Creative Director Track

January 7, 2018

Jewell Donaldson

Jewell Donaldson entered advertising with a kaleidoscopic background that includes military service, performance poetry, and entrepreneurship. Since, she has used her informed perspective to cultivate success; collecting honors for her creative signature and emerging leadership. As the representative of a generation, a culture, and a gender--her personal mission to #KeepDopeAlive manifests in her commitment to reflect humanity authentically in advertising.

This right here, is what most of the women in the building are working toward or endeavoring to excel in: creative leadership. This track inspired attendees with instances of non-conventional creative problem solving, idealistic industry life, authenticity, and trust.

Sponsored by Adobe, the conversations and presentations within the sessions begged the question if gender is the only social notion we must go beyond.  


Tom Goodwin, EVP & Head of Innovation, Zenith Media
Reema Mitra, Digital Director & Brand Strategist, DDB 

What technologies, trends, and opportunities do your creatives need to grasp in order to succeed? And how is agency life shifting in ways that change how we do business? Equally important: what things are not changing and will stand the test of time?

Close your eyes and envision the perfect agency. Go on, whip out your wish list. What are your employees equipped with? What’s the perfect organizational structure? What does ideal workflow actually look like? Before you yell out “FEWER MEETINGS!”— pause; we’ll get there. 

Tom Goodwin and Reema Mitra examined these questions and others during their fireside chat, The Agency of the Future. Fueled by their notable experience and expertise, they waxed fantastical on the ad agency perfected. Their additions and omissions wouldn’t surprise most ad people, most of us know what is and isn’t working in our industry. But there’s something so cathartic about having two pros sit on a stage and say it in plain. Angst affirmed. Hope renewed. But we need to do the hard work and not just the cosmetic finessing. Shapewear isn’t going to smooth this situation out. We have to do the work and earn our improved predicament.

Tom and Reema put us to work early on with HARD questions like: 

What do we do about the “unbelievably stupid” instances of ad culture? Why are we creating the same experiences but with more money or different clients? Wouldn’t it be better if we did a better job of leadership in this industry? 

Yeeaaaa. It was that kind of a session. When Tom and Reema asked us, “What kind of hurdles do we need to overcome if agencies are going to be around in the future?” served as a contemplative charge for the audience. I’ve always thought a good fireside chat is meant to be a conversation by extension, a sort of immersion where you can glean by observation. Tom said himself, “My job is to get people to think differently.” So, with that in mind, here are some standout soundbites from the chat that may help you think differently and create the agency of the future, for thoughts do become things:

•    Don’t think “Wouldn’t it be great if…?” Make it happen!
•    Creative/Strategy/Account silos are inefficient and frustrating. 
•    We habitually create new departments to deal with the “new thing.” #MoreSilos
•    If we’re not impacting culture, we’re not doing our jobs. 

On the 3% Conference’s theme of Beyond Gender, they had three “Yes, Lawd!” summations:

1.    People really have to BELIEVE in diversity in order to bring it to the workplace. 
2.    Start trusting that People of Color can BRING something to the table. It doesn’t have to exist on the resume’ to be possible. 

And to that extent:
3.    Allow people to bring their entire selves to work. 

But what made me think, “wow, they REALLY are keeping it real today!” were these two points and I hope you really feel them in your core: 
1.    We work in the communications industry but are completely crap at talking to each other. 
2.    It’s not boring to have an agenda before a meeting. Let’s get better at giving a shit. 

Told you we would get around to meetings. 


Speaker: Ashleigh Axois, Design Exponent, Automatic

Small budgets? Insane timelines? Intense scrutiny? Yep, this speaker knows a thing or two about the realities facing CDs today. Get a behind-the-scenes look at how innovative design and digital strategy happened in-house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue under the President Obama’s leadership. Ashleigh showed-and-told how her small design team transformed daunting challenges into successful campaigns.

Ashleigh Axios’ story and brilliance made me bitterly nostalgic. This is all good, I assure you. Axios currently serves as board member or advisor for nearly every well-known design authority acronym you’ve heard of, she’s an international speaker, and advocates for design inclusion through the web democratization agent, Automattic. And while that’s all impressive, hold on to your butts—Ashley Axios was the White House Creative Director during President Barack Obama’s two terms.  Oh, and she and her husband created their shared surname, Axios, as a branding exercise, because… commitment to craft. 

