Our audience wants it to be fun. 

There are always a few key things that take the joy away: accelerated timelines, people having to work overtime. Burnout is the easiest way to splatter the health of a team.

When you've worked with a really good planner or strategist — someone who can help get and keep a project in motion effectively — and then you work on a project that isn't held to the same standard, it creates this phantom limb effect. You want to step in and ensure that everyone on your team is being taken care of. People aren't going to be delivering good, cool campaigns if they’re not taken care of. At the end of the day, no project is worth it if the team needs two weeks to just lie on their couch afterwards and recover. 

You have to take a sustainable approach. There's no such thing as an emergency in the creative industry, but we get caught up in that language a lot. So I just try to keep things in perspective and put my team’s well-being and happiness first.

What three things — in a broad sense — are most essential to your job as a creative director?

The most important thing is having time and space to explore creativity and gather inspiration from things that have no direct connection to your work. You have to stay rooted in this version of a creative process outside of a brand mark. Many people in creative professions are effectively creating something rooted in an artistic vision, or aspiring to art.

The creative professional world sometimes diminishes these valuable, artistic ambitions — everything gets reduced to “content.” It’s extremely important to aspire to artistic values. 

Communication is the most important skill in my job. I can't overstate how important soft skills are, just being able to check in and constantly read the room, identify when it's okay to to push back or when pushing back may unnecessarily set off a fuse.

Third, I always want to be surrounded by people who keep me on my toes, who make me feel like I may not be the one in the room with the best ideas. I perpetually want to be surrounded by people who can make the work as good as it can be. People who have the capacity to create things that I find inspiring — especially things that I would never come up with. 

The last thing I want is to work with someone who thinks exactly like me, because I've got that pretty honed in, right? It's so cliche, and I hate to use a sports metaphor, as someone who works at a sports company, but you have to think about the roles of certain players and their attributes. 

Argentina just won the World Cup. A crucial factor of how they pulled that off, is there are certain players who are going to be doing things outside of purely being creative. There has to be a person willing to make a strong tackle, or a commanding presence in the midfield leading the team forward. People need to have different skills. We can’t all be Messi — I mean, none of us will ever be Messi.

At the end of the day, just leave the door open for people to shine as much as they can.

This is part of our 100 Creative Directors interview series. To return to the series homepage and browse other interviews, click here.

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