The rise of the Creative Coach

What can the communication industry in general, and the agency industry in particular, learn from what happens in a conference room full of spoken word artists, drag queens and coders?

By Christopher Waldekrantz

When I was the creative director at Berghs School of Communication, I went to Los Angeles in the spring of last year to visit 72andSunny and get a closer look at their program 72U, a platform and creative residency for cultivating new ways of thinking, creativity and diversity. I came back with a burning question; Is the Creative Coach the new Creative Director?

Diversity

72U is described as the reputable agency’s program to “give back to the creative community”. The group, selected for their multifaceted creative skills, are gathered to collaborate, create, plan and execute a project for 12 weeks. The project entails everything from the creation of the brief, to the production of the idea.

The program underlines “diversity” – they want to find other types of creatives than the ones usually found in the traditional agency set up.

72andSunny describe the project as “a creative residency designed to open people up to new ways of thinking, collaborating, and tackling modern communication problems.”

Every individual twelve-week program is characterised by the skills, competencies and interests of the participants in the group. It’s all about thinking big, daring to take creative risks and creating something that makes a difference within the culture and community. The different groups have worked together to create everything from art exhibitions, to gigantic murals, pop-up parks and installations. The project they were working on while I was there was a documentary about automation.

I wanted to see for myself how this small hub goes about creating processes to harness human talents in a new arena. The participants, I soon found out, have very diverse backgrounds: one was an engineer, one was a “Comedy Queen” (a drag queen with a comedy repertoire), one was a spoken word artist, another – an influencer on Youtube, and so on. What they all had in common was the passion and drive that made them super-talents in their niche, and that none of them had any previous experience of the communication industry.

I expected to see models and processes, control and leadership, but I was met by something entirely different. In this creative bubble that is 72U, the soft values, not the hard ones, dictated how things were to be done.

The key to getting these individuals to create something cohesive together wasn’t creative direction, as I had believed, but something different. Something that added more value to the end product than just quality assurance and the know-how of a senior creative.

From Creative Direction to Creative Coaching

Usually, the creative processes are managed by a creative director (CD), who approves, develops and assures the quality in a delivery. This person is expected to know everything from business goals, strategy and leadership to typography and innovation. It is a role that few can master. Typically, you become a CD after several years as a talented creative. However, to lead others and to unlock the creative powers within a large group of people is not the same as being a tremendous creative yourself. The skills needed for this are culture development, professional and personal development, and leadership beyond knowing right from wrong.

As the processes at agencies have gone from linear and characterised by working in silos, to more agile methods with faster feedback loops, maybe the role the CD has become redundant? Could it be so, when diverse talents are working together to solve new types of challenges, a different kind of leadership is needed?

When many of the young new talents run in circles around incumbent media houses regarding numbers of views and social media engagement, we need new methods to harness this raw power. We need to go from Creative Direction to Creative Coaching.

What does that mean? A Creative Coach (CC) focuses on building environments where creativity can flourish. Comfort, conversation and collaboration raise the creative bar through questions and understanding of how to bring forth the dormant creative skills that most people posesses. The work is then transformed into a learning experience that in turn builds momentum.

The impact of having a Creative Coach within an organisation or marketing department improves the level of innovation, entrepreneurship and problem solving from within. It also helps to come up with more relevant ideas that are easier to implement, plus it builds culture.