Table of contents
Creative Ops

AMP Agency’s Liz Furze on the art and science of building a creative team

March 01, 2023 · 6 min read

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.

How did you become a creative director — what does the role mean to you?

I had a non-traditional path to becoming a creative director, at least as the role is defined in the agency sense. I started my career in startups. I worked at Warby Parker in their early days, on the customer team and then as a copywriter. I worked at a much smaller startup as a content manager for a little under two years, and then I decided to work at an agency for about a year, just to experience that world as a writer.

I started working at an agency called AMP and just fell in love with advertising the agency working environment. One year turned into seven, and I’m still here. Switching to an agency role from in-house, I loved that I could just focus on what I do best and the project management and account work was taken care of by somebody else. I remember being astonished that all I had to do was write, come up with ideas, and deliver them when someone else said they were due, instead of doing everything myself.

Being a creative director here at AMP has meant a lot to me, especially once I learned more about the agency world and agency life. So few creative directors are women, though the number is rising — when I learned about that disparity, I decided I was going to be creative director, no matter what. 

What I find most fulfilling in my work as a creative director is consistently working with a core team of people that I can grow and mentor. Some people are fulfilled by chasing awards, switching agencies every couple of years. I find value in sticking with a team — you can build an amazing culture and create amazing work with long-term commitment.

What’s the hardest part of shipping good creative — where do the breakdowns happen?

It’s always right at the beginning where major issues can happen. Generally you've hired people that you trust and you know can perform their job well, so getting that right is fairly straightforward. What you do really need to focus on getting right is the brief, making sure it’s clear and thorough — but you also can’t spend too long on planning, or you eat up too much of the project’s timeline and have to scramble at the end.

There are so many ways to crack open a project when you first get it. If you have an unlimited budget, a wide-open brief, and a huge team, just so many options, it’s easy to get stuck in planning. Of course, when you have a tight budget, you have three people on your team, and it's due in five days, you have a totally different set of challenges. There’s no apples-to-apples comparison.

If there is one blanket solution to the challenge of starting a project — and this is a challenge in itself — it’s to empower your creatives to answer the brief and come up with big ideas. Your job as a creative director is to keep your team focused on the brief and make sure the process doesn’t unravel as a project progresses. 

How do you set up a creative team for success and what are the signs that you’ve pulled it off?

It’s both an art and a science. You’re dealing with concrete inputs like who has available time, what's the budget for the project, and what is scoped? Every project has inputs like this where you have to work out the math — that’s the science of it. Then you have to figure out the personalities and who works well together — that’s the art of it. 

At AMP, we find it’s best to shift people around on a project-by-project basis, rather than having strictly regimented teams that never change. People tend to be excited to work with other folks in the agency and not experience the same team, the same style, all the time. You also have to know what people want to work on. Some folks have no interest in working on a skincare brand project, other people couldn’t be more excited to do so. Real passion goes a long way towards a great final product. It’s also important to build your team with the right mix of senior and junior folks. I've seen projects go a little haywire when the team is too junior, but if the team is too senior, egos can get in the way. 

There are so many ways to stack a team. It generally boils down to having the leanest amount of people necessary to get a good output, because people in a properly lean team tend to work harder and smarter together. Just make sure you give them enough time and bandwidth to do so. Lastly, you don’t want your people working on more than one or two projects at once. Constant mindset and context shifting is a surefire way to cause burnout.

Are there KPIs you can put on a creative team’s success, other than simply hitting deadlines?

The most straightforward KPI is hours burned versus hours forecasted.

Second is the quality of the work, which obviously isn’t as quantifiable. Even harder to pin down, but of the utmost importance, is the happiness and morale of the team. Did your people give you positive feedback about their experience working on this project? Did they like the process? Afterwards, I always ask questions like, “Did you like the way we set up this brainstorm? How can we make this better?” Post-mortems are so important and productive for happiness and morale.

Liz walked us through her approach to post-mortems.
Liz walked us through her approach to post-mortems.

What’s a piece of advice you were given that’s helped your career?

The advice that I have carried with me most of my career came from Apple. Before I worked at Warby Parker, I worked at an Apple store in New York. They emphasized the power of feedback, giving and receiving feedback in a way that is never about you as a person but is about behavior. All feedback is about a behavior, the impact it has, and what you should change or continue about that behavior. 

Second, and this is life advice as much as it is career advice, is to value and practice empathy. I think empathy is the number one skill for any modern career. I try to build my day-to-day life based around that idea of empathetic feedback especially. It applies across the board — in my career as a creative director, when I worked in customer service for Apple, and when I was a content manager. But the same concept is crucial to my relationship with my husband, my friends, even my dog. Practice empathy! 

The last piece of advice that I would give is that careers don't need to be linear — even shouldn't be linear. Gen Z seems to know this innately, from what I’ve seen. Building a career and building a sense of self go hand-in-hand in many ways. The more experiences you can have that are different and novel, the better, both in career and life generally. You're going to have weird jobs, and you’re going to learn something from all of them. The ability to be successful comes from the ability to learn consistently.

Related posts

Unblock creativity.

Everything you hate, we automate

Need to talk to a human first? Request a demo →

Air workspace