Team One’s Philipp Dietz on the necessity of leaving your comfort zone to produce great 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.
Check out Philipp’s portfolio site to see some of the campaigns he’s worked on throughout his career.
What does it mean to be a creative director, in your experience?
Mostly headaches. But other than that, the best thing about this job is it's so clear — it’s all in the title. It's the clearest job description that you can possibly find, in two words.
The first part is simply that you’re a creative — your job is to be the best creative that you can possibly be. Never stop creating, never stop chasing the craft, do whatever is necessary in your particular field — writing, designing, shooting, coding, whatever defines creating — to produce ideas. Great ideas, grandiose ideas, the best ideas you can possibly imagine. Never stop doing that, no matter what level of career you’re on.
The second thing is directing — it’s conducting with vision. You have to direct your work, the people you work with, and the people you work for. You have to bring together your teammates, clients, partners, vendors, and even your own boss to tell them exactly how you want your creative vision to come out. You have to lead them and guide them to this specific place you’re envisioning, so everyone comes to share in the same vision. Sometimes that may mean you’re very hands-on, guiding your team to make sure they arrive at the destination very safe and sound. Other times it means pushing people to, for example, run their very first shoot on their own while you step to the side.
That’s the job, as I think of it.
What's the hardest part of actually getting those grandiose ideas out into the world?
First of all, you need to have them. That's the hardest part.
It’s sometimes an insanely long and painful process to come up with truly great ideas. It's also extremely fun. I love doing it. Sitting there with my teams or with my partner and coming up with ideas is still one of my favorite things about the job. I mean, let's be clear: they're paying you to come up with stuff — it’s incredible that this is a job we get to do. But from that point on, once you’ve come up with an idea, you’ve really got to watch out, because at every single inch of the way, there is a potential danger for this idea to die. Just the same, there’s potential for this idea to get better.
Keeping that idea alive and improving it is really about experience. There are all these little steps from concepting into pre-production, production, and post-production — so many decisions. Wardrobe, the talent you cast, what editor you work with, what grade you apply, who's the director, who's the DP. I mean, it’s a seriously infinite amount of variables along the way and all of them can and will change this idea. It's incredibly important that you stay focused and ensure that the core of this idea is exactly what you set out to accomplish while at the same time being open to new influences that can improve your idea.
You’ve got to build trust with the people you work with and the clients you work for, it’s super important to make sure that everybody is always on the same page about this core idea, this vision. Only then can you really create this feeling that, okay, this is our idea, together, You can't fight this alone. So you’ve got to build a circle of trust for this idea, to protect it. Throughout the entire process, you’re building and maintaining this circle of trust.
There are all these variables you can influence, but of course there’s an equally infinite number of variables you have absolutely no influence on. I recently was on a shoot in San Francisco and the weather was not the way we wanted it to be. That's just weather gods doing their thing, right? Tough luck.
In the end, in my experience, the greater the trust and the stronger the relationship within the team, with the client, and with everyone you work with is, the more people are invested in keeping this idea alive the way you — as a group — want it to be.
What is your approach to building a team and how do you make sure they're able to operate at their best?
First of all, I want to say that you can't do this work yourself.
I have a little anecdote about that. Outside of my job I’m usually doing a couple of side projects for myself, working with friends. Passion projects. So I was directing a music video for a friend of mine. We started talking, just me and him, and we would meet every week at this diner here on the Eastside in LA. We’d sit down in the morning, have coffee, and talk. We did this for about half a year and nothing ever got done. We were stuck, going in circles. The first decision we made, half a year in, was to hire a producer. Otherwise we were going to be sitting there for the next 10 years, just talking. But we hired that producer and were finally able to move on. You can’t do this by yourself!
It is so crucial that you assemble a great team. Our campaigns, to bring this back to my job, are huge. They are complex. They are extremely expensive — double-digit million dollar campaigns. If you think for one second that you could do this by yourself, you are greatly mistaken. Even the work of assembling the team is something you don't do yourself! We have creative resource managers, fantastic people who are particularly skilled at identifying talent and building a team.