Relevant to the Beyond Gender theme of the conference, Axios stated: “If you want innovation, you have to hire like you want innovation. Diversity breeds innovation.” Yes, yes and yes, Ashleigh. Between photos and videos of the Obamas (again, bitter nostalgia) and sharing stories strategic lessons learned from political gains, Axios had 14 TIPS that will make you the most brilliant marketer at the table:  

Go close and personal. If you go general, it will FEEL general.

If it’s easily achievable, it’s not a goal, it’s a task. Learn to push your team through terror and risk. 

Risk means a good chance for failure. You have to see good in failure and anticipate it. 

Treat Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc as unique, separate storytelling opportunities. 

Put in a strategy to go thru the moments you’ve planned for. 

Allow for feeling, randomness, and authentic spontaneity.

It’s still real if it’s created. Don’t be afraid to invent an opportunity for moments. 

Show the value of humor and how you can reach audiences in a new way. 

Make it part of your strategy. Surprise people. You can make their whole year by replying to a random tweet. 

Partner with people who know their audience and their content better than you. Learn more and build more community. 

Learn what you’re interested in and what you like. Maybe it’s not what you think. Be open to being wrong. 

People don’t like sharing things that are so brand heavy. If you’re trying to share a message and not raise brand awareness, just share the message.

If you’ve asked them one thing and they’ve said yes, ask them something else.  

Instead of trying to invent a hashtag or create a movement, see if there’s an opportunity participate in the conversation that’s already happening.

Wasn’t that valuable? I’m sure it was, as designed by Axios, whose last name means, “worthy of value.”


Laura Chiavone, CSO, Tribal Worldwide NY
PJ Pereira, CCO and Co-Founder, Pereira & O’Dell

The hottest talent infusing the American ad market hails from Latin America. Based on 200 interviews with employers, managers and Brazilians who came to the US in the past decade, PJ and Laura uncover how expectations make it hard for this diverse group to adjust to culture, behavior and way of work. The good news is they’ve found a very good way to empower companies and people to figure it out together.

For me, American native and citizen, the lesson of the Lunch and Learn was, “don’t assume” and “American systems are just stupid.”  Allow me to get into it. Brazilian natives, Laura Chiavone and PJ Pereira, presented their Advertising Immigration and the Brazilian Case Study that examined what could be learned from the Brazilian experience to understand both privilege and difference between “what I used to be in Brazil” and “what am I now in America” for those who travel here to diversify our agencies. 

International diversity came into question when Chiavone and Pereira observed that the immigration process seeks to Americanize Brazilians—which defeats the purpose of global diversity.  

Privilege can be unrecognizable or even invisible if you’re looking for the same variety of that you’re accustomed to. Chiavone and Pereira’s report claimed that Brazilians can run into stigmas that hurt their performances and erect harmful workplace expectations that aren’t communicated. 

This can create one extreme wherein one co-worker feels that Brazilians unilaterally have “great craft, amazing energy” and are “passionate, ambitious, scarily individualistic and award obsessed” and another where the entirety of Brazilians are “lazy about getting information and figuring out things.” 

Here are some numbers: 83% of Brazilians in our industry felt they worked in a workplace that valued them, but 54% felt mistreated, and 62% questioned their potential and talent.  When the majority of a minority feel like they shouldn’t have bothered or that inclusion is a hoax, again—what’s the point of international diversity? 

MAJOR KEY: Diversity is an investment with costs and returns. The beauty in diversity the different skills, but there will also be different inconveniences.” 

If we want to innovate as an industry, we need to be ready to identify and communicate through temporary inconveniences.  Communication is everyone’s responsibility and diversity is everyone’s reward. 


Speaker: Todd Henry, Founder, The Accidental Creative

Best-selling author of The Accidental Creative, Todd Henry has interviewed brilliant leaders who have mastered the difficult transition from doing the work to leading the work. He’ll share a wealth of practical advice, including why conflict can be a good thing; how to build time and attention buffers to protect your team; how to deal with power imbalances; and why you should fight to measure value, not time, when evaluating your team's work.

