Ever wondered how to become a Creative Director? What about an Executive Creative Director? Alistair Campbell of Critical Mass London took some time out of his busy working life to describe his career path to becoming an ECD. We hope you’ll find this an interesting post, giving you an insight into the role and how the choices you make in your career can lead to opportunities like this. If you have any questions about the role of Creative Director, or want to share your experience get in touch using the comments box at the end of this post.
How I Became an Executive Creative Director – Alistair Campbell
Where do you work now and what is your job title?
I’m the ECD at Critical Mass London (recently merged with Agency Republic where I was also the ECD). Critical Mass is a global digital agency with offices across America and in Singapore. We specialise in big platform builds and digital campaign work.
What did you study at university?
I did a degree in psychology at Birmingham University before taking the one year advertising course at Watford. Watford taught me that working hard and listening to the advice of others are the two most important things when it comes getting your first job in advertising. To this day I’m still not sure what the degree in psychology taught me…
Did you have to complete any training or get any specialised qualifications to get into your field?
No, but this was really before the days where everyone worked on computers. Our first book was pretty much handmade from photocopies, bits of coloured card and the odd, slightly dodgy scamp. These days the ability to use Photoshop and edit video etc. is really a must I think. It just lets you bring your ideas to life in more compelling ways.
What was your first job?
I was lucky enough to be given my first job at St Luke’s in the 90s as a copywriter. A fantastic place to work and learn my craft; working with Kate Stanners and Tim Hearn. We did some great work and had a lot of fun doing it. A must, I think if you’re working in advertising.
When did you decide you realise you had a talent to be an ECD
Working with Tim and Kate was very inspiring and so from the off I guess I wanted to be able to do what they did. To help others create fantastic work. I think if you can find people to work for who make you want to be the best you can be, and help you get there; well that’s what it all about really.
How did you work your way up the ladder?
I spent a long time at St Luke’s learning the ropes – how to talk about brands, how to write great copy, how to sell my ideas. This stands me in good stead even today. In the end, being a creative is all about the work. You need to be in a position to create better and better work. That’s what will help propel you to the next level. Advertising is still one of the few remaining meritocracies. If you do a great job, you will be rewarded for it. The trick is to get yourself into a position where you can do great work. That’s working for the right company and with the right people.
After 10 years I became much more interested in the potential of technology in marketing and so moved into digital. But all the things I learned in the early years are still hugely important.
How did you get promoted from Head of Copy to Creative Director?
After St Luke’s I moved to Agency Republic where I was responsible for quality control of all copy within the agency. I’ve always had a good understanding of brands and wanted to drive digital thinking within the agency. Fortunately this was recognised and I was promoted to Creative Director.
What advice do you have for aspiring ECD?
Work hard. Do work that you love. Have a view on what’s coming round the corner. Also work for smaller agencies who are able to nurture junior creatives and involve you in projects at all levels.
What would you do differently knowing what you know now?
It may sound like a cliché but it’s true: understand your strengths and weaknesses and learn from them. I should have learnt that I’m not a visual person earlier, I would have then brought in people who could help. I also wish I had learnt to code, I’d would be able to make more of a difference if I could. However I know my strengths and weaknesses so I get the experts in.
What is the most important thing you’ve learnt?
The harder you work the best you will be.
Where will you go from here?
Wherever I think will give me the best chance to break new ground creatively. I like doing new stuff. That’s definitely when I’m at my happiest.
At Critical Mass London Alistair Campbell is responsible for setting and implementing the creative vision for the agency. This also includes overseeing the agency’s creative work for their clients and pitching for new business.
Since publishing this post Alastair Campbell has been hired by Guardian Labs as Creative Director. There he will lead creative development of brands across the Guardian media platform.
. If you have any question about the role of a creative director or want to share your experiences, please leave a comment below.