Generally speaking, I think it’s very important to really just understand how people work, what they’re like as people, and what they’re good at. This is something you can only find out by talking to them and taking the time to get to know them. Personally, what I do is seek to find the right balance between what is this person extremely good at; what are their strengths; what is their experience; what are they interested in; and finally what’s outside of their comfort zone.
I’m a big car guy, I’ve worked on practically every luxury car brand there is — but you don’t have to be a car person to make great car advertising. You can be a vegetarian and make great ads for McDonald’s hamburgers. You can have no driver’s license and make great car campaigns. It’s actually very important to have this kind of balance on a team — getting people out of their comfort zones creatively, it’s part of my job.
I always try to make sure to find people that have never worked on a campaign like the one I’m bringing them in to work on before. They bring a fresh perspective, they break us out of just thinking of a car campaign as a car campaign. You need to always find this different approach, and a balance of people and interests, to push even the team out of their comfort zone, is crucial to do this.
What are three things you can’t do your job without?
I answered the first one already, definitely: people. I won’t tell the same story again, but you really can’t do it alone. At least, not the work I do. It would be impossible, nothing would get past just the white page of paper.
Second, I could not do anything without collaborative tech solutions, which have absolutely revolutionized the way we work. This doesn't have to be anything fancy — it goes from Google Slides, to Keynote, to Figma, whatever facilitates collaboration. Even how we're doing this interview — talking on Google Meet — has completely changed the way we can work together. I've been doing this job for a minute, and I would have never thought it was possible that 10 creatives could hover above a Google Slides creative deck and make notes and changes simultaneously without screwing it up.
The third thing is silence. You can't beat that. You need isolation and silence. Not be distracted. Just turn your computer and phone off, shut the door and stare at the wall. Whatever you need to just get in your creative space. It’s crucial for the ideation process in this work.
What’s a piece of advice you were once given that has influenced how you’ve moved through your career?
The best advice I've been given was very early on in my career, when I started in advertising. I wish I could put this in some catchy phrase, but it’s really so simple: there’s no such thing as no more ideas. As a creative, so many times you’ll have been doing the same type of work forever, or you get a brief that looks so familiar, and your reaction might be that everything has already been done. Or you work on something for two weeks, you get stuck and think: there are no ideas left. That is a lie.
It is your job to come up with ideas. There are always new ideas — there’s an infinite amount of new ideas down there, you just have to dig deeper! Once you truly understand that, there’s no longer a barrier. The thought that there could even be a finite amount of ideas, an exhaustible resource, is then eliminated. This mindset was made extremely clear to me very early in my career and has been endlessly helpful. I'm very grateful for that.
I mean, look, I work in car advertising. This is an industry that’s been going on for 50-plus years. There are so many brands, and they all are technically making versions of the same thing — cars, automobiles. But it’s a major part of the ad industry to make car campaigns. Countless campaigns have been done over the years. And yet year after year, we have to make new spots, come up with new ideas, ship new campaigns, create new partnerships. You gotta believe that there are always more new, great ideas!
What’s another piece of advice you would especially give to people just starting a career in advertising?
Just keep going.This question brings me back to something we talked about earlier — what can cause great ideas to die. There are so many reasons why any given idea doesn't get produced in the end, and believe me: your creative output has very little to do with that.
For one car spot that we make, at least a hundred will be written. When I show my parents what I do, they look at a 30 or 60 second spot, and the reaction is always the same. “That took you six months to make?” But yes, that is how long it takes. You go to work every day for more than half a year and every day you work on this thing, this huge project. Can you imagine how many variables there are that can alter this idea or even kill it?
It can be extremely frustrating, especially for younger creatives, to go through this process. They’re coming up with ideas, writing treatments, designing stuff, and nothing ever gets produced. The advice I would give my younger self, who was in those situations, is just keep going. This is what happens. It ends up being a numbers game. One of your ideas will eventually get produced — just don’t give up. The ones that don’t, that has nothing to do with your creative talent, your ability, anything about you. There are just too many factors. Don’t take it personally. Just keep going!