“Thank you for the work you do. Thank you for your sacrifice,” Todd Henry began.  Like highly decorated veterans of heated pitches, organizational shuffles (shop side and client side), late night brainstorms and brand revivals—Creative Directors were thanked for their service and then asked to brace themselves as they were about to be told how to be better at what they do. 

As Creative Leaders, yes, the work is a challenge. Henry likens leading creatives to herding tigers, a more menacing and ferocious feline. Always hungry. Always sulking. Yeah. That sounds like a creative.  But seriously, how does one lead creative people more efficiently? 

In short, you earn the right and become a leader who makes echoes. 

The method in which Henry expounded upon this actually made it very clear to me why I loved certain Creative Directors or had zero magnetism with others. Creative Directors who are successful at leading directors have made the transition from MAKER TO MANAGER. 

This Creative Manager understands the challenge and feels the pressure, but is motivated by the upside of helping creatives thrive. Henry noted that this is a mental leap, that many Creative Directors do not successfully make. They get lost somewhere in the middle of the pressure and the opportunity. Owning everything is a heavy responsibility. When it tarnishes, it’s yours. When it glistens, it’s also yours.  Being a Creative Leader is a visceral example of taking the good with the bad… with some motivational speaking sprinkled on top. 

It’s a special set of skills required to be a Creative Leader, firstly you have to be good enough at your craft to ascend and then maintain that keen sense of creativity and curiosity.  A good leader accomplishes the work while developing teams accomplish even more work. 

Do you feel these feels? Well, Henry had a nice Creative Director’s Sanity Starter Kit for you: 

  • Take Care of #1. As goes the leader, as goes the team. Take care of yourself so that you can thrive as a leader. If you are not filling your well, you cannot be of use to anyone in your team.
  • Emotional well-being. Do you have any work that someone isn’t paying you for and judging? Lean into that. What’s your secret flame? What’s keeping you creative? 
  • Intuition. BE UNREACHABLE (sometimes) Decide your own priorities. Unplug. Break away and hone your intuition.  

And like the prophet, Mufasa, said: Remember who you are. Know who you are. It can be impossible to distinguish who you are and who the organization is. Remind yourself of your joy with your profession and live in that. 
How does a Creative Director earn trust? By never assuming that they have it. “Earn the right to lead your teams. Never assume your team is with you. Trust is the currency of creative teams, Henry says.

As a Creative Leader, it’s on you to provide the STABILITY and CHALLENGE that a creative person needs: 

  • STABILITY: Creative people need clarity even the midst of uncertainty. Expectations and such. Creative people need protection to know you have their back.
  • CHALLENGE: Permission to take risks, grow, experiment, and speak their mind. Show them what you see. Faith is fuel for creative people.

As a Creative DirectorLeaderManager person, ask yourself “why should they trust me?” “Why should my creatives follow me?” Turns out this trust piece is really important, which is why despite your title it’s earned—not given.

Your actions earn trust. Trust isn’t like a bank account. It’s more like a water balloon. Fill it up. And if you puncture it, it leaks everywhere. 

And it’s not the big breaches of trust, it’s the little ways that embitter your creatives and erode team cohesion. Your team won’t see your intentions, only your actions.

So, here are some things NOT TO DO when Herding Tigers:

  • Declaring Undeclarables – Be careful of what you say. We can’t promise things that we can’t possibly promise. 
  • Being a Superhero. When you speak into the uncertainty you create uncertainties.
  • Relational Usury. Never sell out your team for short-term gain.  Throw your team under the bus just one time… and you’ll lose them. And the golden nugget that will get you that Edible Arrangements bouquet on Boss’ Day?
  • Meetings Matter. Don’t include everyone in the meeting. Necessary people, necessary meetings, only. 

You knew that part right? RIGHT? Because if there’s ONE theme to this track, it’s that we all live and die by the Outlook Schedule. 


Moderated by: Danielle Aldrich, EVP/President, CP+B West
Mira Kaddoura, Founder/ECD/Magician, Red & Co.
Kwame Taylor-Hayford, Managing Director, Brand Development, Chobani, and Co-Founder, Saturday Morning
Blake Winfree, Creative Director, MullenLowe US


Judy John, CEO Canada & CCO North American, Leo Burnett Canada
David Droga, Founder & Creative Chairman, Droga5

Two of the top creative names – Judy John CEO Canada & Chief Creative Officer North America, Leo Burnett Canada + David Droga Founder & Creative Chairman, Droga5 – joined forces to story-tell, confess, question and celebrate all they’ve learned on their journeys, including what they wish someone had told them when they made the jump from creative to CD, their biggest wins + losses, and how to safeguard your people from creative burnout.

Writing this segment is kind of sacrosanct because it’s literally two advertising legends having a chat about the most relevant and random of topics. To distill their discussion, felt like a poor rendering and I don’t think it could be more entertaining if Tarantino wrote their dialogue himself (well they’ll be a lot more profanity). So here’s what the legends Judy John and David Droga had to say: 


David: “Whatever’s appropriate.”
Judy: “I want what’s modern. That’s the brilliance of being creative. You can change your mind and bullsh*t about why.” 

Writer’s note: Immediately endeared to these two.


David: “It wasn’t an epiphany. When I became a copywriter, I actually learned that I liked working hard. I didn’t mind staying up late. My successes came with starting early. We all need validations.  I was a slacker.”

Judy: “I was a slacker too with a 65% average. I didn’t start working hard until I became a copywriter. “

David: “Every opportunity is a gift. The fact that I’m paid to look at something and create … we’re so lucky. If I did something else I’d shoot myself. Your career doesn’t move at the rate of your ambition, it moves at the rate of your talent and work ethic…. And your humanity.  This is an industry where you can get fired for the right reason. Is it about doing what you believe or what’s on your business card? Moving from a selfish creative to a selfless creative was a big part of my path. Even in the beginning, I felt like I needed to earn their trust. Instead of using my title, I wanted to earn their respect. Success is moreso what it allows you to do vs. what it actually is.”

Judy: “I have moments where I think, ‘I have the best job right now.’  You can’t replace work ethic. It has to be there.  It’s so important when you’re relating to your team or clients… that your human ability comes thru.  The belief in the work will drive your career. Always make your move for the work, not the money. Don’t worry about coming up with a brand or a “schitck” just be who you are. There’s power in how you were brought up… even if it’s negative. Your background is monumental in who you are.  To grow up and be a role model… at my stage in the game it’s part of the role.  It’s important for leaders to be more verbal and engaged in mentoring. Support and visibility are important. You work so hard at being great… and then you’re promoted to point where you’re not doing that anymore.”

Writer’s note: this is why they’re the G.O.A.T.s     


Dan: “We are all guilty as an industry of hiring people who remind us of themselves. I’m looking for a unique point of view and adding dimension and sincerity.”

Judy: “All backgrounds and mind frames.”

Dan: “Nerds and people who have something to prove.”

Judy: “I HATE the entitled!” *laughs*

Writer’s note: I tweeted this quote from Judy as she was SO convicted, and I’m every creative there felt like they had a chance of applying at Droga5 or Leo Burnett Canada. 

At this point, the LEGENDS went off script (ha… writers) and just talked. There were themes, but … not really. The best conversations meander with purpose like rivers or streams.  There were notions about creative arrogance and how everyone needs at least a percentage of that to sell ideas. Ideas of community within the agency and how there wasn’t a single solitary creative that didn’t’ get to where s/he was because of the other departments. Optimism and Resiliency are required in the belief to survive a tough industry an industry they’ve given where both have given blood, sweat, tears, and ink and that’s why I’ll end with this quote: 

It’s a hard industry.
Tough is good. Bad is bullsh*t.
The next day, strive to be better 
And acknowledge that you’ve screwed up. 

Righteous, Dan and Judy, totally righteous. 


As a creative who is not yet a Creative Director, surveying and recapping this track felt like getting the keys to a secret lock box, opening it and realizing it contained a mirror. Reflection all feels the same. Creative Directors are creatives with the responsibility and privilege of developing other creatives. Repeatedly, I heard presenters and speakers remark on how that connection can be lost and they feel isolated in their roles and responsibilities. Another prophet’s words come to mind: “You are not alone.” The struggle may be beautiful, but it certainly doesn’t have to be solitary.  As we look Beyond Gender to ensure no one is left behind in the drive for representation and equity, empathy is evermore important. The power to lead Beyond Gender is in the knowledge that leaders are concerned with not only who is in the front and at their side, but mostly who is in the back.